XX. "Ever Present Past."

Paul McCartney

Oh, the folding of the huge, dreaded heap of children’s laundry - a tedious task at best. But something was different, helped pass the time and ease the chore. “Ever Present Past” was buzzing around my head in a way I have not had the pleasure of experiencing from The Master of Melody since 1989, the year of his last great single, “My Brave Face.” Or as I like to remember it, the fantasy-come-true double A-side of “My Brave Face” backed with kid brother Declan’s “Veronica” from the previous year, the greatest McCartney composition he never sang. What a one-two punch that was. Not once since has a Macca single knocked me out and forced me to hum along for days on end, not “Hope Of Deliverance,” not “The World Tonight,” not “From A Lover To A Friend” or the absurd “Freedom,” not even the fairly catchy “Fine Line.” I thought it might not happen again. I thought he might have exhausted his once limitless share of The Eternal Melody.

But there I was, folding the laundry, humming this fantastic little tune to myself over and over that I had just heard for the first time the day before, and I became aware of several important points.

The main purpose of Pop Music, above all else, and the reason The Beatles remain the Ultimate Vanguards of the Genre, is to provide a tune that can stick to your day or your night, that can accompany you on whatever journey you happen to be on in this life, a true companion through the ups and downs, making the fun parts more fun and the mundane parts a little less so. There’s nothing like a great tune to help the folding of the laundry go a little faster. And no one has given us more of them than Paul McCartney. Not even his writing partner, who comes in a close second. Together, they were The Beatles, and coupled with an equally miraculous ability to come up with just the right combination of words to suit these incredible tunes, they set the standard for Popular Music which most likely will never be equaled. And through these compounds of notes and words, they ingratiated themselves into our lives, our minds, our ears, throats, bedrooms, cars, elevators, everything, in such an intimately familiar way as to actually assume a kind of cherished family member status. I have always thought of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as extended members of my family. Always, since I was a young child with “She Loves You” joyfully ringing in my ears, aware of how right it was, how good it was, how it was written to make me happy. Never have two songwriters given so much.

Thus the tragedy of Lennon, music’s greatest ever loss. And conversely, the miracle of McCartney, still living, still working, still producing, still hungry to reach us. Our dear Great Uncle Paul, still on top, selling out giant arenas for the whole family to come and enjoy, letting children from 2 to 102 sing along with The Eternal Melody. But as I said before, his piece of it, once so all-encompassing, seemed to dwindle after The Costello sessions that informed the fine work of Flowers In The Dirt and produced the best stuff on Off The Ground. Hence the ever-growing over-proliferation of Beatle songs at his shows. Every so often afterwards, there would be glimmers of The Melody here and there, whether it was “Somedays” or “Calico Skies” from Flaming Pie, “Tiny Bubble” or "I Do" from Driving Rain, or “This Never Happened Before” or “Too Much Rain” from Chaos and Creation in The Backyard, but for the most part, McCartney’s most recent material suffered from what sounded like not enough effort coupled with not enough effortlessness. There is nothing to recommend a song like Flaming Pie’s “If You Wanna,” in which the master stoops to singing something as banal and ridiculous as “…To make arrangements for the trip…” no less than three times in a row. In searching for the effortlessness of The Beatles he recalled making The Anthology, he so often skipped the real effort it takes to create something that appears and sounds so easy. Perhaps it just never was that hard for him, given how magnum his gift is. Perhaps it was John Lennon who could take whatever Paul would come up with and bring it to that final magical fruition that only trusted collaborators can achieve together.

Chaos and Creation was met with universal acclaim and acceptance, a huge “hurray, he’s back!” from the faithful, and while it is a fine piece of work, there is nothing on that album that melodically compares to what has been achieved with “Ever Present Past.” In terms of pure melody, this is the best thing Macca has come up with since the cornucopia of Costello ‘87. Each section of it is a fully realized piece of music and it all works together in a perfect Pop mesh, everything connected, one phrase flowing into the next, on and on, a shining little chunk of The Eternal, shouting out McCARTNEY! This is what he’s best at, this his greatest gift to the world.

Effortless. Every note, correct, like Mozart, every note in its exact right place in the sequence. Take one out and the whole thing would fall apart. Brilliant music. The kind of music that connects in the human brain of the listener and brings out a sense of forever. Like most of his best work, this melody has always been, hanging in the ether, waiting for its author to claim it. Thus, all this talk of The Eternal Melody. Like “Yesterday” or “Eleanor Rigby” or “With A Little Luck” or “Ebony and Ivory,” tunes that were always there, in the wind, blowing around in the sky, until God channeled them through the lucky recipient. Indeed, McCartney has often cited this protean ability as a Lucky Gift.

And I don’t know why it doesn’t happen every time out. Maybe it really is just luck. Maybe he’s been doing it for so long and it’s happened so many times already that there is a finite amount of good melodic combinations one human can come up with. Whatever the reality is, he’s hit it again here, square on, effortless. I cannot get this tune out of my mind. And it’s the whole tune, not just one part, not just the hook or the middle eight. From beginning to end, the entire arc of this piece sings in my mind all day long. The laundry goes faster, raking the leaves left over from last fall goes faster, changing the baby’s diaper, doing the dishes, the food shopping, vacuuming the living room, cleaning the bathroom, putting the kids in their pajamas, it’s a good life. It’s a great tune. “The things I think I did…” No one else can do that. How simple it is. How engaging. It makes you feel good. It’s what The Beatles did over and over again, every time out. They made us feel good. That’s the most important thing Pop Music can do.

