Paul McCartney talks about the Beatle breakup and his new life
'I FELT THE SPLIT WAS COMING'
So the separation became a divorce. On the last day of 1970, Paul
McCartney filed suit in London against John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George
Harrison to dissolve their partnership of the Beatles & Co. McCartney
charged that their business manager, Allen Klein, was incompetent, and
that the far-flung business affairs of their corporation, Apple, were a
vast bookkeeping mess. Then the strained silence that had gripped the
famous quartet for months became a war of words. In the course of a
rambling 30,000-word interview in Rolling Stone, John accused Paul of
trying to run the show. "We got fed up with being sidemen for Paul," he
said. George said he had once walked out because Paul had demonstrated a
"superior attitude" toward him musically. Ringo claimed that Paul -
"completely out of control" - had berated him over a conflict of album
publication dates and said, "I'll finish you!" Until now, Paul himself has
remained silent. Recently he agreed to the following interview, in which
he explains his motives and speaks in his defense.
McCartney was interviewed in Los Angeles, during a recording session for
his new album Ram. The album, which was partly recorded in New York,
contains 11 new songs by Paul, including several written in collaboration
with his wife Linda. It is scheduled for release May 15.
An interview by RICHARD MERYMAN
The whole Beatle thing: it's like it was all years ago, like going back a
distance more than anything. And that's the whole point. The Beatles are
really finished, over with, and it's just each of us alone now, living our
lives the way we choose. I think while the Beatles were on -- I can't
really use any other word -- while they were just on, there was no
question of any of these normal hangups interfering with it because we
just had an understanding. It's like a married couple. When we started off
we were all aiming for pretty much the same thing. I think the troubles
really began when we weren't aiming anymore for the same thing, which
began, I think, when we stopped touring in 1966.
During the making of the White Album, Ringo left the group saying he
wasn't "getting through" to the rest of us. But he came back in two days.
By the time we made Abbey Road, John and I were openly critical of each
other's music and I felt John wasn't much interested in performing
anything he hadn't written himself. When we made the Let It Be album,
George walked out over a row about the performance of some songs - and
said he was leaving the group. A few days later there was a meeting at
Ringo's house, and he agreed to come back at least until the recording was
So I felt the split coming. And John kept saying we were musicalIy
standing still. One night - this was the autumn of '69 - Linda and I were
lying there, talking about it, and I thought, "That's what I miss - and
what they miss too - playing." Because we hadn't actually played for
anyone for a long time. And being an actual good musician requires this
contact with people all the time. The human thing.
So I came into the idea of going to village halls which hold a couple of
hundred people. Have someone book the hall and put up posters saying,
maybe, "Ricky and Redstreaks Saturday Night." And we'd just turn up there
in a van and people would arrive and we'd be there. I thought that was
great. John said, "You're daft."
At this time John's thing was playing for 200,000 people because he'd been
at a big festival or something. So he wanted to do that. And I can see now
what he thought. I can see which way John sees progress. I see it
sometimes another way.
We were talking in the Apple offices. Ringo was there - he agreed - and
maybe George wasn't there. So then John says, "Anyway, I'm leaving the
group." He said, "I want a divorce." He literally said, "I want a
divorce." And for the first time ever, he meant it.
So that just hit everyone. All of us realized that this great thing that
we'd been part of was no longer to be. This was the chop. That hits
anyone, no matter what it is. It's like leaving school, and you love it
then it hits like a chop. Or whatever your thing is. Our thing was the
The Beatle way of life was like a young kid entering the big world,
entering it with friends and conquering it totally. And that was
fantastic. An incredible experience. So when that idea really came that we
should break up, I don't think any of us wanted to accept it. It was the
end of the legend, even in our own minds. Marilyn Monroe gets to believe
eventually that she's Marilyn Monroe. Now I feel that's how the Beatles
got to be - I'm just speaking for me. You were very much a Beatle in your
own eyes, and to an extent we all still are.
