The Shield

Sean Lennon: I also heard that he was kind of insecure about his voice, like I heard that when he was doing his solo records he would kind of turn his vocal down, and then he’d go the bathroom and come back and the engineers would have snuck it back up.  It seems, it’s funny that he had this sort of insecurities, although he also came across as very confident, didn’t he?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, exactly—well the confidence was a shield. I learned that early on, was that if you have difficulties in your life, you can kind of go two ways: You can lie down and give up, or you can put a shield up. You can guard yourself from the world in that way. So from the minute I met John I knew that’s what was going on. He had this wit that would guard him…the thing is, you know, insecurities—so many people—I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have insecurities. 

Sean Lennon Interviewing Paul McCartney, John Lennon at 80

Those People

Q: “What about the book your brother wrote, ‘Thank U Very Much’? He’s back to calling himself McCartney. A couple of years ago you had a tiff with your step-mum because she went back into show business under the McCartney name. I understand you weren’t so happy about these things.”

PAUL: “Yeah. It’s a pity, all that stuff. The worst thing about it is that it spoils immediate personal relationships. When I meet those people, I start thinking, ‘Well, I’ve gotta watch what I’m going to say now because it might be in the next book.’ You do get a feeling that they’re sort of hanging on and living off you, which is not a nice feeling. It’s very hard for a brother of someone like me to cope without doing something like that, if he sort of needs some money. If someone asks him to write a book, why shouldn’t he– especially if he’s a good writer? It’s difficult for him to turn down a offer like that.”

“You know, I always say that these things are my particular occupational hazard. A doctor goes to a party and a guy ther says, ‘Can you have a look at my leg? It’s hurting.’ That’s the doctor’s occupational hazard. Mine is the stuff we’ve been talking about. This is what comes with my kind of job.”

Q: “Do you think you make life hell for people who are close to you, work for you?”

PAUL: “I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. I hope not. If I do, I wouldn’t know what to do about it. I mean I would assume that they would have to tell me that….My image is like a carboard cutout, which I’m not really. I don’t think I am anyway. My kids don’t think I am. I don’t think I am. Am I being cardboard now? I mean, I can’t ever tell.”


This quote confused me, to be honest. It also compelled me to issue a rebuttal in defense of Mike McCartney and, perhaps, offer a context to Paul’s comments. 

Mike has always been fiercely supportive and protective of his brother. Indeed, when the American publishers of The Macs–the book to which Paul refers– indicated they expected a tell-all about his famous brother, Mike emphatically refused. This protectiveness is further addressed in Larry Kane’s When They Were Boys, when he states:

With the exception of the early days, and entertainment-oriented interviews, both McCartney sons can really be described as a closed book.  Paul is a sensitive man, perhaps just as eager to be viewed in a positive light today as he was in those rarified early days.  Michael McCartney is constantly afraid that access to him will injure his brother. I admire the brothers’ all-for-one-and-one-for-all posture. […] That air of protectiveness is a positive tribute to the bond of family, yet it is also a bond of silence that opens the family up to distortions.

We know that Paul had reasonable concerns about how he was portrayed in the media, particularly in those years immediately following John’s death. However, it seems unfair for Paul to extend that paranoia–perhaps unwittingly– to his own brother, given his brother’s demonstrable  loyalty (even if in the next breath Paul more or less exonerates him.)

Mike’s book was published in October of 1981, and this interview was published in the May/June 1982 edition of the Canadian magazine Music Express. One would assume that Paul would have had time to read the book prior to this interview. Was there something in the book which Paul didn’t like and wished Mike omitted, or was Paul just against the idea of a book, period, based on a general fear of being exposed and/or something being taken out of context by the press?  

The suggestion by the interviewer that Mike changed his name back to McCartney because he wanted to cash in on his family name is egregious, in my opinion. Mike is entitled to his family name–one which he gave up at age 18 to pursue a career unencumbered by his brother’s fame, and one which he reclaimed when he was nearly 40 years old–which is hardly riding his brother’s coat tails. And to clump Mike McCartney in with other family members who, it can be argued, did rely upon the McCartney name to further their career opportunities (Mrs. McCartney’s Teas, a la Angela McCartney) seems just plain silly.  

