I’m Alan Alda, and this is Clear and Vivid, conversations about connecting and communicating
Alan: 10:50 Do you noodle? Do you noodle on the piano or the guitar, or what?
Paul: 11:13 Yes. So if it’s a guitar thing and I feel like a sort of ballad-y thing, then I’ll play some oobley chords.
Alan: 11:52 What are oobley chords?
Paul: 11:53 Oobley chords. You know, sweet, juicy.
Alan: 11:57 Where does that word come from?
Paul: 11:58 I don’t know.
Paul: 14:04 Okay, there’s a piano here.
Alan: 14:09 Yeah.
Paul: 14:11 So yeah, we were talking about oobley. It might be-
Alan: 14:18 Now, this is an oobley. What’s an oobley?
Paul: 14:21 This would be oobley-ish.
That of course is Paul McCartney – Sir Paul McCartney – and during the next hour or so he’s going to not only going to talk to me about his amazing career but he’s also going to show me how he writes a song – even on a slightly out of tune piano. From the moment he came into our studio in Manhattan – after being smuggled in in the freight elevator – he was warm and engaging. And luckily, the recording started even as we were still settling into our chairs…
Paul: 00:09 (singing) That’s the kind of thing I’m going to do during the interview.
Alan: 00:15 What do you, I’m always working on my voice, what do you do?
Paul: 00:22 It’s a long story. I never used to do anything, and I was asked by Bette Midler, “What do you do with your voice?”. I said, “I don’t do anything”. She hated me for that. But recently, I’ve started to do some exercises, just singing exercises, but not a lot.
It’s like, “Should I do it or shouldn’t I?” I’ve never done it, so that stood me in good stead.
Alan: 00:53 Yeah. You did fine without it.
Paul: 00:53 Yeah.
Alan: 00:55 But did you find that the more you did it, the better your availability to your voice became, or what?
Paul: 01:02 I don’t know. I felt like I was definitely exercising my vocal chords, so that was good. But the minute I got on stage, I don’t know if it made that much difference. So I eased off. I just was on stage during concerts and things, and I found that was okay. But it was very easy. And I listen to old records, I think, “God, it just sounds so easy and right.” This is the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. It’s like, “Oh, they were good! Those boys could play.”
Alan: 01:40 Do you have a … We’re in this, we’re recording, right?
Paul: 01:45 Okay.
Alan: 01:46 Do you have moments where you hear a lyric and you say, “Where did that come from?” That’s-
Paul: 01:54 One of my own lyrics, you mean?
Alan: 01:56 Yeah, yeah.
Paul: 01:57 Yeah, when I’m singing them.
Alan: 01:59 Oh, yeah.
Paul: 01:59 Yeah. Because you know, it’s this, I love this thing about singing. You’d think, as you watch a singer, “Well, he’s just singing the song, and remembering the words and doing it.” But you’re doing millions of other things. Probably the same with acting. You’re thinking, “What am I going to eat tonight?”
Alan: 02:19 Yes, right.
Paul: 02:20 And you go, “So stop thinking that, concentrate.” Or it’s a lyric-
Alan: 02:24 It’s an awful experience to be on this stage in front of 1000 or 2000 people, and you suddenly realize you’re talking to this woman next to you, but you’re thinking about your laundry. It’s a terrible-
Paul: 02:37 That’s what I mean. Well, how the human brain can do that is pretty amazing. You can think of loads of things.
Alan: 02:45 This is interesting. Once, when I was a young actor, and out work and trying to make a living somehow, I was hired by a unit of psychiatrists at a local hospital for a study they were doing, and it involved having me hypnotized. And in the process of hypnotizing me, he said, “Now, you’re going to hear a lot of noises from the street and sounds of the plumbing, and that kind of thing. Don’t try to block them out. Just let them in; let everything in. Because the whole hypnotic trance is your ability to concentrate, so you are doing it. And don’t spend effort and energy blocking things out.” And it’s interesting. I find when I’m acting, and I wonder if this is true for you, I find, in a way, there’s a reason why something comes to the surface for the moment that I’m in my acting and possibly you in the song. Stuff comes up, and the back of the head is doing things that you don’t expect.
Paul: 03:52 That’s what I meant. There can be a few things going on at once.
Alan: 03:56 Yeah.
Paul: 03:56 Because I do a thing in my show that people hold up signs. So I say, it’s really nice. People bring these signs, “Hey, Paul. I was,” duh, duh, duh, duh. I say, but your brain says, “Don’t read the signs.” You just stop. Just sing the song. But of course you do. You start reading them. You’re singing a song, you’re remembering the words, you remember the tune, you’re remembering what you’re playing, and you’re reading these signs. And then, at the same time, you can be thinking memories that the lyric brings back.
Alan: 04:31 Yeah, yeah. That’s an interesting moment. Does it give it a flavor in that moment that you didn’t expect? It hadn’t done before, maybe?
Paul: 04:39 Absolutely. I’m constantly marveling at what’s going on in here, in this head.
Alan: 04:46 Yeah.
Paul: 04:47 Because it’s to be multitasking most of the time. I’ll sing a song like Eleanor Rigby, and I’m remembering the words, but as I’m remembering them, I’m admiring them, he said modestly. But [inaudible 00:05:06].
Alan: 05:05 But that’s what I started asking you. There are these moments when you write something, and for me, I don’t know if it’s true for you, I’ve heard other people say this. It’s almost like you’re an antenna and you’re picking something up from who knows where-
Paul: 05:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 05:23 … and you think, “That’s really nice. I don’t know if I can say I did it, somehow.”
Paul: 05:30 Exactly. Yeah. People say you write songs. My dad was the best, because he did write a song when he was a kid. He had a little jazz band. So he wrote a song in the vein of the 1920s, which was when he was playing, when he was 20 himself. And I love this song, and I ended up recording it on an instrumental with Chet Atkins and Floyd Kramer. So it’s a good little version. It was called Walking in the Park with Eloise.
