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Warning: This episode begins with a description of the assassination of John Lennon.
John Lennon’s assassination has reverberated across decades, country and culture. On the 8th of December, 1980 the world lost one of its greatest creative forces and advocates for peace. And Paul McCartney lost even more: a collaborator, a bandmate, and a dear friend. As McCartney sat in the upstairs room of his Sussex home, mourning his loss, he picked up a guitar, found a comforting set of chords and began memorializing his friendship with Lennon in song.
“McCartney: A Life in Lyrics” is a co-production between iHeart Media, MPL and Pushkin Industries.
The series was produced by Pejk Malinovski and Sara McCrea; written by Sara McCrea; edited by Dan O’Donnell and Sophie Crane; mastered by Jason Gambrell with sound design by Pejk Malinovski. The series is executive produced by Leital Molad, Justin Richmond, Lee Eastman and Scott Rodger.
Thanks to Lee Eastman, Richard Ewbank, Scott Rodger, Aoife Corbett and Steve Ithell.
“The first time I ever saw John Lennon, he got on the bus … he was like this slightly older guy with this sort of rocker hairdo — lots of grease — black jacket, sideburns, sideboards as we call them,” McCartney said. “And I just remember thinking, ‘Well, he’s a cool guy. No idea who he is.’”
“And what would happen is when I would talk to people, they’d sort of say, ‘What are your hobbies? What do you like to do?’” he continued. “And then inevitably, I’d say, ‘Well, I’ve written a couple of songs.’ And they’d go, ‘Oh.’ And we’d pass that pie, and we’d carry on a conversation. But I met John, [and] we were just chatting, and ‘Well, I’ve written a couple of songs.’ And he said, ‘Well, so have I.’ So that was like a full stop. So then it was like, ‘Let me hear what you’ve done and I’ll show you what I’ve done.’ So that started us getting together. I think I was possibly the first person he’d met who’d said that to him. So that was the start of our relationship. We decided to get together, normally at my house, and my dad always left his pipe in the drawer, so we would take tea, fill the pipe with it, and smoke it.”
“We put little things in,” McCartney says. “Those things, they were for our own amusement. It was an effort to not be bored. So when we heard the Beach Boys singing, ‘La la la la,’ we thought, ‘Well, that’d be great to … ‘ ‘dit dit dit dit,’ which on the [‘Girl’] session became, ‘tit tit tit tit.’ But we snickered like schoolboys and really were happy.
“And in ‘Penny Lane,’ ‘A four of fish and finger pies,’ a ‘finger pie’ was a rude sexual reference. But we knew that people in Liverpool would get it but no one else would. They would just think that it was like a shepherd’s pie. So I think once people thought, ‘There’s hidden references,’ they went looking for them and saw them in everything — even stuff that really wasn’t there.”
Pushkin. Hi, everyone, it’s Paul muldoon. Before we get to this episode, I wanted to let you know that you can binge all twelve episodes of McCartney A Life and Lyrics right now, add free by becoming a Pushkin Plus subscriber. Find Pushkin Plus on the McCartney A Life and Lyrics show page in Apple Podcasts, or at pushkin dot fm slash Plus. Had you come home late at night on December eighth, nineteen eighty and turned on your television, you would have had some generation shaking news. He was shot late this evening in front of his apartment building in New York City. Apparently he was killed almost immediately. The man who shot John Lennon walked up to the musician as he was leaving his limousine. According to eyewitnesses, he said, mister Lennon, and then fired at him point blank at least five times. And if I said I really knew you, well, what would your answer me. This is basically a memory song that is a love song to John Well knowing you, he probably laugh and says that we were world’s aprod. He’s written after he died, and I was remembering things about our relationship and things about the million things we’ve done together. But as for me, I still remember it was and imding magulty from just being in each other’s front parlors or bedrooms, or walking on the street together or hitchhiking a love I’m Paul, will do And I’ve been fortunate to spend time with one of the greatest songwriters of our era. And will you look at me? I’m going on to it. I’m actually a performer, that is, sir Paul McCartney. We work together on a book looking at the lyrics of more than one hundred and fifty of his songs, and we recorded many hours of our conversations. Actually I’m a songwriter, my god, Well, that crypt homie. This is Cartney, A life in lyrics, a masterclass, a memoir, and an improvised journey with one of the most iconic figures in popular music in this episode here today. John Lennon died on December eighth, nineteen eighty. It was a loss grieved by millions of people around the world. As Paul McCartney mourned in the following years, he found himself remembering all of the time they had spent together as childhood friends, bandmates and creative collaborators. And I was in what is now my recording studio in Sussex. It was this little house. There was little room upstairs that was bare wooden planks and bare walls, and I had my guitar with me. So I just sat there and wrote this. And it’s started as also with me, we’re finding something nice on the guitar, a good chord or something just that. If I say but that it’s just such a lovely chorde, it’s not a killing, I don’t know what to do. Actually, And if I said I really knew you, well, what would your answer me? If you readed. One of the things you which I find very interesting is that the title is here today, but you never get round to letting the others shoe drop as it were