This was in Sunday's Washington Post. Might be of interest.
He Can Work It Out: Paul McCartney's Late Passage
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 31, 2002; Page G01
It's been a knight's hard day.
After high-profile appearances on two of the year's most watched television
programs, the Super Bowl and the Oscars, Sir
Paul McCartney finds himself in Oakland, Calif., working on all the last-minute
problems that must be solved by tomorrow,
when he commences his first tour in nearly a decade. Hundreds of thousands of
tickets for shows in 19 cities -- including those
at MCI Center April 23 and 24 -- sold out in minutes.
McCartney's sudden omnipresence is, in part, a matter of meticulous planning.
This tour would likely have happened to support
"Driving Rain," a CD released in November that has sold somewhat
disappointingly. And the Oscar performance was attached
to McCartney's Oscar-nominated song for the Cameron Crowe film "Vanilla Sky."
But events beyond his control have also conspired to bring him back to center
stage. In mid-November, McCartney and Ringo
Starr visited George Harrison at a New York hospital -- a poignant last reunion
of the three surviving Beatles, just 10 days
before Harrison died of cancer.
At their last meeting, the 59-year-old McCartney got to do with Harrison what
the Beatles had sung about so memorably --
hold his hand.
"We'd wanted to hold everyone in the world's hands," McCartney says, "and we'd
never managed to hold each other's."
And then there's the Sept. 11 factor: McCartney and his fiancee, Heather Mills,
were on the runway at John F. Kennedy
Airport that day, bound for England, when the hijacked airliners struck the
World Trade Center towers. Grounded, they
returned toMcCartney's East Hampton home and watched events unfold on
McCartney, speaking by telephone Wednesday evening, said he had been close to
planning a trip to Russia in conjunction with
the CD's release.
"I wanted to go there and sing 'Back in the USSR' -- I've never done that," he
explains. "But we couldn't leave the country, and
in the end, we're glad we couldn't because we had a lot of friends and
relatives in New York and it was kind of good to
experience the whole thing with Americans and be right there as the British
McCartney, whose father had been a volunteer fireman in England during World
War II, was so moved that he put together the
"Concert for New York" at Madison Square Garden. Intended to aid the families
of victims and to honor the heroes, living and
dead, of New York's police and fire departments, the televised October event
raised $30 million. There the former Beatle
unveiled the anthemic "Freedom," which he later performed at the Super Bowl.
It became another in a long line of songs by McCartney and/or his former mate
John Lennon that provided support for battered
spirits, from "Let It Be" and "Hey Jude" to "Imagine."
"It's funny, isn't it," McCartney muses. "The word 'allies' is apolitical, but
certainly since World War II we know in England that
Americans really helped us, and there's a residue of feeling that things might
have been different without the Americans."
The year 2001 was one of furious activity, even before September. McCartney
published his first collection of poems,
"Blackbird Singing," and embarked on a series of public readings; staged
several exhibitions of his paintings, as well as
photographs taken by his late wife, Linda McCartney; and oversaw the release of
the "Wingspan" album and documentary,
tracing the '70s success of his "other" group, Wings.
But McCartney's not mired in yesterdays. Four years after the death of his
beloved wife and partner of 30 years, and just a few
weeks before his 60th birthday, McCartney is set to marry Mills, a 34-year-old
activist for the rights of amputees. Mills, who
lost a leg below the knee when she was hit by a motorcycle, has crusaded to rid
the world of land mines and to provide
prosthetic limbs for victims of those mines.
The rumored date is June 6 in New York, but McCartney dismisses this as
"newspaper speculation. I can tell you it's not true.
Watch this space for more predictions!
"It's a private thing, particularly in my case," he adds.
Less so will be that June 3 Party at the Palace. That would be Buckingham
Palace, site of the 50th anniversary celebration of
Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the British throne. The house band will
include old pals Eric Clapton, Elton John and Phil
Will they perform "Her Majesty," McCartney's 22-second tribute that was the
last track of the last album the Beatles recorded
"I don't know," McCartney says with a chuckle. "I'd certainly like to. I
haven't decided yet, but it looks like a good possibility."
He's also hoping that the royal family responds to a popular movement to award
the first-ever posthumous knighthood to
Harrison. In 1965, all four Beatles were awarded the MBE (Member of the British
Empire, a middle-ranking honor) and
McCartney became Sir Paul in 1997, despite admitting to having smoked marijuana
in the palace loo at the previous ceremony.
McCartney had known Harrison long before he knew Lennon: They took the same
city bus to the Liverpool Institute, spending
the hour-long ride talking about guitars and rock-and-roll.
