Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hey, Sir Paul

Happened to catch a PBS special last night, Performance at the White House, wherein Sir Paul McCartney was awarded the Library of Congress's Gershwin Award. (The Gershwin Bros, a couple of piano-playing composers, gave us songs like "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," and the scores, "An American in Paris," "Rhapsody in Blue, " and "Porgy and Bess," among others.)

McCartney doesn't really need any prizes at this stage of his career, though he was pleased to win this one. If he'd only ever written just the one song "Yesterday," his place in pop music history would be assured. ("Yesterday" has been covered by more performers than any other song. Even Bob Dylan, who reportedly hated it, did a version that he eventually decided to keep to himself.)

Paul's got a few pounds socked away, and no trouble getting a gig if he wants, plus a couple hundred other hit songs upon which he earns royalties.

The show took the form of a book-end performance by McCartney and his band, with the centerpiece, tributes of his songs by Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Herbie Hancock, Faith Hill, Jack White, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dave Grohl, the Jonas Brothers, and a classical Chinese pianist named Lang Lang.

Jerry Seinfeld showed up and did a few minutes, and had fun with some Beatle lyrics.

I was amused at the notion that whatever royalties Sir Paul still owned of the songs done on the show, he was getting paid for each performance.

McCartney sang "Michelle," with the President and First Lady sitting in the front row a few feet away.

I once caught a musical performance at the White House by somebody when George Bush the Younger was President. Bush sat there smiling vacantly, watching.

Last night, Obama sang along, and appeared to know the words of every song. He and the First Lady held hands. And when the last song of the evening arrived -- what else but "Hey, Jude," and the performers all dutifully trooped up on stage to sing along, the Obamas, daughters and all, went up there, too. And they all kept time ...

I have a long history with this particular song -- going back to the sixties when it first came out, then seeing it done on The Smothers Brothers Show, and hearing Paul sing it a couple times in concerts I attended. It is my all-time favorite Beatle song, with "Let it Be," "Yesterday," "Blackbird," and "In my Life," not far behind. All of those were performed last night, save the last, which is mostly a Lennon song.

(If you want a counterpoint to my rave about the Beatles and Sir Paul, check out Randy Newman's song, "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)," concerning rockers who never retire, but should ...)

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