- Published by:
- USA Today
- Interview by:
- Edna Gunderson
- Timeline More from year 1999
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Run Devil Run Official album.
More from year 1999
Songs mentioned in this interview
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I had a year of doing nothing. Everyone had said to me, ‘You must keep busy.’ I said, ‘No, that’s like denial.’ I refused to get busy. So I had the whole year of letting any emotion come sweeping over me. And it didPaul McCartney
You might not expect a grieving widower to battle despair with a raucous rock ‘n’ roll blowout, but that’s exactly how McCartney nursed his heartbreak. After a year of mourning, he entered the studio with a wish list of ’50s rock tunes and emerged five days later with the upbeat Run Devil Run, featuring a dozen primordial rock covers and three originals that slip neatly into the retro groove. Run finds the ex-Beatle reveling in the soundtrack of his youth and recapturing the vigor and vibrancy of early Fab Four rave-ups.
“I was always going to make a rock ‘n’ roll record,” McCartney says. “Linda and I were always talking about it. In the end, it wasn’t that difficult. The thought of it was fairly daunting. I was a bit worried. Is my voice still there? I hadn’t sung all year. It was nerve-wracking. But when we got down to it, it was wonderfully easy.“
He performs several tracks from Run Devil Run on Paul McCartney & Friends Live: PETA’s Millennium Concert, airing at 10 p.m. ET/PT Saturday on VH1. The one-hour special serves up highlights from the recent star-studded awards gala staged in Hollywood by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
On the eve of that event, McCartney, 57, is cloistered in a dressing room at the House of Blues, where breathless fans at a listening party downstairs await his arrival on stage to speak, not sing, the praises of Run Devil Run. Trim and animated, McCartney cuts a youthful figure in a white T-shirt and sneakers, his age betrayed only by laugh lines and a salt-and-pepper coif.
He had no reservations about taking on vintage teen classics or tunes popularized by Elvis Presley, including Party and I Got Stung.
“I’m not very good at all that perception stuff,” he says. “If I love a song, why shouldn’t I do it?”
He briefly worried that fans would regard Run as “jumping on a bandwagon” steered by John Lennon’s similarly primal Rock ‘N’ Roll album of 1975.
“After I made the album, I thought, ‘Oh, I should check and see what John did.’ There were two songs in common, but they didn’t make the end cut of mine.“
In poring over old records, he gravitated to Gene Vincent’s Blue Jean Bop, Fats Domino’s Coquette and Carl Perkins’ countrified Movie Magg. With a ’50s rock vibe in mind, he penned the title track, What It Is and Try Not to Cry.
The latter’s boisterous arrangement belies a sad sentiment. McCartney’s sorrow also seeps into Ricky Nelson’s Lonesome Town. But don’t look for morose ballads. He has temporarily shelved somber love songs he wrote after Linda’s 1998 death from breast cancer. Rowdy rock ‘n’ roll seemed the safer therapeutic course, after a long period of decompression.
“I had a year of doing nothing,” he says. “Everyone had said to me, ‘You must keep busy.’ I said, ‘No, that’s like denial.’ I refused to get busy. So I had the whole year of letting any emotion come sweeping over me. And it did.
“It’s weird when someone that close to you dies. People say, ‘Oh, my dad died, so I know exactly what you’re going through.’ I say, ‘No, you don’t.’ A girlfriend of 30 years? The tightness and intimacy and stuff we went through? You don’t know. It’s different. Both my parents have died, and this is nothing like that. We were supposed to be on a porch in rocking chairs when we were 80. Suddenly, that’s all taken away.“
The year off replenished McCartney’s spirits.
“It was a good thing,” he says. “A lot of crying. And guys try not to cry. I just let it all hang out. I thought, there’s no other way around this. I just did what I had to do. And then I got back into the swing of things, and it feels good.“
McCartney attended the PETA party to underscore his continuing support for animal rights, a cause he and Linda championed. Though society resists giving up cheeseburgers and leather jackets, McCartney is optimistic that humans will learn to respect other species.
“It’s never going to be a popular thing with the gun lobby and the meat and livestock industry,” he says. “If we want to survive, it would be a very good idea for the human race to embrace this idea.
“Tonight, I saw a hot dog advert. It’s a jolly little cartoon hot dog, and you love it, and you want one, but the only problem is: what’s in it? Most people don’t think about it. And that’s OK. I was like that once. It’s a wisdom thing. You either get it or you don’t. I personally think if the world doesn’t get it, it’ll vanish up its own a – – hole. We can say trouser leg, if you like.“
Will McCartney record his aching odes to Linda, compose another symphony, engage in more Beatles projects like the recent Yellow Submarine reissue?
He’ll forecast the likelihood of a vegetarian revolution, but he declines to speculate on his own future.
“I’ve never seen my future and I don’t intend to start now,” he says. “The Beatles had an expression: something will happen. That’s about as far as I get with philosophy. There’s no point mapping out next year. Fate is much more magical. The future will arrive in its own sweet time, and I’m ready to accept it rather than tell it what to do.”
Last updated on March 8, 2019