Thinking back, I think it was great what John said. And he told us, "Look
everything sort of comes together right." And now I agree. We'd just made
this album and it was to be called Get Back and on the cover was a
photograph showing us in exactly the same position as in the first album
we'd made - the whole lettering and the background was exactly reproduced.
So John said, "It's a perfect circle, you know."
I think what John did was tremendous from the point of view of "Okay, so
we are actually going to go our own ways." You just can't be as tied
together as we were for so long a period of time, unless you all live in
the same house. From then onward it was to be a question of living your
own life, which was the first real turn-on for me in a long time - and
this coincided with my meeting Linda. So early in 1970 I phoned John and
told him I was leaving the Beatles too. He said, "Good! That makes two of
us who have accepted it mentally."
I do think if it were just up to the four of us, if we were totally
unencumbered, we would have had a dissolution - I hate these heavy terms -
the day after John said he was leaving. We would have picked up our bags -
these are my shoes, that's my ball, that's your ball - and gone. And I
still maintain that's the only way, to actually go and do that, no matter
what things are involved on a business level. But of course we aren't four
fellows. We are part of a big business machine. Even though the Beatles
have really stopped, the Beatle thing goes on - repackaging the albums,
putting tracks together in different forms, and the video coming in. So
that's why I've had to sue in the courts to dissolve the Beatles, to do on
a business level what we should have done on a four-fellows level. I feel
it just has to come.
We used to get asked at press conferences, "What are you going to do when
the bubble bursts?" When I talked to John just the other day, he said
something about, "Well, the bubble's going to burst." And I said, "It has
burst. That's the point. That's why I've had to do this, why l had to
apply to the court. You don't think I really enjoy doing that kind of
stuff. I had to do it because the bubble has burst - everywhere but on
paper." That's the only place we're tied now.
You see, there was a partnership contract put together years ago to hold
us together as a group for 10 years. Anything anybody wanted to do - put
out a record, anything - he had to get the others' permission. Because of
what we were then, none of us ever looked at it when we signed it. We
signed it in '67 and discovered it last year. We discovered this contract
that bound us for 10 years. So it's "Oh gosh. Oh golly. Oh heck," you
know. "Now, boys, can we tear it up, please?"
But the trouble is, the other three have been advised not to tear it up.
They've been advised that if they tear it up, there will be serious, bad
consequences for them. The point, though, to me was that it began to look
like a three-to-one vote, which is what in fact happened at a couple of
business meetings. It was three to one. That's how Allen Klein got to be
the manager of Apple, which I didn't want. But they didn't need my
Listen, it's not the boys. It's not the other three. The four of us, I
think, still quite like each other. I don't think there is bad blood, not
from my side anyway. I spoke to the others quite recently and there didn't
sound like any from theirs. So it's a business thing. It's Allen Klein.
Early in '69 John took him on as business manager and wanted the rest of
us to do it too. That was just the irreconcilable difference between us.
Klein is incredible. He's New York. He'll say "Waddaya want? I'll buy it
for you." I guess there's a lot I really don't want to say about this, but
it will come out because we had to sort of document the stuff for this
case. We had to go and fight - which I didn't want, really.
All summer long in Scotland I was fighting with myself as to whether I
should do anything like that. It was murderous. I had a knot in my stomach
all summer. I tried to think of a way to take Allen Klein to court, or to
take a businessman to court. But the action had to be brought against the
I first said, no, we can't do that. We'll live with it. But all those
little things kept happening, such trivia compared to what has happened,
but the kind of things that . . . well, for example, my record McCartney
came out. Linda and I did it totally - the record, the cover the ads -
everything presented to the record company. Then there started to appear
these little advertisements. On the bottom was "On Apple Records," which
was okay. But somebody had also come along and slapped on "An
Abkco-managed company." Now that is Klein's company and has nothing to do
with my record. It's like Klein taking part of the credit for my record.
