Catching Up With Macca

Paul and some of his guitar collection. (Mary McCartney)

Paul McCartney did a lot of press to promote his recent “McCartney III” album. Here are highlights of some of those interviews. …

Talking with the BBC, Macca addressed his off-and-on gray pandemic beard, saying, “what I do is, I grow it for a couple of weeks and then I get fed up with it ’cause it gets itchy, so I shave it off.”

Asked about working alone, he said: “If you’re on your own, you can have an idea and then very quickly play it. Whereas, with a band, you’ve got to explain it. Sometimes that’s great… but when you’re just noodling around on your own, there’s just a sense of freedom.”

Considering the undertain future of live concerts, he was asked had he thought about the possibility he might never be able to play live again. “Yes, definitely,” he said. “I look back at the last gig I did, which was at Dodger Stadium in LA, and we didn’t have a very good night. I must say, I was thinking ‘Uh-oh, what if that was the last gig?’

“But it would be great, wouldn’t it, to be in a crowd and be able to go crazy and listen to a live band again. I was imagining that the other day — instead of doing the songs, you’d just be standing there going ‘This is great, isn’t it?’”

McCartney was asked whether any of the new songs are informed by the pandemic. “Yeah, I think so, a couple of the newer songs,” he answered. “There’s one called ‘Seize the Day’ — that had echoes of the pandemic kind of thing when the cold days come, we’ll wish that we had seized the day, kind of thing. So that was just reminding myself and anyone listening that yeah, we better grab the good stuff and, you know, try and get on through the pandemic. But it certainly helped me, you know.”

Of his wider feelings about the worldwide crisis, he reflected: “I hate it. You know when you turn on the news, the lead story is going to be how many people died. That’s depressing, after a while. But in truth, what kind of saw me through a lot of this was, I remembered that my parents, my mum and dad, Jim and Mary were in World War II.

“They survived — they survived the bombing and the losing people left, right and center and yet they came out of it with incredible spirit and so us kids in Liverpool, we grew up with this really, you know ‘Let’s have a good time, let’s roll out the barrel,’ with this great sort of wartime spirit that all the people had, because they’d had enough. And so I was brought up in a lot of that, so it’s kind of good to draw on that and think well, if they could do it, I can do it.”

Asked about his thoughts on Sir Peter Jackson’s forthcoming “The Beatles: Get Back” film, Macca said: “I love it. I said to him when he was going to trawl through all the footage — like about 56 hours or something — I said ‘Oh God, it’s going to be boring’ because my memory of the [original 1970] film was that it was a very sad time, and it was a little bit downbeat, the film.

“But he got back to me he said ‘No, I’m looking at it,’ he said, ‘It’s a laugh – you guys, it’s just four guys working, and you can see you making up songs.’ George wondering about the lyrics of ‘Something in the Way She Moves’ or me trying to figure out ‘Get Back’ and he’s shown me little bits and pieces of it and it’s great, I love it, I must say because it’s how it was. It just reminds me of — even though we had arguments, like any family — we loved each other, you know, and it shows in the film. It’s a very warm feeling, And, it’s amazing just being backstage with these people, making this music that turned out to be good.”

Macca in the studio. (Sonny McCartney)

In his interview with Loudandquiet.com, McCartney was asked if he could write a song every day if he wanted to. “I think so,” he said. “The secret for me is having a bit of time. This afternoon I haven’t really got anything on, and my guitar is sort of sat here looking at me, saying, ‘Why am I over here?’ But it’s time. I think if I was stuck and needed to write a song every day, maybe I could. 

“I kind of play every day, one thing or another. A mate of mine said, ‘Guitars is best.’ I mean, they are. They’re great. You can form a good friendship with a piece of wood and metal. I was always lucky as a kid to have one, and when the world was against you, you could go off into the corner with your guitar and you could make things right. It’s the magic of music, because it comes out of nowhere. It does strike me occasionally — I’ll think, ‘This is great, because I’ve really learned chords, and I can really go between them.’ I can remember a really long time ago finding it really difficult to go between E and A and B, and don’t even talk to me about B7. I was just thinking the other day, “No, I can move between chords. I’m getting pretty good at this.”

