The Wisdom of Paul McCartney

Sir Paul McCartney on his new documentary, The Love We Make.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Paul McCartney

For the anniversary of September 11th, Showtime is airing the documentary The Love We Make, chronicling Paul McCartney’s experiences in New York after 9/11 and his Concert for New York. Sir Paul appeared via satellite before the Television Critics Association and I got to bask in his wisdom. He was profound and hilarious, and I get to report it to you.


Singing Through Tragedies:

Paul McCartney: The whole mood of the world, the country of America, and particularly the city of New York, had changed.  There was fear in the air, and I never experienced particularly in New York.  So this was where the idea of doing a show came about.  My father's generation were in World War II.  I was born in World War II in Liverpool, which was subjected to a lot of bombing.  So I grew up with all these people who'd just recently survived a war, and I noticed how they dealt with it.  It was, like, "Roll out the barrel.  We'll have a barrel of fun," boom, boom. While they're getting bombed, they're singing.  So I remembered that, and I thought that's maybe what I can bring to this.  Maybe I can just get that kind of feeling, that kind of old courage that I'd seen my parents and their generation exhibit.  Maybe I would be able to help America, New York, out of this fearfulness, and that really is what happened.” The audience had that feeling.  It was a kind of post fear.  We were emerging from the fearfulness of the immediate impact, and now you were seeing the emotion releasing through music, which I always think is a great thing.  It's one of the reasons I love music and I'm in it.  You could see particularly the firefighters and the volunteers and their families and victims' families were able to release this emotion that had been sort of so pent up.  So it was a great feeling.  It was a really great feeling.  We actually felt like we were doing a bit of good.


The Real Healing Power Of Music:

Paul McCartney: Shakespeare [says], "There's more in heaven and earth that are dreamed of in your philosophy." There's so much that we don't know about.  When you get down to the scientific thing about music, it's vibrations and you can actually measure them.  But the fact that it's vibrations working on people, so I think that's part of the answer.  It's kind of physically a very interesting subject.  I think what happens then with this scientific feature of it is that it hits your emotions.  And, it's global.  Language doesn't matter.  You can play someone Claire de Lune and they can tell it's about the moon.  You go, well, how can that happen?  Okay, the title's a bit of a giveaway, but I think the emotional factor is very important. I'm very interested in that whole idea. The fact remains that whether we discover how it works, it works.  And it can bring you to tears, it can make you smile, it can make you flash back to a memory.  People often say to me, "Thank you for the music. It's the soundtrack to my life."  So really it's one of the things I'm most proud of, actually, to have lucked out to be in a profession like this where I can actually help, heal, let people get in touch with their emotions, and me, by the way, at the same time.  I think the first word I use is what I end up saying.  It's a magical thing, and I do mean that.  People say, "Do you believe in magic, you know, really?"  I say, “Yeah, I really do.”  I think I have to.  It's a great, great thing, and I love the fact that it can reach people and touch their hearts in the way that it can.


Remembering The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show Debut:

Paul McCartney: We didn't actually know who Ed Sullivan was.  We'd say, "Who is that?"  "He's very famous in America.  Don't worry."  So, you know, and then we found ourselves on The Ed Sullivan Show, and the guy who was holding the curtain for me as I was about to go on and sing Yesterday solo with a string quartet, he said, "Are you nervous?"  I said, "No," slightly bluffing.  I said, "No."  He said, "Well, you should be.  There's 73 million people watching."


Remembering Shea Stadium:

Paul McCartney: The Shea Stadium thing, we didn't really understand the significance, that it was a big famous baseball park.  To us in a way, it was just a huge gig.  Shea Stadium was fantastic.  What do I remember about that?  Screaming, a lot of screaming and the hysteria that that evoked in us because we couldn't believe that we couldn't hear ourselves.  We're kind of used to vaguely hearing what key we're in or what was going on.  You really couldn't hear anything.  It was like a billion seagulls screaming, and we just looked at each other.  You can see it if you look at the film.  We're just in hysterics.  John ends up doing a solo with his elbow.  I mean, those are the kind of things you remember.  It is a long time ago, and it does seem like a long time ago because I, like you, have looked at the film of it.  At the time you think this is a very modern event.  But you get this far in the future after it, and you think, well, no.  It's now an ancient bit of history.  I love it anyway. 


Meeting The King:

Paul McCartney: Memory is sort of a funny thing, you know.  I think you kind of get the story in your memory and you tell it so many times, you think about it so many times that it's not necessarily the truth anymore.  I mean, we met Elvis Presley, for instance, which was a big event in my life and in the other Beatles' lives, but when we came to recount the story, we all had a different version. I said, "He met us at the front door and greeted us."  Ringo said, "No, he didn't.  He met us on the couch." 


How Sir Paul wrote Let It Be:

Paul McCartney: Let It Be happened during a time when there was kind of a lot going on.  I think people were overdoing the use of substances.  We certainly were. It was kind of common.  It was the fashion.  And anyone who remembers that time will know that. I think I was getting a little bit over the top with the whole thing, getting pretty tired and pretty wasted. I went to bed one night and had a kind of restless night.  But I had a dream where my mother, who had been dead at that point for about 10 years, came to me in the dream and it was as if she could see that I was troubled.  And she sort of said to me "Let it be."  And I remember quite clearly her saying “Let it be,” and “It's going to be okay, don't worry.” You know, “Let it be.”  And I woke up and I remembered the dream, and I thought, well, that's a great idea. I then sat down and wrote the song using the feeling from that dream and of my mum coming to me in the dream.  I think, then, when I said mother Mary, meaning my mother, it's become kind of quasi religious with Mother Mary, Virgin Mary, which is fine by me if that's how you want to take it.  The actual reason was my mom came to me in a dream and actually said “Let it be,” which turned out to be great advice.  Thanks, mom.


