DATE April 30, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Paul McCartney discusses his new book, "Blackbird Singing,"
and his experiences with John Lennon
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest may have been your favorite Beatle, Paul McCartney. Although The
Beatles broke up about 30 years ago, they still influence bands of every
generation. The Beatles were recently back on top of the charts with an
anthology of their number-one hits, and they were back in movie theaters with
the re-release of their comedy "A Hard Day's Night." Now for the first time,
some of the lyrics Paul McCartney wrote during The Beatles' years are
collected in a book. The book is called "Blackbird Singing," and it also
includes old and new poems. Several of the poems are about McCartney's late
wife, Linda, and were written shortly before and after her death.
Last year a book of McCartney's paintings was published, and now there's a new
collection of songs he recorded with his post-Beatles band Wings called
"Wingspan." And a "Wingspan" TV special airs May 11th on ABC.
Let's start with a song that gives Paul McCartney's new book of poems and
lyrics its' title.
(Soundbite of "Blackbird Singing")
Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY (Former Beatle): (Singing) Blackbird singing in the dead
of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were
only waiting for this moment to arise. Blackbird singing in the dead of
night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see. All your life, you were only
waiting for this moment to be free. Blackbird, fly. Blackbird, fly into the
light of the dark black night.
GROSS: Paul, McCartney, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Well, what or who was the inspiration for this song?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, "Blackbird" was something I wrote in the '60s and the
music came from--I used to play a kind of cod(ph) version of a Bach piece.
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da. I used to play a little kind of
finger-picking thing on that. And so the music was inspired by that. And
then the words were actually to do with the civil rights movement. I was
imagining "Blackbird" being symbolic for a young black woman living in America
at the time, experiencing the injustices that were going on then,
particularly. And this was hopefully to be an inspirational song where, you
know, even though she was going through all these terrible times, she'll be
able to look and listen to this song and be inspired by it to continue to
fight against the injustices.
GROSS: I'd like you to read a poem. And this poem is called "Ivan."
Mr. McCARTNEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And it's dedicated to your late friend Ivan Vaughn. Who was he?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, Ivan Vaughn was one of my best friends at school, who
was born on exactly the same day as I was in Liverpool. So when we discovered
this fact in the playground chatting, we became instant good mates. And he
was a really lovely man. He turned out to be a classic scholar. He went to
Cambridge to study Greek and Latin. And the other important thing was that he
actually introduced me, one day, to John Lennon because he was very good
friends with John, part of John's crowd. And Ivan said to me, `Come along to
this village fair.' That was in the village of Walton where John and Ivan
lived. And he said, `Why don't you come along? It'll be quite a bit of fun,'
you know. He said, `And my friend's playing in one of the bands.' So I
arrived there and saw John, and so I was introduced. So it was Ivan who
actually introduced me to him.
And so we knew each other for a long time and had this sort of mad sense of
humor, so some of the references in the poem--there's a little line goes:
`Cramlock(ph) navel, Cramlock pie.' That would be the kind of thing Ivan
would say and wouldn't explain it because that was his sense of humor. So he
was a lovely friend of mine, and he actually contracted Parkinson's disease at
a very early age, in his 30s, which is quite unusual 'cause he was so bright,
a very intelligent guy. He understood exactly what was going on and he could
keep up with all the research on it. So it was particularly sad that he died
at an early age. So I then was moved to write a poem, and that really then
started me on the path of writing the other poems that you find enclosed in
this poetry book.
GROSS: Would you read "Ivan" for us?
Mr. McCARTNEY: OK. "Ivan."
`Two doors opened on the 18th of June, two babies born on the same day in
Liverpool. One was Ivan, the other me. We met in adolescence and did the
deeds they dared us do. Jived with Ive, the ace on the bass. He introduced
to me at Walton Fate(ph) a pal or two. And so we did. A classic scholar he,
a rock 'n' roller me, as firm as friends could be. Cramlock navel,
Cramlock pie, a tear is rolling down my eye. On the 16th of August, 1993,
one door closed. Bye-bye, Ivy.'
