I remember when rock was young, as Elton John sang, so young that no one could even imagine a rock star being over the age of 30. The very thought of someone that old still pumping out power chords onstage would have seemed ludicrous to my generation. Speaking of “My Generation,” the Who’s lyric “I hope I die before I get old” was our creed; and then, to the consternation of us all, we got older, and today some of those early rockers (at least those who didn’t die before they got old) are still playing sold-out tours – like Sir Paul McCartney.
Macca needs – or should need – no introduction to anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last fifty years. In an industry in which careers come and go like shooting stars, the 72-year-old has worked steadily for half a century and is currently on tour again, putting on a nearly three-hour, 38-song show that covers hits from his Beatles, Wings, and solo eras. What has sustained his success through those decades, and what keeps him recording and rocking out at an age at which many men are riding chair lifts, is his relentless work ethic and creative urge.
McCartney’s manager Scott Rodger has called him the hardest working artist he’s ever met, a reputation Paul earned while still a Beatle. Journalist Rip Rense wrote, of the Beatles’ legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, that
absent McCartney’s obsessive work ethic, there would have been no Pepper at all. Paul was the guy pushing the others to come to the studio every day, especially John, who probably would otherwise have been content to stay home, tripping on LSD. Lennon acknowledged –complained, really – that Paul rang him up at home incessantly, exhorting him to come to the studio and compose, sing, record.
After the history-making group broke up, it would have been easy, or certainly tempting, for McCartney and his bandmates to sit back and rest on their laurels. Moving forward with solo projects must have been a daunting prospect; after all, how do you top being a Beatle? But Paul embraced the challenge and launched into solo work – a self-titled album for which he wrote all the songs and performed all the instruments and vocals (with some contributions from wife Linda), and which was released even before the Beatles’ final album.
As it happens, I recently finished reading Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle, published late last year. Numerous times throughout the book, Doyle notes how obsessively driven McCartney was/is to work, create, rehearse, move forward. He quotes session musician Laurence Juber as saying, “It was hard to get Paul not to work… It took a lot for Paul to call the session off and say, ‘I just don’t feel up to it.’” McCartney himself barely even views it as work: “I like to record and not have to feel like it’s too much work. I hate to think, ‘I’m going to work now… I’m going to grind out some music.’”
In a Japanese jail after Customs caught him entering the country with a bag of marijuana, Paul was still thinking about work, according to Doyle. Even the day of John Lennon’s murder, a shocked McCartney, never very good at openly expressing his emotions, went to the studio for a scheduled session, explaining later to the curious press that “I have hidden myself in my work today.” It was only afterward, at home, that Paul allowed himself to break down.
McCartney’s commitment to work and creativity led him to release two dozen post-Beatles pop-rock albums (among other musical projects) and to amass a jaw-dropping pile of awards and achievements best summed up by his Guinness World Records title, “the Most Successful Composer and Recording Artist of All Time.”
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 7/31/14)