Interview for UPI • Sunday, September 16, 1984

Paul McCartney, family man - and world's most successful musician

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
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Cathy Booth
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LONDON — He crawls under tables with his 6-year-old son, watches TV with his teenage daughters, barbecues in the backyard and thinks his wife’s pea soup is the greatest.

Just your average family man. Ordinary. And at age 42, that’s how Paul McCartney wants it.

‘Am I happy now? Yeah,’ he says, actually looking it. ‘I used to dread that question.

‘I used to hate it particularly after the breakup of the Beatles. I would kind of go all cold and empty and say ‘Yeah’ — Like what kind of business is it of yours? But I just happen to be happy now. It’s strange to be able to say it without thinking.’

The dark hair has gone slightly gray. There are crinkles around the laughing blue eyes, just a hint of love handles at the midriff. He’s shorter than expected — 5-foot-10 — and dresses preppie in khakis, button-down shirt, penny loafers and pastel argyle socks.

He is the world’s most successful pop musician: recognized by the Guinness Book of Records, worth $100 million by reasonable estimates and $500 million if one could believe the tabloids.

‘I’m like Mr. Rich in the press these days,’ he says mournfully. ‘I’m supposed to be worth $500 million. But I’m not. It’s a pity because young kids will tend to look at me as just that — Mr. Rich. It’s a pity because your reputation walks ahead of you.’

He has sold 200 million records. His song ‘Yesterday,’ from his Beatles era, is the most recorded in history, with some 2,000 versions.

He is also one of the biggest independent publishing tycoons in the world, holding the copyrights to musicals like ‘Guys and Dolls,’ ‘Annie,’ ‘Chorus Line’ and ‘Grease’ as well as all the songs of his boyhood hero, Buddy Holly.

Yet he is still very much the cute, irreverent, mop-topped Beatle who stormed the world with John, George and Ringo 22 years ago.

He looks happy — contented — a man who’s learned to deal with the accusations that he caused the nasty Beatles breakup in 1970, John Lennon’s hurtful comments that he was a boring prig, the snide comments about his brassy American wife Linda, the taunts about his syrupy and often slapdash music.

Leaning on his guitar at Air Studios on London’s busy Oxford Street, he flashes that ever-ready charm at will. One minute he’s sincere, the next pure P.R. Concerned to put you at ease, then miffed when you pry too closely.

Two decades of Beatlemania haven’t dehumanized him, but have taught him to be wary.

Of the other Beatles, John Lennon is dead, cut down by an assassin in December 1980. George Harrison has gone into movie production, Ringo into acting. McCartney just goes on writing music, talking even of another concert tour and seemingly oblivious to his near-middle age.

His latest challenge is the movies. He wrote, produced and stars in ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’, a $10 million movie currently scheduled to premiere Nov. 30. The idea was to show a McCartney trapped between his daydreams and the demanding schedule of a superstar — and how he’s kept his sanity.

In real life, the answer is easy: his family.

He and Linda Eastman, daughter of New York music lawyer Lee Eastman, have been married 15 years. On his wedding finger, he wears a band of gold with a tiny jade heart. They have four children, aged 6 to 21. The eldest, Heather, is Linda’s daughter by her first marriage and was adopted by McCartney.

Home is in the bucolic Sussex countryside on a 150-acre farm called ‘Waterford’ where pheasants, geese and peacocks roam wild. The barnyard is filled with chicken and ducks, horses and sheep. Paul designed the house, built the chicken coops and allows only his closest friends to visit.

There are no gold records on the walls, he says, no proud display of the MBE (member of the British Empire) medal conferred by the Queen, no huge recording studio. He keeps only an Oscar statuette given to him by John Wayne, a baby Steinway grand piano and his favorite Martin guitar or two.

There are no wild parties, either.

TV is big at the McCartneys’. Paul is hooked on ‘Fame’ along with his teenage daughters, Mary, 14, and Stella, who’s coming up to 13. ‘Dallas’ is a favorite with Linda. Paul says he adores ‘junky’ game shows like ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘The $20,000 Pyramid’.

He also claims to be ‘pretty hot’ on their home video game of Asteroids, but is just as content diving under tables hunting up yellow sponge balls for his 6-year-old son James, on whom he positively dotes.

They are all vegetarians. McCartney talks lovingly of his wife’s thick sandwiches, her macaroni dinners, her baconless quiches. ‘Sort of cranky,’ he says in embarrassment — cranky meaning eccentric, not grumpy.

He’s still a Liverpudlian at heart, however, admitting to the occasional yearning for egg and chips, sausages and mash (as long as the sausages are vegetarian). He still drinks Scotch and Coke, too, a favorite combination from Beatles days — and he keeps getting busted for pot.

‘Silly,’ he admits.

He and Linda are not above pulling a fast one on neighbors who come for their first McCartney ‘barbecue,’ featuring Worthington-brand ‘meats’ — soybean-based products imported just for the family from the United States.

