"Once There Was a Way to Get Back Homeward..."
London. In a city where every kid on the street looks like he's rushing
off to audition for Duran Duran, Paul McCartney, dressed for work in a
blue-and-white-checked Levi's shirt, blue cotton jeans and slightly muddy
rubber-soled loafers, seems almost ... out of place. No matter how you
may feel about his recent records, his wife, his bank account, his
marijuana busts, his "it's a drag" response to his ex-partner's and
ex-best friend's assassination, the man has contributed to more
incredible moments of rock history and rock music than almost any other
human being on the face of this earth. And Paul carries that weight,
even though he bounces into the coffee bar of George Martin's AIR
Studios, where he's mixing the soundtrack to his first feature film,
"Give My Regards to Broad Street" (which features Ringo Starr, Dave
Edmunds, Chris Spedding and Led Zep's John Paul Jones among the
musicians, and Sir Ralph Richardson, "Breaker Morant"'s Bryan Brown and
Tracey Ullman among the thespians). Whistling and trying to play it
nonchalant, he fires off a few rounds of Asteroids, complains that some
engineer or another is threatening his house record, then says hello. As
you note his fading semblance to "the cute one" of the Fab Four - his
greying hair, crinkling eyes, bit of a tummy - he's checking you out,
too. Are you going to see him as the kid who grew up in a Liverpool
housing project, never content to just reach for the brass ring? Like
the figure in the logo for his multi-million dollar company, MPL (for
which he oversees every aspect, from making albums to picking out photos
for his fan club newsletter), Paul McCartney, at age 42, 20 years after
the onset of Beatlemania, is still trying to juggle, the sun, moon and
In the last two years you've had successful records on the charts (Tug
of War, Pipes of Peace), but you haven't toured since 1976 and your
recent public appearances seem to have been limited to a brief wave as
you emerge from jail. People probably read all sorts of things about your
supposed seclusion, but what they may not realize is that for the past 18
months you've been at work in England, doing a film. Maybe you should
explain "Give My Regards to Broad Street" and how it came about.
I was sittin' in a traffic jam and I was bored and I'd been trying to
get together a film of some kind. At first, it was going to be based on
the "Tug of War" album, an anti-war film. We were working with Tom
Stoppard, who's a great writer. But it wasn't happening. I think if
it's someone else's idea, it's not as easy as if it's your own. I'd
talked to a few directors and David Putnam, who did "Chariots of Fire",
recommended Peter Webb. So I was trying to do this "Tug of War" thing
with him and Tom Stoppard, and it was all falling down. And I was stuck
in this traffic jam, so I said I'll write something then.
Do you ever write songs while you're driving in the car?
Not really. I sing along with the radio. You can always sing best in
a car, can't you? It's better than a recording studio.
You actually wrote a film script while stuck in traffic?
I wrote it first as an account. After I got busted in Japan and I was
held in jail for nine days - you may not have heard, it rarely got in the
papers - after I got out of that, I wanted to write it down. Just for
the record. 'Cause I know how I am, I forget things very easily.
Haven't go the world's greatest memory. Anyway, I wrote it all down. I
sort of thought, God, this is like writing an essay for school. I can't
do it, I'm frightened of the piece of paper. But because I knew I had to
write it down to remember the incident, I forced myself to write it. In
the end, I'd written 20,000 words.
Why didn't Paul McCartney, the richest man in show biz, etc., etc.,
pay someone else to carry his contraband, like some other musicians do?
Did you think you were above the law?
Because everyone knows you don't bring grass into Japan, people assume
I was arrogant. I wasn't. I was just bein' dumb. I'd got some good
grass in America, if you wanna know the truth, and I was loath to flush
it down the toilet. And I was silly enough to think I might get past.
It was daft. Obviously, looking back, you could say why didn't you pay
someone? Then they woulda got busted. I don't want anyone else to take
the rap. It was just dumb, that's all. We all make mistakes. That was
one of mine. The joke of the matter is they haven't changed my opinions
on the marijuana thing a'tall. 'Cause they didn't make any attempt to
rehabilitate me; they don't, of course, in jail. They lock you in a box
and hope the experience will be so horrible you won't do it again.
Was it the first time in years you'd really been alone?
First time that kind of alone. It's a different kind of alone when
you're stuck over in Tokyo. It's bad enough when you're stuck in jail
when it's your home town, I would think. Although I've never been to my
hometown jail. It's always some weird foreign country. It was one of
those things ... y'know, when I was a schoolboy, I sometimes went into
first class carriages on a second class ticket. I sometimes got caught
then, too. I'm not an angel; by the same token, I'm not a criminal,
either. This is sounding rather like dialogue from our film, actually.
