The Rip Post                                                                                              


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(Dec. 17, 2008)
          So I read Paul McCartney's claims that he “politicized the Beatles” after dropping in on his neighbor, Bertrand Russell, and finding out that the Vietnam War was “a very bad war.”
          As opposed, one would presume, to a “very good war.”
          Here’s the quote:
          "Just when we were getting to be well known, someone said to me: 'Bertrand Russell is living not far from here in Chelsea, why don't you go and see him?' and so I just took a taxi down there and knocked on the door. . .He was fabulous. He told me about the Vietnam war – most of us didn't know about it, it wasn't yet in the papers – and also that it was a very bad war.”
          Naughty war! Mean ol’ Vietnam conflict!
          So. . .
          "I remember going back to the studio either that evening or the next day and telling the guys, particularly John [Lennon], about this meeting and saying what a bad war this was."
          Particularly John.
          Ah, so now we know. Now we know where Lennon got his inspiration to, years later, write “Revolution,” “Working Class Hero,” “Power to the People,” “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” “I Found Out,” “Gimme Some Truth,” “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier,” “Imagine,” “Isolation,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Free The People,” plus songs that tangentially or implicitly made social/political statements.
          Now we know where Lennon got his inspiration to valiantly---some say insanely---devote his time and fame to standing for human cooperation and opposition to war, to the detriment of his musical career.
          Now we know why Nixon’s White House spied on Lennon, the FBI bugged his phone and followed him, and why the United States tried to deport him.
          It was all Paul’s doing.
          Yes, cutesy Paulie was the issues-conscious, politics-obsessed, activist-minded little Beatle! Right, the guy who wrote such political blockbuster anthems as “Your Mother Should Know,” “Honey Pie,” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Okay, to be fair, let’s list his actual political numbers: “Give Ireland Back to the Irish" (1972), and. . .and. . .well, “Blackbird” was about African-American women struggling to be free, Paul claims (although nobody knew this until about 30 years after The Beatles broke up.) And. . .
          Hmmm, guess that’s all of ‘em! Oh, wait---there was a B-side called “Big Boys Bickering” in the early ‘90s (actually very good), and a fine animal rights piece called “Long Leather Coat” (co-written with the late Linda McCartney, I believe.) Okay, guess that’s all of ‘em. Unless you insist on counting the probable nadir of his recording career, the abominable nursery rhyme, “Freedom,” a cro-magnon de facto endorsement of Bush post-9/11 policy. (Let’s not.)
 What next? Paul took heroin before John? Paul rebuffed Yoko and sent her to John?

          Now, I should note that I am fond of McCartney, and an admirer of his fabulous musicianship, relentless creativity, and the better songs in a prolific solo career that is all too littered with embarrassing crapola. I’ve always pulled for him, all the way back to when he was effectively the music director/bandleader of The Beatles. Without his urging, the group might have broken up with the “white album,” and there certainly would never have been a “Sgt. Pepper” (or, probably, “Abbey Road.”) For all the great, affecting Beatles songs, which is more moving than “Hey Jude?” The man deserves his enormous laurels.
          If only he’d rest on them.
          The charming (if name-dropping) anecdote of the poorly educated, politically naive young pop star dropping in on an old sage in the person of Russell, and getting a dose of the ugly real world in the bargain, is certainly true. It would be innocuous and only charming were it not for the context of Sir Paul forever seeming to do battle with his ex-partner’s poor ghost. To recap:
          Notably, there was the ridiculous, shameful ego flatulence of trying to switch credits on Beatles songs written largely (or entirely) by McCartney to “McCartney-Lennon” instead of “Lennon-McCartney.” What a slap in the face to “peace, love, and brotherhood” that was. The Beatles were a cooperative unit---in McCartney’s own words, a “democracy.” To have tried to retroactively impose a bit of tyranny just didn’t fly, and to his credit, Sir Paul dropped this nonsense (especially after Ringo Starr publicly criticized him for it.)
          Since then, though, it seems that every few months there is yet another McCartney interview in which he claims to have been “into avant-garde music” before Lennon, or to have been the “first” in the group to have done thus-and-such. (This has its roots way back in the 1967 interview in which he revealed having taken LSD, despite an agreement among The Beatles to keep their use of the drug quiet.) The most recent such remarks come in the context of his efforts to release a Beatles sound-collage he supervised during the “Pepper” sessions called “Carnival of Light.” Count the number of interviews in which he says he beat Lennon to “Stockhausen.” He just loves to say “Stockhausen.”
          You could get used to it, up to a point. Get used to his incessant playing of the mellotron intro to “Strawberry Fields Forever” in interviews (yes, he certainly composed it), get used to him talking about various lines that he claimed to have contributed to Lennon songs (“he blew his mind out in a car” from “A Day in the Life”), how he allegedly wrote the melody for Lennon’s “In My Life,” etc. After all, it’s history, and he helped make it.
          But now it’s politics, and the clear implication that he inspired John's interest in same. What next? Paul took heroin before John? Paul rebuffed Yoko Ono before she met John? (Well, he did financially support the Indica Gallery where Lennon met Yoko at her art show there. Gad.)
          Poor McCartney---he can’t help himself. One is left to ponder whether it’s egomania or insecurity that drives this tragic, unseemly aspect of his character. Or maybe they’re the same thing. He is obviously worried that “posterity” will get his work all balled up with John’s, and not give sufficient due to his role in The Beatles. This is sort of like Churchill worrying about not being given sufficient due for his role in World War II. It’s ever-so-slightly apparent.
John genuinely believed that the song was entirely his, when the only line he probably wrote was “cranberry sauce.”