According to Mike, he enjoys a “nice, close, stable relationship” with his brother and, by all accounts, always did. It may be, then, that Paul’s comments reflect either 1) a misunderstanding during the interview when Mike’s book was conflated with Angela McCartney’s activities,  or 2) his paranoia during the difficult period following John’s death. While one can understand Paul’s fears about his image and professional reputation following the shellacking he took in the years following the Beatle break-up and John’s death, but one can also understand how difficult it must have been for Mike to carve out a niche for himself during the insanity of Beatlemania.  But carve out a niche he did, becoming a member of the comedy group The Scaffold and establishing himself as a professional photographer. We have Mike to thank for all of those early Beatle photos as well–most of which are reproduced on the internet and elsewhere without crediting Mike as the photographer. 

Paul and Double-Speak

Q:  Were you still close to him [referring to John, at the time of his death]?

PAUL: Yes, yes.  I suppose the story was that we were pretty close in the beginning when we were writing stuff together. We felt alot of sympathy for each other, although on a personal level, based on a lot of stuff that went down later, I obviously wasn’t that close to him. To me, he was a fella, and you don’t get that close to fellas. I felt very close to him, but from alot of what he said later, obviously, I was missing…the picture. But anyway, I felt very close to him then and when the Beatles started to feel the strain towards the last couple of years, it was getting to be a bit of a strain and we were drifting more apart. I think the kind of anchor that had held us together was still there. I think that we all, in a way, started to get really angry with each other, annoyed and frustrated, but we were still very keen on each other, loved each other, I suppose, because we had been mates together for so long. Like Ringo says, ‘We were as three brothers.’ It’s that kind of a feeling. I mean, I didn’t realize that, but Ringo would tell me later, ‘You are like my brothers, you lot.’ We all knew that there was some kind of deep regard for each other.


 At the beginning of his answer, we can see that Paul is reluctant to declare that he and John were close ( “I suppose the story is that we were pretty close”) because he is so full of self-doubt (“based on a lot of stuff that went down later, I obviously wasn’t that close to him.”) Then he inexplicably decides to buttress this view by adding in a little bit of macho defensiveness ( “he was a fella and you don’t get that close to fellas”). Immediately afterwards, however, Paul does a complete reversal (“I felt very close to him…we were still very keen on each other, loved each other”).  Paul, thy name is contradiction.

Bass Line

“The bassline and the vocal are two separate lines of research,” [Paul] says, pointing to the left and right sides of his head. “It’s quite an interesting thing, how you play when you’re singing live. Something funny happens to you, you have to split your whole being in two.”

Performing…’Fixing A Hole’ was especially challenging: “The bass is 3/4 or something, dunno what it is, and the vocal’s 4/4–he rotates his right hand above his head, his left around his stomach, to show the coordination problem. “You have to get the mathematics right in your head somehow. But suddenly it happens and it’s great.”

~~Paul McCartney, discussing playing bass and singing simultaneously, in Paul du Noyer’s book Conversations With McCartney.


The main answer is my kids. I don’t know what I would have done without them. Being such a close family, it hit us pretty much equally. They lost their best friend as well as their mum. It hit us all hard, but they have been very strong and very helpful. We’ve cried a lot together. None of us has held that back. We pretty much still cry, daily. Because Linda was so important, so much the center of everything in our lives. So it was mainly the kids. But I did get a counselor, realizing that I would need some sort of help. And although it’s not much of a British tradition to do that, I was married to an American so I know quite a lot of people who have no problem with psychiatrists and counselors. It was mainly to get rid of some of my guilt. When anyone you love this much dies, one of the first things is that you wish you could have been perfect — every minute of every day. But nobody’s like that. I would say to Linda if we were arguing, “Look, I’m not Jesus Christ. I’m not a saint. I’m just some normal man. I’ll try to do something about it but that’s who I am, that’s who you’re married to.” So I had quite a bit of guilt and probably still have. You remember arguments. When you’re married you don’t remember them so much, you just get on the next day and as long as you don’t have too many and they’re not too bad you figure it evens itself out. But when someone dies, you remember only the arguments in the first couple of weeks and the moments when I wasn’t as nice as I would have wanted to be. So I need counseling with that. I found that really helpful.

Releasing this album [Wild Prairie] was something that very much Linda wanted. She was very proud of it. Anyway, after a couple of months after she died I managed to get into the studio. We called those studio sessions Tears & Laughter because the engineer — my old friend Geoff Emerick, who I’ve known since Beatle days, he did “Sgt. Pepper,” “Band On The Run” and a lot of good work with me — he lost his wife to cancer, too. So the pair of us were just crying on the console.

Paul McCartney Interview with Crissie Hynde of The Pretenders and family friend of the McCartneys, for USA Weekend, discussing Linda’s death some months earlier.


