The Beatles have become so surrounded by myth, fantasy and speculation that determining anything other than the basic facts of their lives has become virtually impossible. The way the public perceives the really famous is an amalgamation of information filtered through layers of the media, embellished, stereotyped, politicised according to the position of the writers and editors involved. In the case of rock stars, particularly unreliable since the media - TV shows and the popular music press - are more a part of the entertainment business than serious journalism of record, a situation exacerbated by musicians, who usually only give interviews to promote new product. There was virtually no serious coverage given to pop music by the press until the latter half of the sixties, when the underground press - East Village Other, Berkely Barb, IT - started up, and at the end of the decade, when magazines like Rolling Stone began publication. As a consequence there are very few reliable interviews with the Beatles at the height of their fame.
Received knowledge is a strange melange of the Fab Four, the four mop tops, the Lords of Psychedelia, the witty one, the cute one and, in the case of John, the Prince of Peace, combining the wisecracking happy chappies of A Hard Day's Night and the tripped-out figures of the 'Strawberry Fields Forever' promotional film, the chirpy cartoon cut-outs of Yellow Submarine and the hallucinatory Richard Avedon portrait posters which adorned so many bedroom walls. The stress was moreover always on the Beatles as a group, not as individuals. They became a part of popular iconography, a convenient signifier of sixties Britain. Just as the Eiffel Tower symbolises Paris, a few frames of Harold Wilson, Christine Keeler and the Beatles now define an entire era.
Fans always chose their favourite Beatle and this bias has continued to colour even the work of modern popular historians. When four people create music together it is difficult to determine which individual is responsible for what and the tendency is to attribute everything you admire to the Beatle you like. Thus, for example, Sinatra regularly introduced George Harrison's 'Something' as a 'Lennon and McCartney' song. Everything remotely experimental or avant-garde is always attributed to John Lennon, including Paul's loop tapes and orchestral experiments on 'A Day in the Life'. In fact John was deeply suspicious of everything avant-garde, saying, 'Avant-garde is French for bullshit.' He only began to revise his opinion when he got together with Yoko Ono in 1969 and then he had to make a conscious effort to overcome his reservations.
This book is an attempt to sort out these attributions, to dispel some of the inaccuracies which are passed on from biography to biography, and to give a close-focus portrait of Paul and his circle in sixties London. Paul was the only Beatle living in town, the only one who was nominally single, and he was to be found at the gallery openings and first nights, the clubs and late-night bars, the Happen-ings and experimental events that so characterise the mid-sixties. He did his own experiments in the field of loop tapes and film superimposition, which found their way into the Beatles' work but are usually attributed to John. Because he did not publicise it, this is a little-known side of Paul and one that this book hopes to reveal.
Unfortunately, subsequent to John's murder, any attempt at an objective assessment of John Lennon's role in the Beatles inevitably becomes iconoclastic. He has become St John, a role which would both amuse and horrify him. Though John is no longer here to tell his side of the story, the sheer volume of existing Lennon interviews means that he already covered much of the contentious ground. From 1968 onwards, at the onset of their peace campaign, John and Yoko did as many as ten interviews a day, whereas the other Beatles rarely spoke to the press at all, so we have John's views on most subjects of importance, including, fortunately, his comments on a great many of the Lennon and McCartney compositions.
In the course of writing this book, Paul and I talked about every Lennon and McCartney composition, including those recorded by groups other than the Beatles. Paul purposely did not read John's comments beforehand but in only two cases out of more than eighty songs was there a serious disagreement about whose composition it was. (John had claimed more than 70 per cent of the lyrics to 'Eleanor Rigby' and Paul remembered writing the music to 'In My Life'.)
PAUL: I'd like to say this is just as I remember it, if it hurts anyone or any families of anyone who've got a different memory of it. Let me say first off, before you read this book even, that I loved John. Lest it be seen that I'm trying to do my own kind of revisionism, I'd like to register the fact that John was great, he was absolutely wonderful and I did love him. I was very happy to work with him and I'm still a fan to this day. So this is merely my opinion. I'm not trying to take anything away from him. All I'm saying is that I have my side of the affair as well, hence this book. When George Harrison wrote his life story I Me Mine, he hardly mentioned John. In my case I wouldn't want to leave him out. John and I were two of the luckiest people in the twentieth century to have found each other. The partnership, the mix, was incredible. We both had submerged qualities that we each saw and knew. I had to be the bastard as well as the nice melodic one and John had to have a warm and loving side for me to stand him all those years. John and I would never have stood each other for that length of time had we been just one-dimensional.