          I mean, in contemporary musical culture, Lennon-McCartney is as wedded a term as Rogers-and-Hammerstein, if not more so. There is nothing Sir Paul can do about it, and he should not wish to do anything about it. It’s undignified. What’s more, he would do well to remind himself that collaboration is not black-and-white, cut-and-dry, but more subtle. Would he have written “Yesterday” were he not part of the creative energy synthesis that was The Beatles? (And frankly, that song's string arrangement is so much a part of it's success that one could argue for George Martin to be co-credited.) To seemingly engage in a braggadocio war with someone who isn’t here anymore is just dreadful.
           And yet, there are hidden truths in the Beatles’ myth that merit clarification. I was fortunate enough to engage in an exclusive series of interviews with McCartney in the early ‘90’s, taking place over a period of weeks, on a cruise ship docked in Patagonia, at midnight. I was keenly interested in knowing exact details of his contributions to The Beatles. He was reluctant to open up, apparently so as not to seem ungallant, immodest---but by the second day, to my astonishment, that dramatically changed. Perhaps he suspected that I had an unusual grasp of Beatles history, and that I would present the information responsibly, and only when the time was right, in a fair context.
          The time is right.
          And so I can reveal here, for the first time anywhere, that Paul McCartney wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever.” That’s correct. Lennon was so stoned at the time that he forgot that he “nicked” the lyric and melody from Paul during an all-night acid-saturated jam session at his home in Weybridge. John genuinely believed that the song was entirely his, when the only line he probably wrote was “cranberry sauce.” Yes, I think a no, I mean a yes, but it’s all wrong---pure McCartney (and very reminiscent of you say yes, I say no, you say stop, but I say go go go from “Hello Goodbye” from the same period!) No wonder Paul plays that mellotron bit in every at-home interview he does.
          There’s more:
          “Hello Goodbye” was originally written as an anti-war song with the working
title, “Hello Hanoi.” You say bomb, I say no/ I say peace/ and you say war-a-go-go. Though McCartney never quite hashed the lyrics out, he ditched the idea when Lennon persuaded him that it would be too controversial (having had his fill of controversy with the “more popular than Jesus” insanity.) So Paul settled on passing it off as a nonsense song, though the existing lyrics were, at least in his mind, a comment on the USA’s inability to decide how to handle the war.
          “Rocky Racoon” was conceived as a black power themed number called “Don’t Call Me ‘Coon,’” and “Mother Nature’s Son” was first an anti-Nixon ballad entitled “Mother----r’s Son.” "Your Mother Should Know," not so surprisingly, was actually about abortion. Again, Paul was talked out of these volatile subjects---which would have caused quite an uproar in 1968---by John, who suggested he instead stick with “nice lullabies and those great granny tunes.”
          Surprised? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.
          It was McCartney, not Brian Epstein, who “discovered” The Beatles in the Cavern Club. Of course, Paul was in The Beatles at the time, but this is a niggling point. (“I was the one who really saw the potential here, and told Brian.”) Also, Paul revealed that he not only named Ringo (“because he was ringing me up all the time, asking me how to play drums”), but he dissuaded Ringo from getting a nose job and thus “destroying his image and career.” It was Paul who suggested that George take up Indian music one night as both dined together in a London curry joint. (“He thought I was daft, but he always did what I said---well, until ‘Let it Be’.”) It was Paul, not Astrid Kircherr, who came up with The Beatles’ hairstyle in Hamburg. (“I couldn’t be bothered to comb it, I was so tired from playing all-night sets, and the next thing I knew Astrid and Klaus were doing it, then passing it off as theirs.”) The most famous Lennon-McCartney collaboration, “A Day in the Life,” is ass-backwards on the credits. Paul wrote the verses, and John wrote the “woke up, fell outta bed. . .” middle passage. (“He begged me to switch. Well, we were partners, and I was just being gracious.”) It was Paul, not Ringo who came up with the phrase, “a hard day’s night,” but “I gave it to Ring and told him to say it to the lads, knowing that John would want to make a song out of it, which I wrote the middle-bit for. So in a way, I wrote the whole song.” It was Paul who advanced the notion that The Beatles were more popular than Christ, during a conversation with John influenced by particularly powerful hashish, "but I told him never to say it publicly or they'd crucify us. Well, he did, and that's our John."
          Remember that rather cryptic Lennon line from "Glass Onion,"  but here’s another clue for you all/ the walrus was Paul? Well, it’s true that the Beatle in the walrus costume in “Magical Mystery Tour” was indeed McCartney, but what Lennon did not bother to tell you was, as McCartney revealed exclusively to me, is that "the other lads didn't show for the photo session, so I put on all the animal suits and they pasted them together." That's right, the other three costumed figures on the album cover---the rabbit, the rooster, and the hippo---were also Paul! "John had first written, here's another clue for you all, the walrus, rabbit, hippo, and rooster were Paul,  but I told him it was a bit difficult to sing, so why not just make it 'walrus.' I mean, I didn't need all that credit."
          On the subject of his competition with Lennon, Sir Paul had only this statement:
          “Well, I’m chuffed to have had such a great partner, y’know, but some things get a bit mixed up, the history, y’know. I’m not a stickler, but I do like to get credit for my work. But every time I say something, the papers are full of, ‘Now, he’s at it again, trying to rewrite the past.’ So I can’t win.
           "But you know, I did help John a lot with the odd lyric and melody. I knew about Yoko before he did. I listened to Stockhausen first. Stockhausen. And remember all the daft clues on the album covers and songs about me supposedly getting killed in a car crash? Well, I don’t want to take anything away from John, but I was dead first.”

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