Maybe that sounds petty, but I can go into other examples of this kind of
thing. The buildup is the thing: all these things continuously happening
making me feel like I'm a junior with the record company, like Klein is
the boss and I'm nothing. Well, I'm a senior. I figure my opinion is as
good as anyone's, especially when it's my thing. And it's emotional: you
feel like you don't have any freedom. I figured I'd have to stand up for
myself eventually or get pushed under.
The income from the McCartney album is still being held by Apple, and
Linda and I are the only ones on the record.
John has a new record out with a song called Power to the People. There's
a line in it - sort of shouting to the government - "Give us what we own."
And to me Apple's the government thing. Give me what I own.
So then we began to talk again about the suit, over and over. I just saw
that I was not going to get out of it. From my last phone conversation
with John, I think he sees it like that. He said, "Well, how do you get
My lawyer, John Eastman, he's a nice guy and he saw the position we were
in, and he sympathized. We'd have these meetings on top of hills in
Scotland, we'd go for long walks. I remember when we actually decided we
had to go and file suit. We were standing on this big hill which
overlooked a loch - it was quite a nice day, a bit chilly - and we'd been
searching our souls. Was there any other way? And we eventually said, "Oh,
we've got to do it." The only alternative was seven years with the
partnership - going through those same channels for seven years.
And I've changed. The funny thing about it is that I think a lot of my
change has been helped by John Lennon. I sort of picked up on his lead.
John had said, "Look, I don't want to be that anymore. I'm going to be
this." And I thought, "That's great." I liked the fact he'd done it, and
so I'll do it with my thing. He's given the okay.
In England, if a partnership isn't rolling along and working - like a
marriage that isn't working - then you have reasonable grounds to break it
off. It's great! Good old British justice! But before I went into this, I
had to check out in my mind, is there such a thing as justice? Like I
throw myself into the courts I could easily get caught - tell the story,
put it all in there, and then justice turns around and . . . I mean, these
days people don't believe in justice. I really think the truth does win,
but it's not a popular thought. But then all my life I've been in love
with goodies - as against the baddies.
You can read the other boys' side to find out I'm the stinker. I think I'm
right. But don't we all! You couldn't believe it! It's a movie!
Because I've had to take this action against the others, it looks like we
can't stand each other. I can really only speak for myself, but I still
like the other three. And maybe it's deeper than "like." But at the
moment, I'm not stuck on them. I'm not pleased. We are not amused at the
moment! I am not loving them. But I know when it's over I will really like
People said, "It's a pity that such a nice thing had to come to such a
sticky end." I think that too. It is a pity. I like fairy tales. I'd love
it to have had the Beatles go up in a little cloud of smoke and the four
of us just find ourselves in magic robes, each holding an envelope with
our stuff in it. But you realize that you're in real life, and you don't
split up a beautiful thing with a beautiful thing.
I ignored John's interview in Rolling Stone. I looked at it and dug him
for saying what he thought. But to me, short of getting it off his chest,
I think he blows it with that kind of thing. I think it makes people
wonder why John needs to do that.
I did think there were an awful lot of inconsistencies, because on one
page you find John talking about how Dylan changed his name from Zimmerman
and how that's hypocritical. But John changed his name to John Ono Lennon.
And people looking at that just begin to think, "Come on, what is this?"
But the interview didn't bug me. It was so far out that I enjoyed it,
actually. I know there are elements of truth in what he said. And this
open hostility, that didn't hurt me. That's cool. That's John.
I can't really describe what direction I'm going in musically, because
it's ever-changing - and that's what it's all about. I have my personal
influences, and they come from everywhere, from age nothing to today.
Sounds I heard on the radio. Sounds I heard my father play on the piano.
Sounds I found myself in rock and roll. Sounds that the group made. My
music is all that - very personal - especially now that it's one person
putting it down instead of four. I do what I feel. Make myself
comfortable. It's a good job to have.
