Interview for Boston Globe • Thursday, February 8, 1990

Rappin' about music with Paul

Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Boston Globe
Interview by:
Steve Morse
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Interview

Paul McCartney is a picture of friendliness when you finally meet him. “I’m the same person I was at age 5. I just got famous. But I feel very similar to the way I always felt,” he said of his life before and after the Beatles during a recent interview in New York. “A lot of people get the impression that I’m ambitious, that I sweep everything out of the way, that I’m calculating. I’m not, really,” said McCartney, who headlines sold-out nights in the Worcester Centrum tonight and tomorrow.

“I just like to do a good show, so I try to organize people a bit and that sometimes get people annoyed. But I’m really not this calculating guy out to make me the top guy in the world. It’s quite an easy impression to form if you don’t know me, but my wife Linda and I are always meeting people who say, ‘I didn’t realize you were like that. You’re so friendly. I thought you’d always have 40 bodyguards around you.’ So nobody sees that side of me. But I’m a nice guy. . .honest.” 

McCartney, now 47 and on his first tour in 13 years, is an absolute charmer in person. He’s so modest and self-effacing that it seems as if he must pinch himself as a reminder he co-wrote some of the greatest songs of all time with Beatles partner John Lennon.

“I’ve done so much stuff, I guess. I’m just glad I won a few. I occasionally look back and realize the song ‘Yesterday’ has reached 5 million (radio) plays in America – and nobody has ever done that,” he said. “Then there’s ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.’ I sat down and wrote about 35 songs on a list for the tour -‘Yellow Submarine’ and the like, many of which we aren’t even doing. But I’m just glad to have made a lot of them and glad I’m to some degree still doing it.”

McCartney’s latest songs – from his album “Flowers in the Dirt” – haven’t been as successful. But he hardly seems fazed by the commercial indifference.

“Basically, if you look at anyone’s career, there are always bits where they do stuff that’s perceived as not being as good as other bits. I certainly like Elvis Presley’s career before he joined the Army. I don’t really like anything after that. A lot of people love his stuff after the Army, but I’ve got my own preferences. And I think people are like that with me. They would like to have seen me stay at the Beatles’ height forever, but it’s just not that easy. I’m only human.”

These days, McCartney, the father of four, is doing his best to feel comfortable both on stage (“by now I deserve to be”) and off. He’s also not about to apologize for any songs he’s written, even his treacly, oft-criticized duets with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, “Ebony and Ivory” and “Say Say Say,” respectively.

“I like them. The bottom line is they were hits and I got to work with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. And that’s more than most people do in a lifetime. Also, when I was working in L.A., the sax player Ernie Watts said of ‘Ebony and Ivory’: ‘I’ve got a white girlfriend and that song did more for us than anything.’ So that will do me right there. So I don’t care what anyone says. A lot of people like that song.

“As for ‘Say, Say, Say,’ it was a great buzz working with Michael. And I think it’s a good song. I don’t think it’s perhaps the deepest lyric I’ve ever written, but I think it’s a good track. But having done so much and having become this veteran figure like Pete Townshend or Jerry Garcia or any of the guys who have been around a while, you do attract a lot of criticism.

“Some people want everything to be an ‘Abbey Road,’ or whatever their favorite track is. But it’s funny. I meet a lot of people who don’t like ‘Abbey Road,’ but like Wings’ ‘Wild Life,’ ” he added, referring to his early ’70s band after the Beatles. “Not a lot, but I do meet them. I occasionally meet people whose preferences are for the real weird stuff of mine.”

McCartney has spanned innumerable musical styles in his 30-year career, but finds it hard to dissect them.

“I never think about stuff like that. I never do. I never had any music lessons. I made it all up myself. So I don’t really know about style. What did I start with originally? On piano, middle C. And it all came from that. And on guitar? Well, I had a trumpet first,” he said, recalling his Liverpool boyhood.

“My dad gave me a trumpet because trumpets were all the rage then. That shows how far I go back. Then I traded in the trumpet for a guitar because I wanted to sing; and I figured you couldn’t sing with this big brass thing in your mouth. I got the guitar when I was 14 and started to teach myself.

“The way you learned was just through the guys. Someone would say, ‘Let’s go to this guy’s house. He knows B7.’ And we’d all go on a bus. It was like looking for the Holy Grail. We’d get to his house and say, ‘Come on, then.’ And we’d take it down and spend hours practicing. And that’s the only thing I’ve ever known. I couldn’t tell you anything about music. If you showed me ‘Yesterday’ on a sheet, I wouldn’t know what it was. It’s just not the way I do it. I don’t connect little black dots to music. So it’s difficult to tell you what style I am. I’m just into music.”

VITAL STATS

WHERE: Tonight and tomorrow in the Centrum.
THE BAND: Paul McCartney, vocals, guitar, bass, piano; Robbie McIntosh, guitar; Hamish Stuart, bass, guitar, piano; Linda McCartney, keyboards; Wix, keyboards; and Chris Whitten, drums.
REPERTOIRE: “A little bit of early rock ‘n’ roll stuff before the Beatles, then some Beatles songs, mainly the ones I’m associated with,’ McCartney says. “The interesting thing is that quite a few of them (the Beatles) were never performed on stage, like “Sgt. Pepper.” And we do a few Wings tunes and songs from my solo career . . .”
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: This British environmental organization is being promoted by McCartney on tour. “My wife Linda and I thought, ‘God, we’re going to schlepp around the world, so wouldn’t it be nice if it meant something?’ We don’t really need to tour. We don’t need the money. And we don’t need the fame . . . We just took the logical extension and said, ‘Let’s try to make it mean something.’ “
NO JOHN LENNON TRIBUTE: “I wrote ‘Here Today’ for John. It’s on the ‘Tug of War’ album. It’s a tribute to him and I thought of doing it in the show, but it just started to look too soppy, a little cloying.”

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