Monday, October 11, 1999

Holey Man

Just how do you go about writing about the most significant loss of your life? There aren't any words that can possibly even begin to express the sadness, the hole left inside. For someone used to using writing not only as an outlet of expression but also as a method of sorting out the stuff inside- it must be more than a tad frustrating to not really be able to write about the pain of the loss which is only equaled by the pointlessness of the words that are left inside. There aren't adequate words to even begin to do justice to what you feel but at the same time you almost feel overly obligated to try.

Paul McCartney is perhaps the most talented writer ever that rarely reveals his emotions. His songs are as skillful at concealing his heart as they are at revealing it on rare occasions. Paul is more often effective at using his music as craftsmanlike entertainment rather than for any lofty artistic ambition. That skill fits his personality perfectly as the utmost populist. Yet the forever sunny soul has shown cracks during his most difficult public moments. The days following John Lennon's murder Paul did the only thing he could do- he went to the recording studio to work. When a reporter shoved a microphone in his face to get a comment on John's death Paul muttered the immortal words, "It's a drag." As sentimental as the man appears to be, he has never been one to lay himself out emotionally as well as say, Mr. Lennon did.

The time following the death of his wife Linda, Paul once again headed back to the studio to finish up the album of her songs that the couple was working on. Since Linda never had the comparable talent of say, Yoko Ono, the Wild Prairie project was seemingly more therapeutic for Paul than being of any creative value.

So for McCartney fans there has been interest to see what his own next album would be. How would he touch on the death of his wife from the same cancer that took his mother from his life at a young age? Would he write heartfelt spiritual tomes pondering the question of life? In "Here Today" his moving tribute to Lennon, he took the approach of writing about personal memories singing them directly to John. Would he take a similar approach with the loss of Linda and finally lay open feelings about what made that marriage work so well? Last week with the release of the retrospective rather than introspective Run Devil Run, we sorta got an answer. As he has done in the past, Paul gets back to yesterday to move himself forward. The CD, recorded a year after Linda's death during a three month period, is Paul's second album to feature covers of '50's rock and roll songs that influenced him as a writer/musician. The goal seems to be to capture the magic of Elvis' unmatched Sun Session recordings. The song selection itself is inspired from Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop" to Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town" to Carl Perkins' wonderfully jaunty "Movie Magg."

So what does Run Devil Run reveal? It shows a masterful musician singing and playing his heart out. Unlike most McCartney solo efforts the songs go for feeling rather than the ever futile attempt to remain an "artist" of significance. This is a man who is doing what he does best- to deal with his loss- he's singing the songs that touched him as a youth in hope that they can take him back to another time if only for a moment. It isn't a man singing openly about his grief but rather trying to deal with a heavy heart by singing the songs that brought him joy early on in life. And as a result the meaning of the songs to him comes clearly flowing through. Paul lovingly uses others' songs to express what he himself can't quite put into words.

The faithfulness of the arrangements and styles pay homage to '50's rock and roll while putting the ever polished McCartney signature on each track. He once again forcefully refutes his reputation as a sappy balladeer by rocking out through the CD's 15 tracks as soulfully as John ever did. Yet it is in the quieter moments when the effort of it all is McCartney at his breathtaking best. During Nelson's forever classic "Lonesome Town" the way Paul cries out at the upper range of his vocal register, "In the town of broken dreams, the streets are filled with regrets/Maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget..." shows emotion so nakedly rare for him. This is the voice of a man that will go on as he always has yet with the acknowledgment that he will never quite be the same again. Nostalgia gives way to timelessness. The spirit whose memory will always be there gives way to the voice you can't ever forget.

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