Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"A Love Letter from Lisa: To Paul McCartney, My Confession"

I hesitate to post another uncomplimentary appraisal of one of PopMatters' Beatles tributes, but I feel justified in doing so after reading this love note to Paul. Written by a Chicago-based journalist named Lisa Torem, it's basically a compilation of memories and longings involving Paul that yields oh-so few original, compelling, or even semi-interesting insights. The upshot of the piece is little more than this: Lisa Torem loves Paul McCartney a lot. And she certainly does. What she fails to do, though, is offer a unique perspective on the pop music icon. In other words, I finished her ode without really gaining any new or valuable knowledge about why it is that Paul possesses such a magnetic appeal.

Here are a few paragraphs that represent the whole pretty accurately:

Later in life, at one of your Chicago concerts, the footage of “Good Day Sunshine” and “English Tea” for NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev was shown. McArthur and Tokarev were orbiting some 220 miles above earth in their space shuttle Discovery. I was (and still am) so fascinated by what you’ve accomplished, Paul.

. . .

“Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy,” your sultry voice sings before trailing off. Watching Hard Days Night and Help and learning the tablature parts for “Norwegian Wood” is what bound my days together, you should know.

. . .

In 2003, years after that barbed-wire wall of inhumanity came down, you shared your talents with the Russians. You played the Back in USSR tour in Moscow’s Red Square, where you personally met Putin. Later you played the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the site of their revolution.

Unfortunately, paragraph after paragraph composed in a vein similar to these excerpts doesn't amount to much of substance. For instance, what is meant by this thought: "Maybe those 'cold wars' only exist in our imaginations, Paul." Intended to be penetrating, it's really just vacuous. And the line, "Watching Hard Days Night and Help and learning the tablature parts for 'Norwegian Wood' is what bound my days together, you should know," seems like a tedious side note. Too much of the piece is scattered in this way and doesn't contribute to a unifying theme or insight of interest. And, at times, the tone of Torem's writing takes some unfortunate and even bizarre turns. It goes from self-aggrandizing ("Music and writing about music immortalizes us, documenting the triumphs and tragedies for posterity") to slightly, even if unintentionally, condescending ("Giving back— how easy to get caught up in the trivialities of life— but giving back is important, Paul, and I think you can honestly look back and feel you’ve done that") to weirdly death-obsessed ("This may be the last letter you read as you await the end"). Vis a vis this final point, Torem consistently writes as though Paul is knocking on death's door, and because that's not the case, it creates a hollow sense of urgency.

Having voiced these criticisms, how about a note of admiration? This passage is quite touching: "I think it’s the father in you (Paul) that brought out the mother in me. For me, you were the first superstar who wore the role of nurturer so well and so proudly." To be honest, I'd have a difficult time imagining such a sweet and generous man as anything but a loving father. I hope that Ms. Torem and I aren't too off-base in our views.

Overall, though, "A Love Letter from Lisa" doesn't impart much beyond an impassioned veneration of Paul, and it seems to confuse this sentiment with genuinely engaging insights.

P.S. "With your prickly beard and button down pullovers, you made parenting look sexy. You were a 'believer, you couldn’t leave her if you tried' as that rival gang song expressed." The writer who resists the temptation to shoehorn lyrics into some part of a piece of music journalism is typically doing himself or herself a favor. Such attempts, like the one above, rarely avoid being clumsy and superfluous.

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