The Old Days

Phoebie: Have you ever accidentally plagiarized somebody? Come up with words that are genius and realized you heard them on the radio or something?

Paul: Yeah, I do that occasionally, and try to check it out: “where is that from?” If I can’t think of it–I remember talking to John–Lennon, about that. And I’ve done something, it was a little bit like something else, and he said, “it’s ok, it a quote!” You’re quoting someone else.

Phoebie: [laughs] Yeah.

Paul: …but the good thing about writing with John in the old days, was, if he or I, or for instance like for me, if he would write a line, then I would go “oh no wait a minute, that’s from West Side Story!” or “that’s a Bob Dylan song” and he’d “oh ok.” And similarly he’d do it with me, if I was going somewhere that was a little bit plagiarizing, and he’d say isn’t that so and so? I go oh yeah. So it was good because we could police each other on that.

Phoebie: Were you comfortable being embarrassed with each other? Could you write a bad line and know that and he’d be like “that sucks, we can do better than that.”

Paul: Yeah, that was the great thing about him as a collaborator. We’d kind of known each other for a long time, before we had any big success. I knew him when we were teenagers; and I’d been hitchhiking with him, and so we were like buddies, you know? We’d slept in the same bed in a little hotel and stuff, and you get to know people…

[Paul and Phoebie chuckle]

Paul: so then when you were sitting down and writing, you could just say, “nah, don’t like that”, and he could…and in fact now a days, now that’s he’s passed away, I will check my song with him as it were, I’ll write a line and go…it’s getting a bit sickly, and think, would I get away with this with John, and his voice comes back, NO. and I go [puts hands in the air.] We were very good at telling each other that didn’t work…so let’s change it. And that was the nice thing.

Paul McCartney and Phoebe Bridgers Live, April 16, 2021

Mother Mary

We’ve all said things we’ve immediately and eternally regretted, and a sudden, thoughtless, inexplicable quip made when 14 year Paul McCartney was told that his mother had died, has haunted the former Beatle ever since.

“What will we do without her money?” the teenage Paul blurted, not knowing how to handle his shock and grief. Then he went to bed and cried all night, clasping his hands in prayer, promising God that he would be good if only his mother could come back.

So, it comes as little surprise, to learn this week that McCartney, now aged 70, has told a Brazilian fan that if he had a Time Machine he would like to “go back and spend time with my mum”.

To lose a mother at any time inevitably leaves a well of regrets. To lose one at 14 can be devastating, and it’s quite possible that the death of Mary McCartney in 1956 from an embolism after an operation for breast cancer, affected Paul’s life for ever.

Michael McCartney, who was then aged 12, remembers the terrible moment, too, and would later say how, just after their mother’s death, his brother Paul’s growing interest in the guitar turned into an obsession. Eight months later, in the summer of 1957, Paul was to meet John Lennon, who was also soon to lose his mother in a road accident. Their shared sense of loss helped, Paul believes, their early friendship.

Decades ago when I was at a Beatles’ recording session at Abbey Road studios, Paul took me into an empty studio, sat at a piano and played me a new song he was writing. It sounded to me like a hymn, and, though at that point, he didn’t have many lyrics, one phrase he repeatedly sang that night stayed in my head for over a year until the record was released. It was “Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom…”

The song, Paul would later say, came about as a result of a dream he’d had in 1968, when, although the Beatles were at the absolute height of their fame and creativity, deep fissures had begun appearing in the camaraderie of the band. John Lennon had recently become attached to Yoko Ono, and the future looked suddenly uncertain for the Beatles, which devastated Paul most of all.

Then suddenly in the middle of the turmoil, Paul found himself dreaming about his mother. “There was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes,” he would recall, “and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly ‘Let it be’.

“It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really as if she’d visited me at this very difficult moment in my life and given me this message. ‘Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will work out.’”

We are all products of our upbringings, and Paul McCartney no less than anyone else. So what kind of parents did he have, and what was she like, the mother who, at 47, died so young and so suddenly.

Like many of their generation Jim and Mary McCartney were, when they married in 1941, already in their thirties, an aspirant lower middle class couple in the largely working class city of Liverpool. Jim, at the time, a fire-fighter in the Blitz, was professionally a cotton salesman, and Mary, born Mary Mohin, a midwife.

