By 1957, a teenage John Lennon first started performing throughout Liverpool with his band The Quarrymen when Paul McCartney, just 15 at the time, impressed Lennon with his musical skills and joined the band.
That group would soon become The Beatles, one of the most popular musical acts of the ’60s and beyond. Lennon and McCartney wrote over 200 songs together, but they didn’t just bond over music – they had also shared a similar tragedy early in life that would influence their work and their relationship.
Lennon and McCartney experienced loss early on
The year prior to joining The Quarrymen, McCartney lost his mother Mary to breast cancer when he was only 14 years old. Lennon also lost his mother Julia, who died in a car accident when he was 17. The loss of both their mothers at an early age not only bonded Lennon and McCartney together, but it also greatly influenced their music and led to them working together on over 200 songs.
Not only did Lennon and McCartney collaborate well musically, but they also wrote about their loss. Lennon wrote several songs about his mother’s death, including “Julia.” Julia Lennon loved music and played several instruments, she also encouraged her son to do the same.
The unexpected death of his mother deeply affected Lennon, and for two years after the loss, he was consumed in a “blind rage,” drinking heavily and getting into fights. A similar pattern emerged throughout Lennon’s life, like the period of separation from Yoko Ono that he called his “lost weekend” period, spent drinking and doing drugs.
The heartfelt song “Let It Be” is said to be written about Mary McCartney. Paul McCartney told James Corden in 2018 about the dream that inspired the song: “I had a dream in the Sixties where my mum who died came to me in a dream and was reassuring me, saying: ‘It’s gonna be OK. Just let it be…'” The song references his mother directly in the lyric: when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.
In an interview with BBC, Paul McCartney shared how his family dealt with the sudden loss of his mother:
“We had no idea what my mum had died of because no one talked about it. She just died. The worse thing about that was everyone was very stoic, everyone kept a stiff upper lip and then one evening you’d hear my dad crying in the next room. It was tragic because we’d never heard him cry. It was a quiet private kind of grief.”
McCartney’s own trauma surrounding the death of his mother was magnified when his wife, Linda McCartney, also died from breast cancer in 1998.
‘Brothers’ still grew apart
Later on in life, Lennon and McCartney also honored their mothers through their children. Lennon’s son Julian is named after his mother, and one of McCartney’s daughters shares his mother’s name, Mary.
Even though Lennon and McCartney described their friendship as a brotherly bond, the two Beatles frontmen drifted apart later in life. Feuds and disagreements about the direction of the band tore a rift between the friends, but a year prior to John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 it was reported that he and McCartney were starting to talk more often.
McCartney shared his own thoughts about his shared trauma with Lennon on his unreleased CD Anthology:
“We both had this emotional turmoil which we had to deal with and, being teenagers, we had to deal with it very quickly. We both understood that something had happened that you couldn’t talk about – but we could laugh about it, because each of us had gone through it.”