Paul and John's songwriting partnership elevated the Beatles far above all other rock'n'roll bands and this book attempts to explore both that relationship and the genesis of those songs. It was a friendship initially disapproved of by both Paul's father and John's Aunt Mimi, and might at first have seemed an unlikely alliance.
PAUL: Whereas my upbringing made me the reasonably secure baby-faced product, John's was the opposite, the very insecure aquiline-nosed product, the angular, angry face, but it was easily explained. His father left home when he was five and never saw him again till John got famous and then was discovered washing dishes at the Bear Inn in Esher by a newspaperman. John had to deal with all that shit. John had massive hangups from his upbringing.
It was a love of rock'n'roll that first brought together these boys from disparate backgrounds: John middle-class, the product of a broken home, and Paul from a warm working-class family. Their friendship came first from playing together in a group - the Quarry Men - and was then strengthened by the formation of the formidable Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. It was a close, protec-tive friendship that would last a dozen years and was renewed once more before John's tragic death in 1980.
The pressure on the Beatles was at its most acute in the early days of Beatlemania. Then they were literally followed everywhere by the press, constantly demanding interviews. It is from these garbled quotes, lies and utter fabrications that much of the received knowledge of the Beatles' story is taken.
PAUL: We often used to say to journalists, 'Look, I haven't got time for the interview, just make it up.' So some of it's arrived that way ... you know, if it's a good story, it sticks. Or we may have felt like joking that day. It's summer and you're in a pub having a drink and there's a guy with a little book and he's going 'yayayayayaya' so to alleviate that pressure, we started to try and plant lies to the press. We used to award each other points for the best story printed. One that George got in was that he was Tommy Steele's cousin. That was a nice early one. It was wonderful because it turned it all around and the press stopped being a pressure and became a fun game. They didn't mind. Anything to fill a page. I remember John saying to me, 'God, I remember walking behind a group of press and you at some cocktail reception. I was just hovering near, and you were giving them the world's greatest bullshit! Nor a word of it was true,' he said. "I loved it, though, it was brilliant..'' We did do that, so of course one or two of those stories have stuck.
With the exception of Hunter Davies's 1968 biography of the Beatles, and George Harrison's 1980 autobiography, there has not been a lull-length authorised study of this period; all the existing Paul McCartney biographies rely heavily on the sort of press sources described above. In the case of popular music, most of the usual sources of information - journals, correspondence - are absent. There are news clips, films, printed sources and the memories of the participants. Most of the events described in this book took place more than thirty years ago and memories become coloured or dim. I have attempted to check facts but this was not always possible.
PAUL: One of my sixties memories is about a fan in the street. I ran up to her and pulled her jacket off and said 'That's my jacket!’ because we'd had a burglary and it was like one of mine. But it actually wasn't mine, there were more in the shop and she'd bought one. She said, 'It's the wrong size, it's mine.' So 'Oh, God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!' Put her down. And I was talking about it to Neil Aspinall years later and I said, 'We jumped out of the taxi and I grabbed her,' and he said 'Yeah,' and I said, 'And it was in front of Savile Row,' and he said, 'No. It was in Piccadilly.' To me, when the complete background of the memory had schisted, you go, 'Oh, fuck, I'd better start talking to somebody.' So I'll give you it as I remember it, but I do admit, my thing does move around, jumps around a lot. But the nice thing is, we don't have to be too faithful, because that's not what we’re talking about. We're talking about a sequence of things that did all happen within a period. So, it’s my recollection of then ...
The core of this book is based upon a series of thirty-five taped interviews with Paul McCartney conducted over a period of six years, from 1991 to 1996, as well as from information gathered in the course of many other conversations with him at events, rehearsals, concerts and get-togethers.
