Charles Petzold

Gotta Get Me One of Those iPod Things

June 22, 2007
Roscoe, N.Y.

What finally sold me was the new iPod+iTunes commercial featuring Sir Paul McCartney's stunning new song Dance Tonight which not only features a toe-tapping tune but some of the most inspired lyrics by a former Beatle since George Harrison rhymed "Bangla Desh" with "sure looks like a mess." The very first line sent chills up my spine:

Here McCartney celebrates the dance of life, from the first kick of the newborn baby, to the boogie of the child's first step, to adolescents running and playing and leaping and laughing, to teenagers engaged in the dance of flirtation and first love, to young adults in the dance of procreation and childbirth — a cycle of joy and life.

But the final emphasis on "tonight" seems to suggest a wistful twilight. Perhaps the dance is ending soon? The deep irony of the next line confirms our worst fears:

The focus of the song now shifts from the universal to the personal as the earlier juxtaposition of the words "dance" and "tonight" reminds Sir Paul of his bitter divorce with Heather Mills McCartney and her triumphant appearance on Dancing with the Stars. He tries to shake it off by singing a variation of the first line. Just so recently those words expressed joy, but now they just seem flat:

The brief stanza ends on a mood of dispair as the poet-songwriter finds himself alone and stranded while the rest of the world dances on without notice. "Will you still feed me? Will you still need me?" he seems to ask plaintively. "When I'm 64?" And the answer comes back: No, Paul. You can feed yourself, and you can knead yourself.

The next stanza attempts to resuscitate that vision of life and energy that so invigorated the opening lyrics:

But it doesn't work. The "dance of life" has become the dance of death, and the relentless mandolin music now seems to evoke a vision of skeletons arising from the graves and dancing among the tombstones, their bones horridly clanking and grating in an agile dance that mocks our pathethic hopes and dreams.

The poet calls forth his deepest resources in a last attempt to dispel the gloom. What is his greatest strength? Obviously, to sing, to sing, to sing, and the next line rings out with defiance:

He says "everybody" here but he really means himself on behalf of the human race as savior and redeemer. Will it work? In the cracks between the words and notes, the suspense hangs for a moment until fulfillment comes at last:

The dancing skeletons are not dispelled, but they are united with the living in a giant circle dance. Everyone of all ages and stages of decrepitude, of all colors and beliefs, the good and the evil, the famous and the infamous, the winners and losers, the talented and the untalented — everyone joins hands in a dance that transcends mere life and death. Can you see them? There's Socrates and Caesar, Augustine and Nero, Gandhi and Hitler, and at the very far edge of the circle, there's John and Paul and Yoko and Heather and Linda and George and Ringo — yes, even Ringo — together again at last.

The song ends with a triumphant resolution, and yet another shining example of the redemptive power of art.