Interview for RollingStone • Thursday, February 10, 1994

Forward Into the Past

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
RollingStone
Interview by:
David Wild
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Interview

The road doesn’t get much more long and winding than this.

Paul McCartney, still looking very much the Cute One at age 51, sits backstage at the Estadio River Plate, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, days away from wrapping up his extended New World Tour. Since February, this crowd-pleasing global roadshow has kept McCartney going as he and his band have served up Fab-tinged family fun for nearly 2 million fans at 78 concerts throughout Europe, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and, now, South America. “Sometimes I think we’re getting to the end of the road for all of these big dinosaur tours,” says McCartney. “All I know for sure is it’s definitely the end of this tour for me.” 

This afternoon, McCartney has donned his famed Hofner bass and taken the stage of this huge soccer stadium to lead his group–wife Linda on keyboards and backing vocals, lead guitarist Robbie McIntosh, drummer Blair Cunningham, guitarist-bassist Hamish Stuart and keyboard whiz Wix–through a 20-song sound check of R & B and early rock chestnuts like Bo Diddley’s “Bring It to Jerome” and Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula.” Later he’ll play a 32-song show -including “El Dinero No Puede Comprar Mi Amor” (“Can’t Buy Me Love’) and ‘Esperanza de Liberacion” (‘Hope of Deliverance”) – for 60,000 fans, many of them surprisingly young, attending the first ever performance here by a Beatle. 

Not many years ago, McCartney was pondering retirement. Now he finds himself on tour performing more songs in a day than he did even as a teenage Beatle. “I was talking with George [Harrison] recently about how crazy this all is,” says McCartney with a smile. “We were laughing about the fact that in the old days, we did maybe half-hour shows. That was with four guys splitting all the work. So now I find myself 30 years older, doing more than a two-hour show, not to mention an hour and a half sound check. It’s fucking nuts, but obviously I must love it.” 

McCartney reports that Harrison attended his concert at London’s Earls Court this past fall. “He came back afterwards and criticized the show in a sort of professorial way,” McCartney says, laughing. “‘A bit too long,’ George reckoned. Well, fuck you. And the old feelings come up. But George is a great guy. Even with old friends, this shit happens.” 

Originally, plans called for the big-budget New World Tour–which early on employed nearly 250 people–to be finished by September. “I was told halfway through the tour that it was likely we were going to take a big loss,” McCartney says. “I could have said I can afford it, we’ve had a great time. But something inside of me, pride I think, wouldn’t let me write if off. I mean, the worst the Beatles ever got paid for a gig was all the Coca-Cola we could drink one night down at Blue Angel in Liverpool.” Instead, McCartney fired manager Richard Ogden. “We had to cut back and extend the tour,” explains McCartney. “It was like we failed our exams and had to stay on.” 

And now the McCartneys – two of the world’s leading vegetarians whose current show kicks off with a film that combines nostalgic Beatle dips with graphic images of cruelty to animals -find themselves in the beef capital of the Southern Hemisphere, where Guns n’ Roses are currently inspiring their own kind of Beatlemania outside Buenos Aires’ elegant Park Hyatt Hotel, where much of the tour party is staying – the McCartneys themselves generally rent houses locally – G n’ R graffiti like “Axl, you dick, you are the love of my life” and “duff fucked me” are scrawled on walls left from the Gunners’ most recent visit. 

“They can have it, man,” McCartney says of the hoopla. “I hear Axl’s next tour is all courthouses. That kind of controversy can’t be much fun.” As for the current commotion surrounding old pal Michael Jackson – with whom he has feuded in recent years about the latter’s control of Beatles royalties, McCartney offers support. “You’ve got the ultimate combination of ultrashy guy and an unshy media that wants his ass. We called Michael up. What I actually said was, ‘Keep your pecker up.’ He laughed and said he didn’t do it. I said I knew he didn’t.” 

And while McCartney admits, “We’d all like to be the hip thing,” he says he’s not particularly distressed that his last studio effort, Off the Ground, didn’t exactly zip up the charts. “If it was my first record, I’d be panicked,” McCartney says. “Obviously it’s not my first record, and somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s this feeling that records are for young kids. The problem with me trying to please kids at my age is that you can end up looking like mutton dressed up as lamb – and maybe that isn’t the coolest thing to do.” 

This year will find McCartney looking both forward and backward. Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest, by the Fireman – McCartney’s ambient dance collaboration with the British producer Youth – comes out stateside in late February. Before that, McCartney plans to join fellow former Fabs Harrison and Ringo Starr in rehearsal to work on music for the authorized Beatles documentary series, The Long and Winding Road, expected to be broadcast in 1994 on a TV network still to be determined. 

“We’re looking for a completely unpressured situation to get together, because nobody wants to revive the Beatles,” McCartney says. “The great thing about the Beatles is that it’s a body of work now. That came, and it’s gone. So we’re all thinking of very quietly going into a studio somewhere. If we hate it the first day, then we’ll just can it – nothing lost. But if we quite enjoy it, then we’ll say, ‘See you tomorrow.’ It could be a laugh.” 

McCartney admits he’s actually looking forward to the experience. “I’ve never even tried writing with George before,” he says. “I’ve written with Ringo, and obviously I’ve written with John, but never George, so that’s exciting. Still, there’s no way we’re going to get back together and just be all smiley, smiley. At one of our last meetings, my hackles started to rise, because I was sorta being told what to do, and I’ve been solo so long I’m not used to compromising. I mean, there’s going to be some psychiatric crap from way back. We’ve all grown up, and we’ve been through a lot. Ringo’s been through detox, and you don’t take shit from anyone after that. You’re not allowed to. Me, I’m willing to take a little shit but not a lot.” 

McCartney has seen “bits and pieces” of the series while on tour but admits: “Personally, I don’t like watching myself prance about. I’ve kept a bit of distance from the whole thing. The fun part for me is the new interviews we’ve done.” 

And do all three ex-Beatles agree in this authorized history? “The great thing is, we don’t,” McCartney says chuckling. “It’s hilarious. And of course, John isn’t here to talk to us. But I’m sure he would disagree, too.” 

McCartney acknowledges that he’s comfortable dealing with his past. He doesn’t seem bothered when told his arrival here has led to his own picture being plastered all over Buenos Aires alongside images of Lennon that make the fallen Beatle look like some sort of religious icon. “You can’t blame people,” McCartney says, shaking his head, “They need heroes, and John was one. 

“Things only get bad,” he adds, “when people forget you’re a human being. There’s a price to fame I decided to pay long ago. It was brought home to me when someone gave me a Beatles trivia game. The first question I looked at was, ‘What did Paul McCartney’s mother die of?’ Now for me, that’s my mom, who died when I was 14, and I know she died of breast cancer. But I don’t need it on some fun Beatley Pursuit game, because me and my brother are the two kids it happened to. That’s really emotional shit, and that can be hurtful. I’m adult enough to know they didn’t mean it that way. But when someone does mean to be nasty, I’ll give them what for, and suddenly it’s not cute Paul anymore.” 

Generally, though, McCartney looks back with pleasure. “I’ve been told I’m the biggest Beatles fan of all,” he says. “I’m proud of what we did. We were a great band. Name me one better. And now I’m really proud of this band and what we’ve done. See, the thing for me –and this might seem crass–is to sell out and leave ’em laughing. That may strike some people as corny. I mean, I hate to sound like an old guy, but then again, I am one.”

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