THIS IS ALL FICTION.
Hope you enjoy.
John and Mary were in the kitchen, and Stella was expected at any moment. Later, James would drive to the airport to pick up Sean, who was spending this Christmas with the whole family. He had just broken up, a few months before, with Mick Jagger’s daughter Elizabeth, after a short few months’ romance, and was at a loose end. John had joked to Paul, “We’re the default net these days for Sean, doncha know.” Paul had smiled in sympathy. Paul’s kids always defaulted in favor of celebrating with John and him, as opposed to their significant others’ families. Sometimes they split the holidays in half, but they always spent at least part of their holidays with their father. He felt fortunate in this regard, since John’s relationships with his sons were a bit more tenuous, as each of the sons had a strong bond with his mother.
“I’ve finally started reading your book,” Mary confessed.
“You mean you haven’t read it yet?” John didn’t mean to sound censorious, but to Mary it sounded a little like that.
“I know, I’ve been avoiding it,” she said quietly.
“Why?” John asked. He was telling himself not to jump to conclusions and be disappointed. “Didn’t you read it in manuscript form?”
“Just the bits about me and my mother, and none of those bits worry me,” Mary said with a gentle smile. “It’s the stuff about you and dad, and also my parents’ marriage once you joined it, that’s a little hard for me to face for some reason.”
John was surprised by this revelation. He thought of all the McCartney children, Mary would have been the least emotionally worried about the book. She was always so grounded and stable in her outlook. But as soon as he thought that, he remembered she’d been through a very rough eight months since her separation from Alistair, and so maybe that is why she was reluctant to read his book. He couldn’t see how this was so, but it was the only explanation he could come up with. He asked, “What about it is worrying you then?”
Mary said, “The bits I’ve gleaned from the reviews indicate that there are some very intimate details in there, relating to my dad and my mum, and I feel almost as if I’m snooping. It’s one thing to read about a famous person’s most private moments; it’s another thing when those famous people are your parents.”
John nodded thoughtfully. Yes, this made sense. Of all the kids - all six of them - Mary was the one who most accepted the plight of being a famous person’s child. She had handled all of it with such a light and deft touch. But much of that, John had to concede, was because of the way Paul and Linda had protected their children from most of the trappings of fame, and had kept their private lives totally private. Then John came along and wrote this expose. He could understand her desire to honor her parents’ privacy. He finally said, “You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, luv,” and he smiled warmly at her to show her that he was sincere. “My feelings won’t be hurt. It is totally up to you.”
Mary grinned. She was grateful that John was being so open and understanding about it. But she also knew she had to read the book, if only because everyone else in the bleeding world was reading it if they hadn’t already read it, and she didn’t want to be walking around in an ignorant cloud. And she also knew that someday her sons would want to read it - it was imperative that she knew what was in it before that happened!
Stella chose that moment to walk in to the room. She had two bags of groceries, and plopped them down on the kitchen table amidst vociferous complaints about London traffic and the impossibility of finding parking spots.
John heard her out and said, “There’s a reason why I never drive. I hire a man to drive me around.”
“Yeah, I know,” Stella said sarcastically, “He’s called my father!”
Mary and John laughed. There was some truth to that. Paul always did the driving, and John sat in the front passenger street navigating poorly and suggesting traffic maneuvers that would have gotten Paul arrested if he followed them. When the kids were younger, they had often sat in the back seat listening to the hilarious bickering, as the two men reverted to their Liverpudlian teenaged selves and came up with ever-more inventive insults for each other and cracked each other up.
“So catch me up,” Stella said to her sister. “What have you been up to this week? I’ve been completely smothered at work.”
Mary said, “Nothing, really. Being a mum. No work this week.”
John said, “She’s trying to read my book, but apparently it is a worry for her.” He smiled at Mary to reflect he was still okay with it.
Stella cried, “Mary! You haven’t read it? How could you not? I was dying to read it!”
“That’s the difference between you and her, Stell,” John said lightly. “You boldly go where no man has gone before, and Mary follows behind picking up the pieces. Kind of like me and your dad.”
At this, Stella had to guffaw. Mary, too, chuckled. “It’s funny though,” Mary said thoughtfully. “When mum was alive, daddy was the one who boldly went, and mum was the one picking up the pieces.”
John acknowledged this with a sage nod of his head. “It is the duality of his personality - his Gemini twin quality - he has the bold adventurer and the cautious planner in him. It depends on who he is with as to which one of these qualities come out.”
