Of Rock and Remembrance

Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

It’s not surprising that loss is the subject of most of the songs Paul McCartney has written since the death of Linda McCartney, his wife of almost 30 years.

And it’s also not surprising that McCartney’s feelings are still too tender to allow him to put those songs into an album.

So in his first album since Linda’s death in April 1998, the ex-Beatle has turned to his first musical love--'50s rock’ n’ roll. The modest but frequently charming collection, titled “Run Devil Run” and due in stores Tuesday from Capitol Records, includes his interpretations of 12 songs that were his favorites as a teenager, as well as three new songs McCartney wrote in a ‘50s style. The oldies range from tunes identified with Elvis Presley (“All Shook Up”) and Chuck Berry (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”) to such obscurities as Carl Perkins’ “Movie Magg” and the Vipers’ “No Other Baby.”

While in Los Angeles to host an awards dinner for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization, McCartney spoke about the new album, his future musical plans and life without Linda.


Question: My assumption is the reason you decided to do this album was that it would be comforting and fun, something to lift your spirits after Linda’s death. Is that true?

Answer: Well, that was certainly an element of it, but we were always going to do a rock ‘n’ roll album. Linda and I talked about this record a lot, because her soul was in rock ‘n roll, . . . from doo-wop to Hendrix. She loved that, and she [always encouraged me] to play more electric guitar, like Neil Young. We were both great admirers of Neil. We went to see him at the Phoenix Rock Festival [in England in 1996] and she [insisted] that I drive her. She didn’t want any limos or anything. So I drove her, and we went backstage and had a blast of an evening.

Q: How did you go about picking the songs for the album? Did you go to your record collection and look up old things?

A: No, I just sat down and made a little list of records that came quickly to mind. It was like a memory check, really. I wasn’t looking necessarily for the best songs, but records whose sound and passion stuck with me all these years. I never even owned some of the records. I just remember hearing Little Richard’s version of “Shake a Hand,” for instance, on a jukebox when I was in Hamburg with the Beatles.


Before John [Lennon] and I really started writing, our act [as the Beatles] was playing our favorite songs. But we also had to learn a lot of obscure songs, just in case one of the opening acts on the bill played “Long Tall Sally” or “What’d I Say” or one of our other favorites before we got on stage. The main reason John and I did start writing was so we could have some songs that no one else would be playing.

Q: Of all the artists you loved in the ‘50s, from Elvis to Chuck Berry to Buddy Holly, was there one above all that made you want to go into rock ‘n’ roll?

A: I think the one would be Elvis. Even before I heard him, I saw a picture of him--the one they released with “Heartbreak Hotel"--and I thought, “Wow, what’s that?” I think everyone starts off singing like someone, and then you develop your own thing. I think Elvis was one of my [vocal influences], then Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Q: Any other albums you’d like to make in this vein?

A: I’ve got a million records I want to make someday. I want to make a Fred Astaire-type record, songs like “Cheek to Cheek.” . . . I love that stuff . . . “Heaven, I’m in heaven.” I’d also like to make a jazz record, even though I don’t know how to do jazz. I’d love to try.

Q: What about the next album of your own songs?

A: I don’t know. I had a bunch of songs before Lin died, and I’ve written six or seven since, sort of sad songs, as you can understand, about losing someone.

Q: Do you think you’ll tour again?


A: Oh, yes, but I don’t know when. I enjoy touring and those waves of affection you feel on stage, but there are lots of things in my life that give me joy. . . . I’ve got my grandson, my kids, a horse, dogs. I value all those areas. You have to balance it.

Q: Is there any advice you have for someone who is also going through a personal loss?

A: I’ve no [answers] for anything. That’s one thing I’ve learned about life. When I was at school, all that education was a puzzle, but you finally get through it. When we got into music, I never knew what it was all about, but me and John got to be hugely successful. Similarly, I didn’t know what to do when your girlfriend of 30 years dies.

I think life is an ongoing flow, and I’m very open to it. The Beatles’ van once went off a motor way and we were stuck in a ditch, and one of us said, “Something will happen.” It was very Beatles-esque, and it stuck with me. I really believe in that kind of magic. Life takes care of itself.

Q: That sounds like the message of “Let It Be.”

A: Yes, and how did I get that line? My mother came in a dream and said it to me. How did I get “Yesterday”? I dreamed the melody. That’s not real. That’s magic. I’ve had too many experiences for me not to believe it. What’s lovely about that [philosophy] is that it’s leveling. You don’t have to be special to be able to do that. Everyone has that. *


Robert Hilburn, The Times’ pop music critic, can be reached by e-mail at