In fact, having been in charge of the maternity ward at Walton Hospital, Liverpool, she was awarded the privilege of giving birth to Paul in a private ward, and her ambition for her elder son was that he would become a doctor. Paul’s father, Jim, a really lovely man, had had a little trad jazz band before he married, so there was music already in the little family.

But by the mid Fifties the McCartneys were doing well, and, for Mary, life must have seemed splendid when in 1956 she began to complain of pains in her chest. She put it down to the menopause, and her GP agreed. But then the pains got worse, and when Michael one day came home from school and found her crying, she went to see a specialist. Breast cancer was diagnosed and an operation immediately booked.

Despite instructions to rest, the day before she went into hospital she cleaned the house and washed and pressed her sons’ clothes. She wanted, she told her sister, to leave everything ready, “in case I don’t come back”.

The following day Paul and Michael went to see their mother after the operation. There was blood on the white sheets. “It was terrible,” Paul would remember.

An hour after they left, as the last rites were read to her, Mary turned to her sister and said, “I would have liked to see the boys growing up.”

Jim McCartney was devastated. Seeing him crying was the worst thing for Paul. 

Somehow Jim McCartney struggled through with his teenage sons. Both Mary and Jim had wanted to Paul to go to university, but soon music became everything for Paul as another career beckoned.

But, as with all those who lose a parent when young, thoughts of his mother never left him. Nine years after her death he would, without the help of any of the other Beatles, write and record his most famous song, Yesterday. Once again it was a melody that came to him in, he believes, a dream. The lyrics, however, might be telling. “I said something wrong,” he sings, “now I long for yesterday”. Was that a veiled reference to what had, until then, been the worst moment of his life, and the words he wished he’d never said?

On that night in 1968 when he played me Let It Be for the first time, my impromptu private audience was cut short when a fair haired American young woman in a raincoat turned up at the studio along with her small daughter. Her name was Linda Eastman, and she and Paul were to marry, in the teeth of much fan opposition, a few months later. “It was,” he would say, “as if my mum had sent me her.”

That Paul should wish he could go back in time to get to know his own mother better is entirely in character for this very conservative man whose childhood was, in many ways, cut short by her early death. Youth is inevitably a selfish time, and it’s only as we get older that we begin to see the world from the perspective of those who’ve gone before us, and to understand the struggles they made on our behalf.

John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and many others helped make Paul McCartney the man he became, but Mary and Jim McCartney shaped him first. As all our parents first shape us.

 

excerpt from Ray Connolly, Paul McCartney And His Mother Mary.

Heir Apparent

Yoko Ono has reportedly handed over the management of her share of the Beatle enterprise to her son, Sean Ono Lennon. Sean has been appointed director of several companies involved in the Beatle enterprise, including Apple Corps. One wonders whether Sean will have the same energy, willingness, or vested interest in perpetuating the Lennono brand as his mother, or whether he will take it in a different direction. What say ye, readers?

Breakdown

He knew he was in trouble the morning he couldn’t lift his head off the pillow. He awoke facedown, his skull feeling like a useless dead weight. A dark thought flashed through his mind: if he couldn’t make the effort to pull himself up, he’d suffocate right there and then.

Somehow, as if it was the hardest thing he’d ever done, he summoned the energy to move. He flipped over onto his back and thought, Jesus … that was a bit near.

Day by day, week by week, his condition had been steadily worsening. His often sleepless nights were spent shaking with anxiety, while his days, which he was finding harder and harder to make it through, were characterized by heavy drinking and self-sedation with marijuana. He found himself chain-smoking his unfiltered, lung-blackening Senior Service cigarettes one after another after another.

Later, he would look back on this period and tell everyone that he’d almost had a nervous breakdown. From the outside, there appeared to be no “almost” about it.

For the first time in his life, he felt utterly worthless. Everything he had been since the age of fifteen had been wrapped up in the band. Now, even though he couldn’t tell the world, that period of his life was almost certainly over.

It was as if he’d suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job, been made entirely redundant. He was twenty-seven and of no use to anyone anymore. Even the money he’d earned up to this point was no comfort, made no real difference. This was an identity crisis in extremis: who exactly was he if he wasn’t Beatle Paul McCartney?

