Paul McCartney Speaks Candidly About John Lennon

The partnership of Lennon and McCartney is synonymous with collaborative genius. The songwriting duo not only changed the world with their compositions, they made it look effortless. As members of The Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney forever revolutionized the way people hear music. They were only bandmates for 13 years, but their legacies are inescapably intertwined. They inspired each other, challenged one another, and made each other great. Sadly, Lennon was murdered in 1980. In the 50 plus years since The Beatles broke up, much has been inferred about the partnership that piloted the group. Most of it is untrue. At age 79, Paul is setting the record straight about his friend John.

On their different personalities:

“This is the good thing about John and I—I’d say no. And he knew me well enough that if I said no, I meant no, and I’m not frightened of being uncool to say no…John always wanted to jump over the cliff. He once said that to me. ‘Have you ever thought of jumping?’ I said, ‘Fuck off. You jump and tell me how it is.’ That’s basically the difference in our personalities.”

On John using shock value:

“I mean, on the Sgt. Pepper cover [John] wanted Jesus Christ and Hitler on there. That was, ‘Okay, that’s John.’ You’d have to talk him down a bit—’No, probably not Hitler…’ I could say to him, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’…John’s response, ‘No. It’s a laugh. We’re putting famous people on the cover: Hitler! He’s famous!’ And it was like, ‘Yeah, but John, we’re trying to put heroes on the cover, and he’s not your hero. Winston Churchill’s your hero, John.’ He was a big fan of Winston. So, he was just fucking about. That was John. He was very witty, very wonderful, and would like to push the envelope, and it was entertaining to be around someone like that. These are cool people. But you can’t always do everything they suggest.”

On their productivity:

“Out of I think it’s about 300 songs that John and I wrote together; we never had a dry session. We’d always come in and we never went away from the session, going, ‘Couldn’t get it today.’ We always finished a song, which is pretty remarkable.”

On the song that started their partnership:

“When John and I were getting together, we were kind of showing each other what we’d written, and this was one I said to him, ‘Well, I got this idea.’ And I started off with it, and we finished it together, so it was a very early Lennon-McCartney song. Originally the first two lines were ‘She was just 17/Never been a beauty queen’. And we kind of looked at each other, and it was like, ‘I don’t really like that line.’ So, we changed it to ‘She was just 17/You know what I mean,’ which makes more sense. Even though you probably don’t know what I mean. So, we changed it to that and that started our songwriting partnership”.


On John trying to convince Paul to do trepanning:

(Trepanning is the process of drilling through the skull to the brain for health purposes) “John was a kooky cat. We’d all read about it—you know, this is the ’60s. The ‘ancient art of trepanning,’ which lent a little bit of validity to it, because ancient must be good. And all you’d have to do is just bore a little hole in your skull and it lets the pressure off—well, that sounds very sensible. ‘But look, John, you try it and let me know how it goes’… I don’t think he was really serious. He did say it, but he said all sorts of shit.”

On dealing with John’s Murder:

“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.”

On missing John:

“I was very lucky because before he died, we had a good relationship, so I think it would have just got better and better as we matured. I probably would have been able to tell him what a fan of his I was now. These days, I can tell everyone else, and I think I would have been able to tell him now. Whereas I implied it when we were together, I never said, ‘Oh, you’re fucking great, man, I’m such a fan of yours.’ We just hinted at it with each other. We were Liverpool guys, and you don’t do that—you don’t compliment each other. It’s just how you’re brought up.”

On how their relationship would be like now:

“I think that I’ve certainly loosened up a hell of a lot, and I think John would have loosened up a hell of a lot. If Ringo’s anything to go by, we’re great: ‘I love you, man,’ ‘I love you, man,’ and we hug and everything. And we’re very complimentary to each other. We were at dinner the other night in London with some friends, and instead of saying something sort of clever, it just suddenly struck me, I said, ‘Me and this guy go back a long way, you know.’ What I meant wasn’t that factually we go back a long way, it’s like I was suddenly astounded to be sitting across from this guy who I had come all this way with and done all this stuff.”

On the Beatles breakup:

“I didn’t instigate the split. That was our Johnny. John walked into a room one day and said, ‘I’m leaving the Beatles.’ And he said, ‘It’s quite thrilling, it’s rather like a divorce.’ And then we were left to pick up the pieces.” Immediately after the Beatles broke up, Paul stated, “John’s in love with Yoko, and he’s no longer in love with the other three of us.” Nowadays, Paul has come to understand his friend’s decision saying, “John was making a new life with Yoko. They were a great couple. There was huge strength there.”

On the picture that most captures their relationship:

Taken by Paul’s future wife Linda Eastman during the White Album sessions in 1968: “I’ve got the pad and I’m writing, and he’s just looking over at me, and you can see the body language and everything: These guys love each other. That picture is just so emotional for me because I’d started to think, ‘Oh, we did argue…’—yeah, we’d argue, but the upshot of it was that we really, all of us, had a pretty deep love for each other…The rumor started going around that John and I didn’t get on well, we were arch-rivals, that it was very heavy and ugly. The strange thing is you sometimes get to believe something, if it’s said enough times. So, I used to think: ‘Yeah, it’s a pity, you know, we didn’t get on that well.’”

“So, this picture is a blessing for me. It’s like, this is how we were: this is why we related, or else we couldn’t have collaborated for all that time. It sums up what our relationship was like the minute we were actually working on a song, and most of the time we were together, really. I’m just writing something out – possibly it’s a medley or something; it might be for Abbey Road – and it’s lovely, because John is very happily in on the process, and agreeing with me, and we’re laughing about something. Just seeing the joy between us here really helped me, because it reminds me that the idea we weren’t friends is rubbish. We were lifelong friends; our relationship was super-special.”

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