John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Central Park, February 1964The Chemistry of Lennon and McCartney: An Essay

Paul’s Step-Sister, Ruth McCartney, Looks Back on Her Beatlemania-Laced Childhood

by Ruth McCartney

In words that only a native Liverpudlian
could convey, Ruth McCartney shares her
memories of being Paul's little sister and
the luck of having had her Uncle John.

“It’s a drag.” Paul McCartney, England, December 8, 1980.

My beloved step-brother was never one to deal with soul wrenching grief in a practical manner. He was brought up in the guilt-ridden Catholic mind set of ““ “Let’s not talk about it son,“ a la father Jimmy Mac.

He and the world had just lost someone very dear to them. I had lost my Uncle John, the myopic, misunderstood, manipulative, mystifying Mop-Top who had helped me to learn to ride a bicycle; Julian and Sean had lost a father; Cynthia, her knight in shining armour; Yoko, a fellow artist, contemporary and house husband...and Paul? Well, call me crazy, but he lost the wife. I’m certainly not implying anything of a carnal nature here, but to almost all intents and porpoises (as John would have put it), what they had was a marriage.

Mark David Chapman’s selfish quest for his Warhol-esque fifteen minutes of fame was the fatal wound to an injured relationship that had lasted almost 23 years. This unconventional partnership, much like a paradigmatic marriage, had endured its sundry situations...its honeymoon period; its seven year itch; the adoption of its offspring by Northern Songs and some time foster parent Michael Jackson; the tender temptations of Jane, Cynthia, Yoko, Linda, May Pang and others; the psychedelic side-trips; the jesters in the High Court; a very public airing of some dirty laundry lyrics; and finally, like two great lions in a butcher’s shop who have matured enough to realize there’s enough meat in the market for both of them...a mutual, if grudging respect. It was a drag alright.

On a dank, blustery evening in October 1940, at the Oxford Street Maternity hospital in Liverpool, Julia Stanley Lennon gave birth to a bouncing bundle of boy joy whom she named John Winston. The boy’s father, Alfred, a professional coward and merchant seaman was away on a voyage. He would return six years later and attempt to make amends with the young lad by offering to take him to New Zealand. Hitler’s Luftwaffe was extremely interested in this industrialized zone with its munitions factories, rail network and busy seaport, but despite the young John’s pleas to Julia, Freddie was sent packing and John Winston was returned to the care of his houseproud Aunty Mimi and dairy farmer Uncle George, at Mendips on Menlove Avenue, where he’d been living for a year.

Almost 21 months after John Winston had screamed his first protest, a 32-year-old Mary Patricia Mohin McCartney would experience the same set of emotions and circumstances at her place of work - she was a nursing sister at Walton Hospital - only difference being that her husband, (a.k.a. “me Dad“), was there at 2:05 a.m. to welcome his first born, James Paul, into the world.

The family grew within 18 months to include brother Peter Michael, and they resided in various houses in Allerton and Speke from Roach Avenue to Ardwick Road, before finally settling at 20 Forthlin Road in 1955.

The following year, mother Mary died of breast cancer, leaving the emotionally immature Paul to ask, upon hearing the news of the tragedy, “what are we going to do without her money?“ My brother Mike has been quoted as opining that it was this pivotally catastrophic event that caused an inwardly devastated 14-year-old Paul to pour his passion and pain into his music, which paradoxically became a blessing for all of us.

Across town, John Winston would be the victim of the same disastrous occurrence just two years later. Julia was killed by a car driven by an off duty policeman on July 15, 1958. The deprivation of his mother’s friendship would affect John deeply and bond these partners in rhyme for years to come. Paul had already suffered the loss of his Mother, and although two years younger, and infinitely less experienced than John, it would prove to be a mutually morbid situation in which they could commiserate.

Almost a year before the sudden passing of Julia Lennon, a coincidental collision of cosmic proportions took place at St. Peter’s Parish Church in Woolton Village.

On the afternoon of July 6, 1957, right across the street from the ossuary of a certain spinster called Eleanor Rigby, an unsuspecting schoolboy named Ivan Vaughn, lad about town, villain of Vale Street and part-time tea chest bassist, took a chubby 15-year-old Paul McCartney to listen to local ‘legends in their own lunchtime’ - the band they called The Quarry Men. The group was headed by a sexy, sardonic closet nice-guy, the almost 17-year-old John Winston Lennon with his £17 guitar. Paul remembers: “It was at Woolton Village Fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm ‘round my shoulder, I realized that he was drunk.“

Not a very glamorous account of an event that was to change minds, music, marketing, merchandise and mania as we knew it. This completely unremarkable set of circumstances would lead to an alliance, that although inconsanguineous, would ultimately disprove the old adage “blood’s thicker than water.“ That may be, but shit’s thicker than blood. And these guys went through their fair share of shit together.

