Friday, September 22, 2006

A Bloke Called McCartney

I rather enjoyed an item in today's Wall Street Journal about Paul McCartney's new choral work, "Ecce cor meum", forthcoming from EMI next Tuesday. My wife finds him tiresome but I've always thought he was a dear, not so much the Handsome Beatle as the Simple Beatle. I've liked many of his tunes, things like "Can't Buy Me Love", "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "Get Back", that kind of thing. I'm kind of simple myself, it seems. But when, several years ago, after slogging through things like Flaming Pie and Driving Rain, I bought, for reasons that are still mysterious to me, a CD of his "Standing Stone", I began to realize something about Paul McCartney. His lyrics are usually complete gibberish. For example:
Someone's gone out fishing
Someone's high and dry
Someone's on a mission to the lonely Lorelei
Some folk's [sic] got a vision of a castle in the sky
And I'm left stranded, wondering why
Or consider this:
World spinning round
To the next revolution
Sun going down
Gonna rise up again

I watch the sun go down
With some sorrow
And now I know it's gonna
Come back tomorrow
Ain't no reason
It has to do that
It's the season of the culture bat
"It's the season of the culture bat"?!? If there was every any doubt that, for Paul McCartney, task number one is to make a list of words that rhyme first and then string them all together later, well, just listen to the lyrics, people.
Why don't we do it in the road?
Why don't we do it in the road?
Why don't we do it in the road?
Why don't we do it in the road?
No one will be watching us
Why don't we do it in the road.
You thought that was one of John's, didn't you? Come on, admit it. And Paul wrote this one, too:
When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn
And I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom
And I see you again.
Man, it totally brings a tear to my eye. Rockin' great tune, though, and thereby hangs a tale. It seems that even Paul McCartney knows that this is how he writes music:
Because he had no formal musical training, Sir Paul says that when composing, "I'll have some happy accidents, if I'm lucky, and I'll find my way in via the knowledge I gained through the Beatles and Wings and through my pop music career....I'd explore things I'd learned there, like harmony and melodies."

Those harmonies and melodies actually preceded the text of "Ecce cor meum," he says. "Then I had to fit all my words to the music I had already written. Sort of customize it all."
No kidding. Scrambled eggs...scrambled eggs...hmmm...what else has three syllables...oh, wait...Yesterday....

I think my favorite part of the interview, though, was this bit:
[McCartney] was invited by Sir John Tavener [man, is that guy still alive?] to be the narrator in a Tavener work that was being performed at New York's St. Ignatius Loyola Church. "I was a little reluctant," says Sir Paul, "because I thought my voice was, perhaps, a bit regional for a narrator. But John assured me that the Greek poet of his text, a bloke called Cavafy, had been brought up in Alexandria, so he himself would have had the equivalent of a regional accent."
You gotta love that "aw shucks" attitude, not to mention the prospects of yet another collaboration between John and Paul. It's kind of reminiscent of the way in which that other John used to give Paul pep talks about those obviously bad lyrics ("Leave it the way it is--I like it that way!" not that John's were much better, but they were more self-consciously nonsensical. Maybe he was trying to sabbotage ol' Macca?).

There's something endearing about all of this--don't get me wrong, I love the guy, and most of his songs, too. I'm not sure why, actually, but I think it has to do with a sense that he is, in some way, authentic, though of course I have no way of knowing that for sure. He does a great job of faking it, though, if it's all just an act. The other Beatles all caved on that, some sooner than later, but even Ringo seems jaded these days. But Paul, I think, is for real. He'd have to be to say something like this:
In the church [St. Ignatius], Sir Paul's eye was caught by a representation of the Crucifixion, beneath which was the phrase "Ecce cor meum" (the first word of which he pronounces with a hard c, as he was taught in school). "I worked out the translation, 'Behold my heart,' which to me meant 'let me show you what's in my heart, the things that are important to me.'"
For Christians, of course, the Sacred Heart of Jesus signifies the sacrificial love that God has for mankind, a love that is intrinsically self-sacrificing and evocative of self-denial in others: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels." For Paul, by contrast, it is all I Me Me Mine--I want to tell you, I feel hung up and I don't know why. OK, those are George's, but he must have been thinking of Paul when he wrote them, because you couldn't ask for a clearer statement of the narcissism of the 60s than Paul's interpretation of Our Crucified Lord showing us his Sacred Heart. Someone with that outlook is a man in whom there is no guile.

So I like the guy. And I admire him for pronouncing "Ecce" the classical way. You've got to respect a guy who's not afraid to say "waynee weedee weekee" out loud. I have to confess, however, that, in spite of my own lengthy training as a classicist, I use the Italianate pronunciation. I used to prefer the classical, since that was how I was taught in school, too. But over the years, as I started saying the Office in Latin along with most of my other prayers, I found that if you can't beat them you might as well join them, and anybody who is into Latin in the liturgies these days is going to use the Italianate pronunciation. That's just the way it is, and no amount of "silent correction" is going to change things. The classical pronunciation was pretty much gone by the 2nd century anyway, so why try to rescue it? Use it when you read Cicero if you want to be a purist. But I'll bet you don't read Shakespeare with an Elizabethan accent, you faux-pedant! Paul sticks with what he was taught, because he's that kind of a guy--it just makes him even more authentic. Plus, he just might be the greatest rock and roll bassist of all time.


TM said...

What's nonsensical about that excerpt from Helter Skelter? It's a literal description of going on a helter skelter.

Vitae Scrutator said...

Do you don't you want me to make you?
I'm comin' down fast so don't let me brake you
Come on come on tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer

Mmm hmmm...makes perfect sense--if what you're trying to do is say whatever it takes to make a rhyme.

Homily for Requiem Mass of Michael Carson, 20 November 2021

  Readings OT: Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 [2, short form] Ps: 25 [2] NT: Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39 [6] Alleluia verse: John 6:39 [...