Asked about his 8-minutes-plus track “Deep Deep Feeling,” recorded during lockdown when he was staying with daughter Mary and her family, he explained: “That was one of the songs that I’d actually started last year. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a bit of time when I’ll go into the studio and just make something up, and so I try to just do something that I haven’t done before. This was one of those that I didn’t finish. To me, what it was about was, sometimes — I don’t how it happens of even what it is — when you’re feeling real love towards someone, sometimes it can manifest in a tingling over your whole body, and it’s a pretty funny feeling, and you almost don’t like it — ‘What the hell is this?’ — like you’re about to be beamed up into a spaceship or something. On this song I was fascinated with the idea of that — that deep, deep feeling when you love someone so much it almost hurts. That was the start of that, but after I made it I thought, well, this isn’t for anything. It’s certainly not a 3-minute single. What became nice about working in the studio was that in the evening Mary would be cooking, because she loves to cook, and we’d be sitting around before dinner, and she’d say, ‘Well, what did you do today then?’ and I’d go, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll play it for you.’ And I always wanted it to keep going. I just wanted it to go on forever. It’s a bit indulgent, and I was a little bit worried about that — I thought I really needed to cut it down, but, just before I did that, I just listened to it, and I thought, ‘Y’know what, I love this, I’m not going to touch it.’”

Macca also elaborated on the closing track, “When Winter Comes,” recorded years earlier with Sir George Martin. “I made a track called ‘Calico Skies’ a while ago [for the 1997 album “Flaming Pie”], which George produced. And at the same time, because I was in the studio and had an extra minute or so, I had this other song, so I said, ‘let me knock this one off.’ That was ‘When Winter Comes’, and I mention George because it was on a George Martin-produced session, but it is just me on the guitar. It was nearly going to be a bonus extra that was going to be on a reissue of ‘Flaming Pie,’ but I’d just been reading that great book on Elvis, ‘Last Train to Memphis,’ and it mentioned a song and said you’ve probably never heard it because it was buried as a bonus on the B-side of an album. So, I thought, no, I’d rather have this one as a proper track. And we finished the album with it because it was the reason for doing the whole thing, because me and my mate Geoff Dunbar, who’s an animation director, were talking about making an animated film to that song.”

Asked if he’s still seeking to innovate, Sir Paul said, “There’s a lot of things in my life that I’m surprised at. People say, ‘After touring for all these years, don’t you just hate it? Aren’t you fed up?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not.’ I suppose I am still looking for something new, but it’s not that important. The more important thing for me is getting into a studio and thinking, what can we do now. It doesn’t have to be something new, it can be something old. And on this record, actually, I had a couple of guitars that I’ve not played much, and we got them out — this old Gibson, this beautiful thing — and I’m like, ‘How have I not played this!?’ and that led me into a track. But I still enjoy what I do very much, and it all comes out as clichés — ‘I feel very lucky’ — but it’s true. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was plug a guitar into an amp and turn it up for that thrill, and it’s still there. So, it’s not so much that I’m looking for something new, more that I’m looking for something to do to keep me off the streets.”

McCartney conducted a media blitz for his “McCartney III” album. (Mary McCartney)

In an interview on paulmccartney.com, Paul was asked if he uses his phone to record song notes. “Yes, I do, a lot — and it’s embarrassing! To think, when we started off all those years ago, John and I had to remember everything! The only things available for home recording were the big Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorders, and of course you had to be very rich to have one, so we didn’t have them.

“We always had to remember what we’d written that day. We’d write the song, go away, and all we’d have is a little piece of paper with the words on, and then later on we’d have a drink and think, ‘What the hell was that song?! … Oh God! Forgotten it!’. I’d wait a minute, thinking John would probably remember, and often one of us would wake up first thing in the morning and luckily have the song in our head again. So, in the studio you were always playing something that you remembered, that you knew and that was finished. 