But "Broad Street" isn't about your bust, is it? It's a musical
fantasy. You play a character with no name, who loses his master tapes -
but that's not intended as a heavy metaphor or a deep-rooted existential
dilemma. You see the film as fun family entertainment rather than the
great statement that sums up your life's work and everything you want to
say to the world.
In the same way, really, that "A Hard Day's Night" was just these four
guys going 'round from song to song and being chased by a lot of fans -
which was a kinda parody of what was really happening to us. Well, this
is a sort of "Hard Day's Night" of me solo. It's a kind of parody of me
now. The truth of the matter is, anything I say about it, I can't pin
down. When I was faced with making it, it was sort of like, well, should
we go into this kinda space blockbuster - that's Spielberg, that's Lucas,
that's "Raiders", that's those guys. They do it so well, there's no
point in tryin' to compete with them. The other thing was "National
Lampoon", "Saturday Night Live", Monty Python, "The Young Ones" over here
- but I'll look like a second class any one o' them if I try and do their
thing. So this was just more ... my thing. And it comes off a bit more
English, a bit lighter on the comedy. 'Cause I'm not any great, stunning
comedian. Ringo's funny.
It's interesting that as movies are getting more rock, or at least
more soundtrack oriented, rock people are getting more involved with film.
It's exciting. You're getting people like Spielberg - you go and see
"Close Encounters" - I saw it in New York and it was like [makes noise
like an explosion]. They've wound up the volume. And I thought, God,
this guy is nicking everything out of our thing. He's making films like
rock shows. He's grabbing you at the beginning with a big special
effect. He's very plugged in with the average head, Mr. Spielberg, isn't
he? Y'know, television, cornflakes. The mother who lives on her own
with the children. He's very plugged in to how it is.
Do you think you're plugged in?
To some degree, yeah. My family is like the families that happen in
the Spielberg movies. Where the kids swear and say "Penis breath" and
the movie says, "Stop that, Jonathon," and the kids come home from school
with new words and the boys wanna be rougher than the girls. It's all
the same as it ever was, really. I don't know how it is in the States.
I know how it is around me.
Your children go to a regular school, don't they?
The normal kind of school like I went to as a kid, yeah. Just a state
school. That's mainly because if they're gonna be privileged in some way
- and I s'pose money gives you privileges - I don't want 'em lookin' down
on ordinary people. I see that as the main danger when you get money.
Especially inherited wealth. You start to think, Well, I'm better than
him anyway, I've got more than him, and you tend to look down on him.
It's that easy to do. We all know about that. So my kids go to ordinary
schools in order for them to learn how it is first. Then if you want to
be terrific and privileged afterwards, you can handle it. You've got
some humanity and compassion with it. But if you are just hit with a big
bank balance and you're a bit of a slob, you'll go and slob all that
money all over people. You can cause a lot of harm. So I'm trying to
bring them up to have values. To have heart, more than anything. It's
heart, really, I want them to have. I want them to actually care, you
know, if someone gets hurt. And they do. They're very good kids, like
What do the kids at school think of them?
We try to play down the whole thing. They know I'm famous, but they
see the kids are trying to cope with it normally, so they help 'em. Some
of them pick on 'em. Like all kids at all schools. But the main body of
them know what's going on there. That we're not big-headed swine trying
to take over the area. We're just trying to fit in. Real normal. With
a little bit of privacy here and there - just like most people want.
Normally I steer interviews off it. Just so we don't make them the
subject. Good kids, though. They're good kids. I'd love nothing more
than to be able to show you photographs of my house, let you publish 'em.
'Cause I love it, I'm very proud of it. But if you do that, everyone
goes, "Oh God, look at 'im, showing off." So now I try and play it a
little more private.
Let's get back to "Broad Street", then. If it's supposed to be a
parody of your solo career, why did you record Beatles songs for the film?
As it's a story about me and what happens to me, we decided to draw on
my entire composing output. We were trying to do the equivalent of,
like, a live show. If you're doing a live show and you're doing all new
songs, people don't understand. They don't, really. All of us would
like to go out on a tour and have some new ideas and just do it. For the
freshness. Just for ourselves. But if Jagger gets on and doesn't do
"Satisfaction," I'm gonna want my money back. I know the Beatles and the
Stones - two of the biggest performin' acts in history, I s'pose - always
tried to do new numbers. But whenever we stuck a new number in, it went
flat - as a pancake. We'd have to explain it, we'd have to set it all
up. Now audiences are better. But there's always gonna be someone who
will kinda say [cups hands and yells like a drunk] "Yeah, sing
'Yesterday'!" There's always gonna be someone in the audience who's
gonna wanna hear it. So I think what you gotta do is, you compromise.