His final visit with Harrison was "very sad," McCartney recalls. "We all knew
he was very ill, but we laughed and we joked just
like we always did."
At a certain point that day, he took Harrison's hand. "Being Liverpool guys, I
wondered whether it would be the right thing to
do," McCartney says. "But I did -- and for me it was a great blessing and a
great memory in the tragedy of him dying, which I
still can't believe. It's difficult to think of my little mate on the bus . . .
He adds: "There was some light in the gloom. I look for the good in the gloom.
It's a strong theme in my life. The way I figure it,
nobody's got that long, so whatever time you have, go, enjoy it. One day you
enjoy, the next day you enjoy and you add all
those days and it turns out to be a life, and you've had an enjoyable life. I
don't have any deeper philosophy than that."
Sorrow has been a frequent companion for McCartney these past few years,
particularly since the passing in April 1998 of his
soul mate, Linda. In 30 years together, their longest separation had been the
eight-day week McCartney spent in a Tokyo jail
in 1980 on a marijuana possession charge. The two years between Linda's
diagnosis of cancer and her death were followed by
18 months of grieving.
What put McCartney back on the long and winding road to recovery were a pair of
projects encouraged by Linda: the
collection of poetry and "Run Devil Run," a 1999 album of classic rock songs.
McCartney celebrated Linda's life and work
through a traveling exhibition and two books of her photographs and the
continuation of her successful vegetarian food
Even the "Wingspan" project seemed part of a campaign to ensure that Linda's
achievements not be underestimated. The
documentary, compiled by their daughter Mary and her husband, was as much love
story as band history.
"I knew that Linda wanted to set the record straight and not just leave all
these bad criticisms," McCartney says. "So we put
together a record that said: Judge for yourself -- was it any good or wasn't
it? That was dealing with the end of a period in my
life, really, with Linda's passing.
"Linda knew I loved rock-and-roll, knew I sang it around the house, and she
said, 'You must do a rock record.' It was true of
the poetry book. When you've been married that long, you share things, like I
do now with my girlfriend, Heather. I'm very
lucky to have found another great woman."
It was "Magic," a joyful ballad celebrating the night McCartney met Linda
Eastman, that truly brought him out of the shadows.
"I found myself looking at the positive aspects of my relationship with Linda
and looking to the future with my relationship with
Heather," he says of the song from his current album. "It was one of those
things: Can the two live side by side? They seemed
so opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum, but I've found that they do, and I'm very
lucky for that."
Another song, "Back in the Sunshine Again" (written with son James), includes
the line "Life's too short to be lonely."
"It was a bridge, which is kind of what 'Driving Rain' is about," he says. "I
didn't intend it to be like that, but when you look at
what we recorded and what we left off, it's become that, a reference to the
past but a bridge into the future."
Such optimism should hardly surprise anyone who knows McCartney's work.
"It's always been my thing. I think it's just something to do with my
personality. . . . Some people like movies that are a bit dark
and doomy. I must say, I like them to have an upbeat end, if possible. . . . I
don't like to sit in gloom, it's a very difficult state to
be in, so I am always looking for a way out."
He has also spent a lot of time looking after his place in music history. The
most written-about musical group in history seemed
to have the final word with 1995's "Beatles Anthology" documentary and
accompanying albums and 1999's massive oral
history of the same name. Yet McCartney concurrently authorized Barry Miles's
biography, "Many Years From Now."
It's a rich work, particularly in detailing the songwriting collaboration at
the heart of the Beatles phenomenon. But it's also a
challenge to the cult of John Lennon, which has only grown since Lennon's
murder in 1980.
"It was an answer to the revisionism that was happening at the time," McCartney
says. "There were people saying I did nothing
in the Beatles! And I thought it was laughable and many people knew the truth,
but it was being put about in some quite high
quarters, and I just thought: 'If that gets on a hard disk 100 years from now,
history could end up being rewritten!' I just wanted
people, when they call up data in the future, for my side to be there."
McCartney and Lennon each struggled with their joint legacy, the dozens of pop
standards crafted in an unparalleled burst of
creativity between 1962 and 1970. The two had worked together closely at the
start of the period, and in a more fragmented
fashion later on, though they continued to share songwriting credit and
royalties without regard to who wrote what.
McCartney was the most prolific ex-Beatle -- he recorded more albums than the
other three combined -- as well as the most
public, particularly through concert tours. Yet history has seemed to downgrade
his role in the Beatles, partly through
oversimplified portraits of the artists as young men. Lennon tends to be cast
as the artsy, aggressive, intellectually-politically
passionate Beatle, while McCartney is the soft, sentimental, superficial
Beatle, the writer of silly love songs.
