Interview for London Evening Standard • Thursday, September 1, 1966

It's A Lousy Country Where Anyone Black Is A Dirty N*gger

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
London Evening Standard
Interview by:
Maureen Cleave
Timeline More from year 1966

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The Gospel According to Paul

Aug 26, 1993 • From London Evening Standard

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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.

This interesting and complicated young man 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 [story collection by Jack Micheline]. 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 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. Skiing 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 Jane Asher that has made him so secretive; if anybody gets away with a quiet wedding, it will be Paul.

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 everyting. “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.”

He can remember when he was five standing in his mother’s backyard and asking himself what he would be when he grew up. “No answer came back to me,” he said, disappointed.

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 interrrupted when you’re eating by a 50-year-old woman with a pony tail. The four of us are known to almost everybody in the world, but we don’t feel that famous.”

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 evrything, there’s no point in having everything, is there? I don’t think I want much more money.”

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 favor 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 [George Orwell’s] 1984, plays are out of the dictionary. They have willed themselves into this.

“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 is moving 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 September 1, 2020

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