Paul McCartney’s life is probably one of the most thoroughly examined of the modern era. There’s almost no stone unturned, no anecdote that hasn’t been cycled and recycled through the press a thousand times before. It’s because the man is very deliberate—he has his stories, and he sticks to them.
But in a new interview with Chris Heath of GQ, McCartney has shone a light on the lesser-known parts of the mythology of The Beatles and his own life. The McCartney here is a different beast, a weird, wistful myth of a man, one who talks equally earnestly about group masturbation as he does about the condensed milk of his childhood home. We strongly urge you to read the whole interview, but we’ve gathered a few highlights here.
One of the most out-there stories is about McCartney’s childhood fascination with killing frogs. Now an outspoken animal-rights activist, McCartney recounts being a boy and feeling that he had to kill something to toughen up in preparation for enrollment in the National Service. Naturally, he proceeded to kill “a bunch of frogs and stick them up on a barbed-wire fence.”
Stories of childhood abound in the interview—he recalls his childhood desire to be a truck-driver, “full of faith in God and the world.” He also recalls a memory he can’t be sure is real, a “vision of a sort of white-tiled room, and chrome clinical instruments.” This is, of course, his birth he’s describing. This continues into a story of peaking on acid and seeing a helix in his own brain. To him, this vision preceded the actual discovery of the double-helix model of DNA. “I’ve seen my own DNA,” he tells Heath. He’s wrong about the date of discovery, but it’s still an uncharacteristically unguarded moment for the most broad-appealing, family-friendly Beatle.
Another honest moment: a description of group masturbation sessions with John Lennon and their friends as teenagers. McCartney describes the five of them turning out the lights and masturbating, taking turns calling out names in inspiration. “We were just, ‘Brigitte Bardot!’ ‘Whoo!’ and then everyone would thrash a bit more,” McCartney recalls. “I think it was John sort of said, ‘Winston Churchill!’” A similar story of sensory deprivation/stimulation comes when he recalls The Beatles smoking pot in their studios echo chamber while various vocalists like Manfred Mann and Tom Jones would sing into the chamber for their recordings. “Can you imagine us all sitting, a bloody great echo coming?” he says.
He goes on to describe his work with Kanye West, including turning the rapper/producer down when he asked to produce McCartney’s latest album, Egypt Station. McCartney recalls telling West the inspiration for “Let It Be” following a dream he had about his late mother, in which she told him those words. Per GQ, “West, who had suffered his similar loss only recently, had said he wanted to write a song about his mother and, there and then, had started singing some of what became ‘Only One’ over McCartney’s piano melody.”
These stories, and many more, can be read in the full story on GQ. Listen to a 1990 McCartney performance from the Paste archives below.