GROSS: Did he play bass, the ace on the bass?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. In those days, they had these things called skiffle
groups, which is the beginning of the rock 'n' roll craze for us. None of us
could afford real instruments. The one or two guys who would have these
guitars which were guaranteed not to crack, that you found in the back of
magazines, very cheap. But most of us couldn't afford that kind of thing, and
so Ivan had a tea chest, one of the kinds of things that the tea used to
arrive in at the docks. And these things, once they'd taken the tea out of
them, they would go in spurts. And people used to use them for storage and
things like that. And our crowd used to attach a broom handle and a piece of
string and knot the string through the tea chest, the top of the tea chest
base, and then stand the broom on the top. And then, with the tension on the
string, you could get various notes. You could dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup,
dup, dup, dup, dup.
So an ace bass player then would have his tea chest and Ivan had drawn on the
side of it `Jive with Ive, the ace on the bass.' And he would play a sort of
dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, du-du-du-du dup, dup, dup. And you didn't have
to be very musical to do that, but he was great and he was in the spirit of
things. So, of course, it didn't last long. Once we got actual professional
equipment, I'm afraid he was out.
GROSS: Paul McCartney is my guest, and he has a new book of poetry called
So your friend Ivan introduced you to John Lennon. Do you remember what the
band was playing the first time you heard John with the band The Quarrymen.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. They had a repertoire of kind of folksy sort of bluesy
things mixed with early rock 'n' roll. And John and the band were playing a
thing called "Come Go With Me," which was a record for a group called the Del
Vikings. It was an early rock 'n' roll record. But John obviously didn't
have the record, and he probably heard it a few times on radio. And being so
musical, he just picked it up. And so he was doing a version of it. But what
impressed me was even though he didn't know the words, he would make 'em up
and he's steal words from sort of blues songs. So instead of the real words,
which I don't know, but he was singing `Come go with me down to the
penitentiary,' which was more off Big Bill Broonzy or somebody, you know. But
I thought, you know, that's inventive. That's ingenuous. So I warmed to him
immediately hearing that.
GROSS: And how were you invited to play with the band?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, they were doing two sets. There was one in the
afternoon when I first of all saw them, which was outdoors, and then there was
to be one in the evening. And meantime, they had all this time to fill, so
they went into the village hall where the evening gig was to be. And they
were sitting around, and with all this time on their hands, John, who was one
and a half years older than me, had got hold of some beer from somewhere and
was having a little drink. And we were sitting around and just playing
various songs. And even though I was left-handed, I kind of learned to turn
the guitar upside-down and just about play songs 'cause my friends wouldn't
let me retune their guitars, obviously. Too inconvenient for them. So I had
to learn this left-handed method. So I turned the guitar around--I think it
was his guitar--and I played a song, an early Eddie Cochran song, which was
called "Twenty Flight Rock."
And I must have done quite well because a couple of days later I was cycling
around Walton, which was the area where I met John, and one of the friends, a
guy called Pete Shotton, cycled up to me and said, `Hey, we were talking
about you. You know, we enjoyed that "Twenty Flight Rock." And `Would you
like to be in the band?' you know. So I said, `Well, I'll have to consider
this, you know. This is a big move to me. I've never been in a professional
outfit before.' I'd never actually even hardly sung on stage before. I think
I'd just done it once, sort of holiday camp somewhere. And so I said, `I'll
get back to you on that.' Well, then a couple of days later I did and said,
`Yeah, you know what? That wouldn't be a bad idea.'
GROSS: Now I understand you said you missed the first date that you were
supposed to play on with The Quarrymen because you were on a Scout camping
trip. And there's something I find so funny about that. I don't know...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: ...whether because it's a sign of how young you were or it was a
choice between, you know, the proto band, you know, the band that later kind
of became The Beatles vs. camping with the Boy Scouts.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, I mean, you've gotta have priorities, haven't you, in
GROSS: That's right.
Mr. McCARTNEY: No, there were...
GROSS: And you chose the Scouts.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, exactly, you know. I mean, you know, come on. No, you
know, the Scouts was kind of an official thing I took part in. And so if you
missed it, you know, there was problems, whereas this was a new venture, you
know, the band. And let's face it; none of knew it was going to lead to any
of the heights it did lead to. So it was the kind of thing I was likely to
pass up the band in favor of an important Scouting gig. So that had to go,
GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney. He has a new book of his lyrics and
poems called "Blackbird Singing." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Paul McCartney is my guest, and he has a new book of poems and song
lyrics. And it's called "Blackbird Singing."
You have a poem for John in there. It's called "Song for John." It's
actually a lyric for a song that you recorded in 1982. But I was wondering if
you could read it for us?
