By Nicko Place
Sir Paul McCartney is in town next week, doing shows. He’s 75 years old. He’s apparently worth $US 1.2 billion and has written or co-written 32 number ones on the US charts. And he’s still doing big venue shows. How amazing is that?
I drove past a poster for the new McCartney tour this morning. The poster above it was advertising concerts by Colin Hay, former front man of Men At Work. Hay is 64 years old these days and 36 years along from ‘Down Under’ being a global hit.
I was on my way to a memorial for a close friend, Scotty Ewing. He died last week of cancer. He was 52. They played a beautiful song by Bruce Springsteen, ‘If I should fall behind’. The Boss was Scotty’s favourite musician. He’s still out there, performing, at the age of 68.
It was all a big reminder of just how random life is, and that we don’t know how long we’ve got. Poor Scotty gets taken out by the big C a couple of years after achieving a doctorate but still with lots of energy and plans ahead of him. Meanwhile, Sir Paul, The Boss, Hay and schmucks like me continue to live large. But don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for McCartney and the others. (If you’ve ever heard Hay’s dry take on international stardom and all the bullshit that went with it, back in the day, it’s impossible not to like him.)
But it all got me thinking about life and death and a big question: when are you ‘done’?
Mixing at the memorial with a bunch of mostly 50-plus mates of Scotty, I was struck by how our lives are unfolding and how we’re moving through the usual dance steps of urban middle-aged, middle-class existence. Until suddenly one of us isn’t and we’re all stunned and cry and hug and then get back to it.
Right now, fresh from the memorial, it feels like a wake-up call. Scotty was intense, funny, engaged, fearless, always alert and driving life forward. Everybody commented on it in every speech. Until the last few months, when a bone marrow transplant finally didn’t take, he was unstoppable.
Can we all say that? I’m 23 years younger than Paul McCartney who is still making music, still turning up on stage night after night. It’s 37 years next week since McCartney’s legendary songwriting partner John Lennon was murdered in New York. And 47 years – close enough to half a century – since The Beatles broke up. And he’s still going.
I mean, granted, I can’t name a new song by Paul McCartney for well, God, umm, since ‘Mull of Kintyre‘, now three decades ago. But he’s still going. Imagine spending half a century trying not to be completely defined by the band you were in between the ages of 15 and 28, if you include The Quarrymen as a prototype Beatles. Imagine knowing that fans in Melbourne in 2017 are heading along to your gig, hoping and assuming you’re going to play ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Long and Winding Road’. Songs you wrote 49 and 47 years ago, respectively.
I like a quote from McCartney about how hard it was to even decide to create the band Wings, after The Beatles broke up. ‘Wings were always a difficult idea,’ he said. ‘Any group having to follow [the Beatles’] success would have a hard job … I found myself in that very position. However, it was a choice between going on or finishing, and I loved music too much to think of stopping.’ (Wikipedia)
In the end, he kept going. In the end, he kept creating.
In the end, that’s a choice we all have until we don’t have any more say in the matter, like my poor mate, Scotty.
Even though friends have been falling with a worrying regularity lately, I think the responsibility of those of us still standing is to keep moving, keep pushing, keep taking on life. Sometimes I feel done, as a novelist, but today I’m realising that I have a quarter of a century of creativity ahead of me at least, if Sir Paul the Ex-Beatle is any guide.
So what excuse do I have? Time to get back to work.
RIP Scotty. I’ll miss you.