Paul McCartney Said John Lennon Was ‘Hopelessly Guarded’

Paul McCartney remembers John Lennon as an intensely guarded person. He shared how it shaped his bandmate’s personality.

Paul McCartney was one of the closest people to John Lennon in his lifetime. The two met as teenagers and went on to write some of the world’s most successful and enduring songs together. While they were opposites in many ways, they got along, at least early in their time with The Beatles. McCartney understood that Lennon had many walls up, and he could break through to him.

Paul McCartney said John Lennon tried to protect his true personality

When McCartney met Lennon, he found him intimidating. Lennon got into fights, was loud and aggressive, and dressed in a way that concerned parents.

“I would see him from afar, from the bus,” McCartney said in The Beatles Anthology. “This Ted would get on the bus, and I wouldn’t look at him too hard in case he hit me, because he was just that much older. This was before I got to know him.”

Once McCartney got to know Lennon, he realized his aggression was an act. Lennon was trying to protect himself through physical fights and a caustic wit.

“John’s persona was very guarded, hopelessly guarded,” McCartney said on the podcast McCartney: A Life in Lyrics (via NME). “That’s where all his wit came from. Like so many comedians, it’s to shield themselves against the world.”

He explained that much of this defensiveness came from Lennon’s upbringing. He had a distant relationship with both parents and just as he grew closer to his mother, she died.

“John having a very difficult upbringing – his father leaves home, his uncle dies and his mother gets killed – he could be very sarcastic,” McCartney said. “We all could, it was my way of dealing with my mother’s death. There would often be a very witty put-down. It wouldn’t always be a put-down but it was always a very quick answer, and he’d trained himself to do that. That was one of the attractive things about him.”

His first wife, Cynthia Lennon, noticed the same trait in her husband

When Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, met him, she noticed the same thing as McCartney. Behind the shield of aggression was a vulnerability that he tried desperately to hide. They met at art school, and he was always on guard because he felt it was necessary.

“At Dovedale and Quarry Bank, he told me he felt he had to look tough and hard,” she said, per the book Lennon: The Definitive Biography by Ray Coleman. “It was his wall against the world, in case somebody picked a fight. So he dressed in a tough way. When he first went to college, he felt as if he had to be on guard. Most of the students weren’t tough or aggressive, but he’d come from a tougher school background. Woolton was a genteel area but he didn’t want to be regarded as a genteel lad, so he played a hard role.”

She believed their relationship and some of Lennon’s friendships taught him he didn’t have to be so defensive.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon connected over the deaths of their mothers

McCartney and Lennon were quite different, but they bonded quickly. Both of them dealt with the premature deaths of their mothers, and they connected over their losses.

“Probably our mothers dying, because John and I shared that experience. My mother died when I was about 14, and his died shortly after — about a year or so after, I think,” McCartney told NPR in 2001. “So this was a great bond John and I always had. We both knew the pain of it, and we both knew that we had to put on a brave face because we were sort of teenage guys, and you didn’t talk about that kind of thing where we came from.”

McCartney recalled a late night in Florida when they wept with each other.

“[A]t some point early in the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us, because we — members of a band and young guys, we didn’t do that kind of thing,” he said. “So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark.”

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