- Published by:
- Mark Rowland
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Tug Of War Official album.
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He turns 40 this month, and if he is anything like the rest of us, the last 20 must feel as close as yesterday. Was it really so long ago that four working-class chums from a dingy English port town sang and laughed and shook their mop-tops to signal a crumbling of the old order and a hailing of the new? You look for the signs of age in recent photographs, but the changes are so subtle—a slight hollowing of those cherubic cheeks, perhaps a hint of wariness in eyes that used to sparkle with playful coquetry. Yes, time has been a gentle thief.
The lad who stole girls’ hearts all ’round the world is a husband of 13 years standing, and the father of four. The inveterate rock ’n’ roller divides his time between home and studio, now surfacing to promote a new album (Tug of War, Columbia), soon disappearing back into the mists of his Scotland farm. Which is just as it should be. Paul McCartney, handsome and rich and brimming with easy charm—and still the mirror in which we seek the reflection of our own youthful dreams.
“I like Walt Disney cartoons—they sort of live forever.”
In fact, the last decade has not treated Paul all that kindly. When it began he was, quite simply, a hero. By its close he’d become the subject of casual ridicule, a turnabout engineered in part by the mocking comments of his former best friend and musical compatriot, John Lennon. Any critical appraisal of his band, Wings, was bound to include unflattering comparisons to the Beatles and/or snide references to the credentials of its keyboard player, who just happened to be Paul’s wife.
And then there was Wings’ disastrous final episode, a triumphant tour of Japan that abruptly terminated when customs officials unearthed a hefty cache of marijuana in Paul’s luggage. Instead of Budokan’s concert stage, McCartney commenced a 10-day engagement “live” in the local jail, regaling his fellow inmates with renditions of “Yesterday” and “Mull of Kintyre”. Then he was deported.
“He certainly received quite a shock,” recalls Michael McCartney, Paul’s brother and the author of an affectionate family history entitled The Macs(Delilah Communications, Ltd.). “But even worse was the way the media deliberately distorted his situation. When I said I was angry at what was happening, for instance, they made it sound like I was angry at Paul. So just at the crucial moment, when the court is weighing judgment, they read the papers and think, ‘My God, even his own family thinks he’s a fool.’ It could have gone to his detriment, you know. He could have been locked up for years.”
Paul’s problem, of course, is that he has always appeared just a tad toosexy, too suave, too eager to please. His equipoise looms like a red flag to critics ready to knock him down a peg, and no matter that his temperament is genuinely affable. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a bad mood,” contends rockabilly great Carl Perkins, a friend of nearly 20 years standing. “I’ve worked with a lot of greats, from Elvis to Dylan, and they could all get pretty moody at times. But Paul’s not like that. I’m sure he has a time and place, but it doesn’t interfere with his outward personality.” Though McCartney is far from invulnerable, it has never been his style to exorcise personal demons in public, a la John Lennon. Instead, he turns inward, to his family and his music. When the Beatles broke apart, Paul did both—he formed a new band with his wife.
“If you want the Beatles, go see Wings.”
“I think I’m good. I like me, I’m good. I can dig me. Can you?”
“He sounds like Englebert Humperdinck.”
Wings took flight in 1971, when Paul and Linda joined forces with old pal Denny Laine (from the Moody Blues) and drummer Danny Seiwell. It endured, in various incarnations, for eight more years and eight more albums. Paul first conceived the band as a vehicle for playing small clubs and halls, a return to his rock roots and an emergence from the isolation that, in Paul’s view, had ultimately destroyed the Beatles. As a traveling show, Wings was a hit from the start—who wouldn’t want to hear Paul play the local pub?—but a succession of pop hits soon propelled him back to superstar-sized arenas and concert halls.
Critical acclaim was not so readily forthcoming. Without the Beatles’ special alchemy Paul’s romanticism tended to drift toward pap, lacking the spark of originality that characterized the best McCartney-Lennon collaborations. His most acrid critic, to Paul’s everlasting chagrin, turned out to be Lennon. For years they squabbled like ex’s unable to leave behind a stormy marriage, but when it came to sarcastic repartee John was in a class by himself. Japes like the one about Humperdinck, or the picture of John hoisting a pig by its ears (a wicked sendup of Paul holding up a sheep on the cover of his Ram album) wounded Paul deeply. He still has not entirely recovered; in a recent interview he claimed to draw fresh solace from his conversations with Yoko Ono. “She tells me something very important,” he revealed, “that John still loved me, after all.”
“Of course my brother and John loved each other,” declares Michael McCartney, “same as my brother and I do. Brothers have their feuds—you love ’em and you hate ’em. Oh, it’s easy enough to put all the negative parts under a microscope. I could have written a book called Paulie Dearest, slagged him to death and made millions. But it wouldn’t have been the truth. With Paul and John, though, all the dirty linen was brought out in public.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, such controversy, Paul continued to pour his energy into the music, and by 1976, his faith had been rewarded. Wings toured America that year like conquering heroes. McCartney was hailed on the cover of Time, and the band’s crack performances drew wildly ecstatic crowds and rave reviews. Amidst all the hoopla, however, Paul and Linda remained serene and jocular, causing one associate to marvel that McCartney was the only touring rock star around who knew how to keep a grip on his sanity.
