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Welcome home, Paul McCartney
Written by Diana Thebaud Nicholson // July 21, 2008 // Politics, Québec // Comments Off on Welcome home, Paul McCartney
We have purposely not acknowledged the ridiculous debate over the Paul McCartney concert in Québec City. However, we are pleased to offer the National Post editorial on the subject as the final word, noting it was published before the highly successful event.
If everybody’s quite finished laughing at the Quebec sovereigntists who are denouncing their visitor Paul McCartney as an “Anglo-Saxon idol” bent on replaying the battle of the Plains of Abraham in concert form, we have a modest point to make about the subject.
Let it be said, if it needs to be, that there is obviously no question about McCartney’s status as a cultural figure who transcends boundaries of nationhood and ethnicity. To state things as conservatively as possible, he and his late writing partner John Lennon have been to the popular music of our era what Sousa was to the march and Strauss was to the waltz. One can travel literally anywhere, from the Siberian oil patch to the smallest African village, and find that a few bars of Yesterday or Hey Jude will be met with instant recognition. For that matter, it might even work with Band on the Run.
By any reasonable standard, one offers no insult to the people of Quebec in saying that McCartney’s presence at the 400th-anniversary celebrations for Quebec City does as much honour to the place as to the performer. And in their more lucid moments, even rabid Quebec nationalists would have to admit that the search for a pop or rock performer from France who could inspire as much legitimate excitement as the offensively English McCartney would be doomed to come up empty. Of course, the French heritage has a special status in Quebec City, but would, say, Johnny Hallyday or Air really suit the importance that the critics themselves wish to ascribe to the occasion?
It is worth adding, as an aside, that Paul McCartney is still surprisingly capable, at 66, of rocking the hell out of an audience. It helps to come armed with the greatest song catalogue any singer-songwriter has ever amassed, but attendees at Sunday’s show may find that McCartney’s gentlemanly energy, feeling for the beat and joy in playing shame many younger dinosaurs who are more renowned for live performance.
Still, for all that the nationalist rhetoric and petitions against McCartney are clearly exaggerated and ridiculous, some people may have a nagging sense that the ex-Beatle really is sort of a strange choice to help celebrate the anniversary of Quebec, a city he has never before visited. A trifle such as the Beatles’ Michelle does not seem to make for much of a spiritual connection with French Canada, and in defending the McCartney concert, Action democratique du Quebec spokesman Sylvain Legare could do no better than to say that Quebeckers wanted “international stars” and that “The English are part of our past, deal with it.”
What no one’s pointed out in defence of the booking, at least in English Canada, is that McCartney is as powerfully associated with a particular home city as any great artist in history –and that city, Liverpool, is historically bound to Quebec City with bonds as strong as iron. (Which explains why, when the 400th was still in the planning stages, Quebec actually sent representatives to Liverpool to seek opportunities for collaboration.)
In the ages of steam and sail, the Liverpool-Quebec sea link was one of the world’s most important, and throughout the 19th century one of Liverpool’s chief economic preoccupations was turning timber into commercial ships that would ply the Atlantic. Such ships would eventually leave the St. Lawrence groaning with raw materials bound for Europe’s busiest port, and (after the demise of the “triangle trade”) return still more swollen with suffering immigrants to the New World, riding at a discount as human ballast.
And many of those immigrants, let us not forget, had Irish surnames — as does the “English” McCartney. An estimated 30%-40% of Quebeckers have some Irish in their family tree — whether they’re descended from a Johnson sticking out like a sore thumb in a sea of French names, or a Bourque whose great-great-grandfather might just have lived in Tipperary and gone by Burke.
McCartney is not just a big star who happened to be available at the right time: He is, in fact, arguably the perfect performer for the occasion, a literal cousin to thousands of Quebeckers who hails from one of Quebec’s great cultural wellsprings. He should be, and almost certainly will be, greeted as an honorary son of the Celtic-tinged “French-Canadian” nation.