Dear friend, what’s the time?
Is this really the borderline?
Does it really mean so much to you?
Are you afraid, or is it true?Dear friend, throw the wine,
I’m in love with a friend of mine.
Really truly, young and newly wed.
Are you a fool, or is it true?Are you afraid, or is it true?Dear friend, what’s the time?Is this really the borderline?Does it really mean so much to you?Are you afraid, or is it true?Dear friend, throw the wine,I’m in love with a friend of mine.Really truly, young and newly wed.Are you a fool, or is it true?Are you afraid, or is it true?
On December 2018, Paul McCartney released a new intimate home recording of the Lennon-related track Dear Friend that was released the same month in 1971.
The weeks that preceded Paul’s publication of Dear Friend were tumultuous for John and Paul: in fact, they attacked each other through songs and press interviews, desperately trying to get each other’s attention.
On November 1971, in the Melody Maker magazine, Paul commented on John and Yoko’s relationship, asserting that they are “not cool”, and describes ‘How Do You Sleep’ (John’s song in which he badly insults Paul) as “silly” and “wrong.”:
“John and Yoko are not cool in what they are doing. I saw them on television the other night and thought that what they are saying about what they wanted to do together was basically the same as what Linda and I want to do. “How Do You Sleep’? I think it’s silly. […] He says the only thing I did was ‘Yesterday.’ He knows that’s wrong. (Paul motions to the studio below) I used to sit down there and play, and John would watch me from up here, and he’d really dig some of the stuff I played to him. He can’t say all I did was ‘Yesterday’ because he knows and I know it’s not true.”
Paul McCartney, Melody Maker Magazine, November 1971
Paul’s comments provoked John’s reaction. So on December 1971 he sent a letter to the same magazine answering to Paul’s provocations:
Listen, my obsessive old pal […] Wanna put your photo on the label like uncool John and Yoko, do ya? (Aint ya got no shame!) If we’re not cool, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU?
John Lennon, Melody Maker Magazine, December 1971.
After these harsh back and forth discussions through papers, Paul called John, and they allegedly had a rather positive conversation.
On the same month, ‘Wild Life’, Paul’s new album, was released. Dear Friendwas the final track on Paul McCartney and Wings’ first album, and this song was one of Paul’s responses to John’s harsh ‘How Do You Sleep’, along with “Too Many People”; but while the latter had a spiteful tone, Dear Friend, on the contrary, was an attempt to kindly talk to John and let him understand that Paul wanted to reconcile with him. Just by taking a closer look at the lyrics of ‘Dear Friend’ and putting it in the context of their relationship, it becomes very clear who Paul is talking to through his lyrics.
In fact, while in the first part of the song he tries to understand if it’s really the end of their friendship, singing “Is this really the borderline?”, in the second one he tries to calm down the tension reminding John that he still loves him: “I’m in love with a friend of mine.”
“Are you afraid, or is it true?” is Paul’s way of asking John if all the rants he had about their fights, in his songs and in the interviews, was John’s way to deal with his fear of losing him (in ‘Jealous Guy’ he’ll sing about it too.) or if he really meant those hurtful words.
This is an interview Paul McCartney did for the fan club magazine “Club Sandwich” in 1994, in which he talks about this song:
“Dear Friend” was written about John, yes. I don’t like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So after John had slagged me off in public I had to think of a response, and it was either going to be to slag him off in public — and some instinct stopped me, which I’m really glad about — or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote “Dear Friend”, saying, in effect, let’s lay the guns down, let’s hang up our boxing gloves.”
Last year, close to the release of a new version of Dear Friend, Paul gave a new interview about this song, in which he declared:
“With ‘Dear Friend’, that’s sort of me talking to John after we’d had all the sort of disputes about The Beatles break up. I find it very emotional when I listen to it now. I have to sort of choke it back. I remember when I heard the song recently, listening to the roughs [versions of the remasterings] in the car. And I thought, ‘Oh God’. That lyric: ‘Really truly, young and newly wed’. Listening to that was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s true!’ I’m trying to say to John, ‘Look, you know, it’s all cool. Have a glass of wine. Let’s be cool. And luckily, we did get it back together, which was like a great source of joy because it would have been terrible if he’d been killed as things were at that point and I’d never got to straighten it out with him. This was me reaching out. So, I think it’s very powerful in some very simple way. But it was certainly heartfelt.”
