John Lennon and Paul McCartney: The Friendship Heard 'Round the World

Jessy Krupa

Two unbelievably talented friends changed the world with their music, but the strain of normal life changes and out-of-control fame would test their bond. Meanwhile, most of their fans separated into two hotly debated sides that often miss the whole point.

Websites, books, and even paintings have been dedicated to July 6th, 1957, "the day John met Paul". Considered as one of the most important dates in music history, it marks when a mutual friend (Ivan Vaughan) introduced a 15-year-old boy named Paul McCartney to the lead singer of a "skiffle" group he had just seen perform at a church fair. Despite their age difference, the two hit it off quite well, with 15-year-old Paul impressing a 17-year-old John Lennon with his rendition of Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock". John only had a rudimentary knowledge of how to play guitar and often didn't know the exact lyrics of the rock 'n' roll covers he performed, but he had his hesitations about bringing the knowledgeable McCartney into the group. Years later, he would say about the experience, "I half thought to myself, He's as good as me, I'd been kingpin up to then. Now, I thought, if I take him on, what will happen?"

However, the two had more in common than their music. Paul's mother had died from cancer shortly before John's mother died in a shocking traffic accident. The boys probably didn't discuss their grief with each other often, but it is argued by experts that those experiences strengthened their bond.

Paul first performed with the Quarrymen three months later. Though he would become the most successful musician of all time, McCartney became so nervous on stage that he flubbed a crucial lead guitar solo. Feeling embarrassed, he showed John the lyrics to the first song he had ever written, "I Lost My Little Girl". Liking what he saw, John showed him some of the songs he had written. Inspired by partnerships like Leiber and Stoller, he would later suggest that all of the songs they wrote would be credited to "Lennon-McCartney", whether they had worked together on it or not. During the early days of the Beatles, Paul was in the habit of writing "Another Lennon-McCartney original" at the top of all their sheet music, perhaps inspired by the Tin Pan Alley and Broadway compositions he had seen.

However, nothing could prepare them for what was to come. In just a few short years, the Beatles went from performing in German strip clubs to breaking international sales records. "Beatlemania" forever stripped them from having private lives, but the strain of fame would bring the group's members closer together. The group may have been busy giving interviews, recording, touring, and even filming movies, but one thing didn't change -- John and Paul still wrote the vast majority of the group's songs. Speaking about "I Want to Hold Your Hand", Lennon said, "Paul hits this chord, and I turn to him and say, That's it! Do that again! In those days, we really used to write like that- both playing into each other's noses."

But as time went on, both John and Paul would find themselves writing songs with little to no input from each other. Unbeknownst to the general public, several of the "Lennon/McCartney" originals that became hits for other artists (Billy J. Kramer & The Dakota's "I'll Keep You Satisfied", Mary Hopkin's "Goodbye", etc.) were solely written by Paul. In fact, he listed the writing credit on Peter & Gordon's "Woman" under "Bernard Webb" to see if it made a difference in the song's success. It still became a hit.

John once said about the difference between their writing styles, "Paul said, Come and see the show. I said, I read the news today, oh boy." Music writers would later go on with the myth that Paul was the perfectionist maestro behind happy, optimistic tunes that celebrated the everyday (like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Penny Lane") while John's bitter wit laced self-revealing songs (like "I'm Only Sleeping" and "Nowhere Man"). That isn't completely true, McCartney also knew how to describe personal heartbreak ("Yesterday") and Lennon knew how to cheerfully describe normal life ("Good Morning, Good Morning") as well. The two did have a friendly rivalry over which of their songs would be released as singles, though. More often than not, McCartney's contributions would make the cut. Lennon was somewhat jealous over this, making statements like, "'I Am the Walrus' was the B side to 'Hello, Goodbye'. Can you believe it?"

In the mid-'60s, however, John found another reason to envy Paul. While Paul was out dating various women and living a high-profile life, he said, "Cynthia wanted to settle John down, pipe and slippers. The minute she said that to me, I thought, Kiss of death. I know my mate, and that is not what he wants." Paul would also come to resent John a little upon learning of John's affair with artist Yoko Ono. He wrote "Hey Jude" as a way of saying, "Come on, man, your parents got divorced. I know you're not happy, but you'll be OK." to John's son, Julian. Julian would later grow up to say, "Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit- more than Dad and I did."

Nevertheless, their friendship still remained. While John added the lyric "The walrus was Paul" in "Glass Onion" as a tribute, Paul aided John in an otherwise solo recording, "The Ballad of John and Yoko". Ono once said, "Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him. Paul has a very brotherly side to him."