“And as between you and dad,” Stella finished, “there is no question who is the cautious planner!”
The threesome went about chopping vegetables, and eventually Heather came down and joined them. She had participated in the baking the day before, and had awakened with a headache. Now she felt better. The pre-Christmas preparations were done by 9 p.m., and the family had called in takeout food for a quick dinner, when Sean and James arrived from the airport. As Sean entered the sitting room he was greeted by many hugs and kisses and exuberant greetings, especially when he opened up a duffel bag and started putting wrapped presents under the tree, which was already teeming with presents. Arthur and Elliott had spent much of the day sitting on the floor staring at the presents covetously. They were excited to find out that Sean had brought each of them a present, too.
“Where’s Pup?” Sean asked when the din finally wore down.
“Where do you think?” John asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Umm, his music room?” Sean guessed with play-pretend cluelessness, knowing full well that he was correct.
“Got it in one. Can one of you go get him, and drag him down here?” John asked the assembled young adults - there were six of them, including Stella’s husband Alasdhair, who had arrived earlier in the day with their infant son, Miller, and had been keeping an eye on Mary’s kids, too. The only missing sibling was Julian, who was spending the holiday with his mother.
“I’ll go,” James volunteered, and he disappeared up two flights of stairs to the attic music room. Moments later, he returned, followed a few moments later by Paul, who was still trying to drag his brain away from the composition he’d been working on, and adjust to Family Man mode. Soon he was enveloping Sean in a big hug.
After all the dinner dishes were in the dishwasher, Mary awakened Arthur and Paul carried Elliott out to the waiting car that John had called for her. Paul asked her, “Do you want me to come with you and help you tuck them in?”
Mary smiled. She knew her father was worried about her going home to an empty house - her first Christmas without her husband. She said, “I’ll be fine. Thanks for the offer.”
Paul hugged her fiercely. “I’m proud of you girl, and I know everything will happen the way it is meant to happen, and you will be happier and stronger for it.”
Mary’s eyes misted over, and she stepped back as Paul settled Elliott in a child seat. They hugged one more time, and Mary stepped into the car and was soon whisked off, arriving at her nearby home in less than 10 minutes.
Less than a half hour later her sons were fast asleep in their beds. Tomorrow was Christmas morning. The family had not opened the presents this Christmas Eve, because Sean had arrived so late. They would do so, with great fun and hilarity, on Christmas morn, and then Alistair would pick up her boys and take them to his parents’ home for the rest of the day and night. This, in truth, hurt Mary. She hated not being with her boys for the whole day, and in fact, for the whole day everyday, but this is what parents had to do for the sake of their children when they separated and divorced.
Forcing these dark thoughts out of her head, Mary picked up John’s book. She hadn’t finished Chapter 1 - the part about her dad - the day before. But maybe now would be a good time.
“I really liked the Inny. It was quite stressful the first few months, because I never had worked that hard in my life; I’d never been so challenged. But I learned something about myself there. Challenges exhilarate me. It feels as if my whole body is alive, every nerve and sinew charging. I could actually feel and sometimes even hear the blood running through my temples. I found it hard to sleep at night because my brain wouldn’t shut off. I was skipping ahead in my schoolbooks, and started to be frustrated that the classes were going too slow. I found that almost agonizing. My brain was like a sponge suddenly.”
A little research into his school records turned up some interesting facts I had never known about Paul. His school records show that he was tested with an extremely high IQ. I asked Paul about that and all he would say was, “Maybe it was a typo?” I never did get him to take it seriously.
He had near-perfect marks until the first half-year of 1959 and then for the last year there – which coincided with when our band was really gelling, and we were balancing late nightclub dates with our daytime responsibilities. (His marks were actually not that bad even then, although his teachers were all upset that he wasn’t focusing, he was playing hooky, he was falling asleep in class, and he was failing to do his homework. He still was doing well on his tests, though, even without doing homework. But no wonder Jim thought I was a “bad influence” on his son.)
