Interview for Evening Standard • Friday, March 25, 1966

Paul all alone: running hard to catch up with the music

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Evening Standard
Interview by:
Maureen Cleave
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Interview

PAUL McCARTNEY’S face often wears an expression of sweet, grave and trusting innocence. The expression is an engaging one, but it is no clue to his character. Those who like to think of Paul writing Yesterday, that song of aching beauty, would do well to remember that he himself always called it Scrambled Eggs. 

He is an interesting and complicated young man of 23. He arrived in the restaurant for lunch with a book he had just bought, a costly and significant-looking paperback entitled In the Bronx and Other Stories. He opened it at random, composed his features and, in a solemn voice, began to read it aloud: “Lucie had no panties on …” 

Paul’s party-political program is for more houses, more buses and more old-age pensioners for everyone. He is tall, agile, neatly dressed and well-organized. His hair is never too long and he is never at a loss for words. He is a terrible tease, an excellent mimic. He has wicked charm, a shrivelling wit, a critical intelligence and enormous talent. With Paul you never get away with the ill-considered remark, the hazy recollection. He is self-conscious, nervy, restless and on the go: he will surprise us all in the end. 

He is half-Beatle and half not; he relies on the others to the extent of having considered living in Weybridge with them. “I thought maybe we should all be grown-up together,” he said, “I then I thought, ‘I don’t want to live in Weybridge. To thine own self be true – Polonius, Hamlet.” (His conversation is as peppered as a Restoration comedy with asides of this sort. They can be disconcerting. “O, sceptred isle” is one he likes, but he relates it to nothing in particular.) 

And so Paul lives alone in London. “I love the look of London,” he said. He goes to the pictures, does the Times crossword, drives himself around in his mini or his Aston Martin DB6, goes shopping, keeps appointments, finds out what he wants to know.

He tolerates a minimum of fuss: chauffeurs and cars with black windows. He hates black windows. “I’m thinking,” he said tartly, “of getting a bicycle with black windows.” He enjoys moving without detection; he arranges to get in and out of the country, loves disguises, relishes writing songs under the pseudonym of one Bernard Webb, student in Paris. Ski-ing recently, a photographer came up to him and said, “You are Paul McCartney.” “Who, ME?” said Paul with the aforementioned expression on his face, and the man went away. It is possibly his much-publicized courtship of MissJane Asher that has made him so secretive; if anybody gets away with a quiet wedding, it will be Paul.

The risk of sounding like Jonathan Miller

At the moment he is on a program of self-improvement that he is embarrassed to discuss; but his mind, by all accounts, is in a ferment.

“I don’t want to sound like Jonathon Miller going on,” he said, “but I’m trying to cram everything in, all the things I’ve missed. People are saying things and painting things and writing things and composing things that are great, and I must know what people are doing.”

He has a music lesson a week from a composer. “Who is by no means thick,” he said admiringly. At school I never got further than the six-finger exercise (satirical joke) and the other day I felt like an old person sitting there saying, ‘I wish I’d learned to read music.’ So I started to learn.“ One of the first bits of music he wrote down was something for his girlfriend, Jane, to play on her classical guitar.

He is fascinated by composers like Stockhausen and Luciano Berio; he is most anxious to write electronic music himself, lacks only the machines. He is fascinated by the work of the French playwright Alfred Jarry (Ubu Cocu, Ubu Roi) and keeps urging Brian Epstein to stage them here. He would like to paint, he would like to write. Indeed, heaven knows what he is painting and writing and in what disguise at this very moment.

He sees no limit to his own possibilities; ideally speaking, he would like to know everything. “I vaguely mind people knowing anything I don’t know,” he said.

“I will tell you what I feel strongly about and that is most people’s attitude to things like music and painting, culture with a capital C. If a navvy or a workie is seen coming out of an art gallery it’s a joke. Now, if all a person wants to do is find out about strip clubs in Hamburg, his mates would have thought that was all right.”Paul’s father was a cotton salesman and his mother was a midwife. She died when he was 14. He can remember when he was five standing in his mother’s backyard (72 Western Avenue, Speke) and asking himself what he would be when he grew up. “No answer came back to me,” he said, disappointed. He likes quick results. The problem cropped up again when he was 17. “I had just enough GCE’s to get into a teachers’ training college. I worked it out – five ‘O’ levels plus one ‘A’  level equals teaching. But I had a horror of doing something ordinary.”

