Paul McCartney: Martyr Status Given To John Lennon Was A Source Of Frustration
Paul McCartney calls John Lennon a “martyr,” and the comment has sparked an intense conversation on the legacy of the Beatles. The old debate about the most talented member of the famous British rock band has resurfaced.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon parted ways over 45 years ago, leaving fans of the Beatles lost and in search for answers. McCartney, 73, is still not totally over that era.
Sir James Paul McCartney thinks that pop culture turned his former bandmate into a “martyr.” The singer-songwriter believes that Lennon’s death in December 1980 hurt his own standing in pop history.
In a new interview with Esquire UK, McCartney tries to remind people of the role he played in the band’s enormous success. The “Mull of Kintyre” singer explained:
Yeah. I always looked at life from a point of view of the public. I think I’ve got a good sense of that. The Beatles split up and we were sort of all equal. George did his record, John did his, I did mine, Ringo did his. It was as we were during the Beatles’ times. We were equal. When John got shot, aside from the pure horror of it, the lingering thing was, OK, well now John’s a martyr. A JFK. So what happened was, I started to get frustrated because people started to say, “Well, he was The Beatles.” And me, George and Ringo would go, “Er, hang on. It’s only a year ago we were all equal-ish.” Yeah, John was the witty one, sure. John did a lot of great work, yeah. And post-Beatles he did more great work, but he also did a lot of not-great work. Now the fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean, and beyond. So whilst I didn’t mind that – I agreed with it – I understood that now there was going to be revisionism. It was going to be: John was the one. That was basically the thing. And when I would talk to mates they’d say, “Don’t worry. People know [the truth]. It’s OK, they know what you did.” But then strange things would happen. Like Yoko would appear in the press, and I’d read it, and it said [comedy Yoko accent], “Paul did nothing! All he did was book the studio…” Like, “Fuck you, darling! Hang on! All I did was book the fucking studio?” Well, OK, now people know that’s not true. But that was just part of it. There was a lot of revisionism: John did this, John did that. I mean, if you just pull out all his great stuff and then stack it up against my not-so-great stuff, it’s an easy case to make.
What happened, when we were kids we were looking for what to call our songs. We had a meeting with Brian Epstein, John and me. I arrived late. John and Brian had been talking. “We were thinking we ought to call the songs, Lennon and McCartney.” I said, “That’s OK, but what about McCartney and Lennon? If I write it, what about that? It sounds good, too.” They said, “OK, what we’ll do is we’ll alternate it: Lennon and McCartney, McCartney and Lennon.” Well, that didn’t happen. And I didn’t mind. It’s a good logo, like Rogers and Hammerstein. Hammerstein and Rogers doesn’t work. So I thought, “OK”. But what happened was the Anthology came out [in 1996, with Epstein and Lennon now long dead]. And I said, “OK, what they’re now saying is, ‘Song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.’” I said, if you’re doing that, it’s not Lennon and McCartney, it’s not the logo any more. So, in particular cases like ‘Yesterday’, which John actually had nothing to do with, none of the other Beatles had anything to do with – I wrote it on my own, sang it on my own, they’re not on the record, nobody is even involved with it, and they didn’t mind that and I didn’t mind, nobody minded, but that’s very much mine – so I said, “Could we have ‘By Paul McCartney and John Lennon’, wouldn’t that be a good idea? And then on ‘Strawberry Fields’ we’ll have, ‘By John Lennon and Paul McCartney’. ‘Nowhere Man’, ‘John Lennon and Paul McCartney’. ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Paul McCartney and John Lennon’. Seeing as we’re breaking it up, can we do that?” And at first Yoko said yeah. And then she rang back a few days later and she had this guy Sam Havadtoy who she was living with – she was co-Havadtoying – and she said she’d decided it wasn’t a good idea and no, no, no, no. And it became a bit of an issue for me. Particularly on that particular song, because the original artwork had ‘Yesterday’ by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and a photo of John above it. And I went, “Argh! Come on, lads!” Anyway they wouldn’t do it.
Paul McCartney’s “martyr” comment was met with a lot of skepticism is some corners. Commentators say McCartney is letting his ego cloud his judgement, and he should move on. Moreover, Lennon’s work on songs like “Imagine” and “Instant Karma!” and his iconic relationship with Yoko Ono probably contributed to the elevation of his status in culture. For better or worse, Lennon became the symbol of a generation that was rebelling against the system. McCartney might have been more talented, but he never seemed to embrace that attitude entirely.
What are your thoughts on McCartney’s “martyr” remark? Who was the most talent Beatle?