Carnival of Light
Paul McCartney doesn’t need to worry about his legacy, but he is worried. Perhaps The Beatles Anthology (both book and three (double-disk) CD sets) was the first indication, but Wingspan, a Wings greatest hits compilation (do any of you not know that Wings was McCartney’s highly successful (and highly inconsistent) post-Beatles band?) and the attendant television special clearly announced his… anxiety.
I don’t mind a little aggrandizement, especially from someone who did, undeniably, contribute (positively) to our culture. As a Beatle, he not only co-wrote and wrote excellent pop songs, both for the Beatles and for a myriad of other artists (the first no. 1 for The Rolling Stones, Peter & Gordon’s no. 1 “World Without Love,” Badfinger’s “Come and Get It,” etc.), but he was also concerned—more so than John Lennon—with the evolution of the album as a single work of art (now perhaps a quaint idea, due to the reemergence of the single as the dominant pop unit), most obviously evident on the McCartney-driven Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and the linked b-side of Abbey Road. More important, though, than attempting to parse out who did what as a Beatle—they all contributed significantly to their collective sound, look, and spirit—McCartney’s need to work kept the band moving forward. Even as Lennon sank into sloth, suburbia, and heroin, McCartney’s drive inspired Lennon to write. McCartney showed up to the studio with five songs for Pepper; Lennon replied with five more. Post-Beatles, McCartney has given us a lot of silliness (though far less than people seem to think). This silliness is the likely reason why he may now seem slight—not, as he seems to think, because of the vast shadow his murdered best friend Lennon has cast.
And now he’s being silly again. No, his efforts to release The Beatles track “Carnival of Light” isn’t silly. Maybe unnecessary—though considering the significance of The Beatles, it’s no less necessary than publishing newly uncovered Robert Frost poems. What’s silly is McCartney’s hope that “Carnival of Light” will serve as evidence that, as McCartney says through the mouth of interviewer John Wilson: “it will help reaffirm McCartney’s claim to have been the most musically adventurous of all the Beatles.”
It won’t. Whether or not it will be good isn’t the issue. “Carnival of Light” will be fun to listen to—as a relic.
I like “Revolution No. 9,” the Lennon-Harrison sound collage on The White Album; I imagine that “Carnival of Light” won’t be as strong, but will be more fun—this is Pepper-era noise-play, after all, and you’ll know just how much fun when you pull your copy of Pepper off the shelf and listen to all the wonderful noise on that record—the instruments tuning up, the laughter at the end of “Within You Without You” (quite possibly my favorite moment on the album), the rooster that kicks off “Good Morning Good Morning” or the animal sounds at that track’s end, the roar of the crowd, and the “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove” (as it’s called on Rarities) that ends the record.
Release “Carnival of Light”—please! And every little scrap of studio (Abbey Road
and otherwise) noise The Beatles ever made. I will bankrupt myself to buy it because it adds to the joy The Beatles have given me since I was five years old. But Paul, don’t do it to sort out your legacy. You don’t get to sort out your legacy. Rather focus your energies on making new (and worthwhile) music—as you have lately done—and let us decide who Paul McCartney was, Beatle and otherwise.
Adam Golaski is the author of Color Plates and Worse Than Myself. He co-edits for Flim Forum Press, and is the editor of New Genre. Check in on Adam at Little Stories.