And so, it’s just a little melody. So I said to him, I rang him, “Dad,” I said, I was excited. I just said, “We’ve recorded your song.” He said, “Oh!” I said, “That song you wrote.” He said, “I didn’t write any songs, son.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I made it up.”
He wouldn’t accept write, because that implied something much more important. But it is true. Sometimes, you do just have this muse that can just come, and you are just the conduit. My best example of that, it’s a story I’ve told before, but you can always edit it.
Alan: 06:50 No, I want to hear it. I want to hear you tell it.
Paul: 06:52 Okay.
Alan: 06:52 Whatever it is.
Paul: 06:53 It was a … I woke up one morning.
Alan: 06:57 I love this story.
Paul: 06:59 You love it already?
Alan: 07:00 No, I know this story. This is great.
Paul: 07:02 Oh, you know it?
Alan: 07:03 I love it, but I don’t know everything you’re going to say about it. Go ahead. You woke up one morning …
Paul: 07:08 I woke up one morning, and I heard a tune that I’d just been dreaming. So, [inaudible 00:00:07:14], “What is this tune?” (singing) Ah, I love that tune! I love it. It must be something from my dad’s era. So, I spent the next couple of weeks asking people, our producer, George Martin. ” George, watch this. (singing)” He said, “I don’t know.”
I asked John. Said, “John, what’s this? Where have I got this from?” He said, “I don’t know.” In the end, after a couple of weeks, he said, “It must be yours.” So it was, and that was Yesterday, and it’s been recorded something like 3000 times. And I always wonder whether that magic that brought it to me conveyed itself to the people who covered it.
Alan: 07:58 That’s amaz… It is such a [crosstalk 00:08:01] exquisite, haunting melody.
Paul: 08:04 Yes, but very much. And I’m like my dad, I didn’t even make it up. Certainly didn’t write it. Didn’t even make it up. It was-
Alan: 08:14 Was the whole thing there?
Paul: 08:16 Yeah. The whole, the whole. Just the song, just the melody.
Alan: 08:19 Yeah.
Paul: 08:20 And then, I had to get words to it. So to remember it ,you often block in words.
Alan: 08:25 Like a dummy lyric?
Paul: 08:26 Like a dummy lyric. So I had, “Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs,” which helped me.
Alan: 08:39 Did you ever hear the story about Tea for Two?
Paul: 08:42 I don’t know.
Alan: 08:42 The two guys who wrote it, I heard one of them interviewed on the radio. And he said that they wrote the tune together in about 10 minutes. And just so that they’d mark it, they put a dummy lyric in, “Tea for two, two for tea, me for you, you for me.” And about a week later, they said, “You know what? We got it.” So the whole song took maybe 15 minutes.
Paul: 09:07 Yeah.
Alan: 09:08 But that’s maybe part of the thing we’re talking about, where it’s coming up by itself. I don’t know. What do you find? Sometimes, things that you struggle over turn out to be really good, and sometimes things you don’t have to struggle over much at all turn out to be good. Is there a correlation between the struggle and the goodness?
Paul: 09:31 Well, I like to think it’s a bit of both. As you said, sometimes you can struggle and think, “God, I’m having a terrible time with this. This is going to be bad. Oh, this is terrible, terrible.” Then, when you finish it, you think, “Oh, this is okay. It’s not bad.”
The nicest ones are when it just comes to you.
Alan: 09:52 Yeah.
Paul: 09:53 You just go, “Where am I getting this from?” And it’s, suddenly it’s there, and you’ve got the words and you’ve got the whole thing. Those are very nice, and they’re often good ones, because if it came easy to you, it translates easy to the listener.
Alan: 10:11 Yeah, yeah. That [inaudible] Here’s something we’ll cut out, right?
Paul: 10:18 I’ll do a few, then. Brr!
Alan: 10:19 I got to learn that. Brr! Oh, I’m the wrong key. I got to get in the right key.
Paul: 10:26 Oh, yeah. Ralph Richardson, the British actor, I once worked a bit with him, and he had a few of those. Brr! [Inaudible]
Alan: 10:38 I worked with an actor who, before every shot, would go, “Ma! Ma!,” and kind of rattled my brain. But now, I realize it’s very helpful.
Paul: 10:48 Yeah, exactly.
Alan: 10:50 So, this is one of those stupid questions that I bet they ask composers all the time. It’s not the one, “Do you write the words first or the music first.” That I’m not interested in. But what I am interested in is how you get to the melody when you’re not dreaming. Do you noodle? Do you noodle on the piano or the guitar, or what?
Paul: 11:11 Yes.
Alan: 11:12 Or do you hum it?
Paul: 11:13 No, I noodle. Yeah. I like to have a couple of chords beneath my fingers, and then start noodling, see what these chords suggest. That’s nearly always the method. I’ve done it once or twice, or just like yesterday, had just heard the tune and didn’t know what the chords were. But mainly, I’ll sit down with a guitar or a piano and just start playing some, get in a mood that I feel like. If it’s a guitar thing and I feel like a sort of ballad-y thing, then I’ll play some oobley chords.
Alan: 11:52 What are oobley chords?
Paul: 11:53 Oobley chords. You know, sweet, juicy.
Alan: 11:57 Where does that word come from?
Paul: 11:58 I don’t know.
Alan: 11:59 I’ve never heard it.
Paul: 12:01 Oobley. Oobley do. I don’t know. It just sounds … once you know what it is though, [crosstalk 00:00:12:05].
Alan: 12:05 … that it has meaning.
Paul: 12:07 Obvious.