It'd be lovely if everyone was madly sensitive to the artist, but they're
not. People are just people. I love that fact, though. To me, I love
that people are real ... slobs. I love that. That people eat junk food
and watch a lot of telly. There's something I find I identify with. I'm
a bit like that.
You eat junk food?
I don't really eat junk food. But I can identify with people who do.
I happen to be a vegetarian now, but that's another matter. If they had
vegetarian junk food, I'd eat it. What I mean is, I agree that the
customer's always right. To an extent. I hate to agree with it,
actually. 'Cause we'd all love to say, No, he isn't. But there's a
bottom line somewhere. F'rinstance, people have said to me, "Will you
make another film after this one?" It depends on if I think this one
works. Critics, forget. If the public likes it, that's who I'll listen
You used to be extremely sensitive to criticism.
Well, I still am. Everyone is.
Your work has been described as mawkish, insipid, silly, vacuous - and
The stuff they write is so much better, isn't it? Storms the charts,
what they write. The thing is, they all tell you about the story of
getting' to the top and that's when everyone tries to knock you off your
pedestal. They all tell you it's tough at the top and it is. But you
get used to it. I've never liked criticism. Unless it was really
constructive. This is what you'll hear everyone say and it's the same
for me, really. It's the negative, bitchy kind I don't like. I know
this film, I know the critics will have quite a bit to say, y'know? The
thing is, we set out to make a film and the great thing is, as David
Putnam said the other day, is we've done it. These same people who kind
of put me down and say, "Oh, he's insipid and vacuous - f'rinstance,
"Ebony and Ivory," I just saw it described as that the other day. It is
a very simple song. If you're looking for thoughty verse, 40 stanzas,
you won't get it. You better look to Coleridge for that kinda gig. That
was the best I could do. But for me, they didn't do anything less
insipid. Who else has had a number one talking about the black and white
color problem? Who else has done anything remotely like it? There were
a few records a few years ago - you got anti-Vietnam, give peace a chance
and stuff. There's not many people actually even bother to take issues
Are you concerned with other issues or political causes? You did a
song, "Give Ireland Back to the Irish," and not long ago you fired off a
telegram to Maggie Thatcher about the nurses' strike here in England.
I figure I'm just a fella, livin'. I got four kids, I'm a rate [tax]
payer. So that entitles me to an opinion. I'm livin' in the West, so
we're allowed to talk over here, right? So when the English
paratroopers, my army who I'm payin' rates for, go into Ireland and shoot
down innocent bystanders, for the first time in my life I go, Hey, wait a
minute, we're the goodies, aren't we? That wasn't very goody. And I'm
moved to make some kind of a protest. So I did "Give Ireland Back to the
Irish." Which was promptly banned in England. But it was Number One in
Spain, of all places. That was rather odd - Franco was in power.
Maybe they couldn't understand the words.
I think that's what it was, actually. They just liked the tune.
It's not so much that I'm a protester, it's just that there are some
times when you can't help but protest. So "Give Ireland Back to the
Irish" was something I had to write. And "Ebony and Ivory," I just had
the idea and thought, Yeah, well, that says something I wanna say. One
of the reasons it says it simply is I tried forever to write the second
verse and never could. And to me, this argument that commercial is
drippy - I don't think it's true. That's underestimating the
intelligence of the people who are buying your stuff. I mea, "soap" is
the number one comedy show 'cause it's funny. Those things don't get
there 'cause someone manages 'em. It's 'cause we all laugh. Or 'cause
we like the new Michael Jackson thing. "Thriller" doesn't sell because
he's some kind of jerk. It's proof that you reached people rather than
this rathuh vulgah commercial thing, dahling. He sells, good God. But
dahling - how vulgah! That's the weight of snobbery, I think.
Is Michaelmania as intense over here as it is in the States? It
almost seems as if the media won't be happy until it's used him up. His
face is everywhere, every week. When you're sick of his face, they write
about his glove.
It's known as being hot. There was Beatlemania, now there's
Can it destroy you?