Mr. McCARTNEY: OK. This poem's called "Here Today." It was originally a
song I recorded for John Lennon.
`And if I said I really knew you well, what would your answer be, if you were
here today? Well, knowing you, you'd probably laugh and say that we were
worlds apart, if you were here today. But as for me, I still remember how it
was before, and I'm holding back the tears no more. I love you. What about
the time we met? Well, I suppose you could say that we were playing hard to
get. Didn't understand a thing, but we could always sing. What about the
night we cried because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside?
Never understood a word. But you were always there with a smile. And if I
say I really loved you and was glad you came along, then you were here today,
for you were in my song. Here today.'
GROSS: When did you write this?
Mr. McCARTNEY: I wrote that shortly after John died, and I wrote it in the
upstairs room of what is now my recording studio.
GROSS: What was `the night that we cried' that you refer to in the poem?
Mr. McCARTNEY: I seem to remember we had some time off in Key West, Florida,
and it was because there was a hurricane and we'd been diverted I think from
Jacksonville. We were supposed to play a gig in Jacksonville and we couldn't
get in 'cause there was some great hurricane. So we had to spend a night or
two in Key West. That's where we ended up anyway. And at that age, with that
much time on our hands, we didn't really know what to do with it except get
drunk. And so that was what we did. And we stayed up all night talking,
talking, talking like it was going out of style. And at some point early in
the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really
emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us because we
members of the band and young guys, we didn't do that kind of thing.
So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark.
GROSS: Do you remember what you were talking about that led to that?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Probably our mothers dying because John and I shared that
experience. My mother died when I was about 14 and his died shortly after,
about a year or so after, I think. So this was a great bond John and I always
had. We both knew the pain of it and we both knew that we had to put on a
brave face because we were sort of teen-age guys, and you didn't talk about
that kind of thing where we came from.
GROSS: Now that's the kind of thing that John really acted out through his
music. I mean, he had a couple of songs that were really about that...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and were very emotional. It's not the kind of thing you really
did, though. None of the songs, as far as I know, were really about your
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, no. Mine's veiled. My style is more veiled. And also,
at the time the songs were written that you're talking, like "Mother," John
was going through primal scream therapy.
GROSS: Exactly right.
Mr. McCARTNEY: And, you know, that's going to get it out of you.
Mr. McCARTNEY: I didn't actually go through any of that. I had my own sort
of more private scream therapy. So my stuff tended to be more veiled, or I
would tend to talk to friends, relatives, loved ones about it in private.
Mine would emerge, I think, probably in songs like "Yesterday." It's been put
to me, although it's kind of subconscious, that the song "Yesterday" was
probably about my mother. `Why she had to go, I don't know. She wouldn't
say. I did something wrong. Now I long for yesterday. That's yesterday, all
my troubles were so far away.' I'm sure that was to do with my mother dying.
But as I said, the kind of age group we were then, it wasn't a done thing to
talk about things like that. And it was much later, when John got into
therapy in America, that he wrote some songs that directly dealt with it.
GROSS: Well, those two different approaches you had to dealing with your
mothers, musically, is an example, in a way, of how you were different. What
do you think you had in common, musically, and were most different about,
Mr. McCARTNEY: I think, in common, we both loved music. We both loved the
same kind of music, and it was a very large spectrum. People often think of
John as quite a hard guy. Natural fact, he had a very soft center. And I was
privileged to see that, particularly in early days of our relationship. So he
would love songs like "Little White Lies," which is an old song.
GROSS: Walter Donaldson. Yeah.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. It's a very beautiful song, with some beautiful chord
changes. And it's not the kind of thing you'd associate with John. He was
quite a sentimental guy. And I think he had to cover it up more. I was very
lucky. I had, and still have, a very large supportive family. I've got
relatives who are breeding as we speak. But John had quite a small range. He
had a very strange upbringing, actually, which didn't help his emotional
profile. He didn't live with his mother. He was brought up by his auntie.
And then his Uncle George died. And John I remember telling me once that he
felt he was some sort of jinx on the male side of his family 'cause his father
had left home when John was three. So I think John always felt somehow guilty
about that kind of stuff. So I'd always had the strength of my family. I had
people to talk to. So I think I'd be more open about that and John wasn't
able to talk about that quite so well, I think, until he was much older and
therapy helped him.