Alan: 12:09 So-
Paul: 12:10 Some slightly sexy chords or sophisticated chords that can sometimes give you a new idea. Or, if you want a rock and roll thing, then you stick to very basic chords, and just try and get a rhythm and a mood ,and then just try and pull in something over the top of that.
But, yeah, for me, I actually did have a conversation with Stephen Sondheim. I rang him up and said, “Hey, Steven, would it be okay if I came to meet you? I’m in New York, I’m going to be in New York.” And his main thing, he said, “What’s it about?” So I think he was a bit frightened I was going to ask him something terrible. “Will you work with me and do this?”
So I said, “It’s nothing about anything. Just one of my kids was in a production of Sweeney Todd, and loves you. And I do too, so I just thought it’d be nice to meet you.” So we had a great conversation. We we’re going to meet for a few minutes, and it ended up three hours or something. It was great, but it was composer to composer. “What do you do with that?” “Oh, what do I do?”
And I remember him being a little bit surprised when I was saying that. Chords. I start with chords. Because I-
Alan: 13:31 What does he start with?
Paul: 13:32 I don’t know. Maybe it’s more … I don’t know. I didn’t ask him that. I didn’t get around to that. So, Steven, if you’re listening, please write to me. No, I thought, “Well, everyone starts with chords. It’s what you do.” But apparently, not with him. It might be a melody and then he puts a harmony to it. A little more classical way of-
Alan: 14:00 Do the chords, do you find the melody as chords progress?
Paul: 14:04 Yeah. Then then you find, yeah, “Okay, there’s a piano here.”
Alan: 14:09 Yeah. And you [crosstalk 00:00:14:11].
Paul: 14:11 I can swing round here, I’m sure. So yeah, we were talking about oobley. It might be-
Alan: 14:18 Now, this is an oobley. What’s an oobley?
Paul: 14:21 This would be oobley-ish. It’s like a … Or this kind of thing … But it’s that, to the major seventh. So that is going to lead me into (singing). That world. Whereas-
Alan: 14:48 Did you find something emerging there?
Paul: 14:51 No. I would have to spend longer than that.
Alan: 14:58 Yeah.
Paul: 14:58 I’d have to decide which of those chords, which of those chords I liked, and then put them in a bit better order than that. That’s just me knocking it up. But yeah, I would just sit down and spend a little bit of time with that, and see if any words come on. And sometimes, I’ll just block it out. Dummy lyric. Just see if it suggests anything. So if it’s like, if these were the chords right here … [inaudible 00:15:34]. We’ve got [inaudible 00:15:40]. What’s the matter with you girl? Or whatever. [Inaudible] I’ll try and keep that. [inaudible 00:15:50] going on [inaudible].
Alan: 15:54 And words start to come out on their own.
Paul: 15:57 Yeah. And then you make a little bit more sense of it. What’s the matter with you girl? You broke my heart. Or whatever. You follow the trail then.
Alan: 16:06 And then you, once you’ve found the musical trail through a combination of finding the musical trail and the word trail, you’re liable to change the words completely as you did in Yesterday?
Paul: 16:21 Yeah, it could do. I tend not to do that. Now, because Yesterday-
Alan: 16:26 So, what you find, you follow, and you go with it and keep it?
Paul: 16:31 Yeah, unless I get to hate it. What I’ll do is I’ll get a first verse, a second verse, and so and so, and just try and work it out like it’s a crossword puzzle.
Alan: 16:44 Yeah, yeah.
Paul: 16:44 Like it’s just something I’ve got to work out. And then, I may switch the first verse with the second verse, because that’s a better opening.
Alan: 16:53 Yeah.
Paul: 16:54 But then I can apply a little bit of a logic to it. And occasionally, I may look and go, “Ugh, I don’t like that line.” And I might say, “What’s a better way to say that?”
Alan: 17:06 When is meaning coming in? When do you sense the theme of the thing?
Paul: 17:13 Pretty early on, really. From the first line, I think. But what often happens is you’ll do that first line, it will develop into a verse. And so, you’ve got roughly what’s going on. What’s the matter with you, girl? You broke my heart. [inaudible 00:17:31] We never want to part. Don’t let her … It could be a bit better than that. And then you get-
Alan: 17:37 I don’t know. I think you’ve got something.
Paul: 17:41 Yeah, I think so. And then you do the second verse. And it might be, “Well, I’ve been wondering what you’re doing. I’ve been, you’ve been,” you know? “I’ve been, I never sleep at night,” or something, some variation on this. And then, you might get to the best bit. The chorus might then actually be better than those. So it maybe, because you say, “Sleepless, sleepless, something,” it might become sleepless (singing), sleepless. And that might become the big theme.
Alan: 18:12 Yes, yeah. You said you were led there by your unconscious, anyway.
We’re taking a quick break. When we come back, Paul talks about how he and John Lennon wrote their first songs together – when, as he cheerfully admits, they didn’t really understand what they were doing – they just made it up.
This is C+V and now back to my conversation with Paul McCartney.
How much attention do you pay to form when you’re writing a song like that? For instance, when I was a kid, the typical form was eight bars, eight bars, same eight bars again, then a break for eight bars, bridge, and then the original eight bars again. And I tried to write songs on that form. Do you-
Paul: 18:41 It’s kind of like that, yeah.
Alan: 18:42 Do you do that A-A-B-A much?
Paul: 18:45 Yeah.
Alan: 18:46 Or all the time?
Paul: 18:48 Yeah.
Alan: 18:49 Sometimes, you seem to take a break that goes somewhere else.
Paul: 18:52 Yes. You do that a lot. That’s the natural way to do it, because you’ve got to remember, we didn’t really learn music in The Beatles. John and I, neither of us could read or write music.
Alan: 19:04 Yeah.
