“Doing this for the students was such a special buzz for me. I hope it was for them too.” — Paul McCartney
At the behest of two-term U.S. poet laureate and senior distinguished fellow at the Winter Park Institute Billy Collins, Paul McCartney spoke Thursday night to a few hundred students at Knowles Memorial Chapel on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park, FL.
Kept secret until the morning of the event, McCartney’s visit prompted so much interest that students had to win tickets in a lottery system.
“I’d say, ‘It’s getting better all the time,’ and he’d say, ‘It can’t get much worse,” McCartney told the students of his creative chemistry with John Lennon. “I would have never thought of that.”
When asked whether lyrics or music come first, he replied, “I tell students all the time, ‘Look, I don’t know how to do this.’ Every time I approach a song, there’s no rules. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the words – and if you’re lucky, it all comes together.”
McCartney described how his inspiration for “Yesterday” came in a dream. Certain an old melody was stuck in his head, he went around humming the tune, asking if anyone knew it. “After two weeks,” he said, “I claimed it.”
Collins brought up how McCartney’s songs have been covered by countless bands, prompting Paul’s gratitude. “If someone on the street corner is reading one of your poems,” he asked Collins, “is it going to bother you?”
Asked about the Beatles’ musical evolution in the late 1960s, McCartney drew applause and laughter recalling “a natural growing up we developed – and drugs.”
“At the beginning of the Beatles,” he said, “you’ve got to remember, we were a boy band… It was all really fan-oriented. It’s not a bad thing, but after a while you felt like you wanted to move on.”
McCartney and Collins found common ground at the intersection of lyrics and poetry. Sharing how he once read his own poems to a group of scholars in New York City, McCartney admitted “it was pretty nerve-wracking” and quite different than playing to record-breaking concert crowds. “I had to respect the silence as a great thing,” he said.
McCartney closed the night with a performance of “Blackbird.”
“This was a wonderful event provided through the generosity of Sir Paul McCartney,” said Rollins Acting President Craig M. McAllaster. “He wanted it to be intimate and mostly for students. That’s why they filled most of the seats. It’s a wonderful thing to have someone of his stature and significance give us his time and talent to Rollins College.”