To encapsulate their relationship, you most definitely “had to be there.“ I was very fortunate in that regard. I may have only been a child, but with the 20/20 vision of hindsight I can safely say that even though I suffered the rigours of having my hair chopped off by teenage souvenir seekers as a tot; going to the school cloakroom and finding my raincoat and wellies missing because they had the name McCartney embossed inside them; being told never to give my name or phone number to any strangers in case they were kidnappers, or worse - JOURNALISTS; growing up never knowing if my friends wanted to play with me for me or if they had the ulterior “meet a Beatle“ motive; and a jillion other put downs that have turned me into the psychotic, co-dependent mental case that I am today (NOT !!!)...I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

I would never have the memory of John and Paul arguing out a song together in the attic at Cavendish Avenue; the honour of having Blackbird written for my maternal Grandmother, Edie; the photos of a 4-year-old me with Paul in the Bahamas on the location of HELP! ; the recollection of a “blind without his glasses“ John waking up at Rembrandt to be told by mother Angie that they were number one in the charts - again; the birth of all my nieces and nephews; the look on Jim’s face when he heard Paul had recorded his one and only musical composition (Walking in the Park with Eloise) with Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer; and a jillion other pick-me-ups too numerous to mention. The reason I’m most grateful to have been there is, still to this day, that Jim chose to give me his name. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. McCartney is a fairly common name, as is Lennon, and if you look in any telephone book in most major cities in the world, you’ll find a slew of ’em.

I remember Jim’s words “toler and moder“...toleration and moderation, and try to live by them (except when it comes to buying shoes!). I clean my teeth, say my prayers, don’t do drugs, don’t smoke, TRY to pay my bills on time and completely believe in Karma. The significance of being there through the “Beatle Years“ is only just now beginning to dawn on me. Having finally realized the value and responsibility of “the name“ I must say, it’s certainly a helluva perk to be related to Paul. But it’s a helluva privilege to be related to Jim. Why? Coz there’s no hairs on a seagull’s chest!

Looking back across the years, the synchronicitous world events, the alignment of the planets and a whole host of other spooky things - all I with my high school education can conclude is this: John and Paul were meant to meet, meant to create and one was designed to play sturm and drang to the other’s yin and yang.

One Romulus to the other’s Remus. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Nurk Twins, live without the aid of a net - ably backed up by their band The Oedipus Guilt Complex.

Like the tragic deaths of Julia and Mary, and as the Death card in the Tarot signifies “change,“ the equally untimely demise of JFK left America in a depressed, emotional turmoil. The civil rights problems of the early 60s, the social unrest after World War II and the Korean war served, in my opinion, to act as a tunnel from which it appeared there was no escape.

Then on the February 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan shone the proverbial light on the viewing public. The long night was over. The Beatles had conquered America. For the next two and a half years, John and Paul, (together with George and Ringo), would travel, eat, rehearse, write, play, record and “sleep“ (again, not literally) together.

The magic eventually had to wear off. On Monday, August 29, 1966, after endearing youth and enraging society, they played their penultimate concert together at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

The Scouse glue was coming unstuck. Their next and final gig was to be on the roof of their Saville Row headquarters in London on January 30, 1969. The glue had turned flaky. The honeymoon was over. The divorce lawyers had moved in. But the legacy remains. From the four on the floor, skiffle inspired raw rock ’n' roll songs of the Hamburg days to the sophisticated psychedelic tales of public works excavations in Blackburn, Lancashire - it’s all still there for us to reminisce, regret and rejoice over.

The Bonnie and Clyde of rock ‘n‘ roll had pulled their last job. Busted. Caught red-handed with lives, wives and children of their own. Finito. Sayonara. Later dude...

And so we move into the era of Oasis, Green Day, The Smashing Pumpkins, Tori Amos, Joan Osborne, and various other really groovy types with piercings in places I have to look up in a medical dictionary - but d’ya know what? Ask the songwriters of today who influenced them and eight out of ten will tell you it was The Beatles. So it goes, and in the end, the music you make is equal to the kudos you take. Now THAT’s not such a drag after all!!

Copyright © 2002 Ruth McCartney