Paul: 19:05 Same with George and Ringo. I was talking to a friend of mine who’s in the band ELO, Jeff Lynne. He’s from Birmingham. He says, “Well, we just made it up, didn’t we?” He’s a bit like my dad. “We just made it up.” And that’s exactly what we did.
So in writing songs, we looked at what everyone else did, which was A- A-B-A-A, maybe something else, maybe a little riff or something. And that’s how we wrote them. But then, as you got on a bit, you started to try and do something different as you got in the middle of the song. Say, maybe you wanted to just, or what Beatles used to do was, at the end of the song, we’d just go somewhere else for a laugh. That’s it. You’ve heard the song, and then (singing) It just goes off somewhere else. Oh, this is good.
Alan: 20:01 So, you didn’t study music, you invented music?
Alan: 20:00 That’s good. So you didn’t study music, you invented music.
Paul: 20:04 What am I, [inaudible 00:20:05]? No, I think it was a blessing, although kids listening to this, keep learning. If you’re already on the sort of trail of learning music, that’s a great thing. But for us it was interesting because you don’t see anything on a page. There’s no dots. You’re not looking at that. You’re thinking it, so I think it kind of comes a bit more from your heart. I know if I’m trying to record a song and I’m just reading the lyrics, it’s not as good as if I put them aside and go, okay, come on, you can remember that, and then sing them. So I think that directness was quite a good thing for us that we didn’t actually understand how to do things, but everything therefore was exciting.
We do something and… The song we did with the Beatles, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. On the Anders. She loves you. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a big chord, and it’s actually a sixth chord.
Alan: 21:18 Oh, you ended on a sixth?
Paul: 21:21 Yeah, we did a sixth. We didn’t know it was a sixth. We just thought it sounded great. George Martin, our producer said, Oh no, you can’t do that. He said, that’s a sixth. Oh yeah? He said, it’s really corny. It was like, yah. And we said, we like it. So we kept it. So those kinds of things where… It was a great voyage of discovery because you were learning all these little things as you went along and you were keeping yourself excited, which I think is very important.
Alan: 21:53 Yeah, that’s so important. And that led to you doing so many different kinds of things. I heard you say once that no two Beatles songs are alike.
Paul: 22:02 That’s right.
Alan: 22:03 In your own personal music, you’ve gone so far field in so many ways. The Liverpool Oratorio, which I think is beautiful.
Paul: 22:16 Well, thank you.
Alan: 22:19 You’d like to collaborate, apparently. You collaborated with Carl Davis on that. How many songs did you write with John?
Paul: 22:26 With John? I understand it’s just short of 300.
Alan: 22:31 And you know how many songs you’ve written by yourself or with other collaborators?
Paul: 22:35 No, I haven’t counted that. The first bit is a matter of record. The next bit is still in progress.
Alan: 22:44 What were you going to say? Cut you off. Where are you going to say about Carl?
Paul: 22:48 The thing about that project at Liverpool Oratorio was, I was asked through Carl by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra if I would write something for a big anniversary. I think it was 150 years or something. I immediately said, yeah. I was talking to someone in a pub, he’s an Irish actor, and he said, you’re going to do this, what the hell have you bitten off? I said, what do you mean? He said, well that’s a big job. I go, Oh yeah. I mean it’s sort of occurs to me. Oh yeah, all right well I’d better work this out. But Carl was a great help. It was great fun. I would just go to his house, and he’s the pianist and the notator, he put all the notes down and everything. And he said, okay, how are we going to start? Liverpool Oratorio. And he says, okay, it’s McCartney. C-major. You know, let it be. I go, no, no, no, no, no. It’s got to start in war time. I was born during the war, so-
Alan: 24:04 So you start with a seventh.
Paul: 24:06 No, it was more like a sort of a… It was sort of weird. He goes, Oh, wait a minute. You’re turning me on. You’re turning me on. Stop, stop. And he’d write that down. It was better than that by the way. But then I said, okay, great. Let’s evoke this war thing. And I pictures in my mind of all those planes crossing in the night sky and dropping the bombs, because they dropped a lot on Liverpool. So that’s how we did that. And then we just went through. Okay, now C-major. Now we can get into something a bit more… But it was good. He just led me through it.
Alan: 24:51 Did you know you were going to follow the pattern of war, family, friends, and end with peace?
Paul: 25:00 It was sort of, yeah. It was sort of me. A child is born in the war. And then child grows up and then it stopped being autobiographical because then we just got into a play and we just invented a character called Shanty who was sort of Liverpool Naval seaman kind of thing. Then we invited a girlfriend for him, and then we invented a whole drama.
Alan: 25:26 Your ability in your music to relate to character is extraordinary, I think. One of the favorite pieces of music that I’ve ever heard is leaving home. She’s leaving home. Because you’d take a family… What interests me almost the most about it, aside from the incredibly gorgeous tune, is these parents can be faulted for the way they didn’t communicate well with the kid and the kid can be faulted a little bit too, but you see their suffering from both sides. You empathize with both sides. At your young age, how were you able to do that?
Paul: 26:19 That’s interesting that, at your young age, because I often think that. Wow, you know, writing like an old man, but I think the thing is I can relate to both sides. At that point I didn’t have children, but I knew how parents and children sometimes were. I knew that the girl that we were… It was actually started by a newspaper article. So that’s sometimes an interest in Genesis. You’re just reading a newspaper, and it’s so-and-so young girl’s gone missing. Her parents said we gave her everything and she’s gone. So you start imagining, if she’s gone willingly then-
Alan: 27:09 What was that? What was going on? And you hint at it. That’s what’s so great. You don’t give the barbaric details of the problem between them. The listener can imagine what was going on, which is more powerful than telling them.
Yeah, I like that. Where you leave things unsaid. So she creeps out and they discover she’s gone and he’s saying, mommy. The father’s talking to her. Mommy, our baby’s gone.