On the mornings when he forced himself to rise, he’d sit on the edge of his bed for a while before defeatedly crawling back under the covers. When he did get out of bed he’d reach straight for the whiskey, his drinking creeping earlier and earlier into the day. By three in the afternoon, he was usually out of it.

“I hit the bottle,” he admits. “I hit the substances.”

He was eaten up with anger—at himself, at the outside world. He could describe it only as a barreling, empty feeling rolling across his soul.

Out of work and with nothing to distract him, he was tormented by ghosts from his past; they would rise up, whispering in his head, telling him that, in spite of everything he’d achieved, they knew he’d never really amount to anything. That he should have found a proper job in the first place, just as they’d always said.

He realized that up until this point he’d been a “cocky sod.” And now there was this: the first serious blow to his confidence he’d ever experienced. Even when he was fourteen and the complications from a mastectomy had suddenly taken his mother’s life, he had understood that this horrific event had been beyond his control. Somehow, now, in the depths of his muddied thinking, he was starting to believe that everything that was happening was nobody’s fault but his own.

His wife of less than a year later said she had felt the situation was “frightening beyond belief.” Within a matter of months, her new partner had gone from being a sparky, driven, world-famous rock star to a broken man who didn’t want to set foot out of their bedroom. But even if Linda was scared, she knew she couldn’t give up on Paul. She recognized that her husband was sinking into emotional quicksand, and she knew that it was down to her alone to pull him out before he went under for good.

“Linda saved me,” he says. “And it was all done in a sort of domestic setting.” 

Tom Doyle, Man On The Run

I’ve always thought this information about Paul’s emotional state during the Beatle break up was important because it’s such a contrast to the common narrative of the eternally optimistic, thumbs aloft Macca. This period just screams trauma.

Never A Bad Word

[Paul] felt he had a responsibility to his mother’s memory, to say to her ‘I’m still me.’ He had to show he was a survivor. He couldn’t let his mum or dad or brother see him going to pieces. He had to block her death out as a matter of self-preservation….

He hadn’t been able to put any pressure on his dad–in fact, his dad, for all his exuberance, was leaning on him. So Paul had to prove that he was strong.

I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. I know how much he liked Stuart. But what Paul had got was ambition; he wouldn’t have approved of Stuart going off with a girl and troubling their potential….He was terribly distressed by Stuart’s death–it was another ending of the life of someone near in spirit to him. Why should he have to prove he’s very upset? You live with yourself.

Iris Caldwell in McCartney, 1986

Band On The Run

When The Beatles imploded, Paul McCartney, by all accounts, was shattered. Without a band, or the friends that had traveled that remarkable road together with him, he retreated with his new wife Linda to his Scottish farm, with its barebones living quarters, and, depressed, he drank himself into a stupor.

“I think I was just trying to escape in my own mind,” McCartney said in 2012. “I had the freedom to just have a drink whenever I fancied it. I overdid it, basically. I got to a point where Linda had to say ‘look, you should cool it’.”

Seiwell:  “We knew that he was going through a tumultuous time with the breakup of the Beatles. But he never brought it into the band. We were not aware of what was going on –although sometimes, with his moods, you could see that it wasn’t easy, what he was going through — but it had to be done.  I kind of feel as though I was there at the best and the worst times.

Paul played my drum parts on Band on the Run, because we had rehearsed that up at the farm in Scotland. And somewhere in the universe, there’s a two-track tape of our rehearsals, which are so much better than the record. We were a band at the time. And that’s where the beginning of the end occurred, at those Scottish rehearsals at the barn.

One day, Paul just pushed Henry in a corner, trying to make him play the same solo on “My Love” all the time, and the same solo, the same parts on the songs that would be on Band on the Run. He said, about the “My Love” solo, “This is iconic, you’ve got to just repeat this part.” And Henry was so organic and everything, that he didn’t go along with it. And he left the band. And when he left the band, I pleaded with Paul to replace Henry — which would be hard to do — but to replace him with a guitar player, and put back the album — put back Band on the Run — for a month, and rehearse with a new guy and break him in. So we can go down there as a band and record it, because it had grown into something pretty fantastic, but he wasn’t into that idea.