”Groupies, chicks. It was fabulous. I loved it. There was no stopping me after a (Beatles) show. I was the biggest raver out. But I got to thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life? Who am I getting to know? What one chick do I know as a pal?’ And there weren’t any… Mainly, I’d sown enough wild oats. Making love does become a sort of commitment—I love the idea of vows and stuff. To tell the truth, it keeps me kind of straight.”
Paul McCartney, 1974
“I’m not sophisticated, a good conversationalist, looking good all the time. I don’t think of myself like Jacqueline Kennedy or Patricia Nixon.”
Linda McCartney, 1974
Paul was always the most desirable of the Beatle bachelors, and by the end of the sixties, he was the only one left. Any whiff of serious romance merited close scrutiny by the press. Thus, Linda “no relation to Kodak” Eastman was in for some rough sport, when, after a relatively swift courtship, she and Paul tied the knot in 1969. A rock photographer at the Fillmore East who’d enjoyed acquaintanceships with various rock figures previous to meeting Paul, she was dubbed the “Park Avenue groupie”—a sobriquet that says more about rock’s inbred sexism than Linda’s character. (Years later, Rolling Stone slurred Joni Mitchell in much the same fashion.)
Nonetheless, Paul and Linda took to the life of domestic bliss with remarkable dispatch, a condition rather smugly documented on their first two records together, Ram and Wild Life. Since then, however, they’ve managed to sustain the ideal of traditional marriage and family—no mean feat in this era of celebrity swapstakes. Though rumors of discord surface from time to time, from all indications, their marriage remains solid. Indeed, one of the highlights of the Wings Over America tour was Paul’s impassioned rendition of “My Love”, crooning the hook “my love does it gooood” while a smiling Linda posed before the multitudes, hands on hips, letting no one miss the implications of that particular song.
“Paul would be sort of a Republican.”
John Eastman, Paul’s brother-in-law and business manager
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Paul McCartney is “the most honored man in music.” One is naturally inclined to trust Guinness in these matters, and Paul’s statistics do tell an amazing story—over 100 million album sales, 100 million singles sales and, separately, 43 million-selling songs. Since 1970, all 10 of Paul’s records (solo and with Wings) have been certified gold by the Record Industry Association of America. The last five releases have also gone platinum (over a million units sold), and his newest, Tug of War, which features Ringo, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Carl Perkins, is certain to do the same.
During the sixties, however, only a small part of the Beatles’ fabulous success translated into personal wealth. For many years the band relied on a loose network of acquaintances to handle their financial matters—most proved either honest or competent, but rarely both. But under the guidance of John Eastman, Paul has since realized a vast financial empire, with an estimated annual income, mostly from record and publishing royalties, of about $40 million. His publishing house, MPL, originally established for tax purposes, is the largest independent song publisher in the world, holding the rights to scores from Grease, Annie, Hello Dolly, A Chorus Line, Bye Bye Birdie and Mame; standards from “On, Wisconsin” to “Stormy Weather” and “Autumn Leaves”; the entire catalog of Buddy Holly songs, rags by Scott Joplin, songs by Ira Gershwin, even the theme to the Dinah Shore TV show. And in a recent twist of fate, Paul and Yoko are currently negotiating with British mogul Sir Lew Grade to buy back Northern Songs, the catalog of early Beatles hits (including “Yesterday”) that was sold during the sixties. The whimsical Beatle has turned out to be one savvy entrepreneur.
Less publicized, however, are McCartney’s frequent gestures of charity. He’s performed various benefits for UNESCO, and, in 1979,, following a plea from then-Secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim, he personally organized a giant pop concert to raise the emergency relief aid for Kampuchea. The event and subsequent album, Concerts for the People of Kampuchea (featuring the Who, Queen, the Pretenders and Elvis Costello, among others), has netted UNICEF over $600,000 to date, according to organization officials. A concert movie will also be released around the United States and Europe this summer.
McCartney’s generosity crops up in smaller, more personal encounters. “When I first decided to become a writer, I sent a bunch of stuff to Paul,” recalls Laura Gross, now a radio interviewer at KRLA, the “Beatles station” of Los Angeles. “Then, when he came to L.A., I knocked on the door of his hotel, and he said ‘Oh yes, I’ve read your stuff, you ought to send us what you’re doing. Linda and I are very interested.’ Here I was, a stranger and a nobody, and he took the time to be kind. He gave me encouragement at a time when that was very important to me.”