Yeah. It kills me.
Paul: 27:45 Those little things, they just come to you and you just think, yeah, that’s what he’d say. I suppose then you think they probably babied her too much.
Alan: 27:56 I hadn’t thought of that.
Paul: 27:57 It’s just, these things lead on. And then she goes, I don’t know, presumably to London or somewhere and meets a man from the motor trade.
Alan: 28:06 Yes. Oh God, that’s a killer. She sounds like she got into the wrong kettle of fish.
Paul: 28:13 I think so. Yeah. I do love that. I always loved the idea of characters. It’s funny, George Harrison, George from the Beatles often said to me, how do you do that? Because his stuff’s sort of biographical. He’ll, be feeling a certain way. Here comes the sun, and he’s talking about his life. Here comes the sun, it’s better. The ice is melted. But he said, how do you do this, make up these people? And I think a bit of it might’ve come from when I was at school. I had one great teacher. I went to a thing called a grammar school in Liverpool and you got a really good education for free. It was a state school. I had this one guy who was an English literature teacher and he turned me on. He just showed me some things. He showed me actually the dirty bits in Chaucer. For a 16 year old boy, I said wow.
Alan: 29:23 That’ll get you interested in literature.
Paul: 29:24 I’m loving this. I said, are you sure I’m supposed to be reading this? He said, it’s not in the curriculum, but he said, enjoy.
Alan: 29:30 It’s a good thing he didn’t show you the Bible, you’d have been ruined.
Paul: 29:39 I think that with him as my teacher, I did okay. It was the only exam I kind of did well in, but I did love learning about Shakespeare, learning about Thomas Hardy, looking at poetry. I think during that little period of a couple of years at school, a lot was going in to the database. These great writers. And because I’m taking exams, I’ve got to analyze it and he’s helping me understand what it means. I’m getting the cadences of these great writers too. I think, it’s just a theory, that when I left school and then started getting into music, I think that kind of stayed with me and I thought… I just naturally produce these words and rhythms that were better than what I’d done before.
When we first started off, it was just, thank you girl. It was really a message to the fans with the Beatles. We were starting to get known, so it was like everything had a definitive pronoun in it. It was like, love me do. She loves you. I want to hold your hand. From me to you. Thank you girl. So we were really just trying to relate directly. That was great. It was a lovely period, but then we kind of grew out of that.
Alan: 31:26 When you were talking about George asking you how do you get into character, it interested me a lot. I wanted to hear more about that, because art is often described as self expression, whereas you seem to be able to not simply express what you’re going through, but see into the lives of other people.
Paul: 31:54 I think, as I say, this literature love… I’d be reading something by Charles Dickens and I’d be thinking, he’s not Little Dorrit. This is not his life. He’s making this up. I know his father went to prison, so when he writes about prisons there’s a sort of family link, but that kind of thing where a novelist will write about Tessa [inaudible 00:32:24] but he’s male. Always interested me that they can just conjure up people. And I always liked that. That was something I really liked, to just imagine another person. What are they doing? What’s their relationship? I liked that storytelling aspect. That crept into quite a few of my songs. I think it is just because realizing that great writers that I admired weren’t just writing their own life story. They were making up a sea voyage, or they were making up Denmark and castles. I’m not sure he ever went to Denmark, but he can imagine it.
Funnily enough, the school I was telling you about is called the Liverpool Institute high school for boys. Where I went, it was a thousand boys.
Alan: 33:24 What did you do for female companionship?
Paul: 33:27 You lusted after the next door school, which had about a seven foot wall around it, like Colditz. You just imagined them. You hardly ever saw them, but that was Blackburn house and there was a thousand girls in there.
Alan: 33:47 They didn’t hang out the windows or anything for you?
Paul: 33:49 No.
Alan: 33:50 Oh, God. How many years did that go on?
Paul: 33:53 Oh God, I don’t know. Til I left school.
Alan: 33:56 Well that’s where I want to hold your hand came from.
Paul: 33:59 Yes, exactly.
Alan: 34:00 What about other songs, where they came from? What about let it be? That was connected to a dream too, wasn’t it?
Paul: 34:07 Yeah, it was. I lost my mom when I was 14 and she was a great lady. She was a nurse and a midwife and-
Alan: 34:20 How did she die?
Paul: 34:22 Cancer, breast cancer. And in those days nobody told you.
Alan: 34:30 They didn’t tell you what the cause of death was?
Paul: 34:32 No. You just knew she was in hospital. We went to visit her, me and my younger brother one day. I remember clearly just seeing some blood on the sheets. I’m thinking, Oh God, what’s that? Nobody said anything. We then were sent to live with an uncle and aunt. The auntie came in one morning, said, Oh boys, I’ve got something terrible to tell you. Anyways, and she died. At 14 that was quite a big shock. There was now just me, my younger brother Michael and my dad living in the house with no woman to do all the womanly things, so we just had to get on. We just had to sort it out.
Years later, at the time of Let It Be, I was now getting into probably too many stimulants, getting a bit crazy with this and that. Boozing a bit too much, and this and that. I went to sleep and she came to me in the dream. I saw her in the dream and it was so great to be reunited. Actually, I’ll tell you the crazy thing, this morning, or last night rather, I met her again.
Alan: 35:55 Not for the first time since then, right?
Paul: 35:57 No. Anyway, during this first dream, she came to me, and because she was such a great woman who I admired so much, she gave me such a feeling of peace. It was like, oh, wow. And in a dream, you’re really there. You don’t ever think, well sometimes I do, but hardly ever think, I’m dreaming, wait a minute. If you’re jumping off a cliff, you might think, this is okay. I know it works out.
Alan: 36:28 I hope it stays a dream until the end.
