By Graeme Tuckett
The internet gag ‘Who is Paul McCartney, and why is Kanye West collaborating with him?’ has made the news.
I thought it was kinda funny when I first read it, though I didn’t think it was anything other than a joke then, and I still don’t.
What isn’t so funny though, is the predictable but wearisome outpouring of anti-Kanye hogwash polluting the message boards in the last few days.
Now, musical taste is totally subjective, and unless I’ve had several pints and a lousy day, I wouldn’t ever tell you that my taste is in any way better than yours.
But it is instructive to at least acknowledge that in the last twenty years West has outsold McCartney by millions. If there genuinely are Kanye fans out there who don’t know, or need reminding who Paul McCartney is, then that’s pretty understandable. And if those fans are under thirty, and have been raised outside of the affluent middle-class in the United States of America, then knowing more about West than McCartney is exactly what you should expect. And really, exactly what has MCartney done to trouble the charts in the last few decades anyway? A collaboration with Michael Jackson, and another with Stevie Wonder? Gee, anyone see a pattern emerging here?
But, that’s not why I’m writing this. What’s been sickening me is the sheer vitriol directed at Kanye. Yes, the man can be a complete buffoon. Storming the stage at an awards cermony is spectacularly stupid behaviour. But what was less reported, of course, is that Kanye apologised for it, in public, and in private, numerous times. Taylor Swift accepted his apology, and the two reportedly get on very well.
And yes, Kanye married Kim Kardashian. So what? She’s a woman who brilliantly exploited 21st century media platforms, and an utterly complicit celebrity press, to parlay having a big arse and a pretty face into an empire worth millions of dollars. Bloody good luck to her I say. She’s never done me or anyone any harm. Again, why the vitriol?
Compare Kanye to….oh, let’s say Paul’s mate John Lennon. John was an abusive husband, an acknowledged wife beater, who walked out on one marriage, didn’t have any communication with his eldest son for years, was a serial user of prostitutes, a drug user, a drunk, and he once invited a group of photographers to his hotel suite, where he insisted on being photographed nude in bed with his wife. It all makes Kanye having a wee spat with Taylor Swift look a bit bloody minor. And yet, we remember John as some sort of saint, to be annually wept over on the anniversary of his death, while Kanye is a figure of hate. But for what exactly?
And please, please, don’t be so stupid here as to say ‘Paul and John wrote great songs, but Kanye doesn’t’. You might not like Kanye, but get yourself out of the bubble of your own taste sometime, and go talk to someone under twenty who didn’t grow up listening to the radio stations you did. You’ll find a lot of kids out there who could quote you Kanye lyrics that mean more to them than ‘Imagine’ or ‘Mull of Kintyre’, ever will.
Is it actually just that Kanye, to me at least, and maybe to a lot of people, is still best known for going on live TV, and stating the bleeding obvious: that if the victims of Hurricane Katrina had been mostly wealthy and white, rather than poor and black, then George Bush would have got off his arse, and publicly responded to the disaster a few days earlier. ‘George Bush doesn’t like Black People’ said Kanye, and turned the world’s attention to a genuine issue. Did Kanye actually help? Maybe, a little, yes he did. He certainly achieved a damn sight more for the people of New Orleans than John Lennon rolling about in a hotel bed ever did for the people of Vietnam (Lennon’s alleged cause of concern). Yet John and Yoko’s ‘bed in’ is remembered fondly, while Kanye is still argued over, at best.
Or, could the real problem with Kanye be even more basic? Is it just that our society, and especially our media, still have to perform the pantomime of being terrified by any successful, outspoken, influential American man, if his skin is anything other than white, if he has never seen the need to suck up to the mainstream opinion shapers?
Should Kanye’s fans know and acknowledge who Paul McCartney is? Yes, of course they should.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Paul McCartney’s older, probably wealthier and better educated fans to also be better informed about their hero’s chosen collaborator in return.
Because Paul is lucky to have him.
Graeme Tuckett is a white male, born in England, who has lived in New Zealand since he was 6 years old.
He owns several Beatles albums, and two of Kanye’s. He hosts the Monday Drive Show on Wellington’s Radio Active 88.6FM, where he has played several Beatles/McCartney tracks, and a few of Kanye’s. He is especially fond of Paul’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, and Kanye’s ‘Black Skinhead’.