And there were some other problems. He had to sue the other three Beatles, so there was court receivership on all the money. And so the money was real tight in the band. It was very tight. Needlessly so, I think. And it was wearing on us, the situations that were occurring, when we were doing so well, yet we were living like a garage band. I mean, I was making one-tenth of the money I used to make in New York doing sessions. And living that way, too! It was wearing on us, and it’s one of my only regrets in life, actually, is that I didn’t sit Paul down and talk to him about that particular thing, to see if we could work out some sort of agreement.

Because the original agreement was that we were all part owners of this band. Shareholders. And because of the Apple Corps case and everything, that was impossible. We had no contract, or even written agreements. And that was main reason for the decision I made to leave when I did. I regret doing it that way. And for years we didn’t speak. 

And then I saw him again in ’93, when they played L.A. […] We had a great reunion. All the kids were there. That night, Linda gave me the home phone number, and their contact info. And we said, “We should stay in touch.”

And then after that, that show, we spent a lot of time together, talking and stuff. Then Linda died. We went over to see him. Well, we went to the memorial in New York, and we went to the house to see how he was doing without Linda. And then, Wingspan came out, and I helped him with some Wingspan stuff. So we remained close, but the relationship was really dead for many years; we didn’t talk. So I was glad to have him back in my life. There’s just so much that went on in those early days that’s just a major part of my life.

Denny Seiwell, Rock Cellar Magazine, 2019

Not A Road To Go Down

Strangely, for the world’s most successful ever songwriter, McCartney himself is also not immune to outside influence or even moments of self-doubt while composing. Following a conversation with Lady Gaga about self-loathing, he admits he started to analyze his own internal monologue and how it influences his writing–although in McCartney’s case, he ultimately concluded that self-loathing was “not a road I want to go down.”

“Any time you write a song, you’re going, ‘This is crap. This is terrible. Come on,'” adds McCartney. “So I kick myself and say, ‘Get it better. If it’s terrible, get it better.’ And sometimes someone will come along, someone who you respect, and say, ‘No, that’s great. Don’t worry about that,’ and then show you a side to it that you didn’t notice and then you’ll go, ‘Oh yeah.'”

Paul McCartney, People Magazine, 2020

Motown, Man.

Q: It’s ironic that [The Sun] recently questioned whether you were a racist after hearing bootleg Beatles outtakes from the Let It Be sessions that feature you referring to Pakinstanis unflatteringly…in a rendition of Get Back.

A: Sensational journalism. The Sun is not highly reputable newspaper. What this thing is, I think, is that when we were doing Let It Be , there were a couple of verses to Get Back which were actually not racist at all–they were antiracist. There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats–you know, living sixteen to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of Get Back, which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat’’–that’s the line. Which to me was actuallyo talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis.. The Sun wishes to see it as a racist remark. But I’ll tell you, if there was any group that was not racist, it was The Beatles. I mean, all our favourite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown. Whenever we came to the States they’d say “Who’s your favourite artists?” And we’d say “Well, they’re mainly black, and American–Motown man.”

Paul McCartney interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, 1986..

Robert Freeman

With The Beatles: “It was taken quite quickly in the corridor of a hotel we were staying in where natural light came from the windows at the end of the corridor,” Paul McCartney remembered. “I think it took no more than half an hour to accomplish.”

Rubber Soul was the group’s first release not to feature their name on the cover, an uncommon tactic in 1965. The ‘stretched’ effect of the cover photo came about after photographer Bob Freeman had taken some pictures of the group wearing suede leather jackets at Lennon’s house. Freeman showed the photos by projecting them onto an album-sized piece of cardboard to simulate how they would appear on an album cover. The unusual Rubber Soulalbum cover came to be when the slide card fell slightly backwards, elongating the projected image of the photograph and stretching it. Excited by the effect, they shouted, “Ah! Can we have that? Can you do it like that?“, to which Freeman said he could. Paul McCartney conceived the album’s title after overhearing a musician’s description of Mick Jagger’s singing style as “plastic soul“. Lennon confirmed this in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, stating, “That was Paul’s title, meaning English soul. Just a pun.