Linda and I have been writing songs together - and my publishers are suing
because they don't believe she wrote them with me. You know, suddenly she
marries him and suddenly she's writing songs. "Oh, sure (wink, wink). Oh,
sure, she's writing songs."
But actually one day I just said to her, "I'm going to teach you how to
write if I have to just strap you to the piano bench. I'm going to teach
you the way I write music" - because I never write music anyway. I just
write by ear. And I like to collaborate on songs. If I have to just go out
in another room and write - it is too much like work - like doing your
homework. If I can have Linda working with me, then it becomes like a
game. It's fun. So we wrote about 10 songs and then we discovered that it
was becoming too much like work. We were getting serious about writing.
And I've never been serious.
When we decided to do the new album, we wanted to make it fun - because it
isn't worth doing anything if you can't have fun doing it. The album will
be out early in May, and then I'm thinking about getting a band together -
another band - because I don't like to just sit around. I really like to
My musical direction - I'm trying for music that isn't too romantic, yet
contains a romantic thing. I personally don't like things to be too cute -
except babies. My music comes off best, I think, when there's hard and
The best things are often the free bits, and that gets very tricky. I go
out into the studio and I know I'm going to ad-lib. If I announce I'm
going to ad-lib, I can't ad-lib because I'm no longer ad-libbing. So I've
just got to go out there and improvise, and someone's got to be in there
in the control room very cleverly thinking, "He's going to ad-lib now, I'd
better tape it." It's very hard because good things get missed. Last night
I was doing a real ad-lib and I was in a great mood and I was exploring
what there was to be done - and they missed it. The next time around when
they tried the tape, I wasn't exploring any longer. I was trying to repeat
past glories, and that doesn't work.
But there are compensations. Sometimes you don't want to share those
moments. Okay, the record-buying public didn't hear it, but you and I did.
That's beautiful. That's real. The moment was temporary like everything
is. Nothing in life really stays. And it's beautiful that they go. They
have to go in order for the next thing to come. You can almost add beauty
to a thing by accepting that it's temporary.
I suppose musically I'm competing with the other three, whether I like it
or not. It's only human to compete. But I think it's good for us. I think
George has shown recently that he was no dummy. I think we're really good,
each one of us, individually.
You know, there's like three periods in my life. There's the time when I
was at school and just after leaving it. That was when I used to read a
lot - Dylan Thomas, paperbacks, a lot of plays, Tennessee Williams, things
my literature master had turned me onto. I used to sit on the top level of
buses, reading and smoking a pipe. Then there was the whole sort of Beatle
thing. And just now again I feel I can do what I want. So it's like there
was me, then the Beatles phase, and now I'm me again.
It's rather serious--life. And you can't live as if you have nine lives. I
find myself doing that often. I think everybody does, saying in his mind,
"I'll get it tomorrow." But I can't do that anymore. Take One with the
Beatles should have been like I said, with a puff of smoke and magic robes
and envelopes. But we missed Take One, so now we do Take Two. And in the
disappointment of Take Two - I feel I can always find something good in
the bad - the good thing is that it really has made me come to terms more
with my life. As a married couple, Linda and I've really become closer
because of all those problems, all the decisions. It's been very real what
I've been through, a breath of air, in a way, because of having been
through very inhuman things.
The Beatle thing was fantastic. I loved every minute of it. It was
beautiful. But it was a very sheltered life. Why, somebody would even ring
me up in the morning and say, "You've got to be at Apple in an hour." It
got very nursemaidy. If you are a real human, you've got to wake yourself
up. You've got to take on these tedious little things because out of the
tedium comes the joy of life. I got fed up by Apple this year over
Christmas trees. "Did we want one, because the office was buying Christmas
trees for everyone?" I hated that. Actually we pinched one from a field in
I love my life now because I'm doing much more ordinary things, and to me
that brings great joy. We're more ordinary than ordinary people sometimes.