Paul: 36:31 Yeah. But she came to me and seemed to be able to see the state I was in, and she said, don’t worry son. It’ll be all right. Just let it be. I remember feeling so confident with that, and so emotional. I just thought, oh, great. It was a real mother son thing, she actually comforted me. So I woke up and I thought, what was that she said? Let it be. Oh, that’s kind of… That’s good. That’s a nice phrase. So I sat down at the piano, setting at my piano, and wrote Let It Be. With the glory of the dream coursing through me.
Alan: 37:19 Now here’s my big question. Did she give you a song last night or was she taking a day off?
Paul: 37:25 She was taking a night off last night. No, it was something else last night.
But I do love that, obviously, when someone appears and says something that inspires you.
Alan: 37:36 Oh my god, yeah. As a result of that, did you pay more attention to your dreams? I went to a period where I wrote my dream down five times a night and it got so intense that at one point I heard a voice in one of the dreams say this is the meaning of this dream. I was even analyzing the dream while I was dreaming. Did you get more caught up in your dreams as a result of that? Or just let them be?
Paul and I are taking another short break. When we come back, Paul talks about what it’s like to be a “Sir,” his book “Hey Grandude,” inspired by one of his eight grandchildren, and the new musical he’s working on based on the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Paul McCartney, and how his dreams continue to inspire him.
Paul: 38:03 I think I let them be, but then later after the Beatles I did sometimes think, wow, that was a great dream. I should write it down. And so first thing I would just grab a notebook or something, just go and write it down thinking this is going to be one page, two minutes. No, it’s like I suddenly remember more and more details and it’s like, Oh, and then that happened. And I’m sort of sitting there for half an hour, a good five quite detailed pages about this. I’ve still got them. I did that during a period and it’s nice to look back on them because they are quite fantastic stories. Fantastical. It’s like, wow, how did I ever think that? That’s great. I like dreams. I dream a lot. I think everyone dreams a lot. I don’t think they just remember it.
Alan: 39:03 I think so. As you just said, the more you write down what you remember, the more you remember. So we probably don’t pay much attention to what will help us remember the dream.
Paul: 39:17 Yeah. I’ve said to people, my wife Nancy, I said, did you have a dream last night? She said, no, don’t think so. And then a little later she’ll say, Oh, wait a minute. There was a little something. I think it’s just that she doesn’t bother trying to remember them. She’s a doer. She’s on with her day. Unlike me, I’m a romantic. I want to see the magic in everything. But I think she does dream. I think probably everyone dreams.
Alan: 39:53 That to me is where, in dreams and what we were talking about before, where things are working themselves out at an unconscious-
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:40:04]
Alan: 40:00 Things are working themselves out at an unconscious level. I get the impression most of our life is lived unconsciously, and when it comes to consciousness, it’s needed times.
Paul: 40:15 And yet there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You know, that kind of thing, it’s really true. I have to believe in a form of magic, just with the Yesterday story. Nobody else got that. Nobody else got a song just arrived that 3,000 people have recorded, so that I’ve got a bit of luck going with that kind of thing. And yeah, I do believe there’s much more to this than we know. And interesting enough, in science, the cutting edge of science is finding that out, that it’s much more…
Alan: 40:55 Yeah, I think scientists with MRI machines are discovering elements of Freud’s unconscious that he posited without the aid of those machines, what they’re finding out how the unconscious is made up of many parts. I mean, of the idea that you said, so many things occurred to you during a performance.
Paul: 41:19 Yeah. Yeah. It’s a miraculous thing, your body, and your mind is perhaps the most miraculous bit. It’s just like you say, what it can do, what it can remember, what it can think, what it can imagine. I love to observe, so I’m a great… I just love to just look at things. So you won’t find me often with my head in a screen. I’m not really a great tweeter. It doesn’t interest me that much. I’ll do it if I have to communicate with someone, but normally I’d just rather look out the window. I mean, I came through Times Square on the way here, and I’m English, so I’m a tourist, and I’m looking at these… Wow.
Alan: 42:08 Isn’t it, Times Square with all of those screens and lights flashing at you, to me it’s like driving through the inside of a pinball machine.
Paul: 42:19 It’s quite amazing, and as the technology goes on, screens get bigger. I like it. I like it. I marvel at it, marvel that mankind can do that. Some of these buildings, they say New Yorkers don’t really look up at the buildings anymore. But I’m looking up. I go, “Wow, top of that building’s in the clouds.” That’s great. I like that.
Alan: 42:46 Yeah, I love that the most expensive apartments are in the clouds. You can’t see a damn thing.
Paul: 42:52 We said that on the way here. I said, “You just bought a $50 million dollar apartment. You look out, there’s nothing. Where’s the view?”
Alan: 43:01 You would get it on a much lower floor. I really learned something good here. It interests me a lot, your relationship with the rest of the people in the world. You write with this connection to the person going to listen, and you have had an effect on people that’s enormous. I mean, the effect of The Beatles on the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe is extraordinary. I don’t know any other example like that.
Paul: 43:49 It is, it’s a great thing. When we were told that our records were smuggled behind the Iron Curtain, along with blue jeans and Stevie wonder, it was like, oh great, wow. People are like we think they are. My dad, again, when I was a kid, you’d read about wars going on everywhere and I knew there’d just been World War II. And I said, “Dad, do people want peace?” And he said, “Yeah, people want peace everywhere.” He said, “But it’s the politicians who screw it up. It’s the leaders who screw it up.” So I’ve always had a lot of faith in people being like me, and I’ve always been very keen to not elevate myself too far above it. Even though when the queen knights you, it’s a little bit difficult, because you’re suddenly Sir Paul, but it’s like keep your feet on the ground, boy.
Alan: 44:49 Do a lot of people call you Sir Paul?
