(Introduction: There’s been a lot of discussion and opinion (like the essay we ran this week) on the whys of the surprise pairing of Paul McCartney and Kanye West. But there’s been few words we’ve seen making really any sense of why Paul is doing it. We asked Candy Leonard, author of the excellent book “Beatleness,” which has the best analysis we’ve seen on the Beatles and their fans, for her thoughts. Leonard will appear at the upcoming Fest for Beatles Fans in Rye Brook, N.Y.)
Q: “Is Paul McCartney expanding his horizons and looking ahead to his legacy as a man of all seasons?”
Candy Leonard: “I think there’s no question that Paul thinks about his legacy. He’s always cared what people thought about him; his self-consciousness is part of his charm. But I don’t think he does a legacy calculation before deciding to collaborate with someone. He’s driven by artistic energy, and if something stimulates him creatively, he’s going to pursue it. He was the same way as a young man. He’s always been artistically and intellectually curious.
“He’s worked in many musical genres over the years, so the eclecticism is already part of his legacy. His fame and stature are unique, and at this point I think there’s little he could do to diminish his legacy. He’s a beloved figure across the globe, for people of all ages. Going ‘out there’ at his age keeps him mentally and physically healthy, and he brings joy to so many people. My guess is he will do it for as long as he can. Why shouldn’t he?”
Q: “Is Paul thinking more progressively than people are giving him credit for in doing this pairing?”
Candy Leonard: “I think we’re thinking about it more than Paul is! As he told NME in October 2013, Kanye’s poetry intrigued him, and he came to appreciate the genre. Paul admits that he wants to stay relevant, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see him collaborating with current artists.
“The Kanye thing bothers a lot of first-generation Beatle fans, Wings fans, and solo Paul fans for a variety of reasons. I didn’t know what to make of it, but when [I learned more about Kanye] it made more sense. I find Kanye a little obnoxious, but he’s an artist. Does he bring ‘angst’ and a big mouth and thus recreate a dynamic similar to Paul’s most celebrated partnership? Perhaps, but Kanye’s comparisons with Lennon are wrong for thousands of reasons, including, in my opinion, that the songs that have come out of this collaboration are mediocre at best. I look forward to seeing what comes out of Paul’s collaboration with Lady Gaga. He’s going to continue to surprise us, and that’s part of why we love him.”
Q: “Is this a public relation’s man’s nightmare?”
Candy Leonard: “Paul doesn’t really have to think about PR, although we know he does and always has. Paul was always the diplomat and the charmer, the good boy to John’s punk. But it is interesting that his collaboration with Kanye West has caused so much controversy. I don’t think he envisioned that, but he probably doesn’t mind. It fortifies his celebrity, if that’s even possible anymore at his level of fame! He probably finds the controversy amusing. Of the four Beatles, he most enjoyed being famous, and he’s still thriving on it.”