A photo that Paul McCartney saw in a 1965 issue of National Geographic inspired him to write the Beatles’ classic “Lady Madonna,” he reveals in a new interview with the magazine.
The photo showed a Malayo-Polynesian woman surrounded by three small children; she is nursing one of them. It was published with an article called “American Special Forces in Action in Viet Nam.”
McCartney has been a fan of National Geographic since he was a child, he said in an interview with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, that was posted online Wednesday.
The magazine, he said, “was sort of always there, that yellow frame and you know exactly what it is and you know you’re going to get great photos and great stories about the world, so it brings the world to you. I’ve always loved it,” McCartney said.
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“One particular issue I saw in the ’60s had a woman and she was very proud, and she had a baby, and I saw that as a kind of Madonna thing, mother and child ... you know sometimes you see pictures of mothers, you go ‘she’s a good mother.’ You can just tell this bond and it just affected me, that photo. So I was inspired to write ‘Lady Madonna,’ my song, from that photo.”
The picture appeared in National Geographic’s January 1965 issue. It was called “Mountain Madonna” and was taken by photographer Howard Sochurek.
“Mountain Madonna, with one child at her breast and another laughing into her face, sees her way of life threatened,” the magazine’s description read.
“Her people, of Malayo-Polynesian origin, took refuge in the hills centuries ago. Now they live among thousands of newly settled Vietnamese, who clear tribal areas for themselves, while Viet Cong guerrillas make the highlands a battleground.”
Rolling Stone ranks “Lady Madonna” at No. 86 on a list of 100 greatest Beatles songs. Recorded and released in 1968, it is a tribute to working-class womanhood, Rolling Stone describes.
In his interview with National Geographic, McCartney also spoke about his ongoing campaign to encourage people to stop eating so much meat. He’s been a vegetarian for more than 40 years.
He recently made a short documentary, “One Day a Week,” with his daughters Mary and Stella McCartney, to raise awareness about the impact of livestock on the environment.
Actors Emma Stone and Woody Harrelson narrate the film, which is slated for release on Friday on the Meat Free Monday YouTube page.
Meat Free Monday is a not-for-profit campaign McCartney launched with his daughters in 2009 to encourage people to improve their health and the environment by having at least one meat-free day each week.
His full interview with Goldberg is posted at NationalGeographic.com.