Paul McCartney has been a musician all his life and is still touring at 74-years-old, but he will never again find a situation exactly like his relationship with John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The Beatles were unique, and not just in their music. The tight relationship they all had is something he has found impossible to recapture. McCartney and Lennon were especially close. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sir McCartney explained his relationship with Lennon.
“At some point, you have to realize, some things just can’t be. John and me, we were kids growing up together, in the same environment with the same influences: He knows the records I know, I know the records he knows. You’re writing your first little innocent songs together.”
Paul McCartney and John Lennon were always close, but that very closeness brought about a conflict at times. In many ways, John was the only person who ever really challenged Paul as a musician. Especially now, he says in his life he is a sort of dictator, with his current band and even with Wings, he’s just always been the boss. McCartney misses that equal footing he enjoyed with Lennon. He misses the sameness and solidarity that The Beatles had in spades.
Paul McCartney attributes much of the spirit of The Beatles to their Liverpool upbringing, and their strong working class families. There is something so galvanizing in that sort of security that only really ever existed in that singular time and place. Paul speaks of it all so fondly.
“It’s the Liverpool roots. We had strong families. My family was particularly strong. John’s aunt was strict, I thought, in a good way. Ringo was an only child, but his mom and dad were great. Growing up in Liverpool, which is very working-class, you can’t get above yourself.”
Starting as they did, it isn’t hard to imagine how powerfully fame impacted them, but in those early days, as kids, they felt safe and secure in the knowledge that their families had everything well in hand. The four boys had a commonality in their Liverpool background, and the power of that bond was just unshakable, at least it seemed to be at the time.
“The four of us coming together, with all these roots – there was a sensibility that we would want to do it right, in the family way. We had a common goal, a common wisdom, in life and in music.”
Paul McCartney had an especially strong bond with John Lennon. McCartney and Lennon were inseparable growing up. John and Paul could collaborate on a completely level playing field. They could challenge each other. They could argue with each other, engaging in boyish schoolyard banter, even getting a little rough in their talk, and still be the best of friends.
“We were on the same escalator – on the same step of the escalator, all the way. It’s irreplaceable – that time, friendship and bonding.”
Paul McCartney misses John Lennon more and more it seems with each passing day, and the pain of missing Lennon didn’t just start with his death. After the breakup, Paul was obviously heart broken. McCartney and Lennon had always seen eye to eye, and if not then at least been able to look each other in the eye to argue it out directly, but suddenly that just wasn’t going to work.
“I went off Apple during the heavy breakup period – I sent John Eastman in and said, ‘You tell me what everyone is saying, because I can’t bear to be sitting at that table.’ It was too painful, like seeing the death of your favorite pet.”
Paul McCartney also cleared up some common misconceptions about the Beatles breakup. Many fans have blamed Yoko Ono. Others say it was all about egos and conflicts within the band, but McCartney blames the weather and conditions on the road. Back in 1966, The Beatles were on what would become their last tour. There were a lot of outdoor venues, and the summer rain would not let up.
The Beatles were being just inundated by small frustrations in the midst of a grueling schedule. Moisture always took a nasty toll on sound systems back then. Those old amps really could sound awful when they got damp. Plus, water and electricity are always a very bad combination. The Beatles were tired, soggy, and the frustration was just building. The exhaustion of being on the road can be very hard to endure. By the time the grueling tour ended, in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August of 1966, the boys had simply had enough.
“We’d had enough of playing rain-soaked stages with lousy PA’s.”
Paul McCartney explained to the Rolling Stone that while Yoko Ono, and her new role in the band, were sometimes a point of contention, much of that was resolved, at least in his mind, by the time the band broke down on the road. Yoko wanted to be a part of John Lennon’s life and career, and it took a lot of getting used to, after becoming a sort of boys-only club with just the four of them, but they were adapting.
“We were kind of threatened [then]. She was sitting on the amps while we were recording. Most bands couldn’t handle that. We handled it, but not amazingly well, because we were so tight. We weren’t sexist, but girls didn’t come to the studio – they tended to leave us to it. When John got with Yoko, she wasn’t in the control room or to the side. It was in the middle of the four of us.”
Paul McCartney made it really clear that while having Yoko Ono around was an adjustment for the three Beatles who were not dating her, it was an adjustment they made. Perhaps not too gracefully at times, but it was all working out. It was the rain and the road that were the death nail for The Beatles, not one woman, but four hot, tired, soggy young men who had simply had enough.
“My big awakening was, if John loves this woman, that’s gotta be right. I realized any resistance was something I had to overcome. It was a little hard at first. Gradually, we did. Now it’s like we’re mates. I like Yoko. [Laughs] She’s so Yoko.”
Today, Paul McCartney has a good relationship with Yoko Ono. He even says Yoko and George Harrison’s widow, Olivia, are both Beatles now, voting equally with Ringo Starr and Paul on everything. He actually enjoys Yoko’s personality as the four of them make unanimous decisions on releasing Beatles material and other band business. All decisions have to be unanimous, but there is little, if any, conflict ever. If someone says no, then the answer is just no.
Paul McCartney does remember a wonderful meeting with John Lennon a few years after the Beatles broke up.
“He hugged me. It was great because we didn’t normally do that. He said, ‘It’s good to touch.’ I always remembered that – it’s good to touch.”
The Beatles success was legendary, and the bond between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was a powerful one. Though the hurt was deep from the breakup, the group always loved each other. Paul and Ringo Starr get together very frequently now, for drinks and just to hang out as the last remaining Beatles.
Paul McCartney will always remember how John Lennon touched his heart, and he will never be able to top being in the Beatles.
[Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images]