Rolling Stone: Paul McCartney Looks Back

"Rolling Stone: Paul McCartney Looks Back"
McCartney in Long Island, New York, in May. Max Vadukul for Rolling Stone

Paul McCartney, 74, and currently on his latest tour of American arenas and stadiums, is never far from a performance.  Over two long interviews – first in London, then a week later in Philadelphia, backstage before a concert – McCartney often bursts into song to make a point: hitting chords from another of his teenage tunes on guitar, singing a slice of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” and imitating the young Mick Jagger at an early Rolling Stones gig. On one occasion, McCartney does an impression of Lennon doing a Gene Vincent number during the Beatles’ bar-band days in Hamburg, Germany. “It’s always held a fascination for me, getting up in front of people and performing,” McCartney says in Philadelphia. “From the beginning, I was trying to figure it out: What’s the best way to keep true to yourself yet have people on your side?”

 McCartney has just finished a soundcheck that was a show in itself: 12 songs, almost all of which won’t be played at the concert that night, including the Beatles’ 1964 ballad “I’ll Follow the Sun” and his 1971 curio “Ram On.” He is on the road again with his band of the past 15 years on the 50th anniversary of the summer that he, Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr quit the road. (“We’d had enough of playing rain-soaked stages with lousy PA’s,” McCartney says of the Beatles’ last tour, which ended at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August 1966.)

In his London office, McCartney is surrounded by his roots and history – there is Beatles and Wings memorabilia, and a vintage jukebox loaded with 78s by Fats Domino, Wanda Jackson and Elvis Presley – but he mostly speaks of his songwriting and the stage in the present tense. He dissects his recent collaborations with Kanye West and mentions that he was “looking at some lyric ideas” for his next album. “I can write all over the place. I’ve got a lot of ideas on the go.” But the Beatles are always nearby, as a touchstone and renewing memory. “It’s good talking with you,” McCartney says at the end of one session, then recalls an encounter with Lennon a few years after the band broke up. “He hugged me. It was great, because we didn’t normally do that. He said, ‘It’s good to touch.’ I always remembered that – it’s good to touch.”