“Nowadays with iPhones, you put a little sketch of an idea or a little bit of a riff, maybe just two lines of a song and think ‘I’ll finish that later’. My phone is full of little sketches, some of which I pulled out during lockdown and thought ‘I’ve really got to finish these’. So, I did. 

“But yeah, I’m always on my iPhone, always putting ideas down. And the double-edged sword means it’s good because you can remember your ideas. But it’s bad because you don’t finish them. You’ve got to force yourself to come back and finish. Fortunately, I had an opportunity during this time to do just that.”

McCartney also told Britain’s Uncut magazine that “McCartney III” allowed him to explore his backlog of unfinished songs. “The problem with iPhones is that you can have an idea — “Doo do doo do come on bam bam” — and you think, ‘That’s good, I’ll finish this later.’ Then you realise you’ve got 2,000 of these ideas on your phone! ‘Oh, God! Am I ever going to get round to them?!’ So, lockdown allowed me to get round to a lot of them. Bu, I do have a list of songs that I started but didn’t actually finish or release.”

Asked if he ever mentally consults John Lennon, he replied: “Yeah, often. We collaborated for so long, I think, ‘OK, what would he think of this? What would be say now?’ We’d both agree that this new song I’m taking about is going nowhere. So instead of sitting around, we’d destroy it and remake it. I started that process yesterday in the studio. I took the vocal off it and decided to write a new vocal. I think it’s heading in a better direction now.”

Asked about George Martin, he said, “He was brilliant to work with. He was like a doctor when you’re ill. They have a way of not getting you angry. ‘Sure, let me just take your temperature.’ George was like that. I’d disagree with one of his ideas, and they were often very good ideas, and instead of having a barney, he’d say, ‘Maybe we could just try it and if you don’t like it, we’ll lose it.’ Then I’d go, ‘Oh, OK.’ He was clever that way. He’d get you to try things.”

“McCartney III” is informed by the pandemic, but radiates Macca’s innate optimism. (Mary McCartney)

He told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly that while his wife Nancy would like to clean out the closets, as many people have done during lockdown, he’s “just short of a hoarder. What happens is, we’ll be going to throw an old book away and I’ll say, ‘Just let me check through it.’ And there, on the third page, will be the original lyrics I scribbled down to one of my songs. So, I say, ‘This is why I don’t throw things away!’ That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.”

In an interview with the Times of London, Macca was asked whether The Beatles ever experienced any mental health problems. “Yes, I think so,” he said. “But you talked about it through your songs. You know, John would. ‘Help! I need somebody,’ he wrote. And I thought, ‘Well, it’s just a song,’ but it turned out to be a cry for help. Same kind of thing happened with me, mainly after the break-up of the band. All of us went through periods when we weren’t as happy as we ought to be. Ringo had a major drinking problem. Now he’s Mr. Sober of the Year! But you know there were a lot of things we had to work through, but you’re right — you didn’t talk about mental health. It was something really that, as four guys, you were more likely to make fun of than be serious about. And the making fun of it was to hide from it. But having said all that, we were reasonably well adjusted, I think.”

In his interview with the New York Times Sunday Magazine, McCartney was asked if there are aspects of “McCartney III” that represent creative growth. “The idea of growing and adding more arrows to your bow is nice,” he said, “but I’m not sure if I’m interested in it. The thing is, when I look back to ‘Yesterday,’ which was written when I was 21 or something, there’s me talking like a 90-year-old: ‘Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be.’ Things like that and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ have a kind of wisdom. You would naturally think, OK, as I get older I’m going to get deeper, but I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s a fact of life that personalities don’t change much. Throughout your life, there you are.”

Asked how central to his life those 10 years as a Beatle are, he replied: “Very. It was a great group. That’s commonly acknowledged. … It’s like your high school memories — those are my Beatles memories. This is the danger: At a dinner party, I am liable to tell stories about my life, and people already know them. I can see everyone stifling a yawn. But the Beatles are inescapable. My daughter Mary will send me a photo or a text a few times a week: “There you were on an advert” or “I heard you on the radio.” The thing that amazes me now, because of my venerable age, is that I will be with, like, one of New York’s finest dermatologists, and he will be a rabid Beatles fan. All of that amazes me. We were trying to get known, we were trying to do good work and we did it. So to me, it’s all happy memories.”

