Covid Metamorphoses #27 – Paul

Yeah, we watched the One World: Together at Home special. We knew it was going to be a piece of shit, but there was an appeal in having a collective TV experience, simultaneous like how we used to in the old days. If anything good happened along the way, we could enjoy it. And if anything awful happened, we could laugh at it.

Good things: hearing doctors and nurses talk, the World Health Organization, seeing how well other countries have responded, Elton John’s collection of basketballs in his backyard, Elton’s reduction of I’m Still Standing’s melody to one emphatic note.

Shitty things: Just about everything else.

The musical performances reminded me that when artists pick what song they’re going to sing, they only ever think of the chorus. So you end up hearing people sing verses that make no sense in the context of the charity event–sometimes even actively undermining the sentiment–just so they can get to the big chorus. Music critics call this “The Hallelujah Effect” in honor of the Leonard Cohen standard. People get so excited about getting to sing “Halle-luuuu-yah” that they forget there’s a section in the second verse about getting a haircut while being tied to a chair.

Saturday night, Paul McCartney went one step further. Nothing about his song made any sense at all.

I guess Paul’s equating the busy Lady Madonna to the busy doctor and nurses? Monday’s child has learned to tie his bootlace. Sure man.

The crazy thing is Paul has written a lot of songs, many, many songs. We were trying to guess what he was going to play–Let It Be? Hey Jude? Maybe he’d do Things We Said Today. That would work, wouldn’t it? But instead he played Lady Madonna. Poorly.

Every would-have-been-a-school-day morning, my son and I start our “school day” with a song. It’s a way to clearly transition from “home” into “school” (probably every word these days should be put in quotes to signal their semiotic instability, i.e. they don’t mean what they used to mean). We were running late today, so we went straight to his class video chat. If you’ve never done an online group meeting with eight-ish kindergarten students, a teacher, and their two assistants, let’s just say that it’s exactly what you think it is. We’ve attended all of them since they started, but a couple of minutes into today’s chat, my son asked if we could leave. I told him sure. We talked for a bit. And while he read a couple of stories online, I looked for a song to play.

Our son developed a love for the Beatles real early on, like around 18 months or so. We didn’t actively encourage this–our taste runs more towards the Slits/Can/Sonic Youth side of the street—but he kept pointing and asking. In an effort to keep things interesting for us, we steered him towards similar stuff (Monkees, XTC) along the way, including some of the better solo stuff.

We were at an iconic downtown record store a couple of years ago when he found Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt and brought it over to me. It was $5. Fine. Today, I pulled out the CD and played him this song.

When I bought the CD for my son, it was the third time I had bought it. The second time was for myself, sometime in the early 90s. The first time I bought it, however, I bought it for my dad, as either a birthday or xmas present. I’m pretty sure it was christmas because my dad was drunk. He didn’t get drunk often, not as far as I know anyway. His father was a serious alcoholic, the bad kind. And while my dad passed on to me a lot of inter generational demons, he spared me the burden of growing up with an alcoholic father.

Some quick research tells me Flowers In the Dirt came out in 1989, so I would have been 17– my senior year of high school. I’m sure I bought it for my dad because Elvis Costello had co-written a bunch of the songs, and the excellent My Brave Face was getting played on the local alternative-music station. Some kind of attempt on my part to find some kind of common ground with my dad beyond rooting for sports teams from Boston and both of us having assholes for fathers.

But now that I’m about to tell the story about my dad and I listening to Put It There, I realize it must have been some time after I had bought him the CD, because he knew this song already. So I must have bought it, and then come over some time shortly afterwards. Anyway, CD players were kind of new, and my dad put this song on repeat, the song I played for my song this morning. And I know my dad had been drinking, because he kept poking me in the chest as he explained the song to me. How it was about a father telling his son that no matter what happened, he could always put it there. And so my dad made me keep shaking his hand, explaining that I could put it there. He quoted the Robert Frost line about home being the place where if you show up there they have to take you in. I think, in that moment, I even convinced myself that this was my dad’s way of apologizing for kicking me out of the house 18 months earlier. I remember leaving his apartment feeling like something important had happened, that we had achieved some kind of breakthrough in our relationship, now that I was almost an adult.

As of this writing, my dad and I haven’t spoken in (quick math…) 17-ish years. The story behind all that is too long and convoluted to get into here, but let’s just say that Robert Frost never met my dad. I was going through some boxes last night because my wife and I finally got around to changing the sheets on our bed (after…uh…five months or so? ugh), and I have boxes of photos/postcards/ephemera I keep in the linen closet. I saw some pictures I had taken of my dad back in 1999-ish when I visited them in Florida. I showed them to my son, who has heard stories about my dad, but never met him. He looked at them for a long time, then said, “He doesn’t look very happy.”

I was tempted to say, “It runs in the fucking family, kid. Get used to it.” Then I caught myself, as those kinds of jokes are one of the many family traditions, on both sides, I am trying to break.

When we listened to the song today, I didn’t poke my son in the chest. I didn’t make him shake my hand over and over. When the song was over, I asked him what it was about. He didn’t know. He hadn’t been paying attention. I told him we were going to listen again, and this time I wanted him to listen to the words. He sat across from me while we listened, and I asked him to put his hands on top of mine. This time he smiled as he listened, instead of fidgeting. And when it was over, he said it was about a father and son being friends.

And I thought about how it would have been cool if Paul had played it the other night instead of Lady Madonna.


About ScottCreney

Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of "Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organiztion".
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