Cosmic Slop #24: Lennon, McCartney and the business of rock martyrdom
As Macca receives a backlash from Lennon fans, Shaun Ponsonby gives some perspective.
Originally published on Getintothis
If the internet has taught us nothing else – and it hasn’t – it’s that people will hold onto their bias no matter how rational the argument against them might be. Nowhere is that more apparent than when discussing artistes we may be fans of.
Paul McCartney is often on the wrong end of some pretty heated vitriol from John Lennon fans who never knew Lennon, and it happened again this week due to comments Macca made to Esquire magazine.
“The Beatles split up and we were all sort of equal. George did his record, John did his, I did mine, Ringo did his. It was as we were during the Beatles’ time. When John got shot, aside from the pure horror of it, the lingering thing was, ‘Now John’s a martyr, a JFK.’ I started to get frustrated because people started to say, ‘Well, he was the Beatles.’ Me, George and Ringo would go, ‘Hang on – it’s only a year ago we were all equal-ish’.”
You see, call me Rational Ron (though I have no idea why anyone would do that), but that seems pretty accurate and measured to me. People who deny that Lennon has gone onto the list of “Rock Martyrs” are as deluded as the people who think Jim Morrison was a great poet. Literally nobody would think that had Morrison survived, no matter how much some people try to force us to believe it.
McCartney clarifies further; “John did a lot of great work and post-Beatles he did more great work. But he also did a lot of not-great work. The fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean and beyond. I didn’t mind that – I agreed with it. I understood there was going to be revisionism. It was going to be, ‘John was the one.’ If you just pull out all his great stuff and then stack it up against my not-so-great stuff, it’s an easy case to make.”
Again, very balanced points, and true. Leaving aside that how much you enjoy a certain piece of work is subjective, stacking up Imagine and Instant Karma! against The Frog Chorus (which, in fairness, was a song for a children’s movie) and Ebony and Ivory is going to look bad for Macca. But how about stacking up Some Time in New York City against Band on the Run? Or Whatever Gets You Thru The Night against Maybe I’m Amazed? Or Woman Is The Nigger of the World against the noises McCartney makes when he’s constipated and trying to push it out. Hell, Macca has even acknowledged that he is responsible for a lot of garbage in there.
Furthermore, there has been lots of revisionism. And it started straight away. Lennon’s final album, Double Fantasy, was released just three weeks before his death. In those three weeks, the albums reviews were largely negative. As soon as he was murdered, the reviews literally became positive overnight. Now, it’s understandable as to why, but it is still revisionist to alter the widespread opinion due to the artist’s death.
The beating McCartney is getting from some quarters is baffling. He actually said nothing disparaging about Lennon, and was largely talking about all three of the remaining Beatles, and not just himself. He didn’t say he is superior to Lennon, or that Lennon is superior to him. Essentially all he said is that they were both songwriters. The backlash is from people who have already decided they don’t like McCartney and refuse to understand the largely correct point he is making. In fact, by being so vehement they are merely proving his point.
I come across Lennon bores all the time. I recently had a taxi driver who told me that he hated McCartney and adored Lennon because “McCartney represents the very worst of Liverpool, whereas Lennon represents the very best of Liverpool”, which presumably means that the taxi driver believed that the greatest assets this city has includes spousal abuse. Ironically, this same driver hated Bono, despite the fact that his activism-without-really-doing-much-activism schtick is pretty close to Lennon’s (yeah, lie in bed until we have world peace! That’ll get the leaders thinking!).
Which is not to say I have any kind of agenda against Lennon, even if I’ve never cared much for most of his solo output (and, in fairness, so far it seems that I do have an agenda). I just detest that people get labelled as “holier than thou”. He was human, like the rest of us. He had flaws, but to give justice to the whole person, you need to acknowledge those flaws.
The idea that all of his work was incredible is ludicrous. Every artist makes crap at some point. The reason I personally can’t take Lennon’s crap as much as McCartney’s crap is because Lennon comes across as way more pretentious, so McCartney’s crap is much easier to stomach. But nobody has trouble saying that McCartney’s stuff can be crap (few would deny that he has been responsible for some truly abysmal music), but say it about Lennon and some people have an aneurysm.
The regular argument against McCartney is that he’s still trying to compete with Lennon, and apparently this Esquire quote proves it.
Well…firstly, no it doesn’t. It’s not like he called a press conference to announce his thoughts on this to a shrugging world. He was asked a question in an interview, he answered, and the press blew it up out of proportion.
Secondly, I’m not even sure how he is supposed to be competing with a man who is fully decomposed. “Look at McCartney…on TV…just like John was. God, I wish he’d stop trying to be like John. It’s bad enough that he’s lived longer just to spite him, but having a pair of knees as well? Is there no end to his jealousy?”
Lennon fans aren’t the worst for it. Go to YouTube and look at any comments section on a Michael Jackson video and see the extremes of biased and deluded rhetoric. There are tonnes of people there who genuinely believe, no irony or metaphor intended, that Michael Jackson was an angel sent down from the heavens to enlighten our lives with Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal and walking backwards in a sort of slidey motion.
NO! He wasn’t. He was a deeply flawed human being who honed his talent. Like me, like you, like John Lennon.
As Lisa Simpson said when Springfield’s town founder was found to be a fraud “the myth of Jebediah has brought out the best in everyone”. But holding people up to a higher plane sets a standard that mere mortals could never reach. Rock Martyrdom is one of the dumbest aspects of rock & roll. There’s a romanticism to the idea behind it, but it’s not a reality. McCartney is right. John Lennon wasn’t The Beatles. He was 25% of a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Besides…George‘s All Things Must Pass is better than anything John or Paul did after The Beatles.
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