The Onion recently tackled Paul McCartney's much-publicized health woes, pounding away with the not-so-subtle finality of a certain silver hammer in a story headlined: "Excitement Growing Among Beatles Fans for Paul McCartney's Funeral."
The video report even contained a faux upbeat McCartney quote: "I am very excited about my upcoming death. The mourning period should really be fantastic. I wish I could be there."
The satire, while not appreciated by some Beatles fans, proved less a knock at McCartney than at the hoopla and handwringing surrounding his postponement of concerts in Asia and the U.S. due to his bout with a virus.
The media storm, the outpouring of fan concern and even The Onion's parody are all signs of the hold McCartney and Beatles maintain on the popular imagination more than a half-century after “Love Me Do” hit the UK charts. But the responses also speak to the tremendous expectations placed on McCartney, who turns 72 Wednesday. His illness offers a reminder that even if he has no plans to stop making music anytime soon, we need to be prepared to eventually just let him be.
The Onion report provided an irreverent twist on the “Paul is dead” rumors from 45 years ago – and belied McCartney’s phenomenal productivity over his last decade of recording and touring. Those of us lucky enough to have seen his solo concerts over the years marvel that his performances seem to be growing longer and getting better all the time. As New York “Breakfast with the Beatles” radio host Ken Dashow is fond of noting, McCartney doesn’t so much as take a sip of water during shows that approach three hours.
McCartney, who certainly doesn’t need any more money, appears driven by the joy of playing for appreciative crowds and by a duty to help keep the Beatles’ legacy alive. The same can be said for his surviving band mate, Ringo Starr, whose latest All-Starr Band tour hits New York City this week, just weeks before his 74th birthday.
It’s been a busy year for McCartney and Starr, who reunited in February for a TV special marking the 50th anniversary of their arrival – along with John Lennon and George Harrison – in the U.S.
The latest wave of Beatlemania, though, isn’t propelled nostalgia as much as by the group’s constant rediscovery by new generations of fans. The wave also isn't subsiding anytime soon: NBC reportedly is developing an eight-episode Beatles “series event,” and July 4th brings the golden anniversary theatrical re-release of the band’s first film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” The next night, McCartney is due to resume his “Out There” tour in Albany, N.Y., with plans to play through October.
McCartney’s birthday provides an opportunity to wish him the best as he recovers, thank him for the gift of his music – and to treasure his long and winding road for as long as he’s willing share his journey with us.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.