At my age I am increasingly tempted to engage in the perpetual indulgence of the older I get the better we were. Part of that is whinging about a narcissistic younger generation addicted to their smartphones and smug with a sense of entitlement. I’ve resisted that one. It’s demonstrably false and just plain embarrassing to repeat essentially the same complaint made by every generation at our stage since the Industrial Revolution. Make it stop. Please.
Then there’s music. Of course ours was better. And as much as I want to believe that, I need to back up and take a wider view. It’s not that simple. Apart from my generational bias, the way music is made and consumed has changed so much it’s impossible to consider the question fairly. Digital has dramatically increased the amount of music available and platforms to listen. Having so much accessible and so many ways to create niche playlists on so many devices means there are few artists which create a connecting cultural tissue.
Writing in The Paradox of Choice, Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz concludes, “the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction.” Musical abundance prevents the satisfaction of having artists who tower over others and define a generation. And lacking artists like that it’s easy to dismiss contemporary music as inferior. It isn’t inferior, it’s just balkanized to the point where nothing can leap off the page and be that shared cultural experience which claims everyone and everything in its hearing.
Which partly explains why watching Paul McCartney perform last week in Atlanta was such a, well, weighty experience. I was keenly aware, along with 17,000 others, that someone like him won’t happen again because it can’t happen again. McCartney’s (and by necessary inference the Beatles) music isn’t just the clichéd “soundtrack of our lives”, songs which connect to various and defining moments of our existence. This was not an oldies concert. It went beyond nostalgia.
The Māori are the oldest Pacific Island culture. They have a word, tikanga, which roughly summarized means, “the right thing that connects everything.” There was a whole lot of tikanga going on in Philips Arena that night. Music producer Rick Rubin helps explain why, “For me the Beatles are proof of the existence of God. It’s so good and so far beyond everyone else that it’s not them.” Regardless of how silly, or otherwise this may seem to anyone, transcendental was at least approximated that night.
But nothing is that simple. It never is. Sir Paul is 72 years old. Last week’s show was rescheduled from June when McCartney was struck with a serious viral infection and hospitalized for ten days. For all that, he looked, sounded and played like someone years younger. Yet there was an inescapable understanding that the sands of time of are sinking and the way of all flesh beckons. The next day writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Melissa Ruggieri wrote,
We want him to always be healthy and safe. To be immortal, even. To claim victory at every turn and to never leave us…Frankly, we want time to stop and for someone to freeze the musical genius portion of his brain so that even when he’s gone, the part of him that changed pop music will remain.
But she concedes, “A McCartney-less world is inevitable”. And so is a Tom Cannon-less world (which to suggest a profound understatement, will be noticed by fewer). And so while singing along at the top of my lungs, I was also gripped by a dense embrace of my mortality. Or more specifically I was ambushed by the eschaton.
Eshcaton? We can start with Bloomberg reporter Max Raskin’s definition, “The eschaton is basically the final stage of human history where the lion lies with the lamb and Justin Bieber is spoken of no more.” Not bad, but needs a little more. In Christian theology the eschaton (from the greek word for “last”) refers to God ending human history and ushering in his eternal kingdom. And while it has a linear component, Christian theology also insists on an ontological overlap. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” and, “has come upon you”. In Christ, it’s here now. Jesus also said, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.” We wait for its full realization. Here. To come. Now. Not yet.
So being theologically informed saved the moment.
Days are coming when there will be a McCartney-less world, a Tom Cannon-less world and a you-less world. That’s more than OK. Days are coming when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where God makes all things new and Jesus will say, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Love is all you need? In some sense true. But it needs a lot more definition than the song suggests. But I can still sing that one very loud and way off key.
And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make. Hypnotically beautiful when Paul McCartney sings that but, thankfully, it’s wrong. If we depend on cosmic quid pro quo, I’m done for. But not in Christ’s Kingdom. Our hope is in the unmerited favor of God in Christ. But I still love that song.
And in the end? A night of Paul McCartney was a lovely thing to enjoy.