After I posted my quick appreciation of Paul McCartney's new album title last week, I opened a brand-new issue of The New Yorker and found John Colapinto's article "When I'm Sixty-Four," a study of "Paul McCartney then and now."
A better subtitle would have been "How I spent a week wasting Paul McCartney's time." The story contains a few interesting revelations -- I didn't know Sir Paul's company, MPL Communications, owns the rights to Guys and Dolls, for instance. But for the most part it is dull, shapeless and devoid of insight. There's no real criticism of his music, either then or now, and certainly no attempt is made to synthesize his body of work. That would make a really interesting article, don't you think? I'll tell you what doesn't make a really interesting article: exhaustively cataloging every encounter Macca has with an autograph-seeking fan during your time together. If all that detail added up to something -- if Colapinto used it to make some point about Paul as public figure -- it might make sense, but no, it stands alone, as if the very fact that Paul gets recognized a lot were newsworthy. At one point a fan compliments him on Pipes of Peace, and I thought, Ooh, interesting choice. Maybe this will be the segue into a discussion of Paul's long and varied solo career. Or maybe the author will contrast this episode with the earlier one where Paul was asked to sign a copy of Beatles 1, to discuss the breadth of his fame and following. But none of that ever happened.
I first realized I might be wasting my time when I got to the "describing the subject's physical appearance" paragraph and it began, "McCartney's hair, which he admits to dyeing..."
Admits to dyeing? The man's hair was gray for more than a decade; it's not a matter of "admitting" to anything. This is like saying, "Starr's mustache, which he admits to having grown..." It might make for interesting reading if you discussed his decision to go back to brown, and whether or not it had anything to do with his decision to marry a wife several decades his junior. Or if you discussed the alleged plastic surgery he does not admit to having.
But Colapinto does not do any of that. Instead, he focused on asking dumb questions and then including them in the article. For example, Paul is approached by a fan brusquely seeking an autograph (the first of many), and as he walks away, Colapinto reports, "I remarked that the man could have been another Mark David Chapman." If I had the chance to chat with Paul McCartney, and I said something like that, I would buckle instantly under the weight of my humiliation. Like Chris Farley interviewing McCartney: "Stupid! Stupid!" I certainly wouldn't tell the world about it in The New Yorker. I would also be too embarrassed to write this sentence: "I suggested to McCartney that it's difficult to know whom to blame for Ono's presence at the [Let It Be] sessions -- Lennon, who brought her along, or Ono, who stayed when she was obviously unwelcome." Did you now. I am sure Paul thanked you for that insight.
The piece is full of the sort of details (nine pages' worth, not counting photos) you might find interesting if you haven't already heard the story about how "Yesterday" was originally, provisionally titled "Scrambled Eggs" -- in other words, if you're not at all interested in the Beatles. But if you're looking for analysis, look elsewhere.
The article's not available online, but if you feel like killing 6 minutes and 40 seconds, you can listen to an mp3 of Colapinto discussing "what it was like to interview Paul McCartney" at The New Yorker's website. I think I'll pass -- I've wasted enough time on this already.