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I first met Paul in the summer of 1965 and saw a great deal of him throughout the latter half of me sixties. Together with John Dunbar and Peter Asher, I started Indica Books and Gallery in Mason's Yard and Paul was very involved in painting the walls and putting up shelves. Paul designed and had printed the wrapping paper for the bookshop and helped design advertising flyers.
Later, when John Hopkins and I started International Times (IT), Europe's first underground newspaper, Paul was again involved, helping to lay out ads and providing emergency financial aid. When the staff of IT ran the UFO club, an all-night underground club featuring the Pink Floyd and Arthur Brown, Paul was often to be found there, sitting on the floor along with the rest of the hippies. We attended lectures and concerts and went to films and plays together. Paul often came to dinner. In 1968 Paul asked me to become the label manager for Zapple, the experimental and spoken-word division of Apple Records, and I recorded a number of albums for the label, some of which I edited at Apple headquarters in Savile Row, which I got to know pretty well.
The descriptions of the Asher household, Beatles recording sessions from Revolver onwards, most of the scenes in night clubs, the Indica Gallery and Bookshop, Paul's experimental recording studio, Marianne Faithfull and John Dunbar's apartment, Robert Fraser's home and gallery, are all based in part upon journal notes I made at the time, though in some cases John Dunbar has jogged my memory. These are my descriptions of places and events and not necessarily how Paul remembers them. Paul's quoted memories are his.
In order to present a more rounded picture I talked with other people who were involved in the London scene at the time and would like to thank the following for allowing me to interview them: William Burroughs, Brian Clarke, David Dalton, Felix Dennis, Donovan, John Dunbar, Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Gibbs, Allen Ginsberg, Linda McCartney, Peter Swales and David Vaughan. I have also drawn upon interviews I conducted prior to this project with George Harrison, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I have been given enormous assistance by the staff of MPL, in particular Sue Prochnik and Shelagh Jones. I am also grateful to Mary McCartney in the London office and Eddie Klein, Keith Smith, John Hammel, Louise Morris and Jamie Kirkham at the Mill. Thanks also to Zoe and Sylvie at Linda's Pictures.
In a protect such as this, many people inevitably contribute ideas and information, often inadvertently in the course of a conversation, at other times by active assistance. I would like to thank Steve Abrams for his considerable help on the section concerning the 'pot ad' in The Times; John and Marina Adams; Gillon Aitken at Aitken Stone & Wylie; Anica Alvarez at Seeker; Neil Aspinall at Apple; Mike Arnold at Merseytravel for details of Liverpool bus routes; Geoff Baker; Peter Blake; Victor Bockris; Pete Brown; Simon Caulkin; Chris Charlesworth at Omnibus Press; Dave Courts; Andy Davis at The Beatles Book Monthly; Paul DuNoyer at Mojo; Robin Eggar for sharing his McCartney interviews with me; Mike Evans; Anthony Fawcett; Raymond Foye; Hilary Gerrard; the late Albert Goldman; Jaco and Elizabeth Groot at Die Harmonie in Amsterdam; Michael Henshaw; John Hopkins; Michael Horovitz; Jude at Vibe; Harold Landry for various key magazines; Christopher Logue; Tony Lacey at Penguin; George Lawson at Bertram Rota; Mark Lewisohn for many useful insights as well as for his invaluable chronologies; Gerard Malanga;
Gerard Mankowitz; Sue Miles, who was there for much of it; Laury Minard at Forbes; Herve Muller; Jeremy Neech at Apple's photo-graphic archives; Richard Neville; Alan Nichols at NatWest; Pierce and Jackie O'Carroll in Liverpool; the late David Platz; Victor Schonfield for his memories of our visit to AMM; Paul Smith at Blast First; Mat Snow at Mojo, Peter Stansill; Martha Stevns; Lionel Tiger; Harriet Vyner for her notes on Robert Eraser; Peter Whitehead; John Wilcock; Peter Wollen; the staff of the London Library and the Liverpool Record Office.
Thanks to Dan Franklin for signing the book and to my editor Max Eilenberg for the laborious task of knocking it into shape. Thanks to Ingrid von Essen for detecting numerous embarrassing errors. Many thanks to my friend and agent Andrew Wylie, who first proposed the idea, and, as ever, to my wife and in-house editor Rosemary Bailey, for her invaluable suggestions and support. And to Paul, whose life it is.