Paul McCartney Doesn’t Really Want to Stop the Show
Category: EntertainmentVia: john-russell • 2 months ago • 11 comments
This is a very long article. I only posted the opening part of it.
Paul McCartney Doesn’t Really Want to Stop the Show
Condé Nast49-62 minutes 10/8/2021
Early evening in late summer, the golden hour in the village of East Hampton. The surf is rough and pounds its regular measure on the shore. At the last driveway on a road ending at the beach, a cortège of cars—S.U.V.s, jeeps, candy-colored roadsters—pull up to the gate, sand crunching pleasantly under the tires. And out they come, face after famous face, burnished, expensively moisturized: Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Buffett, Anjelica Huston, Julianne Moore, Stevie Van Zandt, Alec Baldwin, Jon Bon Jovi. They all wear expectant, delighted-to-be-invited expressions. Through the gate, they mount a flight of stairs to the front door and walk across a vaulted living room to a fragrant back yard, where a crowd is circulating under a tent in the familiar high-life way, regarding the territory, pausing now and then to accept refreshments from a tray.
Their hosts are Nancy Shevell, the scion of a New Jersey trucking family, and her husband, Paul McCartney, a bass player and singer-songwriter from Liverpool. A slender, regal woman in her early sixties, Shevell is talking in a confiding manner with Michael Bloomberg, who was the mayor of New York City when she served on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Bloomberg nods gravely at whatever Shevell is saying, but he has his eyes fixed on a plate of exquisite little pizzas. Would he like one? He narrows his gaze, trying to decide; then, with executive dispatch, he declines.
McCartney greets his guests with the same twinkly smile and thumbs-up charm that once led him to be called “the cute Beatle.” Even in a crowd of the accomplished and abundantly self-satisfied, he is invariably the focus of attention. His fan base is the general population. There are myriad ways in which people betray their pleasure in encountering him—describing their favorite songs, asking for selfies and autographs, or losing their composure entirely.
This effect extends to friends and peers. Billy Joel, who has sold out Madison Square Garden more than a hundred times, has spent Hamptons afternoons over the years with McCartney. Still, Joel told me, “he’s a Beatle, so there’s an intimidation factor. You encounter someone like Paul and you wonder how close you can be to someone like that.”
In July, 2008, when Joel closed Shea Stadium, as the final rock act before the place came under the wrecking ball, he invited McCartney to join him and perform “I Saw Her Standing There.” Shea Stadium is, after all, where Beatlemania, in all its fainting, screaming madness, reached its apogee, in the sixties. For the encore, “Let It Be,” Joel ceded his piano to McCartney. I asked him if he minded playing second fiddle to his guest. “I am second fiddle!” he said. “Everyone is second fiddle to Paul McCartney, aren’t they?”
McCartney knows that, even in a gathering of film stars or prime ministers, he is surrounded by Beatles fans. “It’s the strangest thing,” he told me. “Even during the pandemic, when I’m wearing a mask, even sunglasses, people stop and say, ‘Hey, Paul!’ ” He’ll gamely try to level the interpersonal playing field by saying that, after so many years, “I’m a Beatles fan, too,” often adding, “We were a good little band.” But he also knows that fandom can curdle into malevolence. In 1980, Mark David Chapman, a Beatles fan, shot John Lennon to death outside the Dakota, on Central Park West. Nineteen years later, in Henley-on-Thames, west of London, another mentally troubled young man, Michael Abram, broke into George Harrison’s estate and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest.
McCartney is a billionaire. A vast amount of that fortune can be ascribed to the songs that he wrote with Lennon before the first moon landing. Yet his audiences usually exceed those of his most esteemed peers. Bob Dylan’s catalogue of the past forty years is immensely richer than McCartney’s, but Dylan generally plays midsize theatres, like the Beacon, in Manhattan; McCartney sells out Dodger Stadium and the Tokyo Dome.
He continues to write and record, just as he continues to breathe—“It’s what I do,” he told me. Recently, “McCartney III Imagined,” a remix of his latest album, was No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums Chart. Although he admits that he’s “not very big” on hip-hop, he once holed up at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Kanye West to collaborate on a few songs. West’s “Only One,” inspired by his late mother, Donda, and his daughter North, came out of a session with McCartney. Another collaboration with West, “FourFiveSeconds,” was a hit for Rihanna. When she ran into McCartney on a commercial airline flight a few years later, she took out her phone and posted a video on Instagram: “I’m about to put you on blast, Mr. McCartney!”
The party shifted into a new phase. A platform had been laid over the swimming pool, and rows of folding chairs were set up in front of a large screen. McCartney took his seat in the makeshift theatre flanked by his daughters Stella, who is fifty years old and a fashion designer, and Mary, who is fifty-two, a photographer, and the host of a vegetarian cooking show. It was time to screen a special hundred-minute version of “The Beatles: Get Back,” a three-part documentary series more than six hours in length made by the director Peter Jackson, and scheduled to stream on Disney+ during the Thanksgiving weekend.
The event had been billed as a sneak preview, but it was also an exercise in memory. “Get Back” is a remake of sorts. Nearly everyone at the party knew the story. In January, 1969, the Beatles assembled at Twickenham Film Studios, in West London, to rehearse songs for their album “Let It Be.” The idea was to film their sessions there, perform somewhere in public—proposals ranged from an amphitheatre in Syria to Primrose Hill—and then release the edited result as a movie. By the time the eighty-minute documentary, also called “Let It Be,” appeared, in May, 1970, the band had come to an end. Most fans have always thought of the documentary as “the breakup movie,” a dour, dimly lit portrayal of bitter resentments and collapsing relationships. Jackson and his team combed through sixty hours of Beatles film and even more audiotape from more than half a century ago to tell the story anew.
“Now you will be the accountant to the fishes.”
The lights in the back yard went down. An audience of luminaries turned into dozens of anonymous silhouettes. First came a short, featuring Jackson, who made his name and fortune with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, speaking to us from his studio in New Zealand. He explained that he had relied on cutting-edge techniques to enhance the soundtrack and the imagery. And, even in the opening images of “Get Back,” Twickenham seemed less gloomy, the Beatles more antic and engaged. Gone was the funereal tone. “They put some joy in!” Ringo Starr told me later. “That was always my argument—we were laughing and angry.” Jackson was clearly in synch with McCartney’s hope that the new documentary would alter the narrative about his life and the final days of perhaps the biggest pop-cultural phenomenon of the twentieth century.
To retrieve the memories and sensations of the past, Proust relied mainly on the taste of crumbly cakes moistened with lime-blossom tea. The rest of humanity relies on songs. Songs are emotionally charged and brief, so we remember them whole: the melody, the hook, the lyrics, where we were, what we felt. And they are emotionally adhesive, especially when they’re encountered in our youth.