“Words and memories” by Paul McCartney: me, my songs

Paul, it’s not the lyrics, it’s the music. How many times have we read and heard this, endorsed this judgment, to say the least, peremptory? The commonplace, repeated enough, has the value of truth. Decanted in more or less in-depth comparative analyzes with the songs written by John Lennon, the creation brother, the official partner of the Lennon-McCartney tandem within the Beatles, the claim is so widespread that it has never been really challenged. Even John was adding layers to it, going so far as to sing, at the worst of their feud after the band broke up, those murderous rhymes in How Do You Sleep : « The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you’ve gone you’re just another day ».

Even without the capital letters, we all understood: apart from the essential Yesterday, not strong the Paul, and it gets worse and worse in solo, harmless as Another Day, success of the charts for Paul and Linda McCartney in 1971. Caricature, certainly, rhyme to which this provocation of Lennon could not resist, but no less blinding reflection of a generalization to which McCartney himself had ended up adhering.

He is not far from agreeing with this scathing cynical John in the chapter devoted to the song Another Day, pages 14 and 15 of 940 of the two bound volumes of his “Words and memories from 1956 to today”, precisely built on 154 texts of songs by Paul the lyricist. “This song was born out of a deliberate desire to compose a commercial success,” he readily admits. It was about hitting hard after the Beatles. The commercial character, one feels it, is connoted pejoratively: Paul justifies himself in front of John, still sensitive to what he calls “one of the small pikes of which he had the secret”.

Departure and arrival points

We could say, in this sense, that this double brick is also an answer, which weighs its weight. We have 154 examples of successes, of happy marriages between words and music, with and without Lennon (and a few other collaborators). Of the 500 or so very varied songs in Sir Paul McCartney’s vast catalog. Why 154? The songs chosen are at the same time texts, pretexts, and contexts. Departure and arrival points. Paul, who has given himself extensively in hundreds and hundreds of interviews, never subjected himself to the somewhat back-breaking exercise of autobiography.

He once approached it, with the help of author and London avant-garde character Barry Miles: son Many Years From Now from 1977 was almost a collaboration, certainly an authorized biography.

As the years passed, with the 80s approaching spring, McCartney finally found his angle. Where we least expected it. Having “never kept” a “private diary”, he understood that his memory benchmarks are songs. From there, with the help of the editor Paul Muldoon who has accumulated five years of conversations and prepared the ground for the transposition into continuous text, everything emerges: circumstances of creation, reflections on the process of creation, anecdotes and digressions in quantity. . Who says songs says artefacts: manuscripts, documents, photos, Paul could at the same time open his own archives, and walk us through a veritable museum of speaking traces. A treat never seen before.

Beyond the cassette

The process allows everything: to repeat what he has said and said again, while going further. The tape of the McCartney stories is more than familiar to anyone who follows it closely. To the point where one is surprised, at the bend of river interviews, to learn something new. The wonder of these “words and memories” is the myriad of unseen details, useful details, refreshed narratives in each of the 154 chapters. Thus, we better understand how, between Here, There And Everywhere and For No One, is played the relationship between Paul and the actress Jane Asher: the two tracks of the album Revolver oppose eternity of love and rupture.

It’s not just about them, explains McCartney: “That’s what I like about the English language: you can interpret things in different ways. […] I write, it comes to me, I take what I like. And what am I going to take? Something magical, which means more than I imagined before. “

We will be surprised to find among the 154 titles some unknown, even insignificant… in appearance. Temporary Secretary ? Pretty Little Head ? Dress Me Up As A Robber ? Oh Woman, Oh Why, really ? But yes, because for McCartney they are triggers, breaches through which light passes, as Leonard Cohen would say.

We understand that McCartney also wants to demonstrate that his last decades were also not only valid, but rich in content: Jenny Wren, Calico Skies, My Valentine carry as much meaning to him as The Fool On The Hill Where Band On The Run. There are no “silly love songs”, although Paul’s success with Wings claims it. There are songs, life, and the crossed eyes of a limitless creator.

Words and memories, from 1956 to today


Paul McCartney, Éditions Buchet-Chastel, Paris, 2021, box set of two bound volumes of 470 pages each

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