When I learned that some teenagers didn’t know who Paul McCartney was, or some Kanye West fans didn’t know who Paul McCartney was, or some teenagers pretended not to know who Paul McCartney was, or something like that, I was outraged. People were getting paid to write about this, and I was missing out. Unacceptable.
So I sat down at my writing desk and I stared at the wall and I thought long and hard about how I need thirty five dollars to replace the driver’s side mirror on my truck. See, two years ago I was in the Costco parking lot on my way to get hot dogs, and the lot was packed, and some guy on a cell phone backed into me at all of 4 miles an hour while I was at a stop sign. I kept honking and cussing but he just kept right on backing into me until my door was ruined and the mirror broke off. I never fixed it because it gave the truck a certain tattered, lived-in quality that was suited to my personality. But I have a long drive on unfamiliar roads coming up soon, and I need a new mirror. So this Paul McCartney thing, people not knowing about him, it’s outrageous all of a sudden.
I stared at the wall some more. There was definitely a story in this Paul McCartney thing, and journalistic integrity mandated I get to the bottom of it. It is the societal obligation of a journalist to seek out the truth, to give people the facts and help them lead a more informed life, free from the tyranny of misinformation and myth. Has everyone forgotten Paul McCartney? I had to find out.
The first thing I did was put the computer away. All too often, journalists get lost inside their own heads and find excuses to avoid getting their hands dirty in the real world, which is where the facts are. I’m as guilty of it as anybody else. But I’m trying to do better, to let truth win. So I got out my notebook and started asking around. There was only one important question. Does anybody in the real world know who Paul McCartney is? I knew he was in The Beatles and might have died in the 60s (it was too early to rule anything out), but that’s where my facts dried up.
I started at home by asking my 8-year-old brother. He would know. Haven’t you seen those YouTube comments where children as young as 4 write posts like “I hate Justin Bieber and love real music like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles”? Children in 2015 are very media savvy. So I ushered him to my writing desk and interrogated him.
“Hey, do you know who Paul McCartney is?”
“No, who’s that?”
Outrageous. The stories were true. Kids really don’t know who Paul McCartney is. So I told him the facts I had at hand.
“Paul McCartney was in The Beatles. There is some debate as to whether he’s alive or dead.” He seemed disinterested.
“Do I know any songs by The Beatles?”
I was getting nowhere so I went outside to the real world, to walk around and clear my mind, arrange the facts I had until clarity emerged. Happily, my next door neighbor Mike, who lives alone and is in the process of moving to Medford, was getting his mail. I walked up to him. He didn’t know I was an advocate for truth, or even a journalist, and I wasn’t out to change his mind. The facts took priority.
“Howdy! I was hoping you could settle a bet for me,” I lied. “Do you know who Paul McCartney is?”
He took a few seconds to reply, which made me nervous. What if the internet was right and Paul McCartney has been totally forgotten? But Mike came through. “Yeah, he’s the singer in The Beatles.”
“Do you know any songs by him?”
“Uh, Yellow Submarine? I think? I think that’s one.”
I told him goodbye and returned to my notebook. Fifty percent of the people I’d interviewed knew who Paul McCartney was. Fifty percent of them knew one of his songs – Yellow Submarine. Outrageous. Those numbers weren’t high enough. It became necessary to expand my sample size, so I rushed to the phone. My sample size was about to double.
I called my grandma. “Hey grandma,” I said, “I’m writing some pointless garbage so I can fix my driver’s side mirror, and I need to conduct an informal survey. Can you tell me who Paul McCartney is?”
She sighed a few times. “Yeah, he was in The Beatles.”
“Do you know anything else about him? Any songs by him?”
“Yeah, they had a song called Abbey Street. They covered a Buck Owens song too, which probably paid for the Crystal Palace. I think they maybe did that song Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
This was a gold mine of real world information. I now knew Paul McCartney had at least three songs: Yellow Submarine, Abbey Street, and Bridge Over Troubled Water. There was only one more thing I needed to know.
“Is he alive, Paul McCartney?”
“Look, I don’t really care. Couldn’t you use the internet to find out?”
“Yeah, but I’m trying to get real world facts. Can you put grandpa on?”
“He’ll just get mad at you.”
I waited a few minutes while she convinced him to come to the phone. This could be the break in the case. My grandpa is a prodigious expert on music, and he could tell you all about who played on, produced, and paid for his favorite albums. He could tell you the air conditioner settings in the studio, what car the engineer drove. He knew it all. He’d get to the bottom of this Paul McCartney mystery. He finally answered.
“Do you know who Paul McCartney is?”
“Paul McCartney. The singer for The Beatles. Do you listen to The Beatles?”
“No. And if I ever did, I’d throw my stereo out the window and set it on fire.”
“You know if anybody in The Beatles is still alive?”
“I don’t care.”
I explained to him that this information would pay for the driver’s side mirror I needed. He was extremely unenthusiastic about how long I put off the repair. I set aside my aesthetic opinions about how it gave the truck a lived-in quality and told him goodbye. He said I should get the oil changed too and hung up.
Armed with this diverse spectrum of facts and opinions about Paul McCartney, I went outside again and wondered what it all meant. What was the unifying thread among all the people I talked to about Paul McCartney?
I looked to the sky for answers. The sun was settling behind the mountains and the whole world seemed gray and indifferent to my little quest, my little mission, my search for the realities behind my outrage. My mission suddenly felt futile and I suddenly felt very small. A cold wind was blowing. I looked down at my notebook, and realized the answer, the real world answer, was staring me right in the face. What did my interview subjects have in common, in their demeanor, in the emotional tenor of their answers? Their level of knowledge varied, but they were all in agreement on one key point. They had better things to do than think about Paul McCartney.