‘We have barbecues with the stuff,’ says McCartney enthusiastically. ‘We fooled two of our neighbors. They got quite annoyed with us because they said, ‘We thought you were vegetarians’ and we said, ‘Well, that was it. That was vegetarian.’

‘Fooled ’em all evening.’

He confides too that he is doing a bit of running. He started at age 40.

‘I’m a childish runner. I like the feeling of the wind in my nose,’ he says. ‘I run just a couple of miles in the morning, nothing serious at all. I just like it. It reminds me of my childhood.

‘Sometimes James comes along with me. That’s a great excuse to stop a lot.’

His conversation is garnished with mundane tidbits of this vein. How the family’s just gone on their first ski vacation to Gstaad, Switzerland; how he likes ‘trashy TV.’

He has a two-hour commute each day to London so he listens to the radio — mostly the pirate radio stations broadcasting from offshore like Radio Caroline or the new, American-owned Laser 558. He can’t remember the groups he likes, however, except for Big Country and the now-disbanded Japan — and, of course, Michael Jackson, who recorded two songs with him on his most recent album, ‘Pipes of Peace.’ —

When Paul met Linda in in 1969, she was ‘a striking combination of preppy penny loafers and seductive star-snarer,’ according to biographer Philip Norman.

The daughter of a well-known New York music lawyer — not the Eastman Kodak heiress as the world thought — she was an assistant at Town and Country magazine and a backstage habitue at the Fillmore East. Her camera gave her entree to the rock world.

She is talented enough with a camera to have won critical praise for her work, which is showing this fall at the prestigious Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, England. She also won a 1st prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980 for a 4-minute cartoon.

Now 42, like her husband, Linda has survived the hurtful remarks that she caused the Beatles bustup, couldn’t sing or play keyboards when Paul asked her to perform with Wings, stole hotel ashtrays and salt shakers, dressed like a slob and, alas, had hairy legs.

Neither she nor Paul has escaped so easily from their marijuana escapades. Pot remains the McCartneys’ favorite recreational drug.

‘Pot? Never heard of the stooff, mate. Not me,’ says McCartney in mock horror. ‘Hey, everything’s going to get you in this life. Nobody gets out of this one alive. I don’t want to go on about pot because I’m too infamous.’

But the McCartneys are rarely without the stuff, judging from their arrests. Ex-Moody Blues musician Denny Laine, who toured with the McCartneys in Wings, reckons Paul and Linda smoke 2 ounces a day — more like a pack-a-day habit than weekend recreation.

‘My busts tend to be silly. They’re not well-conceived,’ says McCartney, looking not too sorry for what he’s done. ‘There’s never a roadie in the back who’s got it. It’s just ooh-tra-la, a bit of pot. Like a silly hippie. It’s because of my attitude. I don’t think of it as a dangerous drug. I tend to be too flippant.’

The first arrest came in 1972 during a Wings tour. In 1973, police swooped on their farm in Argyllshire, Scotland, and found five marijuana plants.

In 1975, he and Linda were driving along Sunset Boulevard with the kids when the cops stopped them, took a whiff, and discovered marijuana in the glove compartment. Linda, worried about Paul’s U.S. work visa, took the rap.

But there was McCartney getting arrested again in 1980 on arrival in Japan, a country which he knew had tough drug laws. He spent 10 days in jail; his only jail sentence.

‘It’s not bad for you to be humiliated at times,’ he said afterwards — and promised to stop.

He didn’t. In January this year, police on Barbados raided a rented Caribbean retreat. Mr. and Mrs. McCartney pleaded guilty to having a half-ounce of cannabis. A week later, there was Linda getting busted again on arrival in London — caught with 5 grams of marijuana.

‘In actual fact, I do think it is less harmful than a lot of things. I would put Scotch as more harmful,’ says McCartney. ‘But if my kids ask me about drugs, I’d say do nothing. Don’t bother with it.

‘The biggest thing damning it is that people say it leads to hard drugs but it isn’t marijuana that leads to hard drugs. We never start with marijuana, we start with booze. That’s the true cause, ciggies and booze. You’ve got glue now and I’ll tell you — it’s worse, but it’s legal.

McCartney, the cautious clean-cut Beatle who outraged the world in the 60s by telling Life magazine he had experimented with LSD, says he is ignorant of the heavier drugs like heroin.

‘I was in that kind of crowd, but I steered away from that,’ he says. ‘I don’t know about the heavy stuff, luckily. I really don’t. You’ve all seen the guy pull out his bit of rubber and shoot up at a party. You hear he died a week later and he’s not at the party. Who needs it?’

What McCartney obviously does need is work — an audience all the time. He is undoubtedly the most prolific of the Beatles.