What we used to do, we’d play truant from school, this was like a safe house to go to…so one day he took me to meet her. She opened the door and this is the first meeting I had with her, and the door opened and there is this slight slip of a woman in her like early, mid 30’s or something, I dunno, very young, and she’s got a pair of knickers on her head. [laughs] Apparently this is something she used to do–she used to pick up anything that was handy while dusting. She used to flit around the house with a feather duster and sing away, and a record player and speakers in each room, which was a great thing for us in those days.

But I went into the room and she welcomed us ‘Great to see you!’–she couldn’t care less that I was playing truant, she wanted, in fact used to encourage us to come again–‘come tomorrow if you can lads’, you know–and I went in and John said ‘this is Pete’ and she went ‘Oh Pete oh fantastic!’ and she moved over to me, and I thought she was just going to shake my hand or say hello or something like that, and instead she ran her hands up and down me hips and said ‘oh, isn’t he lovely! Doesn’t he have lovely hips!’ [laughs] and I turned to John and said ‘hey’ right? She’s terrific [laughs].

You could see directly where John got his humour and love of life from. She was always saying to us ‘look, don’t worry about it; it’ll be ok–don’t worry about tomorrow just have a good time. That’s all that matters.’ It was her view of life, her philosphy about life–fun, a love of laughing.

[John] discovered a relationship he hadn’t had before, it was a relationship that had been developed not from a childhood thing but from a different level, and he was incredibly fond of his mother and very close to her. And of course it was a terrible blow–that day was dreadful when she was killed. I saw him the next day and there was nothing to say, you know his pain was obvious. But it was just a matter of saying–I just said to him ‘I’m sorry about your mum, John’ and he just liked shrugged and said ‘that’s ok.’ But there wasn’t anything more to say, there wasn’t anything–it was something that had to be allowed to go, but it was a big impact on him.

[Going to art college] was turning out to be something he hated. He used to say to me ‘Pete, it’s dreadful, it’s like math at school. I spend most of me time measuring out letters’…there’s no artistic freedom at all. So he was having a bad time…he was short of money as well, he was hitting the skids kind of thing at that time. It all came together, it was the lowest time of his life. With his mother getting killed that topped it. And he started drinking alot during that time, it was a very bad period for him. In fact I remember finding him on a bus one night and he’d been–I was coming home late and he’d been laying on the back seat of the bus upstairs just like out of his head unconscious. He’d been on this bus for like two hours [laughs] backwards and forwards to the terminals. I just carried him off the bus and carried him off to Mendips and got him up to bed and put him in. Yeah it was a bad time for him, but you see he never allowed anybody to see it. He always fought, he always–I never remember him ever complaining or moaning about anything in his life. He always took it like a man, folks, you know what I mean? Right? He was that type. He was strong, he wouldn’t give up, show any weakness of he could help it, but he came through with incredible strength as he always did.

Pete Shotton interview about John Lennon


As a mental health professional, I find it sad, annoying, and a little horrifying that Pete’s later recollections of Julia’s immaturity as a parent, and her entirely inappropriate, sexualized behaviour with her son’s teenage pal, are a source of amusement.

It’s equally sad and horrifying that Pete categorizes John’s drunken, depressive withdrawal following Julia’s death as ‘not moaning’ and a sign of ‘strength and manhood’.

Ironic that John himself publicly denounced this warped interpretation of strength and manhood in his music. Was Pete not listening?

John did “come through” with incredible strength, but not for the reasons Pete thinks. To normalize disenfranchised grief and then pat someone on the back for enduring it is the most obscene form of compliment, Pete, god rest your soul.

My mummy’s dead
I can’t get through my head
Though it’s been so many years
My mummy’s dead
I can’t explain, so much pain
I could never show it
My mummy’s dead



Always A Laugh

Q: With the nature of McGough & McGear being more surrealistic and absurdist in nature, was John Lennon a fan? What did he think of you, because your work seems very similar to the sorts of books he published.

A: John, he was always supportive. He used to come round to our flat and hang out, and would love to listen to our comedy records, things like Peter SellersSongs For Swinging Sellers. He loved that record, he loved the Goon Squad. And it’s so interesting to me, now that I’ve been talking to you, about how things just seem to influence each other, simply by being there and around each other—not intentionally doing something, like, say, teaching a chord or working on something actively—but just by sitting in a cramped little bedroom listening to music that you liked. And that record—I’ve still got that record, it’s upstairs in my record shelf—it’s funny. It’s so dark. Like, you’ve got a tree, and you have a record player, and you see a pair of feet hanging down from the tree, and a rope hanging down beside the legs. John used to cackle at that, he thought it was one of the best album covers ever.  (Laughs) I was a little kid, and I just thought John was great, he was always a laugh when he came round, a big influence, even though I might not have realized it at the time.

