Certain non-writers make the joy of writing into a real task, when it's an occupation which should be ecstasy. I refer not to editors, agents, publicists, proofreaders, art directors, research assistants, or anyone else employed in the mechanics of the process. Those people actually perform useful and often loving work, making it possible for writers to earn a living. The people who to all appearances go out of their way to frustrate the best intentions of many writers--myself included--are the very subjects of the pieces we write. (That isn't to say that we writers are entirely blameless. I once began what turned out to be an aborted interview with singer Lucinda Williams with the words, "My editor assures me you're crazy as a shithouse rat.") In the case of someone famous, I suppose the celebrity, or his or her handlers, assume the writer owes it to the process to write favorably or at worst in a neutral tone, lest the poor artist should get into a snit and smash up the hotel room, something he'd likely do anyway. And please do not think that I'm referring only to the puff-pieces one scans in People, US, or other tripe locales. In the case of what I'm about to get around to talking about, one would be hard pressed to find any type of critical response at all. It's just a guy with some more product--and old product at that. The implicit pull is that we should all buy it because it won't be around forever--even though it apparently has been--and besides, it just has to be oh so very good, even better than the first time.
As you've no doubt guessed, the subject of tonight's vitriol is none other than Paul McCartney and the product in question is the Deluxe Edition of the Wings Over America recording experience. Retailing for $157 on Amazon, when this behemoth arrives in stores they'll only need to sell a couple dozen copies to make McCartney a double billionaire, a goal I know I speak for one and all as a dream we've shared since the stupid murder of John Lennon back in 1980.
Around about the end of May of this year, Paul McCartney will be making available to the international gaggle of fans a box set to end all box sets. According to Guitar World (which approaches any repackaged McCartney release with the solemnity of a Pope's coronation), the package includes two remastered CDs of the original three-record-set, a "bonus" audio recording of Wings at the Cow Palace, a DVD of the television special of the tour, plus four books, if by books one means memorabilia, such as a bunch of tour drawings by "Humphrey Ocean " (here's his curious website, if you're interested), a Linda McCartney photo book, and a lot of writing and interviews by David Fricke. There's even the famous "Rockshow" video about which so many of us have heard next to nothing.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn't it? I mean, no one's forcing you to buy it, right? That frigging Phil Mershon probably got his copy free from the record company, even though he's more uncomfortable with Starbucks than with guys who wear green on Thursdays, which it wouldn't surprise any of us too much if he made a habit of doing his own damned self!
See what happens when you try to offer a bit of critical analysis toward a mega-super-duper star? You find yourself writing in a pejorative manner about yourself in the third person. That's power, McCartney. Don't abuse it.
I take no truck with the release of any of this merchandise itself, other than wondering perhaps why it all has to be so bloody expensive (Answer: the only people who'll want it are the die-hards, all of whom are my age or older and therefore presumably have jobs that will allow them to buy it). No, my only gripe--and it's a big-ass gripe--is why in God's name (sorry Paul) did they have to make a promotional video about the release of the recording? The implication is that the prospective purchaser will be getting so much stuff in this colossal investment that he or she will need an operations manual just to wade through it all. I know it wouldn't be fair to those of you who think I'm a hypocrite for me not to show you the video of which I'm ranting, so here you are. Go on. Watch it. I can wait.
I've been sitting here staring at the above words for a few minutes, a fact which I hope the otherwise unnecessary space between this paragraph and the last will amplify. I've been remembering the original sense of anticipation that preceded the release of the three record set back in late 1976. With the sole exception of the 1995 televised broadcast and multi-CD release of the exceptional Beatles Anthology, the release of Wings Over America was the last time the world experienced any grand expectation of a former Beatle product. Part of that can be attributed to the aging of the marketplace, but if that's all there was to it, then how can we explain the fact that all the really old Beatles albums are still in catalog, regularly re-released in "new, improved" editions? No, the real reason that late 76 was the end--or near end--was because the original Wings Over America just wasn't all that riveting. There are a couple good explanations as to why. First, everything on the live recording was available in better form on studio recordings, since live recordings, then as now, are inherently incapable of conveying the sensation of the live performance (Yes, I know there are exceptions, such as Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, Cheap Trick at Budokan and Warren Zevon's Stand in the Fire, but name another). Second, 1976 was precisely the time in British and American popular music when disco, punk and heavy metal came to dominate the market, transforming the music we hear to this very day into a far more rhythm-based and less melody-oriented listening affair. Finally, by that troubling year, it was virtually impossible for McCartney (admittedly now knighted and bestowed with the recognition as the most commercially successful performer of all time) to convince the music buying public that he was still relevant. Ask the average fifty-plus fan to name his or her three favorite McCartney or Wings albums and I'd be willing to bet all three would have been released before Wings Over America.
Here's the best comparison I can make: In 1976 Chrysler released its worst ever automobile, the Dodge Aspen. There's a reason you don't see very many of those at antique car shows. They were among the most rust-prone vehicles ever manufactured. You may draw your own conclusions.