Paul: 44:52 No, not really. Not really. I say to people, “Don’t. Just call me Paul.” But some people do, and it’s fine. It’s nice.
Alan: 45:02 It’s a mark of gratitude and affection. And you’ve contributed so much, not only to Great Britain but to the rest of the world.
Paul: 45:13 Well, thanks. I see it as a school prize. It’s like you did okay that year, so you get the art prize or something. So in that way, I really appreciate it. But yeah, people being the same interests me. People I’m from in Liverpool, some of the smartest people I ever met, and I’ve met big international leaders, but some of these people in Liverpool just had a wisdom that was very impressive.
Alan: 45:54 I often think along those lines when I hear about people in undeveloped, underdeveloped countries where there may be thousands or millions of mute, inglorious Miltons, like in Elegy in a Churchyard, where if only given a chance at a keyboard or at a little bit more education would solve problems that are intractable otherwise, that the intelligence of ordinary people is extraordinary.
Paul: 46:33 I think you’re right. I think that’s the importance of education. And that’s why it’s good to give kids a chance. And young women in some of these countries are just stood upon.
Alan: 46:47 Yeah, the last to get educated. And when they are educated, the economy improves.
Paul: 46:54 Yeah. It makes sense. I love that. I love smartness, and it comes from anywhere. It doesn’t have to be, you don’t have to go to Eton for it, you don’t have to go to a small college. You can just have savvy, and I like that. Common sense, I think, is a great thing, and I’ve seen it a lot. As I say, I had a cousin Bert, cousin Bert Danher, and Bert was a crossword compiler.
Alan: 47:28 What does that mean?
Paul: 47:29 He made crosswords.
Alan: 47:31 Oh, crosswords. All right.
Paul: 47:32 Crosswords. They called it compiler. Sounds a bit like a farmyard job or something. But anyway, he used to make up crosswords for The Times, The Telegraph, all the really hard crossroads, very cryptic, lots of anagrams, lots of very… You really had to be good to do these crosswords. But he used to do those, and I always admired that he was just some ordinary guy who sold insurance in Liverpool. But this little sideline was doing crosswords, and it was fabulous.
Alan: 48:11 I’m hearing in my earphones that we’re going over.
Paul: 48:15 We’re getting wound up, are we?
Alan: 48:16 Yeah. But I want to ask you something. I’m really fascinated with your book that your grandchild inspired, Hey Grandude! Tell me a little about that.
Paul: 48:30 I’ve got eight grandchildren and they’re all gorgeous. And one day one of them just said, “Hey, Grandude,” and it just kind of shocked me. I went, “Oh,” because they normally call me grandad, sort of British, grandad. Grandude, I thought, “That’s clever.” So I then thought, “Oh, it’d be good to have a character, Grandude. He could be quite magical, and he could have a few kids. I won’t have him have eight, because that’s too like me, so this is going to get too autobiographical.” So I just thought, “He’ll have a few kids.” So I just started writing little stories of where he might go and made up a few little things about his character.
See again, characters. I like imagining characters, so I did that and then a publishing firm kind of got wind of it and said, “We’d love to do this,” and they sent a great presentation, which is always a great thing when people are lively enough to send you something that inspires you. So they sent me a big suitcase with stuff in it, and there were postcards, which I hadn’t put in my stories yet, but believe me, I nicked it from that minute. Right, we’ve got postcards. So I just took the thing. Then we had a magic compass that he rubs, and I enjoyed it. And I worked very closely with them, because I thought, “I’m not going to say, ‘I am the great writer. You must not touch a word of my prose.'”
Alan: 50:12 But that’s what makes you a good collaborator.
Paul: 50:14 Well, yeah. I like to be told how to do it.
Alan: 50:19 That’s amazing.
Paul: 50:22 They publish millions of books, and they said, “Well, this would be good, this would be good.” And I was not looking to do anything weighty. I was looking to do something quite small, because I thought, “I don’t want to go up against Roald Dahl, and in England, David Walliams.” We’ve got a few really good kids’ book writers. I don’t want to try and be in a contest with them. So I was happy that mine was just 32 pages. And the main thing that made me happy, the inspiration in a way, was that people would read it to their kids, either the parents or the grandude or the grandmother, and they would read. And to me that means bedtime, when the kids are going to bed.
So we put that into the book. The book ends with the four children going to bed, “Hey, Grandude, we’re sleepy.” I remember that with my own kids. You’re just praying they’re getting sleepy. They’ve done their teeth, they’ve washed up, and they’re getting sleepy. So good night.
Alan: 51:31 And you’re giving them a dream. Who knows what song they’ll come up with in the morning? You’ve been brave. I admire your bravery, your courage, your fortitude in branching out in so many different ways, not just what sound to me like traditional rock and roll, but storytelling songs, ballads. And now you’re working on a musical?
Paul: 52:03 I am working on a musical, yeah. My next meeting.
Alan: 52:06 Whoa.
Paul: 52:07 I get over there to meet the director.
Alan: 52:10 And how far along are you?
Paul: 52:13 Quite far. Yeah, I’ve written my bit.
Alan: 52:14 Oh, what’s the story? I forget the story.
Paul: 52:17 It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s the old James Stewart film. Someone rang me up, he said, “I’ve got the rights to a musical.” I think he’d been to see Frank Capra, and he said, “Frank, you’ve got to let me do this.” He badgered him enough, Frank eventually gave in. So he approached me with this idea and then he said, “Would you meet with the writer that I’ve got in mind?” I said, “Oh, okay.” It’s just meet with someone. I can love him or hate him. But I liked the guy, and it was a nice meeting. I got on well with him. He’s Lee Hall, who’s written a bunch of stuff, Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters. That was quite a successful play he wrote. But he’s done a lot of stuff. So I met with him, liked him, but then I went away from that meeting, I said, “I still don’t know what I’ve got to do.”
