“Well, knowing you. You’d probably laugh and say. That we were worlds apart. But as for me I still remember how it was before. And I am holding back the tears no more. I love you.” This is one of the verses of Here Today (1982), the song that singer and songwriter Paul McCartney composed alone in memory of his late friend John Lennon. That was two years after the singer’s tragic murder in 1980, on the doorstep of his home in New York, when Mark David Chapman, a fan of The Beatles, fired five shots into Lennon’s back, which resulted in his immediate death. McCartney has rarely spoken about the death of his bandmate. In the new episode of McCartney: A Life in Lyrics — the former Beatle’s podcast — the singer opens up to his audience and reveals that John Lennon was afraid of death. But especially of how people would remember him. “I remember he told me: ‘Paul, I worry about how people are going to remember me when I die’, and that kind of shocked me.” But McCartney had no doubt what would happen in that scenario: “People are going to think you were great,” he replied, as the 81-year-old singer now recalls.
In a new episode of his podcast, McCartney reflects on the friendship and working relationship he shared with Lennon. “I was like his priest. Often I’d have to say, ‘My son, you’re great, don’t worry about it,’ and he would take it. It would make him feel better.” But most of all, the iconic artist accepts that the two had a very special relationship when it came to working together: “If you asked me what it was like working with John, it was easier, much easier, because there were two minds at work. And that interplay was nothing short of miraculous.”
“Writing [Here Today] was very moving, very emotional, because I was just sitting there in this bare room thinking of John and realizing I’d lost him.” The former Beatle describes the single that he dedicates to his friend as “a love song to John” and he shared that he wrote it after Lennon’s death as “a way to reflect on some of his fondest memories.” In addition, he also admits that it was not easy to gather so many moments and memories with his bandmate. “I was reminiscing about the most intimate details of our relationship and the millions of crazy things we had done. From just sitting on the couch, watching TV, to walking together, or even hitchhiking,” he recalls. For him, composing this song was a way to heal and confront his pain: “It was a tremendous loss. Having a conversation with him through music was the right way to comfort my grief. Somehow I was with him again.”
What McCartney wanted to highlight now, apart from good and beautiful memories, is how, despite more than four decades since Lennon’s murder, he continues to miss him. “I often think, ‘What would John say about this?’ It shows that my songs do not have those contrasting elements.” A deep collective mourning that crossed borders: “It was difficult for everyone because he was a very beloved character and a very crazy guy. It was very special,” McCartney concludes the chapter of his series, in which he also wanted to highlight why he did not want to pay tribute to the singer publicly after his murder: “I couldn’t go on television and say what John meant to me. “It was too painful.”
In an interview for EL PAÍS in 2015, Paul McCartney admitted that the competition which existed between Lennon and himself was healthy and one of the reasons for their success as a group. “Instead of saying there was the great muse that descended upon us, it was more of a necessity. Then there was a competitive instinct. The great thing about John and I writing together was that we would compete with each other endlessly, and that was a very healthy thing. We’d say, ‘Damn, he just wrote Strawberry Fields. I’d better write Penny Lane.’”
It wasn’t all smooth pleasantries and teamwork. The former Beatles made many headlines after the group’s breakup, revealing their marked differences. John Lennon criticized the new album by his bandmate, McCartney, during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1970: “I think Paul’s album is rubbish. I guess he’ll make a better one, when he’s spooked.”
The war that began in the early 1970s would last until shortly before Lennon’s murder, as McCartney has explained in several interviews, when he and Yoko Ono managed to make peace after the birth of the couple’s son, Sean, in 1975. “We had even more in common and often talked about being parents,” admitted the musician. “If I was in New York, I would call him and say: ‘Fancy a cup of tea?”
The Beatles have been enshrined as probably the most transcendental group in history, and after 53 years since their dissolution, they released their “last song” this November. Now and Then is a track from the late 1970s, recorded on piano with vocals by a thirty-something Lennon in a room in the Dakota Building in New York, where the Beatle lived with his partner and where he was murdered that fateful day on December 8. “Paul McCartney says artificial intelligence has allowed for one final Beatles song,” the BBC announced in June that the single would soon be available to listen to. The use of AI has allowed us to hear the late Lennon’s voice one last time.
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