Fame is getting off your parking ticket.

And so he filled in no forms for the teachers’ training college. “With things I don’t want to do,” Paul said, “Well, I just don’t do them.” He ended up a Beatle. “We knew something would happen sooner or later; we always had this little blind Bethlehem star ahead of us. Fame is what everyone wants, in some form or another; there must be millions of people all over the world annoyed that people haven’t discovered them. ‘What’s up?’ they ask themselves.

“Fame in the end is getting off your parking fine because he wants your autograph, and fame is being interrupted when you’re eating by a 50-year-old lady with a pony tail. The four of us are known to almost everybody in the world, but we don’t feel that famous. I mean, we don’t believe in our fame the way Zsa Zsa Gabor believes in hers.” Being a songwriter, he is now very rich. He has learned to discipline himself with money. “I like the idea of anything grand and rich as a novelty,” he said. “I like chauffeurs as a novelty. But take John – John discovered the other day that he liked Bourneville chocolate. Well, he bought a consignment; I mean, it was on every table in the house and in a week he was pretty sick of it. I’ve learned to do things in clumps.

“I mean, if you can have everything, there’s no point in having everything, is there? I don’t think I want much more money.” His interest in politics is confined solely to this General Election. “Just like the Liston-Clay fight,” he said. “Here are two people flogging away at each other – one of them kidding he hasn’t seen the other; and the other one pretending to be the head boy of the school crying because they’ve lost the football match on Saturday. “The terrible thing is seeing them going round adapting themselves, being friends with the people. ‘Forget the 50-guinea suit,’ they say, and then they say, ‘Oh, look, it’s torn, just like yours.’ After Wilson got hit in the eye, he had to say, ‘I won’t press charges,’ He can’t even get annoyed – I bet he wanted to wring the little bastard’s neck.” Baptized a Catholic, his interest in religion is flabby. Indeed, if it were not for his concern with the afterlife he would call himself an atheist. He is no longer, however, obsessed with worry about growing old. “That wore off,” he said. “If our bodies stayed young our minds would have to stay young, and nobody wants that. But Bertrand Russell seems all right – I wouldn’t mind being like him at all.” It is surprising to find him in favour of subsidies for the arts and on the side of the BBC. What America needs, in his opinion, is a BBC. “Whether you want to listen to it or not,” he said, “it’s there.” “They have hardly any plays on television in America. Here we have lots of plays; you hear people say, ‘I like a good play.’ Well, in America, like in 1984, plays are out of the dictionary. They have willed themselves into this. 

America,  where the black man is a dirty n*gger

“It makes me sad for them. And it’s a lousy country where anyone who is black is made to seem a dirty n*gger. There is a statue of a good Negro doffing his hat and being polite in the gutter. I saw a picture of it.

“We look at things a lot better over here; we have millions of little societies preserving things. We have little societies to preserve barrels of beer and little John Betjeman societies and little ban-the-bomb societies.

“O sceptred isle,” he said and went on to discuss what he likes to call the teenage thing.

He thinks the Americans had it coming to them and he is delighted that where they got it from was us. “There they were in America,” he said, “all getting house-trained for adulthood with their indisputable principle of life: short hair equals men, long hair equals women. Well, we got rid of that small convention for them.

“You can’t kid me the last generation were any more moral than we are. They hid it better. If you wheedle it out of people they were just as bad as we are, only they grew out of it.

“Perhaps,” he said, with the air of one hitting on the truth, “perhaps they grew too tired for it.”

He doesn’t really know what he will do next; he is confident it will be exciting. He will shortly move into a house he has bought in North London. One gathers that it was built in 1830 and that it is the most elegant house in England. Not least of its charms for Paul is that it has a street lamp-post inside the front gate.

He prepared to drive to Weybridge to write songs. He had one in his pocket about loneliness and old age; in fact, a heartrending song. It concerns Miss Eleanor Rigby.

“Eleanor Rigby,” it begins, “picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been.”

But as I have said, Paul’s songs are no clue to Paul. “I don’t know whether poets think they have to experience things to write about them, but I can tell you our songs are nearly all imagination – 90 percent imagination. I don’t think Beethoven was in a really wicked mood all the time.”

“He was?”

Paul’s face assumed the grave, sweet, innocent expression. “Oh,” he said. “Beethoven can’t be the same as us after all, then.”


Last updated on April 28, 2022

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