Paul remembers his first three years at the Inny with a hazy fondness. Those were the years when he was a promising student beloved by teachers, making his parents proud. But there was a cloud on the horizon starting in 1955 - at age 13 he still had not had his growth spurt, and he began to gain weight. By late 1955/early 1956 he had gained enough weight to be teased and even bullied by kids in his neighborhood, and even some of his cousins. According to Paul, he was never bullied at the Inny, but he lived in council flats in Speke, and was one of only a handful of boys in that estate who attended a grammar school. This alone was cause for bullying, but add to that Paul’s newly attained plumpness and his choirboy face, and soon Paul was experiencing the kind of taunting that I had suffered in my first four years of school. Paul handled this much differently than I had done. He did what he has always done since I’ve known him: he swallowed it down, and put on a jaunty smile. Occasionally he would taunt back, but he didn’t have a mean or resentful bone in his body, and consequently his taunts never carried any conviction with them - Paul never could purposely offend another person. His taunts barely bruised the egos of his tormentors.
Mike remembers something of this time. “The weight thing only lasted a few months, about a year, but I think it really changed Paul. He became more secretive, and sometimes his cheerfulness seemed forced. I think he lost some of his self-esteem and self-confidence - it’s a rough period for a kid, being 13, 14. You’re leaving childhood behind and your interests are changing, and it seems that all your friendships are re-aligning in conjunction with those changes. On top of that, you’re not really a teenager, either. You’re not one thing and you’re not the other. It is easy to feel sidelined. After that period, he was never as sure of himself as he’d been before. Now he held himself back a lot.”
I asked Mike if he’d ever witnessed the bullying, and he said, “Sometimes. And I’m ashamed to say I participated in it a little. Paul and I had often been a little competitive, and he had been so bleeding perfect that it felt good to have something to hold over him. I used to call him ‘fatty’ when I was mad at him. And my cousins sometimes did, too. I don’t think they were trying to bully him though. They were just being thoughtless teenagers. And there were neighborhood kids who used to bully both of us, because we were grammar school boys, and because our mother was the midwife and our home was always nicer than theirs. It was always perfectly clean, with nice bits of furniture and lace curtains. And Dad kept the garden nice, and always painted the front door every other year to keep it fresh. They thought we were ‘jumped up’ - acting above our station.”
This is an ugly truth about the British working and lower classes: they are very snobbish. They don’t like anyone from their class to graduate out into a higher class. If you do it, you will be reviled. This was especially true in the northern cities, like Liverpool. Paul’s mum Mary was a social climber - she wanted her boys to graduate into the middle class, with proper educations, and respectable professions. And she schemed and planned for years to make sure this became a reality. This would not go unnoticed by envious neighbors, although the adults would never say anything to her face. Instead, they’d grumble about it around their dinner tables, and their kids would overhear, and then torture Mary’s sons over it when they came across them in the street.
This was a difficult section for me to approach. I know how I hate people to poke and pry about my mother’s death, and I didn’t really ever have a mother-son relationship with her. Paul was most definitely his mother’s son, and to a large extent I believe she lived through him. She had ambitious expectations for him, but even she would probably find it hard to believe what life had in store for him. Her lofty goal was to have a doctor for a son. She was a nurse, after all, and doctors in those days swanned around like gods in hospitals, lording it over nurses. To her, this must have seemed the height of ambition.
I never once heard Paul say he wanted to be a doctor. He had thought about being an English teacher. He thought he wouldn’t be “good enough” to be an actual writer. Having read some of his school reports, I find that hard to credit. I tried to nail him on this, but as usual, he was slippery.
“So why did you think you couldn’t be an actual writer, and you only could teach?
“Did I say that?”
“I’ve heard you say it lots of times. You say it in private and you say it in interviews. You say that you were an average student, and you thought if you hadn’t done music you would have had to be an English teacher,” I asserted.
“I was very disappointed in my final year and a half at the Inny, John. I felt for a long time that I had blighted my chances. Now that I’m older, I think I can see it more clearly. Perhaps I could have been an actual writer.”
“You have an extremely high IQ, Paul. I think for sure you could have been an actual writer, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or anything else you wanted to be.”
Paul gave me a flat look. “Well, there you go then. I wanted to be a musician. And I am a musician. So I’m not really sure where these questions are leading us.”
“I don’t know where they’re leading us either,” I grumbled under my breath, “but your answers are leading me down the fucking garden path!”
The first clue that Paul had that anything was wrong with his mother was near the end of the school year in June 1956.