So what did we have in common? We had a deep love of music, a love of
songwriting, which stretched from very early old songs that were beautifully
crafted to much later rock 'n' roll songs, through people like Smokey Robinson
and the Miracles, through a lot of Elvis Presley stuff, through Chuck Berry,
who to us was a great poet. I think Chuck is a great American poet. Bob
Dylan is another who we both loved. So we had a love of music.
As to what our differences were, I don't know really. I don't really think
about our differences. I prefer to think about what drew us together.
GROSS: Did you write poems as a kid?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Not really because in school we weren't really encouraged to
write poems so much as essays. So there was a lot of prose involved. I wrote
a lot of prose. But I did once--as I say in the introduction to this poetry
book, I did once have a goal and wrote a poem that I was hoping would get in
the school magazine. I wanted to be published, like everyone. But it was
turned down flatly. And I didn't like that at all, so I've been trying to get
my own back ever since.
GROSS: Paul McCartney will be back in the second half of the show. He has a
new book of poems and lyrics called "Blackbird Singing." I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of Paul McCartney song)
Mr. McCARTNEY: (Singing) I'm looking through you. Where did you go? I
thought I knew you. What did I know? You don't look different, but you have
changed. I'm looking through you. You're not the same. Your lips are
moving. I cannot hear. Your voice is soothing, but the words aren't clear.
You don't sound different, I've learned the game. I'm looking through you.
You're not the same.
GROSS: Coming up, more words and lyrics of Paul McCartney.
(Soundbite of "Yesterday")
Mr. McCARTNEY: (Singing) Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now
it looks as though they're here to stay, oh, I believe in yesterday.
Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be. There's a shadow hanging over
me, oh, yesterday came suddenly. Why she had to go I don't know, she wouldn't
say. I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday. Yesterday, love was
such an easy game to play, now I need a place to hide away, oh, I believe in
yesterday. Why she had to go I don't know, she wouldn't say. I said...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our interview with Paul McCartney. He has a new book of
lyrics and poems called "Blackbird Singing."
Now your songs were co-credited, you know, in The Beatles era. My
understanding is--correct me if I'm wrong--that many of the songs were written
by one of you or the other, although the other would do to some editing on the
song, but a few of the songs were actually true collaborations. Is that
right? Is that accurate?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. Well, what happened was in the early days, they were
pretty much--the very earliest days were separate. We wrote one or two songs
separate before we actually got together. But when we got together and
actually started writing, the earliest Beatles' stuff, everything was
co-written. We hardly ever wrote things separate. But then after a few years
and as we got a bit of success with The Beatles and didn't actually live
together, or weren't just always on the road together sharing hotel rooms,
then we had the luxury of writing stuff separately.
So John would write something like "Nowhere Man" sort of separately in his
house outside London, and I would write something like "Yesterday" quite
separately on my own. And as you say, we would come together and check them
out against each other. Sometimes we would edit a line of each other's, but
more often we just sort of say, `Yeah, that's great.' And very often, a line
that one of us was going to chuck out, we would encourage the other not to
chuck out because it was a good line.
I had a line in "Hey Jude" much later that said, `My movement you need is on
your shoulder.' And I thought that was me just blocking out the line, and I
said, `I'll change that.' And he said, `You won't, you know. That's the best
line in it.' And similarly I would encourage him to keep lines in his songs
that he didn't think were very good. And I'd say, `No, that's a really great
line.' There was a song of his called "Glass Onion" where he had a line
about the walrus, `Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul.' And
he wanted to keep it, but he needed to check it with me. He said, `What do
you think about that line?' I said, `It's a great line. You know, it's a
spoof on the way everyone was always reading into our songs.' I said, `Here
we go, you know. We give them another clue to follow.' So we would check
stuff against each other, and it was obviously very handy for our writing to
be able to do that.
GROSS: Were you ever sorry that your songs were co-credited? Did you ever
wish that you could get the composing credit for your songs; that it was
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, it was an arrangement we made in the early days, very
early days. And of course, you know, a lot of people don't realize that
we--our admiration goes back to people like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rogers
and Hart. We loved a lot of the work of those people. And so we were looking
for something similar, so Lennon-McCartney grew up so that we would be a
songwriting team in the tradition of those people.
For the first few years, it was fine. And it never bothered us. But more
recently I must say it started to bother me because the kind of thing that
would happen, in actual fact very to do with the poetry book we're talking
about here, although we veered off into Beatle territory, Terry.
