I remember clearly the first time I encountered a volume of Paul McCartney’s solo work. It was in Kolkata in the mid 90s, I was in my teens and I bought it at some sort of a cassette fair (ask your parents if you don’t know what a cassette tape is) at or near Rabindra Sadan. Having started my Beatles journey a few years earlier, the All the Best greatest hits compilation seemed a low-risk gateway into McCartney’s solo career.
On listening, it felt very different from the Beatles and much varied in style in a way that was different to how varied the Beatles’ music was. But it also felt familiar — the melodies, the lyrics falling into place, the harmonies, and those incredible basslines. I was instantly hooked. And thus began my deep dive into the life and works of the Macca, that has continued for some 25 years and counting.
McCartney or Beatles fan first? McCartney!
McCartney performs at a London concert in 2015Jim Dyson/Getty Images
I’ve moved countries, changed jobs, got married and had kids but Paul McCartney has remained a constant in my life (along with the Beatles, of course). And that dive has deepened to the point where when a fellow Beatles fan asked me recently if I was a Beatles or McCartney fan first, I was surprised to find myself answering McCartney. I don’t think my friend was pleased.
Since moving to the UK in the 2000s, I’ve managed to see him in concert twice (the first time in his hometown of Liverpool, no less), own an embarrassing amount of his music, video, words by and about him, T-shirts and even a set of Royal Mail commemorative stamps from last year (all adding significant kilos to the joy of moving houses as we did several times).
I’ve stood outside his Cavendish Avenue home….
Subhajit outside McCartney’s Cavendish Avenue home in LondonCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
I’ve heard every bit of music he has released and even some he hasn’t. I’ve stood outside his Cavendish Avenue home and his Soho Square office hoping to catch a glimpse, and felt connected to the man just by living in the same city as him. While I haven’t met him (that remains the dream), the closest I got to was at an interview taping in 2013 where we sat in a small group a few feet away from him, and I swear he looked directly at me several times. Some years later, between jobs, someone introduced me to his PR manager and I went to their office to offer my digital and journalism skills at the service of Sir Paul. Sadly, they didn’t have any openings then but were kind enough to thank me for my efforts and gave me a copy of his latest compilation CD.
Striking gold in the Free School Street second-hand shops
But back to Kolkata where it all began and my many fond first McCartney memories. I remember scouring the city frustratingly for his solo releases (Gariahat cassette shops and Rhythm in Treasure Island were our limited choices back then) and then the joy of striking gold in the Free School Street second-hand shops. Hearing Let Me Roll It for the first time at a Jadavpur University professor’s house that led to discovering the superlative Band on the Run album. Saving up to buy my first McCartney CD (Flaming Pie) and recording duets with my then girlfriend from it. Persevering through BSNL dial-up Internet (again, ask your parents if you don’t know what that is) through sweltering summer nights to discover specialist websites and connect with fans around the world. And above all, desperately praying he would tour India (something he still hasn’t, oddly).
Subhajit’s Paul McCartney video collectionCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
But there was also the lazy stereotyping of Lennon v McCartney of the time to reckon with. Lennon hailed as the edgier, inventive rocker who spoke his mind while McCartney was the twee balladeer who put on a face for the world. Thankfully, that narrative has changed in the last decade or so, and McCartney’s role — both as the creative force within the Beatles and in popular music as a whole — has found the recognition and respect it has deserved.
I’m in awe of McCartney: Bob Dylan
That’s the music. But what of the man? Pop stars are famously flawed and the convention is to scrutinise the art not the artiste. Look no further than his own Beatles bandmates, Lennon and Harrison, and their treatment of the women in their lives or their fidelity towards them. McCartney beats the convention here too. He wore the ‘family man’ label proudly in the early '70s at a time when it was anything but cool for rockstars to do so. During his marriage to his first wife, Linda, for three decades until her death in 1998, they reportedly only spent 10 days apart, when he was in a Tokyo jail for possessing marijuana. His three children with Linda, and her daughter, Heather, from a previous marriage, who Paul formally adopted, formed a tight-knit, ever-present unit, whether they were in the studio or touring. They were all sent to local state schools to keep their head firmly on their shoulders.
Paul himself is fiercely proud of his Liverpudlian roots (often spotted travelling there by train with the whole family) and supports budding artistes with his Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, along with many humanitarian causes.
Paul McCartney’s Soho Square officeCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
He’s revered by his peers. There are numerous accounts from people who know and have worked with him about how decent he is, but my favourite is this rare tribute from the even more mythical Bob Dylan: “I’m in awe of McCartney. He's about the only one that I am in awe of. But I'm in awe of him. He can do it all. And he's never let up.”
And he's loved for his acts of generosity and kindness, big and small, always performed in private. Like this letter to Zak Nilsson, son of Beatles contemporary, Harry, sending him positivity ahead of his chemotherapy and sharing the intimate detail that his (third) wife Nancy also went through it. Carl Perkins, a hero of the Beatles, wrote the poignant ‘My Old Friend’ to show his gratitude for the kindness McCartney showed him when his chips were down.
Of course, there are also those that say he is controlling, manipulative and a people pleaser. But in a life spanning eight decades — six of them under intense spotlight — if that’s the worst of it, I think he’s doing ok.
So a very happy 80th birthday, Paul McCartney, and thank you for everything. May you live, make music, and bring joy and hope to the lives of millions for many more years to come. All the best!
Subhajit Banerjee is a journalist turned civil servant based in London, and a lifelong Paul McCartney fan.