Billy Keane: Exposure diminishes the McCartney mystique
The Grammy Awards (RTE2) The Graham Norton Show (BBC1) Newsnight (BBC2)
Published 03/02/2014 | 02:30
What is it about Paul McCartney's continued insistence on having a career that is so wrong?
His appearance at the Grammy Awards wasn't bad, as such, and by certain standards it was enjoyable enough, if you were prepared to overlook the dreaded "new material".
Ringo was there too, pretending to play the drums. Which again was mildly diverting, as we looked from Ringo to Paul and back to Ringo again, trying to figure out how much "work" had been going on there, and whether any of that stuff is ever worth it. So what's wrong with that, on a quiet Monday evening?
Well, for a start, if we are looking for insights into the ageing process and the efforts that rich people make to subvert it, we hardly need a mini-reunion of The Beatles to take us there. All around that room you could see heroic visions of that ancient struggle, on the faces of people who were not The Beatles. Who were not among the greatest artists of the 20th Century. Who did not change the world.
And part of the problem, I think, is that McCartney at some level seems unaware of the true extent of his greatness. More than The Stones or Bowie or even Dylan, more than Picasso or Warhol, more than Arthur Miller or Samuel Beckett or James Joyce, The Beatles changed the world. And if you've done that, you hardly need to be showing up at a dismal circus such as this, to play some new material. Even if you're enjoying it.
Enjoyment is not enough, I'm afraid. There are innumerable ways in which an extremely wealthy man can enjoy himself without letting us see him like this, merely demonstrating that he is just as capable of being average as the next fellow who is about to arrive on stage to accept an award.
There is but one reason why a great artist should be putting himself about in this way, and that is poverty. Patrick Kavanagh, after all, towards the end of his days, used to write the odd article for the RTE Guide. No problem there, if a man really needs the money. McCartney at the Grammys is Kavanagh in the RTE Guide without any of that terrible need.
Admittedly most people regard this late un-flowering of McCartney as completely harmless, and I may be taking a purist position here. Because in truth, I don't even think McCartney should have got married again. Anyone can get married again, but not anyone can create a body of work that will be revered in a thousand years' time. Sometimes I don't think you can cross that canyon baby!
If marriage means having your picture plastered everywhere like some everyday celebrity, and telling Sky News how happy you are, again you are reducing yourself to the level of any other mortal. And that is not right.
I don't want to see McCartney on The Graham Norton Show, because brilliant though it is, you can get onto it for doing a lot less than McCartney did, in one week in 1963 alone. There is something essentially mysterious about a creative achievement as immense as McCartney's, and to see him engaged in such ordinariness, in some way dishonours that mystery.
It is also about our sense of proportion, a matter that was discussed on Newsnight by the writer Alain De Botton, who has just brought out a book about the news, and how we receive it. He argues that there is a divide between what is popular and what is important, and that the challenge is to make the important news the most popular – Aengus Fanning was on to this about 30 years ago, but still...
To see McCartney in the same room as everyone else at the Grammys is to suggest that they are all somehow in the same business, when in truth they do not even inhabit the same universe. It implies a basic lack of discrimination, of the type that Alain de Botton sees so often on the news – indeed it may be appropriate at certain times, when there is nothing more important going on than, say, a Cabinet reshuffle, simply to announce that there is no news today. Which is roughly what we need now, from Paul McCartney.
Less would be more, nothing would be perfect.