GROSS: We'll be veering back in a moment.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Let's veer back soon. What happened was the kind of thing
that would spark the feeling that they, maybe, should be better credited the
songs was that Adrian Mitchell, who helped me edit my poetry book, did an
anthology of verse where he had my poem, "Blackbird"--my song or poem,
"Blackbird" in it. And, of course, it was credited `"Blackbird" by John
Lennon and Paul McCartney,' which was just not true. John hadn't had
anything to do with that. So I started to think, `You know, this is a bit of
a nuisance because I don't want any credit if John's stuff gets separately
put in something like a poetry anthology,' you know. `And I don't want any
credit for "Give Peace a Chance," even though I am credited on that. Some
of John's stuff was purely John. And I'd rather it be that.
So that kind of started me thinking. And then when we had--"The Beatles,
Anthology" record came out, I actually did request that on the song
"Yesterday," which was solely penned by me, that, for the first time in 30
years, I be allowed to actually have my name in front of John's; not remove
John's name, but that we credit it, `"Yesterday" by Paul McCartney and John
Lennon.' As I say, John didn't actually have anything to do with the song at
all. He didn't sing on it or play on it or write it. So I thought that was
fair enough. And, in actual fact, I wasn't allowed to do that. That was
vetoed. And it started me thinking that, you know, with the computer
generation coming in and data being stored for the future, that there probably
is a scenario in the future where someone will think that "Hey Jude," "Let It
Be," "Long and Winding Road," "Blackbird" were written by the guy who came
first, because you know the way computers often knock off the ends of
GROSS: Right, yes.
Mr. McCARTNEY: I mean, I just went to see "Miss Congenea" the other
night. Do you know that I mean? On the ticket it didn't have time...
GROSS: Right, right, right.
Mr. McCARTNEY: It didn't have time for the `lity.'
GROSS: I got it, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Mr. McCARTNEY: So this kind of thing happens. And I was actually in Italy
and I was looking at a pianist's songbook, the fake book that the pianist was
using. And I--you tend to flick through and look for your own songs, you
know. You see, "Fly Me to the Moon;" very, very nice. You see "Moon River;"
lovely. You see, "Hey Jude," you go, `Wait.' And this was credited `"Hey
Jude" by John Lennon' just because his name comes first. So you've hit on a
sore point of mine, there.
Mr. McCARTNEY: I don't want to remove his name, but I must say just for kind
of Trades Descriptions Act(ph), as we call it over here, I wouldn't mind on
the songs that I just did without John to have my name first. I think it
would inform future generations as to what was happening. And it all began
with my poem, "Blackbird" being, as I thought, miscredited.
GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney. He has a new book of his lyrics and
poems called "Blackbird Singing." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Paul McCartney is my guest and he has a new collection of his poems
and song lyrics and it's called "Blackbird Singing."
Now I was wondering, you know, why you didn't include some of your early song
lyrics in the new collection? I mean, even something like "Love Me Do,"
which is, I think, one of the songs that you actually did co-write with John.
OK, a lyric like, `Love, love me, do. You know I love you. I'll always be
true. So please, love me, do.' Now on the page, that won't look right, but
it works well as a lyric--or, like, `She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah.' I mean,
that's not gonna read great on a page, but it sings great.
Mr. McCARTNEY: As my father would have said, `Paul, there's enough of these
Americanisms around. Couldn't you write "She loves you, yes, yes, yes."?'
GROSS: Did he really say that?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah, he did.
GROSS: Oh, that's so adult.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Even though he was very working class, he was fussy about his
GROSS: So why didn't you include the songs--the early songs?
Mr. McCARTNEY: But, no. You know, "Love Me, Do" sounded good the way you
just did it, I thought. So you know the truth of why it wasn't included was I
actually--Adrian--my editor on the book, Adrian Mitchell, actually chose
which lyrics he wanted in it. And so I allowed him that decision. I didn't
want to have to choose between my lyrics, actually. So I just said to him,
`Which ones do you think will work best on the page?' And he included them
even down to `Why don't we do it in the road? Why don't we do it in the road?
No one will be watching us. Why don't we do it in the road?,' which, I
thought, it's made to include that. But I actually did a poetry reading in
Liverpool the other night, my first ever in the universe, and, you know what?
I ended with that and got the audience to join in. And we had a ball.
GROSS: What inspired that one?
Mr. McCARTNEY: That was inspired by Lord knows what; probably sexual
GROSS: It's kind of a lewd song for a first-time...