Paul McCartney NME, Nov 2018.
Early demo versions of the song Dear Friend were recorded during the Ram sessions, so the song was written before the Imagine album – considered the main focus of John’s attacks to Paul. However, the lyrics were adapted and re-written a little to reflect Imagine’s content, and in the finished song Paul asks if their business troubles are worth more to John than their relationship.
Dear friend, what’s the time?
Is this really the borderline?
Does it really mean so much to you?
Are you afraid, or is it true?
This song, and that series of lyrics in particular, proved a pivotal moment in their relationship. While Paul had criticised John in other songs on the album, the placing of Dear Friend at the end of the album offered John a way out of their downward spiral.
In December 1971 Paul and Linda visited John and Yoko in New York to continue their attempts at fixing their relationship. It was the first time they had socialised together in more than two years. In fact, the meeting was difficult, but fairly positive and helped ease tension between them a little. In late January 1972 they met again in New York for dinner, and after this meeting, while the in-song references to each other continued, they became much softer and tongue in cheek.
Indeed, the entire Band on the Run album ‘concept’ is formed by Paul’s Beatles experience, and mostly, the troubled relationship he had with John.
The new Dear Friend track released last year is a home recording Paul made in 1971. An intimate, introspective side of Paul’s real feelings about John’s attacks and the deep bond which he was afraid to lose once and for all. Fortunately, their meetings helped ease the tension between them, and they both agree that talking to each other through the press and media wasn’t fruitful, as it turned out to be the cause of their anger arousal, provoking hostility and most of all, journalists loved to play them against one another.
Another important factor played a role to reconcile them: the Bloody Sunday Massacre in which 13 civilians were killed by British troops.
External factors also played a big part in healing their rift. On January 30, 1972, while Paul was in New York meeting John, the Bloody Sunday massacre occurred in Northern Ireland, with 13 civilians killed by British troops. Both Lennon and McCartney had Irish grandparents, so these events helped them get things in perspective and the anger they shared over the killings reminded them of the bond they had with each other – and also inspired them to, separately, write songs about the slaughter.
Adam Thomas: Lennon Versus McCartney, The Beatles, Inter Band Relationships and the Hidden Messages to Each Other In Their Song Lyrics
After that crucial period, John and Paul never returned to their paths and decided to handle their relationship differently, acknowledging the necessity of a face to face communication to understand each other, without third partners who could damage their relationship. This was the last time John and Paul dealt their problems with the press and the last time their bond was at its lowest.
One can understand why they arrived at such an alarming conundrum: it was the very first time they were apart since they knew each other, the first time they didn’t get to talk in person, but rather through the public press. It’s not something to ignore, as they had been together since their first meeting in Liverpool in the hot summer of 1957, until the Beatles broke up in 1969. That was the very first time their relationship was put to the test, the first time they faced their past problems while being far away from each other. And what usually was cause of their problems? Their miscommunication, written here was only the backbone of a far harder problem: distance, media fingerprints, and false assumptions.
When they met twice between December and January 1971, it wasn’t difficult to ease the tension, and understand that everything could have been solved with a one hour talk face to face. And that’s, indeed, what happened, and they both understood that from that moment everything had to be discussed upon meeting, as the media liked to put the finger in the wound, and they certainly didn’t need other parties to voice their opinion about their feelings.
This wasn’t the first and last time Paul and John will have a discussion, but the last time they led media interfere with each other feelings, causing them to question the love and deep bond they had for one another.
Paul and John’s unusual way of dealing with their feelings and problems, which was writing songs to each other, was a pay-off here, as John understood the nature of Paul’s sincere worrying in Dear Friend and decided to talk to him, finally confronting him, untangling the knots caused by their miscommunication.
Dear Friend was the temporary medicine that cured their frequent misunderstandings, a disease which will come back several times through the 70s and won’t always be cured with a song. Only one thing was certain from that moment: they have talked about discussed each other’s feelings in their solo years through lyrics, face-to-face conversations or not. Without any doubt, ‘Dear Friend’ isn’t a unique case, more likely the first to have paved its road.