How Sir Paul Wrote Yesterday:

Paul McCartney: One of my most famous songs is Yesterday and like Let It Be, Yesterday came to me in a dream, but at this time it wasn't just my mom saying a phrase.  This was a whole tune that was in my head.  I had no idea where it came from.  Best I can think is that my [mental] computer through the years loaded all these things and finally printed out this song in a dream kind of thing.  But I certainly had this song that was to become very famous in the world and I just dreamed it.  So there's no way out of it for me.  I have to believe that that's magical.  I have no other rational explanation for it.


The Real Story Of The British Invasion:

Paul McCartney: The great thing is I always say to younger bands and stuff, we were very lucky because we had a kind of staircase of fame.  Not like now where you're just overnight success and you've got to deal with it.  We started in Liverpool and we had to sort of schlep around, trying to get some work, and trying to get a little bit more money, a bigger club.  Went to Hamburg, then we played all around England.  So by the time we had the offer to come to America, we were now kind of famous in Europe and we had a little handle on how to behave and how to do it.  We'd met quite a lot of people who were likely to criticize us, and we felt like we had a way to deal with it.  So we were very excited to come to America because this is where all the music that we loved came from.  We had said to our manager, “Look, we're not going to America until we have a #1 record,” which if you think about it, was really quite a sort of bold move.  Because we'd seen other stars from Britain come to America and just fade into the general scene, because they would often be like a male star and you'd have Elvis and you'd have plenty of sort of minor male stars like Frankie Avalon and people like that that were doing quite well.  So our stars didn't work, it didn't translate.  So we said to our manager we're going to wait till we've got a #1.  And we did eventually.  We got #1 with I Want to Hold Your Hand and we just hit the roof.  We said, “Now we can go to America.” So we came in here on a bit of a wave of success.  We kind of felt good about ourselves but we were really, amazingly excited to come to the land of our music.  Then we heard on the plane coming over, I think the pilots radioed JFK – Idyllwild as it was then – and they said, "Hey, there's millions of people, there's thousands of kids at the airport."  We're going, "Oh, yeah?  Quick, better have a shave."  And so we were very excited.  We got off the plane to this amazing hysteria.  And then we went into a press conference, and I think this is what I'm talking about.  The press would say, you know, "How do you find America?"  And we'd say, "You turn left at Greenland." We kind of had it all down.  We kind of knew what to expect.  By then we were fairly sort of cocky kids, which I think helped a lot.  Instead of kind of saying, “Sorry, sir, we shouldn't be in your country.”  They said, “Well, you know, what are you doing here?”  We said, “Well, check it out, we're #1,” which is a pretty good thing to be able to say.  So we were excited, slightly nervous but not as nervous as we would have been if we hadn't have had this backup to play with.”


The Significance of New York to Paul McCartney:

Paul McCartney: I think that my original connection was The Beatles, with Shea Stadium, Ed Sullivan.  When you talk to me about New York now, it's the people because I married a New York girl, Linda.  And I'm about to marry another one.  So I think I would think first of all of Linda and her family and our family and our connections with New York and then my upcoming connections, and then I think after that, Ed Sullivan, Shea Stadium, 9/11 concert, and many great concerts there, you know, most recently Yankees and Citi Field before that, closing Shea with Billy Joel.  So I have a lot of connections.  I love New York. 


The Concert Set List:

Paul McCartney: I always try and surprise with the set list, but in the days of YouTube and Internet, you can't surprise anyone with anything.  The minute you do it once, everyone knows.  But the proportion of Beatles songs has grown, and we do quite a lot of Beatles song, but I try and mix it with Wings, which is also very popular because there's kind of a younger generation out there that comes to our shows now.  And then I mix that with stuff that is my kind of own solo stuff, but the largest proportion these days is Beatles stuff.  Because, you know, I try and give audiences what they want, and a lot of that is Beatles stuff.  It's not bad music.


The Collaborations on Concert For New York:

Paul McCartney: It's just what we said on the day.  We're mainly talking about the concert, talking about what we're going to do.  I'm talking to Pete Townsend about a song that I've written, and we're trying to work out whether it's a good idea for us to do this song on the concert, because it's a new song.  And traditionally, you don't try and introduce new songs.  You just kind of stick to your hits because it's a bit safer.  But here's me trying to do this, so I'm talking to Pete about that.  I'm talking to him about Mick Jagger. Mick didn't think it was a good idea for me to do something new, because I know that wisdom.  But I decided to overrule that and Pete kind of backed me with that.  So it's that kind of thing.  We're just kind of generally talking about how we're going to work things out, what we're going to do, how we feel about this.  And I think it's quite an intimate glimpse of what went on in the background of preparing for that concert.


The Return of Harmonic Music:

Paul McCartney: I've always loved harmonies and yeah, it is making a bit of a comeback.  I don't think it really went away.  You know, what I love about harmonies and about choirs, I think like barber shop quartets, is they're everywhere.  You can go anywhere in the world, and there's always a little group of people harmonizing.  So I think it's a very human thing, and I think that's what I love about it.  I think it is coming back with certain groups now using it more than it has been used in certain years.  I don't really think it went away.


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