Last Thursday, Paul McCartney gave a surprise performance in Times Square. By all accounts, he was amazing and left everyone in his presence elated long after the 15-minute show ended. (I can’t believe I missed it.)
While it’s not surprising that a former Beatle would have this effect, it is somewhat surprising that he did so without pulling any of the usual “living legend” stops. There wasn’t a single duet, Beatles song, or story from the good old days. Performing four new songs with his current band from their upcoming album “New,” McCartney spoke only long enough to apologize for the concert’s brevity and thank the New York Police Department for allowing it to take place.
What is this? Doesn’t he know the formula for being an aging rocker? Nope, and thank God he doesn’t! McCartney’s career has taken many twists and turns, not all of which have yielded good results. He’s always favored being an efficient creator to a temperamental artist, something that led to some questionable albums and conflict between him and John Lennon.
However, the great thing about his work is that McCartney knows his strengths—melodic songwriting and interesting production, not to mention the bone-piercing Paul yell—and doesn’t worry too much about trying to guess the next big trend or recapture previous glory.
As I’ve said before in this column, the music business is a strange place to navigate, and one often ends up either taking the easy way out or risking fading away entirely. This is certainly the case with other aging rockers, who attempt to stay relevant by turning into something that their younger selves would find unrecognizable or depressing. Who knows why Paul is able to stay his course and stay relevant? It could be the safety net of his serendipitous Beatles fame, but it could be that he’s just that likeable. Whatever role luck has played, it’s been carefully balanced out by a single-minded commitment to keep doing what he loves and does best until he literally loses his voice.
After seeing many a former musical idol humiliate himself, it gives me hope to see one that’s cracked the code to a long and winding career that neither repeats itself nor loses sight of its identity. It even makes me feel better about pop music as a whole because it proves that it doesn’t have to be ephemeral. From his earlier four-track recordings in the ’60s right up to his recent pop masterpieces produced by Nigel Godrick and Mark Ronson, McCartney’s music has survived. At the same, time he isn’t afraid to let it evolve with time. I don’t know how he’ll follow up his recent release of “New,” but chances are, it’ll sound completely different yet strikingly familiar.
David Ecker is a Columbia College junior. Slightly Off Key runs alternate Fridays.