Opinion | ‘Now and Then, I Miss You’: The Love Story at the Heart of the Last Beatles Song

“Talking is the slowest form of communicating,” John Lennon said in 1968. “Music is much better.” In a sense, the music of the Beatles, which brings so much joy and consolation, is the glorious fruit of male repression. We like to think we live in a more emotionally enlightened age. We have learned to talk it out. Yet sometimes I think that is itself a kind of avoidance or a failure of nerve. We’ve awakened from the dream and yet seem to be more confused than ever.

Carl Perkins, the rockabilly guitarist and singer and a hero to the Beatles, collaborated with Mr. McCartney in the wake of Mr. Lennon’s death. One day, he played Mr. McCartney a song he had written for him with the line “My old friend, won’t you think about me every now and then?” At this, Mr. McCartney teared up and left the room, leaving Ms. McCartney to reassure a startled Mr. Perkins. She said those were “the last words that John Lennon said to Paul in the hallway of the Dakota building,” he told Goldmine magazine toward the end of his life. Mr. Lennon “patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘Think about me every now and then, old friend.’”

We can see why a song called “Now and Then” might be so important to Mr. McCartney, and we can guess what he hears in Mr. Lennon’s lyrics:

If we must start again
Well we will know for sure
That I will love you …
Now and then, I miss you
Now and then
I want you to be there for me.

On those last two lines, we can hear Mr. McCartney’s aged voice joining that of his old friend.

Last year I was in the audience at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for a McCartney show. The first encore of the set was a virtual duet with Mr. Lennon on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” using footage from a 1969 rooftop concert.

It could have felt cheap, a gimmick, but as Mr. McCartney turned toward the giant image of his friend as a young man, I cried, along with thousands of others.

Technology can revive the dream state, if only for the length of a song.

Ian Leslie writes the newsletter The Ruffian and is the author of, most recently, the book “Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes.” He is writing a book, “John and Paul: A Love Story in Songs,” about the relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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