on that when you don’t refer to it so far as I can see, I gone tomorrow. Mmm, No, which I think is good. Yeah, I think. Do you know when I thought of here today, I would have thought of it. I was here today, gone tomorrow, but I immediately just dropped, Yes, gone tomorrow. I knew, I knew I didn’t want that, And a bit I wanted was this front pit what about the time we may about the time, well, I suppose that you could say that we were playing hard again. What about the time we met, Well, the first time I ever saw John Lennon, he got on the bus and it’s John always managed to be a little bit older than me. I never caught up. So he was like this sort of slightly older guy with a sort of rock her do, lots of grease, black jacket, side burns, sideboards as we called, or burns was American, And you know, I just remember thinking, well, he’s a cool guy, no idea who he is. Didn’t understand the thing, but we get all And what would happen is when I would talk to people, they’d sort of say, what are your hobbies? What do you like to do? And inevitably I’d say, and I’ve written a couple of songs, and they got and we’d pass that by and we’d carry on a conversation. When I met John and just chatting, what do you do and I’ve written a couple of songs, he said, oh, so have I. So that was like a full stop. So then it was like, let me hear what you’ve done, and I’ll tell you. I’ll show your life to him. So that started us getting together. I think I would possibly the first person he’d met who said that to him. So that was the start of our relationship. We decided to get together normally at my house and my dad always left his pipe in the drawer, so we would take tea, fill the pipe with it and smoke it. Oh yeah, that was before tea became tea, exactly pre tea. If you did it, he normally one or the other of us would have a fragment. So you know, have a segy cup of tea, start playing some stuff, look for an idea, nearly all of it. There’s two guitars, and the joy of that was that I was left handed, he was right handed. So I was looking in a mirror and he was looking in the mirror. Just as their guitars mirrored each other. Their personalities seemed complimentary, yin and yang. Jeff Emeriic, the head studio engineer on several Beatles albums, observed that Paul was meticulous and organized. John seemed to live in chaos. Paul was a natural communicator, John couldn’t articulate his ideas well. Paul was the diplomat. John was the agitator. That was one of the good things about writing with John. He would often come in from another angle. So if I’m doing a song, it’s getting better all the time, John might easily say it couldn’t get no worse, which immediately opens the song right up. Okay, And that was one of the things I loved about working with him. He could have said, it’s getting better all the time. Yes, indeed, it is right. If you did the lyrics of here today, imagine what Lennon might say to McCartney if he were still alive. It’s a practice which informed much of Baughn McCartney’s songwriting since the two ended their musical collaboration. In the song, McCartney reckons with the fact that since Lennon’s passing, he has had to spar with himself internalizing Lennon’s creative opposition. Now I’m conscious that I don’t have him very much, and you know, often we’ll sort of refer this is too soppy, you know, Yeah, you would have said none, and so I’ll change it. But my songs have to reflect me, and you don’t have this opposing element so much. I have to do that myself these days, you know. And you know, if anyone sort of asked me what was he like to work with John, the fact was it was easier, much easier, because there were two minds at work, and that interplay was nothing short of miraculous. While John Lennon’s cynicism was often helpful in the songwriting process with Paul McCartney, he could be quite harsh. He had a very traumatic childhood, a distant father, there was the early loss of his mother, and his aunt’s frequent criticism and cruelty. John’s persona was very guarded. Yeah, hopelessly guarded. You know. That was where all this wit came from. It was like so many comedians, it’s to shield themselves against the world, you know, and John having had this very difficult upbringing where his father leaves arm and then his uncle dies and then his mother gets killed. By the time I knew him, he could be very sarcastic, but we all could. I mean, it was it was my way of dealing with my mother’s death and his too. So he would often very funny, you know, there would often be a very witty put down. Wouldn’t always be a put down, but it’s always a quick answer. And he trained himself to do that. It was kind of obviously, and that was one of the attractive things about him self, protective attack before we were attacked seed Well, knowing you, you probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart. If you today, I play to the sort of more cynical side of John. There was certainly that, But whenever I sing this, I do think it’s probably not true. You probably laugh and say we’re a world’s apart. This cynicism may seem particular to John Lennon, but it was drilled into all young men of their generation as part of some ideal of stoic masculinity. Why can’t men say I love you to each other? I don’t think it’s quite as true now, but I think certainly when we were growing up, you had to be gay for a man to say that to another man. So you know, that bred a little bit of cynicism. If you ever were talking about anything soppy, then the next thing would be someone would have to make a joke of it, just to ease the embarrassment in the room. I love And as boys couldn’t admit their love for their friends, they were also encouraged to hold back their tears. Boys don’t cry. My dad wasn’t like that, but that was the