Chris Heath’s lengthy, deep conversations with Paul McCartney on the occasion of his latest album, Egypt Station, captured me for a while today. Like Bob Dylan, McCartney is in some ways a living monument to an era whose figures are generally long past. And like Dylan, he’s a balladier who is still as present as ever and deserves to be met on his own terms. McCartney and The Beatles, in brief:
Paul McCartney met John Lennon and George Harrison when they were schoolboys in Liverpool. 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. Ringo Starr replaced their previous drummer, Pete Best, in August 1962, and two months later the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do,” was released. 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 1970. Lennon was shot in New York by a deranged fan in December 1980. Harrison died of cancer in November 2001. Since the Beatles’ split, McCartney has mostly made records as a solo artist but also, between 1971 and 1979, with his group Wings.
Here’s one of the tamer little vignettes; one that resonates for a few reasons:
“I quite like going on public transport,” he points out. “It’s just my character enjoys the sort of thing that I always did. It’s a roots thing. I’ll sometimes go on the Underground in London, which I did the other day.” He and his grandson went to see Ocean’s 8 at the cinema—”quite good”—and afterwards McCartney suggested they take the Underground back. Mostly, it went fine, though McCartney realised that the French guy (as he turned out to be) opposite them was surreptitiously trying to take his photo. McCartney tried to signal that this was unwelcome. … “I’m being me,” McCartney says. “I’m not being the celebrity me. And those moments are quite precious. …”
… McCartney tells me a further such story of a time he took the Hampton Jitney, the slightly upmarket bus service that runs from the Hamptons into Manhattan, because he was deep into Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and he wanted to finish it, and how he then took a local bus uptown, and when a woman blurted from across the bus, “Hey! Are you Paul McCartney?” he invited her to sit next to him and chatted all the way uptown. “It’s a way of not worrying about your fame,” he says.
I listened to Egypt Station on drive to Washington earlier this week. “Who Cares” and “Confidante” are favorites.