Alan: 53:13 What do you mean?
Paul: 53:14 Well, I mean, what’s my next move? I’ve met him. I know It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ll look at the movie, and then what’s my next move? So I said to the producer, Bill Kenwright, “So Bill, would you ask Lee if he’ll put together the first 20 minutes as he sees it of this stage musical?”
Alan: 53:37 And then you’ll figure out what should be musical.
Paul: 53:39 And then I’ll get the idea of what it is. I only need the first 20 minutes. So he starts. He sent me it. He did it anyway, kindly. And so I’ve got the script, and I think I was on an airplane and I start reading it. I’m going, “Oh, I could see this. I love this. Wow. That’s the intro, yeah.” And then he put in a dummy lyric, speaking of dummy lyrics, and he had a little disclaimer, “I put in some dummy lyrics, but feel free to change them.”
So I liked it and then just left it and thought, “You know what? I think I’m getting intrigued by this.” And then one day when I was on holiday in the summer and I had a piano, I just had the script and those dummy lyrics. I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to throw something at this just for a laugh. If it’s terrible, no one will know, only me.” So I did, I threw something and I recorded it on my phone, and I thought, “It’s not bad. It’s not bad.” And the lyrics actually weren’t that dummy. I kind of liked where he was going with it, you know?
So he did it. I sent it to them. They said, “Oh, you’ve nailed it. The hardest number in a musical is the opening number, and this is it. We can see it,” and everything. So I was very encouraged and started writing some more. So now I’ve got 22 songs.
Alan: 55:04 22 songs?
Paul: 55:05 It’s probably too many.
Alan: 55:07 Sounds like it, but the cream of the crop will be great, and the rest of them can be your next album.
Paul: 55:16 The crap. I’ll call the album The Crap.
Alan: 55:18 The Crap Album.
Paul: 55:18 The Crap Album.
Alan: 55:21 Look, I don’t want to make you late for your meeting with the director, but we always end this show with seven quick questions, seven quick. They’re not embarrassing, but they’re interesting. What do you wish you really understood?
Paul: 55:36 Life.
Alan: 55:38 How do you tell someone they have their facts wrong?
Paul: 55:44 Carefully.
Alan: 55:47 What’s the strangest question anyone’s ever asked you?
Paul: 55:53 What question has nobody ever asked you? They’ve asked me that a lot of times, and I say, ” Even that question, someone’s asked me.” Strangest question anyone’s ever asked me, oh, I don’t know.
Alan: 56:06 Oh, I know. When I was thinking about talking with you today and I thought there’s no question I can ask you that you haven’t been asked before.
Paul: 56:14 Yeah, there have been quite a few. Yeah. And people say, “What’s the only question you’ve never been asked?” And I say, “I’ve even been asked that one.”
Alan: 56:21 Yeah. Oh, I have too, many times. But you can’t remember a strange one? Okay.
Paul: 56:26 Not really.
Alan: 56:28 How do you like to start up a conversation at a dinner table when you’re sitting next to someone you’ve never met before? A real conversation.
Paul: 56:37 Let me tell you about The Beatles. That always gets them.
Alan: 56:46 That’s how you start up a monologue.
Paul: 56:49 Yeah. I mean, in truth it’s just like everyone. You just sort of say, “What are you up to? What’s going on? What are you doing?”
Alan: 56:57 And then it gets as deep as you can.
Paul: 56:57 And then it gets into The Beatles.
Alan: 57:02 Inevitably, I bet. What gives you confidence?
Paul: 57:11 Thinking that what I’ve done is good. So if I’ve written a song and I think it’s a good one, I come off the back of that and the rest of my day is fine and I’m confident.
Alan: 57:26 What book changed your life?
Paul: 57:35 Nicholas Nickleby.
Alan: 57:36 Ah, why?
Paul: 57:38 Well, because I like Charles Dickens and it’s about education and it’s about oppression and it’s about that time and that world that they all lived in. And I think Dickens was very good at that as a sort of social writer. So that book had a big effect on me.
Alan: 58:07 Well, I can’t thank you enough. I have had such a good time talking with you, Paul.
Paul: 58:11 Great. Me too.
Alan: 58:13 Oh, that’s good. I’m glad.
Paul: 58:14 We are in the Me Too generation.
Alan: 58:16 That’s right.
Paul McCartney, who is fresh off a US Tour, recently released two never-before-heard tracks—”Home Tonight” and “In A Hurry”—which are now out digitally and available at PaulMcCartney.com.
These tracks will be followed by a very limited Record Store Day exclusive double A-side 7-inch picture disc single, which comes out on November 29th.
Both “Home Tonight” and “In A Hurry” were recorded during the Greg Kurstin sessions for Paul’s #1 charting album Egypt Station.
And, don’t forget to check out Paul’s NY Times Bestselling book, “Hey Grandude” … and, if that’s not enough, Paul’s new musical adaptation of “It’s A Wonderful Life” is set to launch later this year. So, keep checking his web site, Paul McCartney.com for details and follow him on Twitter and Facebook @PaulMcCartney
Next in our series of conversations I talk with Bill Nye, who is of course, the Science Guy.
Bill: When people my age who have kids are going to have grandkids and the grandkids are going to say, “You mean you let humans drive cars? You let people drive cars? What were you crazy?” “Yes, there were wrecks every day.” “Wasn’t it inefficient?” “Oh, it was so inefficient.” “Well, how many people were in most cars?” “One.” “You had that huge go with one person in it?” “Yeah.” “Wow, that’s weird. I saw that in a movie. I thought it wasn’t real.” “No, that was how we used to…” No, everything will change.
Bill Nye peers into the future with us, next time on C+V