“I came home from school a bit early, because it was end of term. I was quite excited, because I had just been given a very strong school report. I was bringing my mum the letter from the headmaster, and I knew it would make her happy. When I came in to the kitchen she was sitting at the table, weeping. I froze right where I stood. She didn’t notice me, and I felt as if I were intruding, so I retraced my steps and then went back and slammed the front door, shouting “Mum! I’m home!” By the time I got to the kitchen again, she was frantically repairing her face. I saw her stuffing a hankie into her apron pocket. She put on a false smile. I thought, ‘well, whatever’s bothering her, this letter will cheer her up!’ and I handed her the letter. She was happy and proud of me, and we had a celebratory dinner, but I couldn’t get the sight of her weeping at the table out of my mind.
“We didn’t talk about emotions in our little family. It just wasn’t done. Oh, the Mohins talked about their emotions all the time – up to and including flying plates at the supper table! But the McCartneys were very stiff upper lip, and so my Dad was never comfortable with a show of any emotion other than joy, and my mother was just naturally reserved and dignified. Anyway, we didn’t talk about emotions, so it wasn’t easy to know how to approach her. I asked Auntie Jin why Mum would be crying in the middle of the day by herself. She told me a few mysterious things about a ‘woman’s change of life’, and it sounded so personal I didn’t dare ask any more questions. Eventually my concerns wore off, because in front of me anyway, mum seemed herself.
“In the new school year, in November , one evening after dinner Dad and Mum sat us down, Mike and me, and they told us that Mum was going to be away from home for a few days having a ‘a little surgery, nothing to worry about.’ I was not a good student for nothing. I asked her what kind of surgery, and why was it necessary? She put me off with that whole ‘woman’s change of life’ thing, and so I dropped the subject. The next morning, when we got up for school, Mum was already gone off to the hospital.
“That afternoon, when we got off the school bus at the end of our street and started down the block to our house, I noticed there were people in our front garden. As we got closer, I noticed that they were some of our older cousins, and they were all wearing their Sunday clothes. I heard keening from inside the house. That would be my female Mohan relations, who still did the old Irish keening thing at wakes. I’d heard it many a time and I knew it meant that somebody in the family had died. Michael grabbed my hand. He was 12, not quite 13, and he hadn’t tried to hold my hand in over a year. We approached the gate, and as our relatives in the yard saw us approaching they all looked extremely uncomfortable and stared at us with pitying eyes. It was scary, really, because we hadn’t a clue. I noticed right away the black armbands. All the men had them on their sleeves. We froze right there in the front garden.
“As if in slow motion, I could see Auntie Jin coming out the door to greet us, and her face was so grave. I had never seen her look that way. I took two steps back and it felt like my heart stopped. I could see the train a’comin’ and I couldn’t stop it. She hugged us both, and said, ‘I’m so sorry boys, your mum has passed.’ Michael said, ‘passed what Auntie Jin?’ I had to bite my lip not to laugh. I turned to Mike and I said to him, ‘Mum is dead, Michael. She’s gone forever.’ He looked at me then – I can still see his eyes and his mouth open and he was looking at me as if I had stabbed him in the heart. I guess, in a way, I had. Somehow we got bustled inside, and we went into the front room, and Dad was sitting on the sofa and he looked gutted. He was gutted. I had never seen him look that way. He wasn’t with us, you know? I was looking around at all the adults, who were weeping and crying while drinking tea, eating biscuits and gossiping. I looked into the front yard where the younger family members were no doubt talking about their dates next Friday night. There was no one in that room who really felt our pain; there was just the three of us. For a moment, it felt like the family was a – chimera – some kind of illusion. It didn’t catch you when you fell.
“My mother had the real brains in our family. She had done all the bills, and balanced the books, and she made a lot more money than my Dad. She was only 47 when she died, and she had no pension coming. The Council would pay us some dole, I knew, but it seemed doubtful it would pay our rent in the council flat, or the credit payment for the piano. Mum had recently been teaching me how to do our accounts, so I could help her. I realize now she must have done that because she knew she was going to die. I knew how much we owed, and I also knew how much Mum made versus what Dad made. I knew no one else was going to worry about such things, because in our family it had been Mum who did it. That is why I said that outrageous thing. It just burst out of me: ‘What are we going to do without her money?’ I blurted it out and everyone heard it. Everyone stopped talking and all these accusing eyes were on me. One of my Mohan aunts was so shocked by what I said she slapped me across my face and shouted at me to go upstairs to my room. Aunt Jin jumped in front of me, grabbed me, and held me. I heard her say, ‘He’s not going anywhere! How dared you do that!’ A general ruckus broke out between Mohans and McCartneys, and my Dad and my brother both began to openly sob. It was dreadful. And it was entirely my fault. This is one of the most painful moments of my life; it took me decades to get over the guilt of it. In fact, truthfully, I still cringe when I think of it, even now.”