Still, in the 100th edition of the British music magazine Mojo, McCartney
recently named John Lennon as his hero, citing his
"massive talent, great wit, courage and humor. He influenced me, very much so.
Did he ever disappoint me? Yeah, from time to
time, whenever we were having a barney. But only infrequently."
Those tensions "between me and John," he said Wednesday, "are completely
resolved. There's no problem. As some people
say, John's camp is another affair."
And the business battles that helped break up the Beatles continue three
decades on. When "The Beatles Anthology" was being
put together, McCartney made a special request to Yoko Ono, executor of the
Lennon estate, that the songwriting credit on
"Yesterday" -- the most played song in the history of pop radio, which has
always been acknowledged as McCartney's solo
creation -- be switched from "Lennon-McCartney" to "McCartney-Lennon." Ono
Part of McCartney's concern has to do with technology. McCartney first
recognized a potential problem in a Rome bar where,
sneaking a peek at the pianist's "fake book," saw "Hey Jude" -- another of his
solo creations -- credited to "John Lennon"
because there wasn't enough room on the page for both names. A similar problem
exists in the Internet world, where limitations
of data storage often knock off the ends of sentences -- or, perhaps,
Another legacy issue concerns the use of Beatles songs in commercials. Neither
McCartney nor Lennon's estates control the
use of these songs. Their publishing rights have long been owned by Michael
Jackson, who notoriously sold "Revolution" to
Nike in 1986.
The Super Bowl that featured McCartney's performance in February also signaled
the first broadcast of a 30-second Allstate
insurance commercial that made use of "When I'm 64," whose basic melody
McCartney wrote when he was 14. Making it
doubly ironic was that the jingle was performed by Julian Lennon. It was the
first time he had recorded a Beatles song.
But a new Lennon-McCartney feud is not imminent. "It's a dumb move on the
publishing company's part because I don't think
it helps the songs in the long run," McCartney says. "But if anybody's going to
do it, I'd rather it be Julian. I've got to laugh at
For "Driving Rain," as with "Run Devil Run," McCartney revisited the Beatles'
early methodology, mainly playing his trusted
Hofner bass and singing, leaving additional instrumentation to others. He
worked in a Los Angeles studio with a small group
over a short period, looking to recapture the spontaneity and energy of the
early '60s. The album, his first of original songs since
Linda's death, received generally positive reviews but has yet to achieve gold
status since its November release. His previous
album of originals, 1997's "Flaming Pie," had opened at No. 2 and gone gold in
This has to be disappointing, particularly given the sales of the Beatles "1"
compilation (No. 1 in 34 countries, with worldwide
sales of 23 million, including 8 million here) and even "Wingspan" (2 million
copies in the United States).
Retrospective material apparently sells itself, while new, unfamiliar material
by a mature artist meets a brick wall. Perhaps
McCartney's playing with the notion that his career is in the toilet: The cover
of "Driving Rain" is a grainy self-portrait of the
artist in the loo, taken with a tiny camera built into his watch.
He dismisses that interpretation, invoking a previous album-cover furor: "I was
not dead when I took my shoes off" walking
across Abbey Road.
In fact, McCartney is doing rather well for someone who's been rumored to be
dead for so many years. Last April, the Sunday
Times of London's annual list of the country's wealthiest people crowned
McCartney the pop world's first billionaire and 11th
richest person in England, with a wealth estimated at close to $2 billion.
Yet McCartney not only continues to work but does so in new mediums, risking
ridicule as much as reward. In 1982, at age
40, he took up painting, a hobby encouraged by his pal . . . Willem de Kooning.
But he began exhibiting only in 1999, when a
German gallery sought out his work; the catalogue for that show was published
in 2000 as a coffee-table book, "Paul
McCartney Paintings." A show of his paintings, sculpture and photographs opens
next month at Liverpool's Walker Art
At age 50, one of the world's best-known lyricists began writing poetry, moved
to do so by the death of Ivan Vaughan, a
classmate at the Liverpool Institute with whom McCartney shared a birthday. It
was Vaughan who on July 6, 1957, introduced
15-year-old Paul McCartney to another schoolboy chum, 17-year-old John Lennon.
When McCartney gave his first public
poetry reading, he did so at Liverpool's Cavern Club on the 40th anniversary of
the Beatles' first gig there.
"I'm sure there are people who say, 'Don't do this . . . just rest on your
laurels,' " McCartney says. "But I never thought that
was a very good idea."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company