Guinness rates him as the most commercially successful musician in history. He has sold 100 million singles and 100 million albums. His album with Wings, ‘Band on the Run,’ sold 6 million copies alone — the highest of any ex-Beatle and equaling the group’s biggest success, ‘Let it Be.’

Yet his last album, ‘Pipes of Peace,’ was slagged off as ‘deep-pile pop’ by Time magazine because the music was catchy but shallow. ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Hey Jude’ are ignored while reviewers savage his later music like ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as a ‘pub singalong.’ Still, Kintyre was the first single record to sell over 2 million copies in Britain.

The truth is, no one has challenged him the way John Lennon did. Not Michael Jackson, not Stevie Wonder: no one.

‘You don’t replace someone like John. The thing about John is we had come from the same spot, the same place in time. We had traveled the road together. Anyway, he’s a great writer, a hell of a writer,’ says Paul, speaking unconsciously in the present tense.

‘For instance, I’d be writing a song called ‘Getting better all the time.'(McCartney sings a little ditty.) John would sing, ‘It couldn’t get much worse’ in counterpoint. It was like an opera. You’d say hello, he’d say goodbye.

‘But it’s not the end of the world because he’s gone,’ says McCartney. ‘I didn’t write ‘Yesterday’ with John or ‘Eleanor Rigby’ or ‘Penny Lane’.’

He admits to feeling cheated by John’s death, however, wishing they had straightened out the harsh words said between them over the Beatles financial mess and their breakup over management by American Allen Klein in the years after the death of their original manager, Brian Epstein.

‘I do occasionally think it would have been really nice to have sorted things out with him, be mellow together, get together with the kids. But what are you going to do? We drifted apart. John went to live in New York and became different. It was hard to relate after a while,’ says Paul.

‘It just got crazy with all the business thing. What happened was there came a point when we didn’t trust each other. The worst. It got very bad, very heavy. But if John and I ever talked about kids, he remembered who we were again, that we were nice people.

‘The great blessing of it all for me was that the last time I ever spoke to him in a phone call was really warm. Some of the best communication we ever had. It wasn’t an argument. We had plenty of hangups on eath other,’ he says, smiling at the memory.

The day Lennon was killed in 1980, McCartney says he went to work, pushing himself on autopilot. His still frets about his famous words of reaction: ‘It’s a drag.’

He says it wasn’t a comment on John’s murder but a cry of ”Leave me alone.I’m frightened. Go away.’

McCartney and Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, have met since with the other Beatles to clean up Beatles business.

He and Yoko have talked on the phone too, but ‘she’s very different from me,’ says McCartney. ‘Just in life I don’t think we would hook up. Our ways of thinking are so different.

‘We’ve had our good moments. We don’t have a bad relationship. There’s no anger from my side. She’s a nice lady, very misunderstood. We have our problems, our differences, but they’re not as bad as it used to be.’

One thing McCartney learned from the early Beatles years, when the band lost millions of dollars on U.S. merchandising of Beatles paraphernalia, was how to be a shrewd businessman.

His current contract with CBS records, for instance, gives him one-fifth of the retail price of his records — the highest royalty rate paid any artist and a deal which insiders say leaves CBS virtually no profits.

His in-laws, the Eastmans, handle his financial affairs for the most part, investing his reputed $36 million annual income in tax-free schemes.

Yet despite his wealth and the financial savvy of his advisers, his 1981 bid of $50 million was not enough to buy the catalog of Northern Songs, which owns all the copyrights to Beatles classics like ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Yesterday.’ Its owner, Lord Lew Grade, was demanding $70 million, more than McCartney could come up with.

He does not dwell on failures, however.

Next month, his film ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ premieres with ‘Rupert the Bear,’ a cartoon he hopes someday to make into a full-length feature movie.

McCartney wrote both in his car on the way to work, scribbling on pieces of paper in pencil and stuffing it all in a Safeway supermarket bag. It was his first piece of writing since a book, ‘Japanese Jailbird,’ about his famous pot bust. There’s only one copy of that book and it’s in a bank vault.

‘I don’t make any sort of great claims for ‘Broad Street’ as a great Shakespearean effort. There’s no great depth in there. It’s a nice story, a good evening’s entertainment,’ he says.

The script is based on a true incident in the ’70s when the notorious British band, The Sex Pistols, lost a master tape to their album, ‘Never Mind the Bullocks.’

McCartney’s script imagines the same thing happening to him. The story, about his handling of imminent disaster, alternates between a ‘normal’ day of filming, interviewing and recording — and nightmares of him and Linda being swept over a river wier or being pursued by a statue of Prince Albert that hops off its platform in Hyde Park.

‘I play myself really. I used to say it was a day in the life of Paul McCartney but it’s really more a day in the mind of Paul McCartney,’ he says.

‘Peter Webb, the director, said that was a bit like saying Alice in Wonderland is about a day in the life of a girl who meets a rabbit.’


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