Before we take a seat, he walks to the window; down below, Londoners are spread over the lawns in the square, eating and sunbathing. Years ago I used to work close by, in my first real job, and this square was a place we'd sometimes go in the middle of the day, so—as much as anything to cover the oddity of standing here staring out a window with Paul McCartney—I mutter to him about how in the past I've been one of those people out there, lounging on the grass. I've walked through, but I've not had the luxury of lounging. Probably not a good idea.
We sit side by side on a sofa to talk. As we do, McCartney periodically reaches out and touches my shoulder to add some kind of emphasis to whichever point he is making. When he faces me, behind him is a rather disturbing sculpture in black leather of a wrestler wearing a balaclava.
It is not so difficult to get Paul McCartney to talk about the past, and this can be a problem. Anyone who has read more than a few interviews with him knows that he has a series of anecdotes, mostly Beatles-related, primed and ready to roll out in situations like these. Pretty good stories, some of them, too. But my goal is to guide McCartney to some less manicured memories—in part because I hope they'll be fascinating in themselves, but also because I hope that if I can lure him off the most well-beaten tracks, that might prod him to genuinely think about, and reflect upon, his life.
And so that is how—and why—we spend most of the next hour talking about killing frogs, taking acid, and the pros and cons of drilling holes in one's skull. Polo shirt by Supreme. Shoes, his own. His own watch by Patek Philippe. Ring, his own. It begins gently enough, with McCartney taking measure of the distance he has come. Who dreams of that? I suggest that nonetheless there must have been a moment, back in his teens, when he began to imagine.
It was a bit of a far-off dream, and it was just a dream. It wasn't anything that we really ever thought would turn out to be more than that. An early group, the Quarrymen, evolved into the Beatles. They learned their craft principally by playing cover versions in clubs in the red-light district of Hamburg, Germany, and also in an underground Liverpool club, the Cavern. They were soon the biggest group in the world. After making a series of increasingly innovative records that remain a template for much of what has come since, they split up acrimoniously in Lennon was shot in New York by a deranged fan in December Harrison died of cancer in November Since the Beatles' split, McCartney has mostly made records as a solo artist but also, between and , with his group Wings.
McCartney's father was the kind of parent who had impressed upon his son the need to buckle down and get a job. At school, McCartney says, he was advised to think about going into teaching.
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That didn't feel so great to him. He had a different fantasy, but one that in its own way shows a kind of eccentric pragmatism at work. The young Paul McCartney imagined himself as a long-distance truck driver—in particular as a truck driver fueled by a deep Catholic faith, a faith far stronger than the real McCartney had. Thinking of all this leads McCartney to explain, unbidden, that his actual faith, such as it is, has always involved cherry-picking from different religions the parts he felt were most valuable.
But the picture of him in the Bible sitting on his throne-like chair, birds all over him, and rabbits, and they're all interested in him—that was magical to me. This—McCartney's reverie about Saint Francis of Assisi—offers me a convenient opportunity to bring up an unusual and discordant moment that has stuck in my mind ever since I saw it mentioned long ago in the semi-official McCartney biography Many Years from Now.