This morning, downstairs in his studio, Paul McCartney sat down and wrote a new song. It's what he does. Whether he's newly divorced or newly married, happy or sad, the music arrives. "I had some thoughts last night, I woke up this morning, and took my daughter to school. I was thinking in the car, coming back. I put the words together, and I just did the melody while you were waiting in the kitchen." He's working with Mark Ronson today – one of several producers he's considering for the record – so he decided to write something appropriate "Mark DJ'd at our wedding reception, so I'm thinking 'party' – I came up with a song, 'The Life of a Party Girl.'"
If anything, songs come too easily to McCartney, which may explain how the Beatles-level songs in his solo catalog can coexist with throwaways like "Let 'Em In." "I have to be careful that something just doesn't come out too bland," he says. "Paul Simon works his music much more than I do, with a first draft, a second draft, third draft I do that as well, but not as much as he does It's different kinds of music. I'm not sure that Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup thought too much about 'That's All Right, Mama.' [Allen] Ginsberg used to say 'First thought, best thought,' and then he'd spend hours editing his work. I do sometimes write one and look at it and shudder and say, 'I don't like that.'"
At the deepest level, McCartney has little idea where all the melodies come from. He still hasn't figured out how he wrote "Yesterday" in his sleep. "I don't like to use the word 'magic,' unless you spell it with a 'k' on the end, because it sounds a bit corny. But when your biggest song – which 3,000 people and counting have recorded – was something that you dreamt, it's very hard to resist the thought that there's something otherworldly there."
Does he feel like God sent him a giant check? "Or, I unwittingly sent it to myself," he says. "I have this sort of theory that all the time you're inputting your computer with information from the world, and one day it prints out for you. I think in the case of 'Yesterday,' it was an involuntary printout. On the other hand, it might be God, I'm not ruling that out."
McCartney always seemed to be the least spiritually inclined Beatle (or the second-least – who knows what was going on with Ringo) There's no "My Sweet Lord" in his repertoire – not even an "Across the Universe." "I believe in a spirit, that's the best I can put it," he says. "I think there is something greater than us, and I love it, and I'm grateful to it, but just like everyone else on the planet, I can't pin it down. I'm happy not pinning it down. I pick bits out of all the religions – so I like many things that Buddhists say, I like a lot of things that Jesus said, that Mohammed said."
And in the end, McCartney is convinced it all boils down to a very brief message, which he reveals with great Liverpudlian gravity: "Be cool and you'll be all right," he says. "That's rock & roll religion."
This story is from the March 1st, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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