attitude that you don’t cry. Male people do not cry. Whereas I think now it’s acknowledged that it’s a perfectly good thing to do, and I say, well, you know, if God wouldn’t have given us tears, if he didn’t mean us to cry, what about them? I’d be cried because there wasn’t any reason I have to keep it on inside Nevers world? Would you really smart? Even before the Beatles, Paul and John spent so much time together that if they didn’t acknowledge it in words, their friendship had deepened. They grew closer and they came to really know one another. John and I hitchhiked a lot. It was a kind of way to get a holiday. You never you didn’t book holidays. Maybe your parents did that. We I don’t think we would have known how to, so you would do as you just head out. We’d always take our guitars and it was always just two of us. And from Liverpool you go south. You don’t really think of hitchhiking north. The beaches are south and John and I got down to ride on the Isle of Wight Ryd. She’s not a ticket to run. She’s got a ticket to run. Were my cousin Betty Elizabeth and her husband Mike were running a pub? They did that, They ran pubs. Not only did McCartney’s cousins Betty and Mike run a pub, Mike was also an entertainment manager at Butland’s. Butland’s was a chain of seaside resorts started by Billy Butlin in nineteen thirty seven. Butlin’s the big holiday where everyone enjoys everything at no extra cost, like a monorail. As this ad makes clear, the point was to provide affordable holidays for working class families. Holiday for everyone with everything to enjoy at Butlers and remember no extra at the Bay. They were very showers and their kids all are great little family. We went down there and it was great really because I was sort of showing John part of my world. It was very cute because because we were got of young guys and then still teen teenagers, we’d play our guitars. They’d love to hear us play. He was He was a very funny guy and musical. He’d been in a sort of an a cappella singing group with zoot suits called the Jones Boys, and we listened to them on the radio once recorded once on the radio, and we all whole family tuned in. You know, Guy collected clippings of them. It was very cute to now think of me and John in a bed top and tail, a little single bed top and tail, and Betty and Mike coming in to talk us in. It was so sweet. You know, that’s so sort of innocent, playing again, lingo ringo. Stop. That’s not me, but your promise to be true and help me? Okay. Even when John would attack Paul, he find ways of signaling to his friend, the softer part of himself that lay underneath the hard shell. I told you you were the classes. All the time we have we have an argument about no, no, no no, because I would have to stand up to him because we’re working together, and he say something but particularly caustic. I’d be sort of wounded, and then he pulled down his classes. It’s only me, and that was John. That to me, it was John, It’s only me, Oh all right, and you’ve just gone and blustered and that was somebody else, was it? Okay? And that was your shield talking. I’m giving up the business. Come on, we’re any George has tuned up, tuning up. I want to thieve. As Paul came to recognize when John’s shield was up, and when it was done, he learned how to comfort him. I remember him saying to me, Oh, you know, I worry about how people are going to remember me when I die. And it kind of shocked me. I said, Okay, hold on, just hold it right there. People are going to think you were great. You’ve already done enough work to demonstrate that. So I was like I had to. I was like his priest often, you know, I’d have to say, my son, you’re great, don’t worry about it, you know whatever, and he would take it. You make him feel better. What about the night we cried? Because there was any reason? I have to keep it on inside? Never still work? Would you? With the smart one stormy night in Key West while the Beatles were on tour shield dropped all together? What about the night we cry? That was a specific incident in Key West. There was a hurricane coming in and we had to lay low for a couple of days, and for some reason they chose Key West and so we were in a little sort of motel room and stuff. So we got very drunk and cried about you know, I don’t know about how we loved each other or something. I don’t know. Writing here today, processing his friend’s death, McCartney experienced a similar emotional release. Once again. It was music that broke down the barriers of masculinity, of violence, of the tragedy of John’s absence. But as for me, I still remain it was before. But as for me, I still remember how it was before, and I’m holding back the tears no more because it was very moving, a very emotional writing this song, because I was just sitting there in this bare room thinking of John and realizing I lost him, and it was a powerful loss. So to have a conversation with him in a song was some form of solace. Somehow I was with him again the night we cried, because there was a really reason I have to keep it on this side. And people come to my shows and this is I do this, just me and a guitar, and I’m all stuck in the middle of a great, big arena with all these people, and people tell me they look around, there’s a lot of people cry, And I think, you know, because it is a very sentimental nostalgic emotional song for you were in my song Here Today from Talk of War, released in nineteen eighty two, when you were young and your heart was an open book. In the next episode, you used to say, little let me McCartney’s secret aspiration to write a Bond song, the seven changing world in which we’re living makes you giving that crown. McCartney A Life in Lyrics is a copraduction between iHeartMedia, NPL and Pushkin Industries.