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'It Becomes More And More Special': Paul McCartney On His Friendship With John Lennon

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Paul McCartney is still writing songs all these years after he and the rest of the Fab Four, the Beatles, burst onto the scene. He has a new solo album, "McCartney III," which is why I sat down with him the other day - well, via Zoom. More on that next week when the album drops. It did occur to me that we were speaking just a couple of days after the 40th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Lennon was shot by a fan on December 8, 1980, and I was curious how McCartney is marking 40 years since his collaborator, sparring partner and friend died.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES SONG, "TWO OF US")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: I really mark it by just thinking about him...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO OF US")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Two of us riding nowhere, spending someone's hard-earned pay.

MCCARTNEY: ...And just going over memories. Now, mind you, I do that all the time. And I think as time goes on and that John is a distant memory, it becomes more and more special. And I often just sit there and think, wait a minute, did we go hitchhiking when we were kids? Yeah, we did. We went to Paris. Boy, we had a laugh there, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO OF US")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Two of us sending postcards, writing letters on my wall.

MCCARTNEY: And I remember all these little things we did together, and it just brings him back in a way. You know, if I'm listening to a song we wrote together...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE CAN WORK IT OUT")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) We can work it out. We can work it out. Think of what you're saying...

MCCARTNEY: ...I could picture us in the room writing it and looking at each other with a little bit of a conspiratorial look as we cause trouble.

KELLY: (Laughter).

MCCARTNEY: But yeah, I'm often thinking of him. I dream of him. It's like - it is family.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE CAN WORK IT OUT")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.

MCCARTNEY: You know, we had arguments, but then I'm reminded that so do families, you know? But yeah, it's - he was a fantastic guy. And I do sometimes think, wow, you know, I sat down all those years and wrote songs with John Lennon...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And now, here they are, the Beatles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE LOVES YOU")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MCCARTNEY: ...And then went on stage and appeared all over the world singing them together, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE LOVES YOU")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) You think you lost your love? Well, I saw her yesterday. It's you she's thinking of.

MCCARTNEY: ...Similarly with George.

KELLY: Yeah.

MCCARTNEY: Yeah.

KELLY: George Harrison.

MCCARTNEY: I was leaving my house this morning, and there is a tree. George was very into his horticulture - you know, really good gardener. And so he gave me a tree as a present. It's a big fur tree, and it's by my gate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES THE SUN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Here comes the sun, do, do, do, do. Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right.

MCCARTNEY: So, you know, as I was leaving the house this morning, I get out of the car, close the gate and look up at the tree and say, hi, George. And there he is...

KELLY: And there he is.

MCCARTNEY: ...Growing strongly. And then, you know, that takes me back to the time when I hitchhiked with him and all - you know, they're an ever-present presence. And that's the way to say it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES THE SUN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right.

KELLY: I love the idea, too, that they are family. And like family, with - as the years go past, the things they did that annoy you and get on your nerves, it fades, and you're able to remember the good times and the laughter and the conspiratorial grins. That's lovely.

MCCARTNEY: I think that's true. And don't you - does that happen to you?

KELLY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

MCCARTNEY: Yeah.

KELLY: There is truth to absence makes the heart grow fonder (laughter). And I love the tree. That's a great - that's a great thing, that it greets you when you come in.

MCCARTNEY: As I say, it's lovely. He gave it to me, so I just planted it. But then as the years go by, every time I look at it, I go, that's the tree George gave me.

KELLY: Yeah.

MCCARTNEY: So, you know, George has sort of entered that tree for me. (Laughter) I hope he's happy with that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY LIFE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) There are places I remember all my life, though some have changed.

KELLY: Paul McCartney talking about his bandmates from the Beatles - George Harrison, who died in 2001, and John Lennon, who was killed 40 years ago this week. More of my conversation with Sir Paul next week when we'll hear about his new album, the third of a decades-long trilogy of albums he recorded entirely on his own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN MY LIFE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) In my life I've loved them all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.