April 06, 2012

McCartney Can't Save The Love We Make

In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, a timid unease plagued the music industry, resulting in the cancellation or postponement of numerous previously scheduled events and concert tours. As sad, horrific images blanketed the television airwaves around the clock—on seemingly every channel, not just the usual news networks—many artists wrestled with the notion that by going ahead with business as usual (particularly when business as usual was a rock show or likewise celebratory event) they’d be perceived as insensitive to prevailing sentiments.

Having grown up in post-World War II England, where blitz bombing raids had ravaged entire communities, Paul McCartney understood the invaluable role musicians had long since played in lifting people’s spirits during perilous times. Compelled to use his stature to in any way mitigate the grief pervading America, McCartney organized the all-star benefit Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden, which ultimately boasted such icons as Elton John, David Bowie, and the Who.

Directed by Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter), The Love We Make aims to document "McCartney's cathartic journey through New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.”

The film often feels unnecessarily self-serving, however, focusing more on what it’s like to be Paul McCartney during a press junket rather than on the film's more altruistic ambitions. Much of it dwells on a dizzying schedule of promotional appearances for the benefit concert as well as for his then-current album, Driving Rain, including television and radio interviews, logistical planning, and autograph signing—on a crowded sidewalk, in an elevator, in a car—at every turn.

Still, the film isn’t lacking for compelling moments. One such bit of footage finds McCartney visiting with firefighters—his father had been a volunteer fireman, something which clearly means all the more to him when visiting a local ladder that had confronted the Ground Zero inferno—and interacting with random fans and strangers on the street. That he still can relate to people far less famous than himself, after half a century of unprecedented notoriety, is remarkable and quite touching to behold.

Another intriguing element of the film is how it captures McCartney in creative mode during rehearsals for the Madison Square Garden concert, breaking in a then-new band and work-shopping songs he’d only recently written and recorded (specifically “From a Lover to a Friend” and the makeshift anthem “Freedom”). For all the available footage that exists of McCartney down through the years playing music, far less shows him actually working on it. 

Unfortunately such moments are all too rare and disjointed within the overall presentation. McCartney's compassion and selflessness is indisputable. The manner in which Maysles attempts to portray this ostensibly poignant experience, however, just doesn't come across.

(First published at Blogcritics.)