After this appalling episode, Jim McCartney’s brother Joe insisted upon taking the children home with him for a month or so while Jim stabilized his life. This was disorienting for both boys.
Michael told me, “I cried myself to sleep each night, and Paul would hold me in his arms. He didn’t cry. But he didn’t sleep very much, either. He would hum some of the Irish lullabies Mum would sing, but he wouldn’t use the words because he thought they were too disturbing. (If you’ve heard Irish lullabies and folk songs, you’ll understand: they are full of people dying young, with missing limbs. Depressing.) We felt like we were alone in the universe. We missed our mum, and we missed our dad. Our Auntie and Uncle were great, and their families were all very warm and kind, but we needed our dad just then. Many years later we would learn that Dad fell totally apart and into a bottle for a few weeks after Mum’s death, and then he pulled himself together, and went to his boss, and asked for and was given a second shift. Now he would be working back-to-back shifts, 5 a.m. to noon and noon to 7 p.m., six days a week. One aunt would make dinners for us and clean the house one week, and then another aunt would do it the next week, so forth and so on, for months. We had almost an endless string of aunts. Even so, this became too much, so Paul and I split up the house chores, and Paul made dinner every night. On Sundays, one of our Aunts would make us a nice Sunday dinner and drop it off for us. She would also clean our curtains and the linens. Paul had to get after school jobs, and with the money he made, he helped pay our school expenses.”
Paul’s recollections reflect his basic Spartan approach to life’s troubles. “The very next day we were back in school, as though nothing had happened. Auntie Jin said that the quicker we got back to normal, the better. I was in a kind of a daze. That sounds too melodramatic. I just couldn’t focus on school; I kept disappearing into my head. I don’t even know what I was thinking about. In one of my classes that first day, my maths teacher – a cranky old codger – put his hand on my shoulder very gently, and I woke up. I had been asleep with my head in my folded arms. I had never fallen asleep in class before! I was terribly embarrassed. In a very gentle voice he said, ‘Son, why don’t you go to the nurse’s office, and have a rest?’ They must have told all my teachers about my mum. I begged off, promising to pay better attention. As the week went on, I wasn’t sleeping at night, and my head felt as though it weighed a ton, and my feet felt even heavier. But somehow I got through that first week. And then I had to start the second week. And then there was the third. I imagine climbing Mt. Everest must be similar. It’s a war of attrition.
“We felt better when we were back in our home with Dad again. One night I went to the bathroom to get a glass of water, and I could hear Dad weeping in his bedroom. I actually stood outside his door for a few seconds, wondering if I should go in and comfort him. But I knew how reserved he was about emotions and such, so I just went back to bed. But I laid up all night worrying about him.
“I started to do the accounts for us, because Dad was hopeless and didn’t like to do it anyway. He just transferred everything over to me as if I were mum – he’d hand me the pay packet, and I’d do the banking, and then go around and pay all the bills. They were all in the neighborhood at the time, and everything was cash only in those days. In fact, I became mum in a way: a mum substitute. I was in charge of Mike, the accounts, the dinners, the chore schedule, Mike’s homework, my homework, everything. I knew I was mum when I found myself winding up the timer clock to 3 minutes before Mike and I brushed our teeth!
“That year I had gained a lot of weight, and then right after mum died, I gained even more. Within a few months, I looked like a stuffed pig. The teasing I had been getting for a while got much worse. My brother and my cousins sometimes called me ‘Fatty’, and I would laugh and pretend like it didn’t hurt my feelings. I spent hours alone in my room listening to music, and – later – when I got one, playing guitar. I lost interest in girls, which before had been a major interest of mine. Or I would sit at the piano and just play chords, making up melodies. This is when I really tried to write some songs. I had written snatches of melodies of a sort since I was 9 or 10, but this was when I became determined to actually write a song. I listened to my Dad’s old jazz records from America as if I were studying for a Latin test. I was picking out the chords on the piano, and writing down the lyrics to memorize. It was a way to distract myself from the loneliness in our house when Mum was gone, and Dad had to work until late in the evening.
