I wasn't old enough to see Johnny Unitas stumbling around in the pocket for the San Diego Chargers. I don't remember seeing Bobby Orr trying to skate with two bad knees for the Chicago Blackhawks. I'm too young to remember Willie Mays falling down trying to field routine fly balls in centerfield for the New York Mets. And I didn't have an appreciation for Muhammed Ali's greatness when he was being beaten up by Trevor Berbick. But for those who had seen these greats in their primes, it must have been heartbreaking to see them out there still trying to play--despite having nothing left to offer the game.
That is why it breaks my heart to see Sir Paul McCartney go out on stage and still try to sing Beatles songs. The latest example came last night at the Grammys--as Paul sang his latest song from his "standards" album (an all-too-common move by aging rock stars nowadays) and then wrapped up the show by performing the Abbey Road medley with several other rock legends. No longer is the voice that sang the greatest songs of the past century able to hit any of the notes--and it seems like the "backup" singers are the ones who are really carrying the tune.
Unlike others from his generation (see the Beach Boys performance from last night as an example), Sir Paul is not mailing it in on stage. You can see that he still loves performing--and seems to thrive on the adulation that comes from the crowd--even if it is more for his status as a living legend than for his current abilities. I was one of those fans back in 1993--sitting in the sixth row, stage-front at Milwaukee County Stadium watching Paul rip it up for 2 1/2 hours in a pouring rain storm. Even then, the range was a little tighter and the notes weren't held quite as long as the originals--but we were watching PAUL MCCARTNEY--IN PERSON--JUST A FEW FEET AWAY FROM US--so it really didn't matter. But that was almost 19-years ago--and Paul is now just a shadow of his former self.
I know Paul is planning another world tour in support of his new album. I won't be hovering over my computer waiting for the day the tickets go on sale. Instead, I'll be listening to those 12 Beatles albums--those precious 213 songs that still have not been surpassed by any other act--music that time and age will never diminish.