From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri May 04 2001 - 17:39:23 EDT

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       May 3, 2001


        By SARAH LYALL

      Some years ago, Paul McCartney, famous musician and fledgling poet, took
      a deep breath and showed a selection of his poetic works in progress to
      his old friend Allen Ginsberg.

      Ginsberg, who was visiting Mr. McCartney at his house in Sussex, England,
      had some thoughts. "He was all for economy," Sir Paul, as he has been
      known the last few years, said recently in his friendly Liverpudlian
      lilt, recalling his frisson of fear when Ginsberg took out his pencil and
      began cutting and tweaking. "He said to me: `Never use the word "the."
      And also try to avoid "ing" -- don't use "singing," but use "sing"
      instead.' "

      When Ginsberg suggested he change a poem beginning "Two doors open on the
      18th of June" to "Two doors open. June 18," the lyricist put his foot
      down. "I said it's great, but you're making me into a New York Beat
      poet," said Sir Paul, who kept a copy of the scribbled-over "Ginsberg
      Variations," as he calls them, for posterity, though he took none of
      Ginsberg's suggestions.

      Sir Paul is so used to having critical control that he submits to editing
      only reluctantly. "Sometimes I've made small suggestions for cuts or
      changes, and sometimes Paul's accepted them," writes his editor in
      Britain, the poet Adrian Mitchell, in the preface to Sir Paul's first
      book of poetry, "Blackbird Singing," which has just been published in the
      United States by W. W. Norton. And so the poems in the book are very much
      his own, expressing his familiar obsessions with love and loss and life's
      vicissitudes in language that is generally simple and direct.

      In the flesh for an interview at his office in New York, he could not
      help appearing startlingly familiar, as if he were a cousin who just
      happened to be really famous. While the other surviving Beatles seem to
      have grown sharper and craggier, Sir Paul, 58, has softened. His face is
      still boyish and open, albeit creased with minor wrinkles. Discussing his
      poems while sitting on an immaculate black couch across from a de Kooning
      painting, he was dressed in a T-shirt, plaid pants and the sort of clogs
      that a hipster surgeon might wear on hospital rounds.

      He is a canny manager of his empire and career, whose net worth,
      according to The Sunday Times of London, stands at more than $1 billion.
      In 1997 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, which made him officially Sir
      Paul. But it is as strange to think of him that way as it is to think of
      the rock star Bob Geldof -- a knight as well, and far scruffier than the
      always clean and shiny Paul McCartney -- as Sir Bob.

      One of the striking things about "Blackbird Singing" is the bold
      inclusion of some 50 of the former Beatle's lyrics among more than 40
      poems, a decision that cannot help but raise the old question about
      whether lyrics stand as poetry in their own right. Sir Paul is not so
      sure, though he was cheered when Ginsberg told him, long ago, that "
      `Eleanor Rigby' is one hell of a poem." (Its lyrics appear in the book,
      along with those of "Hey Jude" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," among

      Though they emanate from the same impulse, poems and songs come to him in
      very different ways, Sir Paul explained, mostly having to do with whether
      he has a musical instrument on hand.

      With songs he generally works through the lyrics and melody
      simultaneously, he said, illustrating his point by re-enacting on an
      imaginary piano how he hashed out the beginning of "Eleanor Rigby."

      "I was sitting at the piano vamping on the E minor chord," he said. He
      sang some of the notes, then began: "Da da da da da -- Eleanor Rigby
      picks up the rice . . . And in actual fact, it wasn't Eleanor Rigby, it
      was something else, because I got the name Eleanor Rigby later. Sometimes
      the real words arrive, and sometimes I have to kind of go back and fix

      "It's like `Yesterday,' " he continued, starting to sing again. "At first
      it was `Scrambled eggs/ Oh my baby how I love your legs,' which I
      thought, `That's gotta be fixed. Can't go with that one.' " Similarly, he
      said, "Hey Jude," written for John Lennon's son Julian when his parents
      split up, was originally called "Hey Jules" until he decided that Jude
      was crisper.

      In poems, he said, the language tends to come and stay put. He wrote
      "Jerk of All Jerks," for instance, after being immersed, along with the
      rest of the world, in the news coverage of Lennon's murder in 1980. "The
      one phrase that came to my mind was that the guy who did it was the jerk
      of all jerks," Sir Paul said.

      The only other explicit reference to Lennon in the book comes in the
      lyrics to "Here Today," from 1982. It is an affectionate song, alluding
      to his and Lennon's mismatched temperaments and to Lennon's spikiness,
      but also to their underlying love. The two put aside their differences
      before Lennon died. "We had been arguing about stupid stuff -- money and
      things, things that weren't really important in our relationship but were
      the kind of things people argue about," Sir Paul said. But then they
      began to talk again. "We talked about him baking bread, him putting the
      cats out, him padding around the apartment in his robe and slippers, him
      bringing up his baby, Sean," he recalled. "It was really intimate and
      mature, good real talk between friends."

      In a way, Lennon's ghost -- the ghost of what might have been -- haunts
      the book, as does the spirit of Sir Paul's wife, Linda, who died of
      breast cancer in 1998 and who inspired some of his sweetest love poems
      and songs.

      In 29 years of marriage, Mr. McCartney never spent a night apart from his
      wife except when he was in a Tokyo jail on drug charges in 1980, and he
      spent the year after her death in nearly constant grief, he said. He now
      has a girlfriend, Heather Mills, 33, a feisty former model whose leg was
      severed in an accident and who campaigns for land mine reform.

      As he discussed his wife's death and his new life, his volubility fled
      for a moment, and he jumped up to adjust a chair on the other side of the
      room that was not sitting perfectly in line with the carpet. "It was
      perhaps unlikely in my life that I would have two strong women who I felt
      so strongly about," he said carefully. "Even though it's early days in my
      new relationship, I do feel lucky to have met someone strong and
      interesting and beautiful."

      "Blackbird Singing" has been a best seller in Britain, but the critical
      reaction been mixed, as always happens when Sir Paul embarks on a new
      venture. Some critics were delighted: "Unlike more rarefied poets, who
      communicate mostly with each other in obscure crannies of our culture,
      McCartney writes as freely (and often as beautifully) as a blackbird
      sings," Stephen Logan wrote in The Sunday Times of London.

      But others have made it clear that they think his talents are strictly
      musical. "They're not bad so much as unfinished and inconsequential,"
      Mark Hertsgaard wrote of the poems in The Los Angeles Times.

      The new poet tries not to care. "It's not as if I'm not used to it," he
      said. " `She Loves You' was called banal when it came out -- it was the
      first time I had ever heard the word." And a review in The New York
      Times, he said, judged "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" "a very
      bad album," in Sir Paul's words. "But," he said, "I just get on with it."

      And, judging from Mr. McCartney's two poetry readings, one in Liverpool
      and the other at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, he is in no danger of
      losing his extraordinary appeal. Charming the onlookers out of their
      seats with engaging anecdotes, he ended both readings with rousing
      audience-participation recitations of "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?,"
      included partly as a retort to critics who said some of his lyrics would
      not stand up to the rigors of being read aloud.

      In Liverpool he kept his cool even amid the most frenzied of fans. Swept
      up in a crowd of more than 1,000, he was greeted by a teenage girl who
      wore a vintage Beatlemania button that said "I slept with Paul

      "Oh, really," said Mr. McCartney, flashing a huge grin, "When was that?"

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