“I didn’t start losing the weight until the spring [of 1957] – as quickly as it had piled on, it started falling off. I grew a few inches, and that was part of it, but I also suddenly lost my appetite. I don’t think I really overate again until – well, until the next time I was seriously depressed – in 1968.
“I was the one Dad would talk to about the household business, and problems at work. I took over the yard work from him, because he had to work two shifts. If the front door or the windowsills needed painting, I did it. I also had to go to school, and Dad would remind me how much my mother wanted me to be a doctor, so I felt great pressure to keep my marks up. Dad felt bad about the change in my life caused by all this, and he didn’t want me to ‘have’ to quit the Boy Scouts. The thing is, I would have been totally happy to quit the Boy Scouts, but it was so important to my dad I didn’t want to tell him I wasn’t really the scouting type. It was just another burden and responsibility I didn’t need. All those fucking badges!”
I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. Paul laughed too.
“Sorry about the swearing, but what the fuck am I gonna do with a weatherman badge? Or a fucking aquatics badge? But there I was down at the public pool doing splits over and over to get a damn aquatics badge. There I was out on Strawberry Fields with balloons in the rain to get a fucking weatherman badge.”
By this time I’m prone on the floor laughing so hard I could barely breathe.
“I’m glad you find this so amusing, John. I’m sometimes made to feel that my sole purpose on this earth is to entertain you.”
“Me and the rest of the whole fucking world, Macca.”
“My parents wanted me to have an academic future, and I tried my hardest to make their dreams a reality. But in my deepest fantasies, when no one was around and I had a moment to myself, my dream was to be a musician. It was all I ever wanted to be. I had started composing little tunes when I was 9 or 10. They weren’t real songs, just little snatches of melodies that I’d play on the piano. Dad had taught we how to play the piano, and would set up the exercise books and tell mum that I should do 20 minutes of scales, and then go through the exercise books for another 20 minutes. Mum would be in the kitchen making dinner, and I would start on my scales. It was so deadly boring, and I could do them backwards and forwards in my sleep, so suddenly my hands would just go flying all over the keyboards – just vamping chords, searching for melodies. And Mum would yell from the kitchen – ‘Jamie! The scales! You’re supposed to do the scales!’”
Paul and I both look at each other and laugh.
“Yeah, I heard if you get really good on scales, you can make a steady career as a music teacher,” I joked.
“Much better choice than that stupid composing gig,” Paul completed with a laugh. “The truth was I was already too advanced in my abilities to be taught at home by a busy, distracted parent. But real music lessons were entirely out of the question. So I taught myself by ear. I could sort of read the notes off the music sheets – it was very rudimentary what I could do. ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ kind of notes. Beyond that, I could only create or recreate chords by ear. It was trial and error, pounding around and searching for the right chord combinations.
“I had been obsessed with Elvis ever since I first heard him in ’55. I hung out in the music stores, and leafed through the music magazines and listened to all the new singles coming in from America. There were so many great records – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Waller, Fats Domino, and the Everly Brothers. I decided Mike and I were going to be like the Everly Brothers. I’d drag him on the talent show stage at the Butlins camps we went to in summer. The only problem was Mike couldn’t sing, and was deathly afraid of standing up in public, and he’d make faces and win over the audience. Pissed me off big time. Sort of like what Stu did later. [I let that pass.]
“For Christmas I asked my Dad for a guitar, but he didn’t have enough money. Later I found out that Auntie Jin organized a family shout around, and they came up with enough money to give Mike and me each a record player and me a guitar, and Mike a camera. Mike was interested in photography. Dad’s present was a pair of headphones for each of us, so he didn’t have to listen to our music, but we could hear it as loud as we liked. So my family members redeemed themselves in my eyes.
“I was driven to learn how to play the guitar, and bugged everyone I knew who could play to teach me just one chord. It got to the point that my music teacher at school was calling me ‘Just One More Chord McCartney’ as a joke. I bugged the guy in the music store who sold the music sheets. He knew how to play guitar. I remember he showed me how to do an E minor chord. I learned the C major chord from my music teacher at the Inny. There was a bloke – a friend of mine knew him – it required 3 bus changes – I heard he could play G7, so I took my allowance money and took the bus out there, where in 10 short minutes I was shown the G7 chord in all its glory, and then I got back on the bus and went home again.
