Paul McCartney Is Going To Be Forgotten, And You're Going To Die

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So Kanye West teamed up with this unknown artist called Paul McCartney to make an album.  And a bunch of teenagers asked, “Who is this Paul McCartney dude? Why does Kanye think he’s important?”
And my friends reacted like these teenagers had gone on a kitten-murdering spree.  “How can they not know who Paul McCartney is?!?!?  What the hell is wrong with their parents?!?!?”
No.  What the hell is wrong with you?
Dude.  The Beatles were fifty years ago, and teenagers have always been remarkably ignorant of the past.  When most of you were teenagers, you couldn’t have picked an Al Jolson song out of a lineup.  And Al was just as big and influential in his day as the Beatles were – I had a friend argue that Al Jolson wasn’t nearly as influential on the pop music scene as The Beatles, which just proves my point that she had no fucking clue who Al Jolson was.  Al Jolson, the guy who basically modelled the idea of musical theater?  Al Jolson, who brought black music to white America?  Al Jolson, the guy who starred in the first talking movie musical of all time?
(Al Jolson, the white dude who loved performing in blackface?  Also horrendous.  But I don’t excuse that, any more than I excuse John Lennon beating his wife.)
Fact is, most teenagers these days are probably aware of the Beatles on some level, but couldn’t name the individual band members, any more than most of you could name Charlie Parker’s pianist.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Time marches on.  Things get old, and lost from pop culture.  History will always remember Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but pop culture?  It’s not history.  It’s a more merciless beast.  If you haven’t done something relevant in the last decade, you’re not in pop culture, even if you’re still selling out stadiums.
You’re getting old.  There’s nothing wrong with the teenagers.  That terror you’re feeling is that sliding, yawning gulf of the difference between the culture you grew up in and the culture they grew up in, and oh my God they’re not concerned with the things that you loved, they couldn’t give a shit, they’re making their own way.
The thing is, the reason most of y’all are horrified is because the Beatles existed before you did.  New Kids on the Block?  The Backstreet Boys?  Those all were created in your lifetime, and so you’re fine with them fading into oblivion.  But the bands that were popular in the generation before you came along, the ones that all the hip grownups listened to?  They were supposed to be immortal.  Watching them fade into the answer to a trivia question limns your own crumbling physicality.
Which is not to say that Paul and the Beatles didn’t do wonderful stuff.  They did.  So did Al Jolson.  So did Glen Miller.  So did Jerry Lee Lewis.  All the sources of massive cultural changes in their day, mostly unknown by teenagers today.
Paul McCartney will never be forgotten, per se.  He’ll be clutched to teenaged girls’ chests forever; in some high school, someone will love him.  But he’ll be loved in that sense that Brahms and Bach are still loved by teenagers – it’s going to be an individual passion, a mark of uniqueness, something their friends don’t quite understand, but what the hell.  “Paul McCartney” will no longer be a universal touchstone, but a secret passphrase.  You’ll see two teenagers light up when someone reveals they too know the lyrics to “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and they will bond, knowing on some level they are meant to be friends.  And that too is delightful.
But what they won’t know is how thoroughly “When I’m Sixty-Four” was influenced by Al Jolson – maybe not directly, but a long chain of musical footprints that touched McCartney.  And, most likely, neither did you.
We all fade.  We all die.  Paul and John and Ringo and George (and, thankfully, Yoko) are all fading into the sunset, and at some point everything you loved will be a footnote in some history book, so seriously.  Let that shit go.
 

1 Comment

  1. John Wiswell
    Jan 5, 2015

    I was in a distant land where I found a pedestal, and upon it these words appear: “My name is Kanye West, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing but the b-side remains.

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