Mike McCartney, Interview with The Recoup, 2016


Paul was devoted to his brother, according to his father, Jim. “They did everything together, especially the things they were told not to. As children they were inseparable. Wherever one went, the other went too”. Paul, eighteen months older than his brother, was always the leader, as Jim remembers it.

~Julius Fast, The Beatles:  The Real Story, 1968

Paul was very protective of his brother, ensuring that no one bullied him. Paul’s own pranks, however, often caused Mike some pain; such as the time Paul dangled him by his ankles above the back door of the yard of their house. When Mike wanted to be let down, Paul did so literally, letting go of him, leaving Mike to fall face down on the concrete, breaking several of his teeth!

~Bill Harry, The Paul McCartney Encyclopedia

“Whether it’s fame, arguments, whatever your problems are, you’re still blood brothers.”

~Mike McCartney 1981(ish)

Unlike the divided family loyalties of young John Lennon, the McCartney brothers had a clarity and sense of purpose that were forged into their psyches. Jim and Paul and his younger brother, Mike, later a celebrated musician and photographer, forged a closeness rarely found among teenagers and parents. The father and his oldest son had something that John Lennon would have given just about anything for: a relationship as a child with a grown man built on love and respect.

~Larry Kane, When They Were Boys

Q: Did you have any reservations about working with your brother, because you know what families are like…they can fall out.

Mike: I certainly do. Have you got any brothers and sisters?

Q:  Yes.

Mike: Any of them older than you?

Q: No, actually, I’m the eldest. But you’re only a year and a half younger than Paul…

Mike: Indeed, but still… if you’ve got an elder brother then they are the bosses, always have been and always will be, of any siblings in any family. […] Simply Love You’ takes me back, that is family, and that is my brother and I, with simple harmonies. Every now and then on the McGear album you will just hear the two brothers going back as brothers.  And, of course, with brothers–like the Everly Brothers–you have a natural common denominator in your voices, they’re very similar. On the phone sometimes people would ring the house and they would think we were each other; they’d say, hello, Mike, and he’d say, hello, Paul, it’s me–because we were family, we were brothers. So, that to me is the most important thing on the harmonies, is the two brothers, and simple harmonies. And, to me, I love the simplicity, often in life it’s the simplicity that is the answer, it’s the strongest.

~Mike McCartney, discussing the album McGear, produced by brother Paul.

You could look at this another way. If I hadn’t broken my arm, if I had joined The Beatles, maybe [Paul and I would have] ended up fighting like Liam and Noel Gallagher in Oasis. So, it’s fortuitous and lucky I didn’t join. I have a nice, close, stable relationship with my brother.

~Mike McCartney, 2014

Dad vs His Boys

[About two years before their mother’s death], the boys were caught stealing apples at a farm near the city. They were with a gang of boys, all about to swarm up the tree and pick the apples, when the farmer appeared. The gang took off, leaving Paul stuck up a tree. Mike ran back to help him, and the farmer caught both and, with a show of great indignation, locked them up in his barn, then called their father.

Jim came out and the farmer explained his situation. “Not that their such bad kids, but maybe you want to teach them a lesson.” Jim did, and in front of the barn he and the farmer put on an act for the boys inside. In raised voices they discussed the possible consequences of the theft–‘do you think they’ll get a long sentence?’ Should we spank them now and not call the police?”

Julius Fast, The Beatles:  The Real Story, 1968

We used to do our fair share of knocking off apples in a nearby orchard –it was called Chinese Orchard and it was in Horseshoe Woods. That day there were four of us altogether— Paul and I, a neighbouring tearaway called Roger the Dodger–and our shaggy dog, Prince.

We were doing very nicely when Prince suddenly started barking. We turned and saw a man lurching towards us, shouting. We all dropped the apples and ran. Prince got clear and Roger the Dodger vaulted the fence like a greyhound and I wasn’t far after him. But Paul, because of his weight, got stuck on top of the fence and couldn’t get over in time. The man grabbed him and yelled after us: “Come back, all of you or I’ll take it out on your pal!” Trust me, of course. Like a nutter, I ran back. The man locked us both up in a dark shed until Dad came for us. This time he simply read us the riot act–which made a greater impression on us than half a dozen hidings.

Mike McCartney, Portrait of Paul, Woman Magazine, 1965