I didn't get destroyed by it. It's nice of everyone to worry about
Michael - I don't think he needs it a'tall. He's a very straightforward
kid. He's very talented: he can dance, he can sing, he knows how to make
records that people'll like. He's got a great lot of faith. He's got a
lot of innocence, he protects it especially. He's very careful about
How does he protect it?
Look at cartoons all day. Don't do drugs, look at cartoons and you'll
be more innocent. That's sort of how he does it. One of my theories
about Michael's high voice is if you were whatever age he was when he
started getting' famous - a little itty bitty kid you see in those old
Motown videos - well, at 13 or 14, when most of us fellas are trying to
make our voices break so girls will go out with us and we're all tryin'
to look butch - someone who's earning that much off not being butch isn't
going to want his voice to break as easily. And he just doesn't want to
lose his childhood. I know that feeling. I mean, sometimes people will
say I'm trying to be a Beatle. I'm not trying to stay young-looking,
although I prefer young-looking to old-looking, actually. I'm not
working at it like mad. I don't dye my hair or anything. What I don't
like is "growing up" in inverted commas. That kind of idea of putting
aside serious foolish pleasure and getting into the serious worrying
things in life. There's too much of that about anyway. I love to be
able to look through child's eyes at rain or something like that.
Does having children keep you in touch with that?
That's one of the great things about having kids. I know that when I
was 20-odd and we'd ridden on the crest of the wave of the Beatles and it
was breaking up, I was at a point where I was writing songs like on
"Abbey Road" - [sings] "Once there was a way to get back homeward" - like
once there was a way to get back home, but now there isn't. Like you
couldn't get back to your roots anymore once you've been in the city a
long time and not been back to Liverpool. Once you've been on rock 'n
roll tours and seen people snortin' this and doin' this and doin' that.
You can't keep your innocence because you've been exposed to the
non-innocent thing. But suddenly that's not true, 'cause it's only you
exposing yourself. It's you putting yourself down there. If you want to
go into a field and lie down a smell a dandelion - sounds all very flower
power and 60's - but if you want to your youth floods back. The great
thing with kids is they want to roll down hills, so you get to do that.
And they want pen knives and bits of string. They do all that stuff that
There's a Delmore Schwartz quote I always try to keep in mind.
Actually, I think he was paraphrasing Pater, or some ancient philosopher,
but it's something to the effect that every stage of life aspires to the
condition of childhood and all art constantly aspires to the condition of
That's the way I feel. You've heard of the painter - people like
Picasso or an English painter, Peter Blake - we've heard him say how he
learns all his life to be a painter, to be technically brilliant, and
then he gets to a stage and says now I've got to unlearn it. Now I'm so
stiff in my lines, I'm so clever - when I was a kid, God, how free that
was. I don't really wanna go through all that. I just wanna stay
unlearned. That really is my intention. If I can have some kind of fun
whilst doing my job and kinda being me, then that'll help.
Has it become more of a job?
A lot more. Not a little bit. A lottle bit. When we started off, we
came down from Liverpool, we went into the studio, we sang 10 songs and
then we went to the pub. And that was the last we heard of that record
'til it was out in the shops. That was when we had no control, no money,
nothing. Those were the lightest working hours ever. And we began to
take over control, the workmen taking control of the tools, and become
members of the team. So now you stay for mixing, you talk about what's
gonna be the single, and you work. You work harder than I ever thought
you work. And for someone who only got into music to avoid getting' a
job ... But think about it, think about it. I've survived. After the
Beatles. And I've even had another group after the Beatles and even that
did well. I mean, anyone forced to carry on after the Stones, the
Beatles, Led Zeppelin - you can't top it. There's no question you can
top it. But even just existing, without topping it, is really tough to
do. And me, I just feel really lucky that no matter who's slagged me off
here, there and everywhere, somehow I ended up here. I'm just an
ordinary fella, really. I've done bloody well.
How do you feel about the books that keep coming out about you and the
Beatles? Does it bother you that people who were once friends and
employees are trying to cash in by revealing all the trash?
It's trash, let's leave it at that. It is trash. And they know it
and they have to live with it. I think I'm pretty lucky to have got off
like this, considering how bitchy and jealous people can be. I don't
feel wrong about anything I've done. Obviously, like everyone, I'd
prefer everything of mine to be a complete critical success and number
one in every country in the world. At least. But you know, it doesn't
happen like that. I remember actually looking at Sinatra's career, when
I was 30, and thinking, God, you know, he took some knocks. 'Cause he
had big slump periods and all that. But I was thinking but still, he's
reckoned by some people to be the tops and so it is obviously possible to
live life and take some knocks and take some slumps and still ... get on.