In New York, we go to Harlem on the subway - a great evening at the
Apollo. We walk through Central Park after hours. You may find us murdered
one day. Last time we went it was snowy like moonlight in Vermont- just
fantastic. And I figure anyone who scares me, I scare him.
We try never to organize our lives very much. We do things on the spur of
the moment. We were in Scotland and we decided to take a trip to the
Shetland Islands. So we piled in the Land Rover with the two kids, our
English sheep dog, Martha, and a whole pile of stuff in the back with
Mary's potty on the top. On the second day we get up to a little port
called Scrabster at the top of Scotland. When we tried to get on the big
car ferry, we got in queue but were two cars too late - missed it.
So, don't despair. Okay, make the best of it. We really didn't want to go
on that big liner, a mass- produced thing. So we thought, let's beat the
liner. But we gave that up - it became a bit difficult with airplanes and
such. Let's try to get a ride in one of the little fishing boats, and how
much should we offer. So the romantic idea was that they'd rather have a
salmon or a bottle of Scotch than the 30 pounds.
I went to a bunch of boats but they weren't going to the Orkney Islands.
So I went on this one and I went to this trapdoor sort of thing, and they
were sleeping down below - the smell of sleep is coming up through the
door. At first the skipper said no, and then I said there was 30 quid in
it for him, and they say they'll take us.
It was a fantastic little boat called the Enterprise and the captain named
George, he's wearing a beautiful Shetland sweater. We brought all our
stuff aboard and it was low tide, so we had to lower Martha in a big
fishing net and a little crowd gathers and we wave our farewells. As we
steam out, the skipper gives us some beer, and Linda, trying to be one of
the boys takes a swig and passes it to me. Well, you shouldn't drink
before a rough crossing to the Orkneys. The little one, Mary, throws up
all over the wife, as usual. That was it. I was already feeling sick. I
sort of gallantly walked to the front of the boat, hanging onto the mast.
The skipper comes up and we're having light talk, light chit-chat. And I
don't want it. So he gets the idea and points to the fishing baskets and
says, "Do it in there." So we were all sick, but we ended up in the Orkney
Islands, and we took a plane to Shetland. It was great.
We do things like that - do it sort of eccentricordinary because we have
got the money to do it eccentric. I always wondered what happened to those
maharajahs who used to do things. But there never are really any of those
people. So we try and do a bit of it in our own lives.
People do recognize us sometimes, but they respect our privacy. It's a
beautiful thing. If you come on as a star, you get star treatment and all
the disadvantages. But often, when we dress in dungarees and sneakers --
last night we got turned out of two restaurants. The guy in an evening
suit turns us out. But I quite like it when they chuck us out.
I love to find that, even in this day of concrete, there are still alive
horses and places where grass grows in unlimited quantities and sky has
got clear air in it. Scotland has that. It's just there without anyone
touching it. It just grows. I'm relieved to find that it isn't all
pollution. It isn't all the Hudson. It's not all the drug problem.
When we are in Scotland we plant stuff - vegetables - and we'll leave them
there, and of their own volition they will push up. And not only will they
push up and grow into something, but then they will be good to eat. To me
that's an all-time thing. That's fantastic. How clever! Just that things
push their own way up and they feed you.
We don't eat meat because we've got lambs on the farm, and we just ate a
piece of lamb one day and suddenly realized we were eating a bit of one of
those things that was playing outside the window, gamboling peacefully.
But we're not strict. I don't want to put a big sign on me, "Thou Shalt Be
Vegetarian." I like to allow myself; I like to give myself a lucky break.
Give yourself a lucky break, son.
So I think you've got to live your own life. That sounds like one of those
statements, but it is, in fact, just very necessary to realize that. And
particularly necessary for me. Or else someone else is going to be living
part of your life for you.
But now I would like to stop talking and get up and get to work. I haven't
done any today, and it's beginning to frustrate me. I've got that album to
finish. We've got to get back to plant the seeds. Nature doesn't wait.