The event that would cause the most animosity between them was the dissolution of the Beatles. Several different factors led to their break-up, most notably the death of manager Brian Epstein and the hiring of a replacement. Lennon had convinced the rest of the group that accountant Allen Klein was their best bet, while McCartney preferred his new father-in-law, Lee Eastman. Meanwhile, Paul found himself trying to piece together four individuals who were growing tired of performing as one in the studio. While he wanted to make plans for a return to touring, none of the others wanted to make any plans. Though Ringo had temporarily left the group in 1967 and George temporarily quit during the filming of Let It Be, Lennon left a September 1969 meeting by saying, "I wasn't going to tell you, but I'm breaking the group up. It feels good. It feels like a divorce." Things weren't really over, however, until Paul phoned John with the news that he had started work on a solo album. The rest of the group urged Paul to push back his upcoming album and not say anything about the break-up. However, he wrote in an interview sheet packaged with advanced copies of McCartney, "Q: Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles? A: No." John and Paul publicly bickered about the resulting fallout from this for years. Lennon later said, "I was a fool not to do it, not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record." Paul declared in his official biography, "I think it was just straightforward jealousy, Ringo left first, then George, then John. I was the last to leave! It wasn't me!"

In Lennon's 1970 Rolling Stone interview, he said things like, "we got fed up with being sidemen for Paul" and "I thought Paul's (debut album) was rubbish." While he believed that Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram album was full of insults directed at him, Paul argued that he only inspired the lyrics "Too many people preaching practices" and "You took your lucky break and broke in two" in "Too Many People". John struck back with "How Do You Sleep?" which contained many bitter statements about Paul, but he later claimed that parts of the song were actually about himself.

Friends often argue with each other only to act as if nothing had happened later on, and Lennon and McCartney were no exception to this rule. For example, the two recorded together along with other artists in an extended recording session that would become bootlegged as A Toot and a Snore in '74. A year later, John almost joined Paul McCartney & Wings in studio for what was to be the Venus and Mars album. On night, while the two were at John's apartment, they watched an episode of Saturday Night Live that offered the Beatles $3,000 to reunite. They briefly considered showing up at the studio before they decided they were too tired. Paul's touring and recording schedule, combined with John's immigration troubles, kept them from getting together more often, but they frequently spoke to each other on the telephone.

The press mostly chose to focus on all of the bitterness instead, causing some Beatles fans to take sides. Some Lennon fans paint Paul as jealous of John's talent and insensitive towards his death, while Lennon receives a bad reputation among some McCartney fans, who blame him for the break-up of the Beatles and like to point out how Paul's solo recordings have eclipsed John's in sales. After Paul had switched the Lennon/McCartney listing on some of his live albums, many fans complained, despite the fact that John also did the same once. This animosity continues today, with speculation that Paul's re-release of Band on the Run was designed to take attention away from what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday.

Some fans became so disenfranchised with McCartney that they grew to believe the far-fetched theory that Paul died in a 1967 car accident and was replaced by a look-alike. The details vary, but a key factor in all of those stories seems to be John and Paul's relationship. The main story is that John was so full of grief over Paul's death that he inserted hidden messages in photos, album covers, and music as either a tribute or a way to get the truth out. One story says that "I Am the Walrus" came from John screaming the phrase to a policeman who insensitively remarked that Paul's decapitated head looked like a walrus. PID or PIR believers also often argue that Lennon's murder was organized as a way to keep him quiet. Today, some people who weren't even Beatles fans to begin with merely look for "clues" as a fun pastime, but there are others who believe in it so deeply that they post disturbing messages against "Faul" (fake or false Paul) on the internet.

Rumors about John and Paul being romantically involved with each other have also spread throughout the years. Most recently, author Philip Norman alleged in Lennon: The Life that Lennon unsuccessfully pursued McCartney, in an attempt to further a try-anything lifestyle. Experts might agree that such rumors persist for many different famous friends, perhaps indicating a misunderstanding of the human bond of friendship. Alternatively, some fans speculatively discuss these ideas as only a form of what-if amusement. Not surprisingly, John and Paul are a popular topic in "slash fiction" with such stories about George and Ringo being less common.

However, the saddest part of any thorough look at John Lennon and Paul McCartney's friendship is the fact that we will never have a true end to the story. John was shot and killed in 1980, at the mere age of 40. He isn't here to tell us how his opinions may have changed over the years. It's possible the two may have never recorded or performed together again, that they just continued to call each other every now and then. Then again, they might have gotten angrier at each other more than ever before, but I doubt it. In friendships, hurtful things are often said that are soon forgotten, but the press still loves to act as if famous people are radically different from the rest of us. Harry Nilsson once said that a fan asked John why he was wearing an "I Love Paul" button. John replied, "Because I love Paul." Perhaps Paul explained it best in his tribute to John, "Here Today": And if I say, I really loved you and was glad you came along. Then you were here today, for you were in my song." He still performs it in concert to this very day.

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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