“He was my boss,” observes Wings guitarist Laurence Juber, “but he was also my teacher. At one point he gave me a fairly substantial budget just so I could develop my own ideas. He’s an extremely benevolent sort of person, but he doesn’t shout about it. He’s aware of his responsibility to other talents, otherwise he wouldn’t be a nice person, and he is a nice person. Of course, he’s always got that element of cockiness about him, because he’s come such a long way. Don’t forget, he was just a kid off the street in Liverpool. That’s all any of them were.”
“Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.”
“I love Paul, he’s my favourite—brown, white, red, blue or green! He is the Beatles.”
Little Richard, interviewed by KRLA’s Laura Gross
In 1974, Mark Lapidos decided to put together a kind of giant swap meet and communal gathering for Beatles fans. He called it Beatlefest, rented a hall, and ended up admitting 7,000 people and turning away thousands more. This year, Beatlefest will span 11 days in four different U.S. cities, as interest continues to mount in a group that called it quits more than a decade ago. “We’re not living in the past,” Lapidos insists. “You take surveys now and ask young people their favourite group and what do they say? The Beatles! Their music will not die. It is the cultural phenomenon of the century.”
Lapidos may be right. The past year has evidenced yet another spate of books and articles about the Beatles, along with discoveries of long-dormant radio recordings and master tapes by the Fab Foursome. And if anything, the hideous murder of John Lennon in December 1980 seems to have inspired fans to rekindle the flame of memory. “We simply couldn’t let that act destroy such an important part of our lives,” explains Lapidos. “Actually, we became more like family, pulling closer together after we’d lost our brother.”
The man who knew John Lennon best was devastated by his murder. Paul’s friend, Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, remembers seeing McCartney looking “stunned. He said it was useless and tragic, (but) I don’t think it had penetrated that John was gone forever. I’m sure it took a few days for that to sink in.” When it did, Paul turned, as he always did in times of crisis, to his closest ally—music. At the suggestion of friend and producer George Martin, he shifted base from London to Martin’s studio on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, away from the obtrusive glare of the media. Once settled in with Linda and the kids, he called up Ringo, Wingsmate Denny Laine, Carl Perkins, Stevie Wonder, and embarked on the most ambitious and painstaking project of his musical career.
“I have never met a more dedicated musician than Paul McCartney. He’ll work all night on a little guitar lick until he gets it just the way he wants it. He’s a perfectionist.”
The intensity of his commitment on Montserrat became its own kind of therapy. Between sessions the musicians would swim, sun on the beach, or take Jeep rides along the scenic island trails. But after two months, McCartney and Martin returned to London, where they continued to refine the material for another year. The sessions had produced two albums worth of music; the second set was still in its final stages of completion when I phoned Martin’s studio in March. A spokesperson remarked that McCartney was anxiously awaiting its public reception. “I think Paul wants to have a truly ‘musical’ success this time, not just a popular one,” she declared. “He really wants to be recognized for achieving something.”
In the past decade, McCartney’s most trying periods have often fostered his best work—McCartney and Ram, following the Beatles split; Band on the Run in 1973, when Wings was coming apart at the seams, and to a lesser extent, Back to the Egg in 1979, amidst persistent rumors that Paul and Linda’s marriage was on the rocks. But all of those efforts pale, I think, beside Tug of War. Here Paul has finally cast off the aureole of calculated cuteness that marred so much of his seventies music, and penned lyrics that are evocative, unsentimental and deeply personal. At the same time, the album’s sheer range and spunky, let’s-try-it-on spirit recalls the Beatles at their most ambitious, from the daring juxtaposition of rock ’n’ roll rhythm and big band texture that propels “Ballroom Dancing” to the graceful, quirky country swing duet with Perkins, to the hothouse funk of “What’s That”, a six-minute corker with Stevie Wonder that bears favorable comparison to Wonder’s own “Superstition”. Yet the record’s most eloquent moment is its most elemental—a quiet, heartfelt paean to McCartney’s fallen brother, entitled “Here Today.”
And if I said I really knew you well,
What would your answer be?
Well, knowing you,
You’d probably laugh,
And say that we were worlds apart
If you were here today… here today.
Every era has its myths—from Jesus to Camelot to the Beatles—and every myth exists to fill the special needs of its culture. As Beatle Paul, he will always play the courtly knight, the crooning Lancelot in shining Nehru jacket. But the real Paul McCartney is no more or less than a talented musician with wife and kids, nearing middle age and trying, along with the rest of us, to sort out the various slings and arows of life’s fortune. It is no put-down to say that nothing he ever does, no matter how accomplished, can again approach the majesty of the legend he once helped create, precisely because it is a legend.
“Why should the Beatles give more?” John Lennon once asked, with characteristic bluntness. “Didn’t they give everything on God’s earth for 10 years? Didn’t they give themselves?”
So now Lennon is gone, though his restless, vibrant spirit survives among the living. And now Paul McCartney, unarguably one of the premier artists of his generation, continues with his own life’s work, which is simply to make music for the world to hear and enjoy; perhaps even be touched by.