Beatle Paul McCartney Remembers John Lennon

Many of McCartney’s song lyrics were collected in the book called Blackbird Singing which also included samples of his old and new poems. Terry Gross spoke with McCartney in 2001, when the book came out. She asked him about one of poems, Here Today, that he wrote for John Lennon.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Tomorrow is John Lennon's birthday. The former Beatle who was murdered in 1980 would've been 70 years old. Several celebrations are planned to honor the event, including today's edition of FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "Instant Karma")

Mr. JOHN LENNON (Musician): (Singing) Instant karma's gonna get you. Gonna look you right in the face. Better get yourself together darlin', join the human race. How in the world you gonna see laughing at fools like me? Who in the hell do you think you are? A superstar? Well, right you are. Well, we all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun. Well, we all shine on. Everyone, come on. Instant karma's gonna get you.

BIANCULLI: That's "Instant Karma," one of the songs included in a new 11-CD box set called "John Lennon's Signature." Also released this week: "Double Fantasy Stripped Down," a CD including barebones recordings of John Lennon's first mainstream album with his wife, Yoko Ono.

On today's show, we'll hear interviews Terry recorded with Ringo Starr, with John Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, and with an author who investigated the FBI's investigation of John Lennon.

We'll begin with Lennon's songwriting partner, Paul McCartney. Terry Spoke with McCartney in 2001 about his collecting of old and new poems titled "Blackbird Singing." One of the poems was written for John. Terry asked him to read it.

Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY (Musician): This poem's called "Here Today." It was originally a song I recorded for John Lennon.

(Reading) And if I said I really knew you well, what would your answer be if you were here today? Well, knowing you, you'd probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart, if you were here today.

But as for me, I still remember how it was before, and I'm holding back the tears no more. I love you. What about the time we met? Well, I suppose you could say that we were playing hard to get, didn't understand a thing, but we could always sing.

What about the night we cried because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside? Never understood a word, but you were always there with a smile. And if I say I really loved you and was glad you came along, then you were here today, for you were in my song, here today.

TERRY GROSS, host:

When did you write this?

Mr. MCCARTNEY: I wrote that shortly after John died.

GROSS: What was the night that we cried that you refer to in the poem?

Mr. MCCARTNEY: I seem to remember we had some time off in Key West, Florida, and it was because there was a hurricane, and we'd been diverted, I think, from Jacksonville.

So we had to spend a night or two in Key West, is where we ended up, anyway. And at that age, with that much time on our hands, we really didn't know what to do with it except get drunk.

And so that was what we did. And we stayed up all night talking, talking, talking like it was going out of style. And at some point early in the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us, because we - members of a band and young guys, we didn't do that kind of thing. So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark.

GROSS: Do you remember what you were talking about that led to that?

Mr. MCCARTNEY: Probably our mothers dying, because John and I shared that experience. My mother died when I was about 14, and his died shortly after - about a year or so after, I think. So this was a great bond John and I always had.

We both knew the pain of it, and we both knew that we had to put on a brave face because we were sort of teenage guys, and you didn't talk about that kind of thing where we came from.

GROSS: Now that's the kind of thing that John really acted out through his music. I mean, he had a couple of songs that were really about that and were...

Mr. MCCARTNEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...were very emotional. It's not the kind of thing you really did, though. None of the songs, as far as I know, were really about your mother.

Mr. MCCARTNEY: Well, no. Mine's veiled. My style is more veiled. And also, at the time the songs were written that you're talking about, like "Mother," John was going through primal scream therapy.

GROSS: Exactly. Right.

Mr. MCCARTNEY: And, you know, that's going to get it out of you.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCCARTNEY: I didn't actually go through any of that.

BIANCULLI: Paul McCartney, speaking to Terry Gross in 2001.

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