Asked if his processing of Lennon’s death has changed over the years, he said, “It’s difficult for me to think about. I rerun the scenario in my head. Very emotional. So much so that I can’t really think about it. It kind of implodes. What can you think about that besides anger, sorrow? Like any bereavement, the only way out is to remember how good it was with John. Because, I can’t get over the senseless act. I can’t think about it. I’m sure it’s some form of denial. But denial is the only way that I can deal with it. Having said that, of course, I do think about it, and it’s horrible. You do things to help yourself out of it. I did an interview with Sean, his son. That was nice — to talk about how cool John was and fill in little gaps in his knowledge. So, it’s little things that I am able to do, but I know that none of them can get over the hill and make it OK. But you know, after he was killed, he was taken to Frank Campbell’s funeral parlor in New York. I’m often passing that. I never pass it without saying: “All right, John. Hi, John.”

The interviewer pointed out that, while McCartney frequently is asked about Lennon, he rarely is asked about George Harrison.

“John is probably the one in the group you would remember,” he said, “but the circumstances of his death were particularly harrowing. When you die horrifically, you’re remembered more. But, I like your point, which is: What about George? I often think of George because he was my little buddy. I was thinking the other day of my hitchhiking bursts. This was before The Beatles. I suddenly was keen on hitchhiking, so I sold this idea to George. … Exeter and Paignton. We did that, and then I also hitchhiked with John. He and I got as far as Paris. What I was thinking about was — it’s interesting how I was the instigator. Neither of them came to me and said, ‘Should we go hitchhiking?’ It was me, like, ‘I’ve got this great idea.’ … My theory is that attitude followed us into our recording career. Everyone was hanging out in the sticks, and I used to ring them up and say, ‘Guys, it’s time for an album.’ Then we’d all come in, and they’d all be grumbling. ‘He’s making us work.’ We used to laugh about it. So, the same way I instigated the hitchhiking holidays, I would put forward ideas like, ‘It’s time to make an album.’ I don’t remember Ringo, George or John ever ringing me up and saying that.”

Asked if he remembers the last thing he said to George, Paul replied, “We said silly things. We were in New York before he went to Los Angeles to die, and they were silly, but important to me. And, I think, important to him. We were sitting there, and I was holding his hand, and it occurred to me — I’ve never told this — I don’t want to hold George’s hand. You don’t hold your mate’s hands. I mean, we didn’t anyway. And, I remember he was getting a bit annoyed at having to travel all the time — chasing a cure. He’d gone to Geneva to see what they could do. Then he came to a special clinic in New York to see what they could do. Then the thought was to go to L.A. and see what they could do. He was sort of getting a bit, ‘Can’t we just stay in one place?’ And I said: ‘Yes, Speke Hall. Let’s go to Speke Hall.’ That was one of the last things we said to each other, knowing that he would be the only person in the room who would know what Speke Hall was. Anyway, the nice thing for me when I was holding George’s hands, he looked at me, and there was a smile.”

Asked if he could share a Beatles story that hasn’t been told before, he said, “So when we did the album ‘Abbey Road,’ the photographer was set up and taking the pictures that ended up as the album cover. Linda was also there, taking some incidental pictures. She has some that are of us — I think it was all four of us — sitting on the steps of Abbey Road studios, taking a break from the session, and I’m in quite earnest conversation with John. This morning I thought, I remember why. John’s accountants had rung my accountants and said: ‘Someone’s got to tell John he’s got to fill in his tax returns. He’s not doing it.’ So, I was trying to say to him, ‘Listen, man, you’ve got to do this.’ I was trying to give him the sensible advice on not getting busted for not doing your taxes. That’s why I looked so earnest. I don’t think I’ve told that story before.”

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