The reliability of historical accounts of events big and small has never not been an issue for society.
But with the rise of what might be called celebrity fascination fulfilment culture, sorting out truth from someone’s unsourced but heavily read account seems to have risen to a new level of absurdity.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Paul McCartney explained why he wrote an entire song, “Early Days,” for his recent album “New,” about this phenomenon.
Revisionism. It’s about revisionism, really. I know my memory has got chips in it that still can go exactly back to two guys sitting in a room trying to write “I Saw Her Standing There” or “One After 909.” I can see that very clearly still, and I can see every minute of John and I writing together, playing together, recording together. I still have very vivid memories of all of that. It’s not like it fades. Since John died so tragically, there’s been a lot of revisionism, and it’s very difficult to go against it, because you can’t say, “Well, no, wait a minute, man. I did that.” Because then people go, “Oh, yeah, well, that’s really nice. That’s walking on a dead man’s grave.” You get a bit sensitive to that, and you just think, “You know what? Forget it. I know what I did. A lot of people know what I did. John knows what I did. Maybe I should just leave it, not worry about it.” It took a little while to get to that.
I know that I have every memory still intact, and they don’t, as I say in the last verse, ’cause they weren’t there. I think you’ll find this in most bands, but in the Beatles’ case, it’s got to be worse than any case. For instance, I was on holiday once, and there was this little girl on the beach, little American kid. She says, “Hi, there. I’ve just been doing a Beatles appreciation class in school.” I said, “Wow, that’s great.” I think, “I know, I’ll be really cool here. I’ll tell her a little inside story.” So I go on about how something happened, and it was a fun story — and she looks at me, she says, “No, that’s not true. We covered that in the Beatles appreciation class.” I’m going, “Oh, f***.” There’s no way out, man! They’re teaching this stuff now.
…these books that are written about the meaning of songs, like Revolution in the Head — I read through that. It’s a kind of toilet book, a good book to just dip into. And I’ll come across, “McCartney wrote that in answer to Lennon’s acerbic this,” and I go, “Well, that’s not true.” But it’s going down as history. That is already known as a very highly respected tome, and I say, “Yeah, well, ok.” This is a fact of my life. These facts are going down as some sort of musical history about the Beatles. There are millions of them, and I know for a fact that a lot of them are incorrect.
McCartney’s comments echo recent ones by Philip Roth, who in 2012 posted an open letter to Wikipedia complaining about the entry for his work “The Human Stain.” The webpage insisted that the book was based on the real-life story of a mixed-race professor who identified as being white.
“The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip — there is no truth in it at all,” Roth wrote on the New Yorker.
Wouldn’t be the first time.
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