Sir Paul McCartney has no trouble with his Beatle past or his multiple futures.
by Gary Graff
It’s inevitable; any discussion with Sir Paul McCartney—or, really, with any of his surviving mates from that band—winds its way into the Beatles. It’s part of the drill, parcel of the baggage that comes with having been in arguably the biggest and most influential band in the world.
But when the subject does come up, there’s no reticence or resigned sighs from McCartney. Or any need to apologize, either.
“I’m quite interested in Beatles questions. It’s something I did. It’s my heritage,” says the 59-year-old McCartney, who, 31 years divorced from Beatlemania, is still at it with the release of his latest solo album, Driving Rain. “I got to write with John Lennon, you know? Nobody else did. Well, Yoko [Ono] did, but not to the extent I did.
“You know, I remember when the Beatles broke up, we all insisted on being called ex-Beatle. We said ‘I won’t do an interview with you unless you write ex-Beatle.’ We were very touchy at the time. But enough water has gone under the bridge now for me. When you reach a degree of fame, whether you like it or not, people remember you like that. John did some greater things after the Beatles—‘Give Peace a Chance,’ and ‘Imagine,’ were certainly as good if not better. But nobody really saw it that way.”
McCartney is certainly making his case as a working, contemporary artist, too. On his own he’s released solo albums, formed another band (Wings) and dabbled into the classical music realm with works such as “The Liverpool Oratorio.” During the past two years alone he’s done two albums, the Wingspan documentary project, has published books of his paintings and poetry and done exhibitions and readings of both. What makes that all the more remarkable is that this spate of work came in the wake of the April 1998 death of Linda, his wife of 29 years, from breast cancer.
“I have quite a few passions, as you might have noticed,” McCartney says with a chuckle. Add to those Heather Mills, the model and activist whom Beatle Paul is engaged to marry, although no date has yet been announced.
“I just lived,” McCartney says of the time he spent right after Linda died, noting that the only time the couple had spent a night apart was during his 10-day stay in a Japanese jail during 1980 for possession of marijuana. “I cried a lot. Thought about things. Felt things. Just did whatever happened.
“One of the pieces of advice people will give you if you have a major grief is ‘Get busy. Keep busy. Keep your mind off it.’ And I didn’t want to do that. So I made a point of, for a year, not doing that. I said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that. I know it’s probably good advice, but I’m going to experience the feelings for a year, try and find where that all takes me.’
“So now, just naturally after all that time, I feel more comfortable with just easing back into things. But it feels good, and it feels like Linda would be very behind it. And she’s still here, bugging me; ‘Come on, man. Get it right.’ ‘Yeah, O.K., baby.’”
McCartney first stepped out with Run Devil Run, a 1999 album that sported three originals but was mostly comprised of covers of oldies from the ‘50s and ‘60s—a sentimental project he had spoken about prior to Linda’s death and decided would be the most appropriate first project to tackle after her death.
That makes Driving Rain his first album of all-original material since 1997’s Flaming Pie. Recorded at the former A&M Recording Studios—now known as Henson Recording—in Los Angeles during the spring and early summer of this year, the textured and melodic 16-track album finds McCartney working with a new creative team, including producer David Kahne and a group of young studio musicians that includes guitarist Rusty Anderson, keyboardist Gabe Dixon and drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., the son of the famed session bassist.
“They’re three guys that [Kahne] put me in touch with, and I said, ‘I’d love to try these guys,’” McCartney explains. “I returned to the role of being the bass player, and we got on like a house on fire. We had no time for anything but music; we just played music all the time and really enjoyed it so much and put down stuff I’m really excited about.
“It sounds like a band playing music; beyond that, it’s difficult to say. It’s me singing. It’s quite varied, but somehow it holds together. It’s kind of rock ‘n’ roll-stroke-pop; I hate those definitions, but it’s what I would call a regular studio album from me. I feel there’s something special about it.”
Driving Rain sports an instrumental, “Heather,” dedicated to fiancé Mills, as well as the Eastern-styled “Riding Into Jaipur” and the loose-limbed, 10-minute “Rinse the Raindrops.” Another song, “Washington,” which was inspired by McCartney and Mills’ visit to the U.S. capitol in April to discuss Mills’ anti-landmine campaign with Secretary of State Colin Powell was ultimately dropped, but current events impacted two of Driving Rain’s songs.
McCartney turned the first single, “From a Lover to a Friend,” into a fundraiser for the Robin Hood Foundation following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.; McCartney and Mills were in New York on an airport runway awaiting takeoff, when the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center towers. At Mills’ suggestion, McCartney—whose late father was a volunteer firefighter in Liverpool during World War II—also composed a new song called “Freedom” after the tragedies; he premiered it at the Concert for New York on October 20 and made it the B-side of “From a Lover to a Friend.” He also made it a late addition to Driving Rain.
“We all have a right to a free life and we have to fight for that right,” McCartney said of the song in a subsequent statement. “We hadn’t reckoned on this demand for ‘Freedom,’ but as that’s what people want we’re getting it out fast to try [to] raise more money for the firefighters and police of New York.”
Meanwhile, McCartney is also dangling the prospect that Driving Rain might prompt him to stage his first proper concert excursion since his New World Tour in 1994.
“At the time of the new album, that’s when that thought occurs to me,” he says. “I’ve got a strong feeling that, as I really enjoyed playing with this band and they’re such good musicians, that it may well happen that I’ll say, ‘You know what; it might not be such a bad idea to start getting out and doing a few gigs,’ and we’ll see what happens from there on.”
“I feel more comfortable with just easing back into things. But it feels good, and it feels like Linda would be very behind it."
"Because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside"
- Paul McCartney 1982