Diana West

It would be a hoot to hop into a time machine and travel 40 years back, with press clippings of Paul McCartney's Super Bowl performance in hand, and try to explain to the folks in 1965 the cultural changes that were in store for them. Not that this would be an easy task. Who in 1965 could imagine, as Beatlemania was approaching its anti-Establishment crescendo, that the day would come when Beatle Paul would be the one the whole nation would congratulate, according to one review, for providing "decent half-time entertainment," fulfilling a virtual "guarantee he'll be innocuous," while not minding "his role as the Super Bowl's atonement for past excess."

The fact was, once, "decent," "innocuous" and "atonement" were not the first words associated with young Paul, John, George and Ringo. As The Beatles, they, more than any other rock act, produced the heartbeatingly familiar and practically worshipped 1960s soundtrack of rebellion and collapse. Or was that peace and love? I always get them confused.

In any case, the Fab Four were still combustibly controversial with barely prevailing middle-class culture back in 1965. They were still seen as the flying wedge of rock culture that sundered families and propelled generations along separate tracks. Indeed, The Beatles were rather more likely to be banned from major venues (as they were in Cleveland) than credited with raising the moral tone inside them.

What would help 2005 explain to 1965 the transformation of Paul McCartney from barbarian at the gate to defender of the faith? I'm not sure that simply appending the appearance of the Beatle to the appearance of the breast would make much sense. But even if The People We Used To Be acknowledged that The People We Have Become regard Paul McCartney as mainstream-wholesome, it remains very hard to explain why. Sure, at age 62, Paul McCartney is older. But it's worth noting that the songs he played to be innocuous and decent in the 21st century were the songs he played to be groovy and cool in the 20th. In other words, he didn't change: We did.

Listening to Sir Paul the other night (note: don't forget to tell 1965 that Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 1997) was an unnerving experience for a kaleidoscopic -- dare I say psychedelic? -- mix of reasons. He was in fine, if paler voice, hitting every familiar note and lick (to the point where one critic wondered if he had been lip-synching). It was as though the performance had been frozen in time, his for the remixing.

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).