Publisher: - Evansville Courier & Press
Author: Aileen Jacobson
Date: May 4, 2001

McCartney comes across as humble superachiever

NEW YORK — Not one of his “millions” of Liverpool relatives (“In fact, they’re breeding as we speak”) would dream of calling him Sir Paul, the knighted ex-Beatle said the other evening on the stage of Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone calling the 58-year-old Sir Paul McCartney by any stiff-sounding title, although many an admiring “still cute” was heard from the audience of 1,200. Not after the charming reading of poems and lyrics that he gave from his new book, “Blackbird Singing.” And especially not after he ended the spellbinding first half-hour of a rare public appearance with a rousing audience-participation version of his song “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”

“This is a man who has never lost his sense of self. He has not isolated himself in a cloud,” said Bob Weil, the executive editor who worked with McCartney on the new collection and was impressed by the wisdom displayed in the work and by the agonizing McCartney did over “a word choice, the placement of a stanza, the order of the poems.”

Still, McCartney is not your average struggling artist. After a year of hibernation that followed the death of his wife, Linda, in 1998, he has bloomed into an iconic presence in an astonishing number of fields, from writing to painting to charity work to television to, of course, music. And he always goes first class.

For the poetry book, he chose the venerable publishing house of W.W. Norton. For his only American reading, he selected the 92nd Street Y’s walnut-paneled hall, where he follows such literary luminaries as Dylan Thomas.

As for his painting, gathered in a volume last year titled “Paul McCartney Paintings,” he felt able to start doing it regularly after a conversation with his pal Willem de Kooning. When the great abstract expressionist gave McCartney a small painting some 20 years ago, McCartney asked him what it was.

“I don’t know; it looks like a couch,” de Kooning casually answered. And “boom,” thought McCartney, illustrating the moment with hands moving to strike his temples: “I can paint! I can paint!” This account came during the second part of the Y evening, when McCartney was interviewed by Charlie Rose, who will feature the encounter on his PBS show on a date to be scheduled.

A few days before the interview, McCartney attended a New York benefit for Adopt-a-Minefield, where he and his girlfriend, Heather Mills, were honored for their work with the charity, which provides limbs for victims. Mills, 33, lost a leg in an accident. They are to chair a Los Angeles fund-raiser for the charity June 14.

Shortly after the September release of his art volume, Chronicle Books came out with “The Beatles Anthology,” a tome of reminiscences to which McCartney contributed. And he has delivered a documentary about his post-Beatles band Wings to ABC, to air May 11, three days after an album of the same title, “Wingspan,” is released. He has also recorded new songs, to be released this fall.

In the documentary, McCartney is interviewed by one of his daughters, Mary, whose husband, Alistair Donald, directs.

And here is a paradox in the life of the humble McCartney: He has the clout to have almost total control over his work and how it is presented. “When you’re dealing with Paul McCartney, you do things his way, and then you say thank you,” said a publicist involved in getting one of the few interviews he’s granting.

On the other hand, McCartney reveals his feelings for family, friends and the vulnerability of loss with such heartfelt caring that he immediately captures one’s good will. Along with the famous lyrics (“Yesterday,” “Hey Jude”), the poems about the loss of Linda are the book’s best works. He displayed visible emotion as he read a few of them. He said of Linda, “She freed me to do interesting things. ... She was a liberating woman.”

But McCartney pooh-poohs the appellation Renaissance man. “I have a passion for things,” he said.

And he recalled a recent encounter with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who once guided the Beatles. Asked for advice, the “spry old codger” had one word: “Enjoy.” And that’s what McCartney says he plans to do.