Paul McCartney’s ‘NEW’: The Jew-ish Beatle’s Bar Mitzvah Album
He can still give you earworms and warm fuzzy retro feelings. But at 71, is Macca now finally a man?
The title track of Paul McCartney’s NEW, his 16th solo studio album, has been saturating computers everywhere these days, and if Macca’s voice sounds giddy, it’s because he knows he’s reeled in a big one. If you have watched a YouTube video in the past few weeks, you have probably heard a fragment of the album’s title track. Paul’s reason for feeling renewal and rebirth, he has said, is his recent marriage to Nancy Shevell, a 51-year-old Jewess 20 years his junior. When McCartney’s marriage to Shevell was first announced, cyberspace was abuzz with the rumor that Sir Paul was going to join the faith of Nancy’s fathers, which was also the faith of his first wife Linda Eastman’s fathers, and the fathers of his one-time fiancée Jane Asher. Headlines like “Got to get Jew into my life” invariably followed.
The Jews may have lost Bob Dylan to Christianity for a few years, but could the goyim lose McCartney for good? It seems possible that, between a mega tour of epic proportions, and writing and recording these songs—a nuanced and baroque process involving a think-tank of four producers including Amy Winehouse, hipster knob twirler Mark Ronson, and Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer Sir George—that circumcision may not be the first thing on McCartney’s mind. Being a Jew—it’s one of those things you can get to later. When McCartney married Linda Eastman in 1969, as a rebound from John who (in effect) left him for Yoko, everyone noticed that Lennon’s new wife was Japanese, but most people didn’t notice that Eastman, a freethinking blonde photographer and groupie (who, after her first encounter with Paulie, bragged in a letter that she had “bagged a Beatle”), was Jewish. There was no talk of conversion, although Paul did say in interviews that, per matrilineal rabbinical law, his children with Linda were Jewish: Their daughter, the fashion designer Stella McCartney, appears to consider herself Jewish, although she did get married in a church.
Even after enduring the deaths of John, George, and Linda, and after having a failed second marriage, the greatest homage McCartney can offer to falling in love yet again (and where would Paul albums be without silly love songs?) is remembering “when we were new.” When you’re 71 and you’ve seen so much, Paul’s highest praise is a kind of clean slate. But is that all one is looking for so late in the journey? Most 13-year-old boys walk out of their bar mitzvahs the same twerps they were when they walked in. But most mortals walk into their 70s feeling old. Tragedians from Athens to Jerusalem had another way of looking at it. The Greeks, from Aeschylus, had a term for it: “pathei mathos,” or learning through suffering. (The Jews had a name for it, too: Job.)
Yet the astonishing thing about NEW is that his seemingly frivolous metaphor can have a way of working. Paulie can still give you earworms—super-durable pop gems that stick in your brains, sometimes against your will. The title track is a case in point, scaling up and down major and relative minor scales, all in simple triads, just like “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” and so many others; they somehow fit so perfectly, sound so right. Who among us would not like to preserve our youth and beauty forever? What’s the alternative? Wisdom? Today I am a man, say the adolescents who have cut a covenant with God, declaring not a faith but a trust, even if that god seems lost in the shadows. But while we’re alive, we still have music; the right kind of pop ditty could mean as much to us as The Goldberg Variations, which was, after all, written to cure Herr Goldberg’s insomnia. We need music to lull us to sleep, too, or to keep us going. McCartney is so popular, he got into the Guinness Book of World Records for it.
But McCartney is more than just another hugely successful rock star. A few years ago, he performed at the Obama White House to accept an award named for George Gershwin, who also had a knack, with his brother Ira, of cranking out the hits, but so much more, too. So, it may be with this album, without ceremony, that Paul may declare himself to be a man, even though he still sounds quite needy. As he has been going around the world belting out Beatles songs with what voice he has left—which sounds lovely, authentic, and textured on this album—he feels overwhelmed with holding up to the Fab Four, and even his most sympathetic listeners from McCartney (1970) onward tend to be fixated on the white elephant—or White Album—in the room. A great McCartney solo song (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Back Seat of my Car,” “Uncle Albert,” “Junior’s Farm,” and so on) is said (or even thought) to be Beatle-worthy.
Most of my students, who were born in the early ’90s, love the Beatles, probably because their parents and grandparents loved them, too; people will still love The Beatles long after we’ve all left this earth. Paulie goes forth and does his best anyway, and sometimes the producers really do bring out newness. “Queenie Eye,” co-written with producer Paul Epworth, sounds like a schoolyard taunt with an almost endless sonic toolbox, and rhymes, in a construction that Eminem might like, “rags and riches” to “dogs and bitches.” This album asks for lots of saving—save our love, save us, save me. “Save Us,” the opening track, sounds like the fast part of “Live and Let Die,” except that instead of espionage, this car chase is an attempt to escape an all too palpable vulnerability. “In the heat of battle, you’ve got something that’ll save us.” Please, he is imploring his younger wife, do something to preserve our frothy youth.
The progressive-era novelist’s greedy, red-haired, Polish Jew, Zerkow, is the 20th century’s greatest golem