Mr. McCARTNEY: For such a nice guy.
GROSS: That's right.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah, you know, but I have my lewd moments.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Don't we all?
GROSS: Let me ask you to read another poem from your collection. And this
one's called "Dinner Ticket."(ph)
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: This one, I think, has--had no life as a song. It's just a poem.
Mr. McCARTNEY: That's right. That's just a poem, yeah. I'll do what I did
at this poetry reading the other day. As I look it up, I'll tell you
something about it. The story was the we used to have these things called
dinner tickets where you used to get five a week; one for each day of the
week. And they cost a shilling, English money, each. And sometimes, for one
reason or another, you wouldn't use them. So my mother used to go through my
shirt pocket to see if I had any leftover dinner tickets. And, unfortunately,
one day she discovered a drawing which I had done--speaking of lewd moments.
We've segued right into it. I used to do--I had a knack of doing these
drawings which, when they were folded up, it was a fully clothed woman. When
you opened the drawing--opened the paper, she'd leapt out of her clothes and
now she was naked. And for teen-age Liverpool guys, this was a great talent
and much appreciated by the other lads. They used to get me to draw them for
Now, unfortunately, I'd put one of them in my school shirt pocket and my
mother found it. Well, the shame of it was just terrifying and she couldn't
talk about it. She got my dad to talk to me about it. And I couldn't admit
to it. It took three days before I'd admit. And I said, `No, it wasn't me.
I have no idea how that got there.' I lied through my teeth for three whole
days and the, eventually, broke down.
And so I ended up doing a poem about it. And when I thought of the poem, it
was one day when I was working out in the woods, which is one of my hobbies.
So the poem is intercut with scenes from me out in the woods. It goes like
(Reading) "Dinner Tickets." `My mother always looked for dinner tickets in
the breast pocket of my gray school shirt. Dried mud falls from my work
boots. Zigzag sculptures leave a trail as I head for the woods. She found a
folded drawing of a naked woman. My father asked me about it. Chain-saw
makes easy work of young birch blocking my path. For days I denied all
knowledge of the shocking work of art. Resting on a fallen log, I wiped the
sweat from my brow. Admitting I had made the drawing, I wept.'
It's a true story.
GROSS: Now when you were growing up, your father was an amateur musician. He
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: And I imagined you had a lot of records around the house?
Mr. McCARTNEY: No, not so much records. We didn't. We listened to the
radio and he played piano in the house. But in actual fact, I can't remember
him having one record, let alone lots.
GROSS: Now did the songs that you grew up with that your father played or
that you listened to on the radio with your father, did they affect your sense
of, like, song structure or the kind of chords you'd put to a song?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah, very definitely yes. I loved listening, as a kid,
to him play the piano. I can still remember now, sort of lying on the floor
with my chin cupped in my hands listening to him play. He played from another
era--songs from another era. One of my favorites he played was a song called
"Lullaby of the Leaves."(ph) He used to play things by Paul Whiteman and his
orchestra. He played "Chicago"--(singing) `Chicago, Chicago.'
So I loved all those songs. You know, I loved hearing him and he would
actually take me and my brother and he would educate us in his own primitive
way, because he didn't know how to read or write music. He'd learned by ear,
but he was very musical. And so we'd be listening to the radio and he'd say,
`Can you hear that deep noise, there?' He'd say, `That's the bass.' So he'd
pick out things for us to listen to. And he would sometimes show us how to do
a harmony. He'd say, `Now here's a tune and this is the harmony to it.' So
in The Beatles--in the early days of The Beatles, I was very keen on us doing
harmonies and I would have to put that down to him.
GROSS: The vocal harmonies you're talking about?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. I would always encourage The Beatles to do harmonies
or, if John had a song, I would immediately harmonize to it. And you can
hear that right the way through The Beatles' career. I'm often harmonizing
a third above John or we're often harmonizing as a group. So I think my love
of harmony came from him actually sitting my brother, Mike, and I down and
saying, `This is how it goes.'
GROSS: I think those harmonies are just, like, one of the many things that
made The Beatles so great. And there's this energy in the har--you just seem
to be loving it, especially in those early years; just loving the energy of
Mr. McCARTNEY: We did, you know. We loved it. I still do, you know. It's
something I always say to people that if someone sacked me and I wasn't
allowed to do this again, I'd still do it as a hobby. I love it so much, you
know. I--you know, whenever I'm on holiday, I'm always picking up a guitar or
trying (technical difficulties) a piano. In fact, I can't go through a
room that has a piano without having to tinkle on it, even if it's just
`ting.' I just can't resist it, you know, much to the embarrassment of some
of my friends.