“After trying to play the bloody thing for about a month, I figured out the problem was I couldn’t play right handed, and my guitar was strung for a right-handed player. So I turned it upside down and played it backwards until I talked the guy in the music store into teaching me how to string a guitar. He explained to me about cat gut strings, and recommended I always have extra ones with me, so to this day I go nowhere without a tiny harmonica and a box full of replacement strings! He is also the one who taught me how to tune the instrument using a tuning fork. Once I’d restrung my guitar so that I could play it from the left, I progressed very quickly as a guitarist.
“I’m the kind of bloke who tries to run before he can walk. I started picking before I started strumming. So I learned the hard bit first. When it came time to focus on strumming, it was easy. I’ve always loved instruments anyway. All kinds; love them. I mean, if I see an instrument I automatically smile. These weird shaped boxes, strings and tubes that make music – I love them all!”
“It was a few weeks before Mum died when I first heard about you. I didn’t know your name or anything, but you were this bloke who was starting a band who lived across the road from Ivan Vaughan.
“Ivan was in my class at the Inny. We shared the same birthday, by the way, and he was very funny and smart. In the new school year  Ivy and I, along with a number of other boys, dove head first into music, and started wearing our hair a bit like Elvis. Everyone else wanted to look like Elvis, too, but not everyone else was really that much into the music, like my little group of friends was.
“Ivan kept bringing you up. He told all of us that you were the coolest kid in Liverpool. I’m a credulous sort of person, and I took it all literally. I absolutely believed what he said. Ivan said I should join your band, because he thought we were so alike. We were both crazy about rock ‘n roll music, and we both wanted to play music in front of an audience. I said I’d be happy to meet you, if he set it up and you were amenable.
“I was supposed to meet you in November, I think, but just days before I was supposed to go meet you, my mother died. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about bands, or meeting new people just then. And my family needed me to be at home. We were going through the crazy stuff for a few months after that, trying to adjust to our new reality, and still dealing with our loss, so while I played guitar endlessly, and kept teaching myself new songs, I preferred to be by myself, and I didn’t hang around my friends very much.
“After the Christmas vacation, back at school, Ivan asked why I didn’t show up in November, and I said it had to do with family business. He suggested I come to the practice in a week or two – it would have been in mid to late January 1957. But then Michael got very sick, and I had to stay at home and take care of him on that day. It seemed we were star-crossed.
“Ivan talked about you endlessly, John. So one time I remember asking him ‘what’s so special about this bloke, anyway?’ and he struggled to come up with the right words; he was having trouble, and then he finally just said, ‘Funniest bloke on the bleeding planet.’”
I spoke up: “He talked endlessly about you, too, Paul. I was sure he was making it all up. After I met you, I came to find out that – if anything – Ivan had done a soft sell!” I got a bit self-conscious then and said, “we’re a bloody mutual admiration society.”
Paul said, “I prefer to think we’re sitting here giving Ivan his due. He was right about the both us – we were both crazy about rock ‘n roll music, and we did both want to be in a band, but the only bit he left out was what big heads we both had! We’re each so big-headed, that when you put us both in the same room, there isn’t enough oxygen for anybody else!”
It turns out that Paul had noticed me in the months leading up to our first meeting, too, although he had never connected me to Ivan’s friend. He had seen me on the bus a number of times, and had been suitably impressed with my juvenile delinquent-style behavior. But that soon was replaced with a greater insight into the real me: something Paul has always been able to understand, even when everyone else in the fucking world couldn’t.
“At first I thought you were a teddy boy,” Paul explained to me when I asked. “But teddy boys were really very thick in the head. One day, I overheard you quoting by heart from Alice in Wonderland on the bus, and that was my favorite too. I often quoted from it to my friends. So that is when I knew you were only a ted on the outside. On the inside you were witty and clever and even a little sweet. You can’t love Lewis Carroll and not be those things too.”
“So you’re saying you thought I was a phony?” I asked in indignation.
“No, I thought you were a dichotomy - two things at once - and I found that very intriguing.”
I mention this because many biographers claim that Paul and I would never have met if it weren’t for Ivan Vaughn. Paul and I have never believed that. We’d known from the second we laid eyes on one another that we were destined to be together. And, in truth, we had met: in a little Abbas store near the Cast Iron Shore, and Paul admits he thought I was the most generous person ever when I shared that chocolate bar with him, right down the middle. Funny how I always instinctively knew that it was always going to be 50/50 with the likes of him!