But then he drops the hook down, coupled with such bittersweet nostalgia in the line, “When I was a kid…” The way it falls in step-wise motion into that beautiful, pensive chord creates the longing, and Magic is achieved. Let us not forget the greatest of all Pop Music is that which combines The Happy and The Sad. Both are needed to achieve the Ultimate. Again, the greatness of The Beatles, the absolute masters of this. And no one has ever done it better than McCartney. Let the melody be sweet as spring, the lyric sad as the end of summer. “The things I think I did…when I was a kid…when I was a kid…” And then there's that signature “Hmmmm…” which introduces each hook, a device so silly, no one else could even think to get away with it, let alone attempt it. But with McCartney, it works. It tugs at the strings.

Our Great Uncle Paul is 65 years old. Obviously aside from the family and friends I know and love, I love him the most. He has found himself with a failed second marriage, and the two loves of his life, his friend and collaborator John Lennon, and his beloved wife Linda, are both long gone from him. He is left to carry on in a world where aside from his children, his brother and perhaps Ringo Starr, there is no one left from his halcyon days, “the time that has gone so fast, the time that I thought would last…” Here is a man whose awesome past is always upon him, a mountain of greatness to which he must forever be compared and judged against. It’s always there, ringing in his ears, like the single G note motif of the lone electric guitar that introduces “Ever Present Past.”

And that brings us to how good a record this is. Where Chaos and Creation was clearly a Nigel Godrich production, “Ever Present Past” is totally Paul McCartney. Like much of The Beatles work, it doesn’t sound like anything else before or since. It is entirely its own thing, its own world. Macca is saying “this is me, this is where I’m at, and I don’t care or really even know where anyone else is at, and it doesn’t matter.” Production-wise, from the box-y sounding drums to the angular electric guitars and subtle keyboard flourishes, this is the freshest thing Paul McCartney has done in over twenty years. Most beautiful is the flute-like synthesizer part that serves as a fluttering counter-melody to “The things I think I did” hook. Literally The Sweet Bird Of Youth singing beside him, flying by him in a flash, this is the umpteenth brilliant musical touch Macca has come up with to bring out the purest sense of emotional truth in his lyric. I am reminded of Alan Civil’s yearning horn part from “For No One,” or the Spanish guitars of “Another Day,” or the African-sounding bamboo sticks from “Footprints.” Nobody does it better.

And lyrically, at long last, McCartney has offered up a direct summation of his present life. The man who made his fortune telling charming stories about anyone and everyone he could dream up has opened up in this, perhaps his most candidly personal song ever. Of course, there is “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Too Many People,” “Dear Friend,” “Here Today,” “Sweetest Little Show,” “We Got Married,” “Put It There,” and some revealing statements from the Flaming Pie album, but never has Paul McCartney been so straight-forward about where he is at. Or so clever and well-expressed. It’s the verses that give the clues: “I’ve got too much on my plate…Don’t got no time to be a decent lover…I hope it isn’t too late…” OK, his divorce summed up in three lines. Nothing more to be said there. And then concerns about his life and work in the public eye: “I’ve got too much on my mind…I think of everything to be discovered…I hope there’s something to find…” A great turn there - at first, it’s fear of any private secrets that might come out about one of the world’s most famous men after he’s gone, but then it’s really about the hope his work will be judged favorably by generations to come. Brilliant. And only three more lines to do it. Beatles in its stellar economy of phrase. And then the conundrum of the survivor: “Searching for the time that has gone so fast, the time that I thought would last…My ever present past.” Listen to the way he starts the title line on the offbeat. So casual, so natural. This is my situation, so be it. Or the way the three lines rhyme, making you feel like you’ve never heard 'last, fast and past' in a rhyme scheme before. So simple yet effective, so effortless and fresh. Sometimes maybe it's harder to be the survivor. He’s up against it now, woken up alone in this glorious life he made for himself, his love waiting on the other side, an Olympian past always hanging over him, and John Lennon's tragically ironic claim that "Life Begins At 40" casting an ever-growing shadow in the world. To think that Lennon died at 40 years of age and we never got to hear any of the insights he surely would have offered had he lived longer is still one of the most unbelievably awful things in the history of humanity. And yet, like the lighthouse he is, Macca doesn't get too down about it. He’s just true. An amazing gift. At least we have the insights of one of them still. And always with a wink and a smile, always the act you’ve known and loved for all these years. If you love Paul McCartney, this is the tune.

God willing, in forty years or so, our Great Uncle Paul will go to heaven. There, he will embrace The Lovely Linda, have a nice dinner with her and God, talk about God’s favorite Beatle songs and then get out the acoustics and play Buddy Holly songs with John Lennon for all of eternity while Linda and Yoko sit chatting on the sofa, friends at last. Until then, here’s hoping the rest of the way is filled with songs this good. After all, the laundry keeps coming and there’s a lot of it to do.


It flew by, it flew by in a flash.