GROSS: Now one of the song lyrics included in your new book of poems and
lyrics, "Blackbird Singing," is "Yesterday." And this, apparently, is a
rewriting of the very first song that you wrote at the age of 14, which was
called "I Lost My Little Girl."(ph)
Mr. McCARTNEY: No, that's not quite true. The--my very first song was
called "I Lost My Little Girl." And that was written at the age of 14, but
where, I think, the confusion is is that "Yesterday" was a rewriting of the
original lyric of "Yesterday" because the song "Yesterday," the tune of it,
came to me in a dream. I just woke up on morning and I had this melody in my
head. And being, by then, a professional musician, I thought, `I wonder what
that is?' And I had a piano by the side of my bed, so I actually sort of got
some chords and put this tune to it. But I didn't have any words, so the
original words to "Yesterday" were (singing) `Scrambled eggs; oh, my baby, how
I love your legs, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. I believe in
scrambled eggs.' And I thought, `You know what? The tune's too nice to have
those as the lyrics.' So "Yesterday" is a rewrite of "Scrambled Eggs."
GROSS: That's funny. That reminds me of how like Ira Gershwin and some of
the other great lyricists used to write what was called dummy lyrics. They'd
come up with anything like the equivalent of "Scrambled Eggs" just to have a
fake lyric to give them the rhyme scheme for the melody.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, that's it. Yeah. I call that blocking in. It
sometimes happens as you're doing a song, you get a tune and it feels sort of
silly going, `Bah, dee, dee, bah, dee, bah, doe, dee, dee, doe, boh, bah,
dah.' So you just go, `I've a girl, dah, dah, dah, and somebody, bah, do,
bah, day,' and you find words just come to you, some of which you keep; some
like "Scrambled Eggs" you lose quickly.
GROSS: So it went from "Scrambled Eggs" to I think the first song that the
adults were doing of yours. You know, when The Beatles started performing the
adults were up in arms...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: ...about them, about your hair, and about the, you know, he silliness
of the lyrics and everything. But with "Yesterday" like the nightclub adult
performers started adding it to their acts.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: Did that feel like a victory to you or did you really not care what
the adults were doing in their acts anyways?
Mr. McCARTNEY: No, it was very nice. It was very nice to have that because,
you know, we thought what we were doing was quite good and we were proud of
it. And there was this sort of backlash, particularly from the elder
generation. People tell me stories now. They say they were watching that
first "Ed Sullivan Show" and it's always the dad in the family who sort of
says, `Well, them The Beatles, yeah.' He never likes us. And he always says,
`You know, those are wigs.' They always thought--the dads always swore the
kids--yeah, the kids say, `We knew they weren't. We knew they weren't.' So
it was always the problem; the dad was always the problem. So I suppose he
was symbolic of the problem. So that when people started to like anything out
of our repertoire--it was a certain victory. And "Yesterday" was a personal
victory of mine.
I mean, for instance, the great clarinetist Benny Goodman, who we had loved
and thought was great talent, started with some reason--and maybe it's just a
journalistic thing--but he came out against us. He said, `Oh'--you know, I
can't remember what he said, but of course we hated him from then on. And we
started saying, `He's a lousy clarinetist. I mean, what does he know?' you
know. So there was this sort of group that didn't like us that thought we
weren't very good. So when "Yesterday" came out I think a lot of them had to
change their tune. And it eventually got recorded by way too many of them.
GROSS: Right. Now thanks for setting me straight that "Yesterday" wasn't
based on your first song "I Lost My Little Girl." But could you tell us what
the lyric was to that song you wrote when you were 14?
Mr. McCARTNEY: "I Lost My Little Girl."
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. Sure. I got to remember it now. This is a memory
test. `I woke up late this morning, my head was in a whirl. And only then I
realized I'd lost my little girl. Her clothes were not expensive. Her hair
didn't always curl. Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, I lost my little
girl.' Oh, my God, you would have to go through that, wouldn't you? I'm
trying to look grownup and poetic here, and you're taking me back to my worst
memories. No, no. It was the line, `It made my toes curl,' and that perhaps
should have been a line in it, `She never made my toes curl.' Was her
hair--`her hair didn't always curl,' which always got grimaces from my
friends. But, hey, you know, I was 14. It's not bad for 14.
