We needed Paul McCartney this past week. Fortunately, we got him.
This was the kind of week that made me want to declare a media blackout. The news was dominated by ugly reports about immigrant children being ripped from their parents and detained within our own borders. The music world, which often offers some relief from the harsh realities of everyday life, was instead the source of a horrible, unfolding story about the violent life and death of rapper XXXTentacion. As details emerged about his brutal treatment of other people before his own death during a robbery June 18, I was reminded that artists are also capable of behaving horribly.
For most of the week, my socials were awash with tweets and comments full of anger, despair, and shame from friends embarrassed and revolted by the family separation occurring at the U.S. border. But then something happened Wednesday that began to change the mood of the week for me: Paul McCartney released two new songs.
We hadn’t heard new music from Sir Paul since 2013. I was eager to know what he had been writing. Both the songs, “Come on to Me” and “I Don’t Know” gave me something new to think about besides current events.
“Come on to Me” sounded like a rollicking good bar song, with a big drum sound and a harmonica part that reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s “Poor Tom.” On the other hand, “I Don’t Know” felt like a reflective update to “Yesterday,” with Macca singing about seeing trouble at every turn and asking, “What am I doing wrong? What’s the matter with me?” The more somber “I Don’t Know” seemed to capture the mood of the week, as if Paul were saying, “I understand.” But “Come on to Me” reminded me of the power of his music to uplift.
There was more to come. At 4:30 a.m. Friday I woke up, unable to sleep, made a pot of coffee, and opened up Facebook to ease into the morning. There was Paul McCartney, smiling and singing on an episode of “Carpool Karaoke” hosted by James Corden.
What a joyous surprise! I forgot about the work I was going to do an instead went along for a happy ride as Macca and James Corden toured Paul’s childhood landmarks and sang along to Beatles songs. Here he was, Macca singing “Drive My Car,” pointing out the church where he was a choirboy, and driving to the real Penny Lane that inspired the song.
He visited his childhood home and described how he and John Lennon wrote “She Loves You” there. He played “When I’m 64” on a stand-up piano, looking and sounding like I imagine his dad might have been as he played on the piano when Paul was a child.
Paul’s voice sounded frail and wobbly at times throughout the 24-minute show. But this episode of “Carpool Karaoke” was not about hearing a perfect rendition of “Let It Be.” This show was about letting one of the most optimistic and cheerful people on earth hold us by the hand and take us to another place where a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray beneath the blue suburban skies.
I was to encounter the episode many more times Friday as it went viral. Every other minute, it seemed like one of my Facebook friends was sharing “Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke” and commenting on how beautiful and inspirational it was to see Paul McCartney again. As one of my Facebook friends wrote when posting the clip, “Whether you’re a fan of The Beatles or not, this is one of the most creatively inspiring things you will ever watch.” Another one of my friends wrote, “This entire thing is lovely. With so much awful stuff in the news, Take some time to recall how good people are & can be . . . “
Seeing “Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke” episode explode all over my Facebook feed was a reminder of the universal power of Sir Paul’s optimism and good vibes. Here was Facebook on its best day: a community making goodness go viral. By Saturday the episode had been seen millions of times and covered all over the news media, with Vanity Fair describing “Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke” as “a joyful antidote for dark times.”
At one point during “Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke,” Macca listened quietly as James Corden teared up and described his love of “Let It Be.” McCartney said, “It’s the power of music. It’s weird isn’t it? How that can do that to you.”
Yes, Sir Paul, it’s the power of music. Your music.