Friday, January 20, 2012

When I'm 64

Robert Bunter: Oh, Paul. What are we going to do with you? Possessed of one of the most electrifying male voices in heavy rock history, James Paul McCartney also happened to be one of the most versatile and gifted songwriters of his era – equally capable of breathtaking anthems, bold experimentalism, heartrending ballads, and delicate acoustic meditations. And it mattered not to what he turned his hand: it was almost always anchored by an almost supernaturally catchy melody and performed with admirable virtuosity on a wide variety of instruments. He is the man who can do anything. So what does he do? He dons one of those round Styrofoam hats, grabs his dancing cane and plops out a seemingly endless series of rooty-toot soft shoe ditties “for the grannies to dig” as George so accurately put it. It’s like Albert Einstein took a break from his equations to write jokes on Bazooka Joe wrappers, or Michelangelo painting the side of a goddamn barn.

Richard Furnstein:
Sure, Paul had a great howler on him. He could have built his entire career on his howl and a rebellious rock persona with a tight expiration date. Paul was more than a get rich quick scheme and a leather daddy hat. Sometimes wanted to sing about old people tending to their little potato patches, grandchildren that scoff at your Eddie Cochran imports, and finding your dear love attractive even though she's now an old lady and smells weird. "Hope I die before I get old," eh, Pete Townsend? No way, Paul's seen the impact of early death on his life (his dear mama and good friend Stu and maybe some other people) and he's celebrating the crazy journey of life. "You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead," he would later observe. Sounds nice. Put some tea on the kettle. You grandkids can use that dorm room hot pot that you plug in, but I'm doing this the old fashioned way. Take the long way 'round.

Robert Bunter: Well, it pains me to admit this, Richard, but you’re right. Paul’s right. You’ve actually taken this whole analysis to the next level. Everyone assumed John had the greater emotional maturity because he was willing to forcefully confront his bleakest demons. Likewise, we assumed Paul’s eager-to-please Everyperson charm was a mask behind which he hid his real feelings. The truth is, he was aware the whole time that the real cosmic truth of life lies in the simple, everyday world around us. Old people shuffling around in sleepgowns while they brew their tepid brown mugs of Earl Grey were once vital, young people, full of angst and complex thoughts. THEY NEED BEATLES MUSIC, TOO. Paul’s ultimate wisdom recognizes the endless circle of life and the inevitability of aging and loss in a way that John’s primal babyscream tantrums were unable to approach. As someone once said, “It’s like a dusting of opium on Auntie Minn’s biscuits.” Behind the Paul-mask, a showbiz entertainer. Yes. But, behind the entertainer mask: PAUL.

Richard Furnstein: A snake eating its own tale. Adding to the cycle of life cacophony is the fact that this is one of Paul's first songs. It's the sound of pure melody pouring out of a confused adolescent on the sitting room's upright piano. "Your Aunt Mim has stopped by for wafers and tea, Pauly. Play us that song about old people." And he did, because he gives the people what they want. I'll tell you what I want, though. Great recorded pop music with killer bass tones (CHECK) with a light touch of sentiment (OH YEAH). It's not just light story time, however. Paul offers the amazing lyrics: "Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight if it's not too dear" and "Yours sincerely/wasting away." "When I'm 64" is the perfect balance to an album about the heavy progression of youth culture. Take all the drugs you want and give your love away now, kids. But keep in mind a lifetime of new drugs (grandchildren, post menopausal intercourse, nice old sweaters) awaits you. It's closer than you think...

Paul was more than a get rich quick scheme and a leather daddy hat.

Robert Bunter: Wow. We’re really getting down to it! The harsh yet comforting realities of life. Now for some random observations: if you listen really closely in headphones, you can hear some amazing, subtle reverb on Paul’s lead vocal, which seems totally dry at first listen. While we’re on the subject, Paul’s voice has been sped up to sound more youthful, and he adopts a ridiculous Scottish accent on the word “your” in the lyric “Grandchildren on your knee.” I’ll bet whoever was in charge of ringing the bell at the end of that bridge had a hard time not laughing. The Lennon/Harrison backup vocals add a distinctive flavor, like pepper (!). The harmonized clarinet line under the last verse (and under the phrase “go for a ride”) is really compelling when you focus on it. Lastly, Paul’s closing “Hooo!” as he trots offstage is totally corny.

Richard Furnstein: So we agree, this is one of the clear highlights of "Sgt. Pepper," right?

Robert Bunter:
You’ve got to be kidding me! It’s is without a doubt the worst song on that album. I’m going to go even further: it’s terrible.

Richard Furnstein: I hope you enjoy the rest of your life. I hope you bounce grandchildren on your knee or whatever it is your people do. Best of luck to you. We can't grow old together as friends now.

Robert Bunter:

Original Beatles fan art by Jeff Love (

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