Let me ask you about someone else taking some knocks. I can
understand that for you, having Linda in the band was a way of having her
on the road with you. And people probably would have objected to anyone
you married - unless it was Princess Di, probably. But having Linda in
the band really set her up.
What happened, really, was that the Beatles broke up and there we
were, left with the wreckage. I just thought, that's the end of me as a
singer, songwriter, composer - 'cause I hadn't got anyone to do it with -
unless I now work out another way to do it. I looked at someone like
Johnny Cash and I thought, well, Johnny Cash just takes a coupla guys and
goes around Folsom Prison and has a sing. It doesn't particularly matter
who's in his backing group. And I thought, Well, I'll just do a similar
thing, I'll just get a band and it'll really just be for the playing and
singing, just so I don't forget how to do it. Like an athlete keeping in
some form, some kinda condition. All in all, I ended up sayin' to Lin,
So how'd you fancy it, c'mon, hit a synthesizer for us - just a little
wah-wah. Just somethin' simple. We'll go and have a laugh. I needja
onstage for my confidence, that was really the major point. I, like an
idiot, asked her to do it. And like a wonderful person, she agreed. It
was mad, really. But in truth, in our own innocence at the time just
kinda the first years of like knowin' each other - we just thought we
could do anything. And we did, for God's sake. That's the joke about
it. It doesn't matter who hated her on the way. We did it. On the '76
tour there she was, by God, doin' it all. The thing is , it caused a lot
of trouble between us.
What was interesting was that both you and John appeared to replace
each other with your wives as your primary collaborators.
It wasn't serious collaboration. I mean, I don't even feel like
writing with Michael (Jackson) was a collaboration in the same way it was
with John. That was a songwriting partnership. We were very special. I
could feel it was a special kind of thing 'cause it was dead easy to
write. Talk about sittin' around for days trying to write songs - in a
matter of hours, we felt we'd been at it too long. John and I were
perfect, really, for each other. I could do stuff he might not be in the
mood for, egg him in a certain direction he might not wanna go in. And
he could do the same with me. If I'd go in a certain direction he didn't
like, he'd just stop it [snaps fingers] like that. The thing is, I don't
think Linda and I have ever taken her contribution seriously. So when
other people judge it seriously, they're not really using the same terms
of reference we're using. You gotta imagine these people - the guy's
just lost the Beatles and he's out of a job. The girl is a photographer.
They've just suddenly fallen in love. It's the 60's. They wanna do
stuff that suits them, not what anyone else thinks. It's just some
fella, some girl. Just getting' married. And we just went and did it
[sings] "Our way ..."
Are you ever going to tour again?
I don't know. I haven't ruled it out. I know in the back of
everyone's minds when they ask this question - and they all ask it - in
the back of everyone's minds is he won't tour again because John got
killed. And no one mentions it. To me, I haven't been able to consider
a tour in the last two years because I've been making this film and no
way could I have taken one second off what I have been doing. I may
easily do it after this movie. If I was some 24-year-old bachelor, I
sure as hell would want to be on tour - just for the women, probably.
And if I was as I was once, it would be - hey man, the performance,
there's no substitute - all of those things would be true. But I've got
four kids and they deserve most of my time. If they're to be brought up
happy. They deserve for me to be around sometime.
Did you really play drums on a lot of the Beatles' things? At least
one of "those books" claims that in your attempt to control the band you
sort of pushed Ringo right off his own drum stool.
Some Beatles things. On "Back in the USSR" and I think I played
guitar on "Taxman" and "The Night Before", a couple of those. But
everything else gets exaggerated in the Beatles' case. People were
reading so much into our lives and our lyrics that we found ourselves
feedin' 'em the crazy facts. Like me going across the Abbey Road
crossing with no shoes on. I mean, that's all made up, that stuff. If
you're trying to look for the truth of it, with the Beatles, you got four
guys who were a good little band, a tight little unit, and for most of
their working lives were really good with each other.
Do you miss it?
Yeah. But I don't miss it as much as I would've if I'd been the
28-year-old bachelor. Hey, this bachelor's getting older by the minute.
I can see there would have been a bigger thing for it then. One of the
great things about my life is that I don't have too many regrets. As far
as women are concerned, I don't lust after them now because I sowed a lot
of wild oats. Me and Linda got a lot done, y'know, in the 60's. We got
a lot out of our systems. Which is good for now, because it allows you
to sort of settle back and be content with just kind of ordinary life.
That's how we feel. We don't feel like we missed anything.