The good news was that Paul McCartney, co-founder of the Beatles, would perform a free concert in Quebec City July 20 to mark the city’ s 400th anniversary. The bad news was that Mr. McCartney’ s appearance was seen by some in the province as another wave of the British invasion.
The concert took place on the rolling hills of the Plains of Abraham, a park just outside the walled city memorializing the site of the 1759 battle in which the English defeated the French and took possession of what is now the province of Quebec. The celebration of the city’ s anniversary was to feature both French and English performers. But some, like artist Luc Archambault, objected: “The city of Quebec was founded by only one people, and it’ s the French people,” he told Bloomberg.com. He and some three dozen other artists, musicians, actors and politicians signed a letter criticizing the choice of Mr. McCartney as a featured performer.
The former Fab responded with a statement calling music “a universal language that can bring everyone together,” and later urged both French and English Canadians to “smoke the pipes of peace.”
North Americans may cluck their tongues and shake their heads about the 1,300-year-old ethnic grudges that manifest themselves in Iraq. But the love-hate relationship between the British and French can be as dysfunctional and date back as far. The English and French intermarried and regularly visited each other’ s lands for centuries, and our modern English language is a hybrid of both tongues. Yet clashes like the Norman Invasion, the 100 Years War — an on-and-off conflict from 1337 to 1453 — and other fights are not easily forgotten.
That same love-hate relationship between the English and French was transplanted to Canada where it still rears its head from time to time. This is not, of course, to dismiss the complaints Quebec residents have made in recent years about their status within English Canada, or even to take sides in the serious debate in which our Canadian neighbors have been engaged about that status.
But Sir Paul is right — music transcends politics. At the same time, it has the power to unify universal longings and hopes, as in the ‘ 60s when the Beatles won over young fans on several continents, creating a movement that eclipsed petty nationalism. That spirit still lives. Earlier this summer, Mr. McCartney performed for 350,000 in Kiev, Ukraine, and filled a stadium in his hometown of Liverpool.
To those who see the former Mop Top’ s appearance as an example of Anglo dominance, we’ ll appropriate one of his songs and advise: “Let It Be.”