GROSS: Did you have a melody for it, too?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. I'm not singing it on your program, Terry.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Buy the record.
GROSS: I figured. My guest is Paul McCartney. He has a new book of his
lyrics and poems called "Blackbird Singing." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney. He has a new book of his lyrics and poems
called "Blackbird Singing."
I'd like you to read another poem from your book. And this is one of the last
poems in the book. It's a poem called "Lost." And it's for Linda.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. OK. One of the things about poetry for me is that it
seems a good way of dealing with grief. And when I'm feeling low--when I was
feeling low particularly after Linda died, words came to me in the form of
poems. One of the two came in the forms of songs. But mainly they were just
words and things would happen that I felt I had to set down, so quite a few
poems, as you said, at the end of this book were words that occurred to me
then. And this one is one of them, called "Lost."
`I lost my wife. She lost her life. Until then, the luxury of no
responsibility chopper wouldn't fall that night as clinched inside a glove we
sucked each other's energy.'
GROSS: The line `until then, the luxury of no responsibility.'
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yes. You know, I was married for 30 years, and in a good
marriage you've got plenty of responsibility, but if you're lucky, you don't
feel like you've got any. So even though I had a lot of responsibility,
obviously with the kids, Linda was cool enough to make me feel like I didn't
really have any. I had the freedom; all the freedom to do whatever I wanted.
So that's really what that line is about. It should perhaps be the luxury of
feeling I didn't have any responsibility. But it came out in that shortened
GROSS: Your wife Linda died of cancer. Your mother died of cancer as
well--your mother when you were 14. My understanding is that when your mother
had cancer, she tried to hide it and she didn't tell you that she had cancer.
You found out after she died what the problem was.
Mr. McCARTNEY: That's true.
GROSS: So when Linda got cancer did--how did you want to handle it, from what
you had learned about not being told the truth?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yes. Oh, you know, we just have to face up to it by then
because it was a different era, a different civilization. We knew that for
instance we would have to talk to the kids about it whereas in the era I was
brought up in, post-war Britain, it wasn't the kind of thing that women talked
about. And there were a lot of things that women didn't talk about. Periods,
for instance, were completely forbidden for a mother to talk to her sons
about. I think there are still a lot of people like that, but it was
particularly that way. So when she got ill, she just got ill. And when she
went to hospital she was just in hospital for a short while. And it was all
not spoken about it. And it wasn't until much later that I learned that she
had in fact died of breast cancer. So it's particularly chilling when Linda
contracted it. And there were plenty of echoes that I actually tried not to
GROSS: What kind of echoes do you mean?
Mr. McCARTNEY: All sorts of things. I mean, my dad--I remembered my dad
saying to my mom when she would get tired, because of her illness, `Why don't
you go upstairs and have 40 winks?' So that was something that I was very
careful never to say to Linda out of sort of superstition, you know. I just
thought, `No, don't ever say that. Whatever you do.' So I would say, `Why
don't you take a nap?' You know that kind of thing. So there were all sorts
of echoes. And obviously we were hoping that she would pull through and she
would conquer it. We didn't realize how serious it was. So we stayed very
optimistic and very positive right up until the end.
GROSS: Well, Paul McCartney, I thank you so much for talking with us and for
reading from your new book. Really appreciate it.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Good. Thanks, Terry. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. It's
been really sober here in England, as we speak. And it's doing amazingly
well, which is great. It's lovely for me just to have a poetry book, because
I think it's the kind of thing a lot of people fantasize from the very early
age about, particularly if you like your literature. So it's lovely to have a
book. And it's lovely to talk to you.
GROSS: Paul McCartney's new book of poems and lyrics is called "Blackbird
Singing." He also has a new CD called "Wingspan" featuring hits by his
post-Beatles band Wings. A "Wingspan" special will air on ABC-TV May 11th.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. McCARTNEY: Who knows how long I've loved you. You know I love you
still. Will I wait a lonely lifetime? If you want me to, I will. For if I
ever saw you, I didn't catch your name. But I never really mattered, I will
always feel the same. Love you forever and forever. Love you with all my
heart. Love you whenever we're together. Love you when we're apart. And
when at last I find you, your song will fill the air. Sing it loud so I can
hear you. Make it easy to be near you.
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