Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why I Don’t Like Paul McCartney but Revere Elton John

One is known for his bands, but acts like a primo divo, while the other is known as a solo artist, but always puts collaboration and community first

     My Aunt bought tickets to see Paul McCartney and I’m as excited for her as I was for my former stylist – who left town to make it in New York and since she made it here I know she’ll make it there – when she saw Paul McCartney at Bengals Stadium last summer.  By ‘excited’ I mean the way Nina Garcia looks on Project Runway when Heidi Klum overrules her for which contestant is out.  It’s a tense, closed lip smile that says “I can
hold my sphincter soooo tight” to get through this moment.  

Paul McCartney with The Beatles
     It’s not that I don’t like Paul McCartney’s music.  I love the Beatles’ songs and many of Wings’ as well.  However, I don’t think much of his songwriting since about 1982 and I used to have the cassettes and then CDs to prove it.  Luckily, second hand record shops bought them.  What I find troubling is how he trots out the Beatles catalog (and, yes, it is the greatest pop collection) for the nostalgia (anyone over 55) and the great bringing-together-the-masses tradition (for practically everyone, though especially middle class white people), but it’s really all about him.  John and George are dead and Ringo was dropped long ago. This was after they gave up touring.  Paul would re-record Ringo’s drum tracks before the final masters were concluded for the later Beatles albums, according to some sources. 

     I know that the stated reason is that he just loves performing and the audiences are so desperate to see him.  Wasn’t that also the reason that Frank Sinatra retired, came back, retired, toured some more, retired, recorded some ‘duets’, toured, and then died?  His voice was pretty much shot after about 1975, but that didn’t stop him or the audiences.  The Rolling Stones have gone on forever, but they aren’t merely selling memories of the ‘60s.  They’ve written some great (and dreary) music since then and, mostly, they’ve remained together even though Mick’s singing and ego have been respectively uneven and overwhelming since about 1978.  

     There are also McCartney’s comments during his divorce from Heather Mills that she couldn’t raise their daughter in the U.S. because she’d acquire an awful American accent. It certainly hasn’t kept him from living in the U.S. and avoiding much higher British taxes or from touring the U.S. where there are so many more people that can afford his tickets.  As Bernardo Bertolucci said in his Oscar acceptance speech, “Hollywood is a big nipple,” but I think many Europeans feels the same way about the U.S. and will exploit it for all they can.  Hearing that McCartney is touring again just makes me wonder, “how much money does he want?”

Elton John in the 70s
     Elton John has co-written many great songs (as many as McCartney or Michael Jackson and a few more than Stevie Wonder), but he’s always kept up with where the culture is going next.  Though he’s known for singles, it’s his albums written with Bernie Taupin that are really amazing.  The 1969 – 1975 era witnessed him releasing a great collection every year – sometimes two – and he was matched only by Stevie Wonder’s extraordinary run that ran 1968 – 1976.  Punk and New Wave pushed him out of the spotlight and his career was spotty in the ‘80s, except for his live performing, but he came back strong with blockbuster Disney soundtracks co-written with Tim Rice for The Lion King and Aïda that were also Tony award winning shows.  And, as Paul Simon and then Bono and The Edge learned, that’s a very difficult achievement.  

Elton's 50th Birthday
     It’s Elton John’s generosity that is his defining quality and which makes it impossible to ever count him out.  His donations to various charities and foundations have been pretty legendary.  My Mom attended one of his concerts in Laramie, where all the proceeds were being given to charity in memory of Matthew Shepard.  The tickets were much less than she'd expected.  But what was even more remarkable was that weather had made the concert date impossible so he returned to perform at a later date.  Rod Stewart wrote hilariously in his autobiography last year about his friendship with Elton John and how John's gifts were so much more extravagant and thoughtful than his own.

     He’s also stayed relevant musically because he’s demonstrated the guts and selflessness to share the concert stage with other stars such as George Michael and Billy Joel and, in doing so, revitalized his own performing.  He’s been a strong supporter of new talent – Macy Gray, Jennifer Hudson, and Scissor Sisters immediately come to mind – and he’s called people out for not being drawn to younger performers because of prejudice.  Tony Bennett has also congratulated young talent, though to a lesser extent because he’s usually acknowledging them after they’re well known such as Lady Gaga.  I remember Sinatra castigating Sinead O’Connor, but did he ever promote anyone younger than Steve and Eydie or Liza?

Elton's my favorite too!

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