Monday, June 18, 2012

Dear Boy  / Paul McCartney

Happy Birthday Paul!!

Some days you've just gotta do the obvious post. Sir Paul McCartney turns 70 today (but a very well-preserved 70, I must say!) and I feel compelled to add my voice to the international chorus of many happy returns.

I know, I know, a mere blog post is not as meaningful as Paul Weller's birthday present -- a gutsy cover of "Birthday" on sale today only at Amazon, priced at 70 cents, with the proceeds going to charity.  (Classy move, Paul W.)  Still, having been Paul McCartney's secret girlfriend for many years, and the muse who inspired most of his finest love songs -- "And I Love Her," "Got to Get You Into My Life," "I Will," "The Long and Winding Road," the list goes on and on -- I felt it would be extremely bad manners for me to let the day pass without a few words.

Having staked my claim as a Paul fan after the break-up of the Beatles, I felt positively smug when Paul's first solo album, the delightfully homemade McCartney, was followed up by the rambunctiously charming Ram. (By the way, I still haven't ponied up for the remastered deluxe reissue of Ram, but that's mostly because I so resent rockstars milking their fanbase by repackaging old stuff over and over. I have my worn-out vinyl LP, and I have it in CD, so why should I be expected to buy it in a third format?)

At the time I couldn't admit it, but my only beef with Ram is how besotted Paul sounds with his new wife, Linda. Songs like "Eat At Home" and "Back Seat of My Car" drove home to me the inescapeable truth that my guy was constantly having mind-blowing sex with somebody else. (What was her secret?)

Even "Dear Boy" is really all about how much Paul loves Linda. Ostensibly he wrote it to Linda's first husband, geologist John See, whom she'd married in Arizona in 1962, already pregnant with their daughter, Heather. See was apparently long out of the picture by the time Paul came along -- they'd divorced in 1965, at which time she packed up her toddler daughter and moved to New York to launch her career as a photographer/groupie. She didn't meet Paul until 1967, finally marrying him in 1969, so jealousy and betrayal were beside the point. Despite the minor key, Paul's attitude in this song is more bemusement than anything else: "I guess you never knew, / Dear boy, what you had found." Linda "was just the cutest thing around," he adds, still marveling -- so how could any guy have let her get away? 

Which means that the song is really just another way of telling us that she is the World's Most Wonderful Woman.  Did I really need to hear that?

After puzzling over this inexplicable behavior for one more verse, Paul shifts to major key in the bridge as he enters the song himself: "When I stepped in, my heart was down and out, / But her love came through / And brought me 'round, /Got me up / And about." Okay, not the most articulate description of a good woman's love, and here I was, still a teenager, looking for tips and techniques. (What was her secret?!) But still.

Look at how charitable Paul can afford to be in the last verse -- "I hope you never know, dear boy, / How much you missed" -- though he can't resist a little nyah nyah-nyah nyah nyah moment: "And even when you fall in love, / Dear boy, it won't be half as good as this." Ouch.

But here's the underlying message I love. Paul knew what he had found, eventually telephoning this lovely blond photographer in New York and asking her to move to London to be with him.  Bold move on both their parts, but when you find love -- especially after it let you down once before -- have the courage to grab it. You can hear the happy skip in his step all through this song, with its jaunty syncopations and thrilled little warbles. Each verse's melody optimistically tap dances up the scale -- maybe this other guy blew it, but he, Paul, is deliriously happy. Because that's what love can do.

I think back to those old Beatle songs where they address the Other Man -- "She Loves You," "You're Going To Lose That Girl" -- and the subtext was always envy, as our hero watches his beloved's current boyfriend treating her callously. The shoe is on the other foot now, and Paul has NO intention of taking her for granted.  Now that's the way a boyfriend -- lover -- husband should act.


Iñaki said...

Very wise post, it's just not about a song you are talking about here. It made me think quite a lot and I guess I won't be the only one.

Oh, and since I don't think I'll be seeing him today, please say Happy Birthday to Paul for me. ;)

wwolfe said...

I like your comparison between this song and the early Beatles songs - I'd never thought of that and it adds to my enjoyment of the later song.

Mister Pleasant said...

I just posted a blog entry last week about another "Ram" tune, and in the process mentioned how "Linda" is everywhere on this album, both in lyrics as well as backing vocals.

Sorry for Paul's inexcusable behavior toward you, but I bet deep down you agree that it was wonderful for him to find a soul mate like Linda - even if it cut you out of the picture.

Besides the lyrics, one of my favorite aspects of "Dear Boy" are the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys harmonies. Delicious!

Holly A Hughes said...

It's true, Mr. P, I eventually forgave Paul when time proved that he and Linda had one of the great rock 'n' roll marriages. [sigh...]

Alex said...

Fantastic song that's often overlooked in favor of a handful of flashier songs on a great album. And as much as I like to throw snark in the general direction of Sir Paul, his melodic gifts are so insanely great it can be breathtaking...

Anonymous said...

Late to the party here but I really appreciated your thoughtful dissection of this song. And I also appreciated that you did not dissect it through the lens of John Lennon (who apparently thought Dear Boy was about him, but then he seemed to think a lot of Paul's songs on Ram were about him).

Anyway, I completely agree with your interpretation and enjoyed the comparison you made between Paul envying someone else's great love in early Beatles songs and the giddy note as he's found it himself.

One point I would make: It always bothers me when people refer to Linda as a "photographer/groupie." There were gay male photographers and journalists in that period who took pictures of, or wrote stories about, rock stars and who slept with those rock stars, and NONE of those gay male photographers are ever referred to as a "photographer/groupie." Or a "reporter/groupie." Seems unfair to refer to Linda that way.

-- Drew

Holly A Hughes said...

Fair enough point -- though you must remember that all of this is viewed through the lens of my enduring jealousy of Linda. (In 1969 I wouldn't even have added the word "photographer"...). And who says that "groupie" is such a damning term? I'd be happy to call those gay male photographers groupies too, if that would help.

Nevertheless, Linda did have more access to rock celebrities than a less beautiful, less sexually active woman might have. Did she knowingly use her sexual wiles to further her art, or did she use her photo pass to get closer to men she wanted to sleep with? I guess we'll never know.

Anonymous said...

"Did she knowingly use her sexual wiles to further her art, or did she use her photo pass to get closer to men she wanted to sleep with?"

But couldn't you say the same thing about gay male photographers and reporters of that era? Did they knowingly use their sexual wiles to further their art? Did they use their photo pass to get closer to men they wanted to sleep with?

I'm sure they did. And I suppose Linda did, too. I just think it's unfair that the word "groupie" -- and it's usually intended perjoratively -- is always slapped on a woman, and is intended to demean her work or her ethics, and never on men do did the same thing.

Of course I can't completely understand why any fan would resent Linda in 1969 and for some time afterward. He was pretty swoon-worthy back then. ;) Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

-- Drew

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant I CAN completely understand.

-- Drew