"The Paul McCartney World Tour" book • September 1989

Interview of Paul McCartney

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It Started To Be ART

We used to go round and visit people a lot like that. Went to see Bertrand Russell like that. Just ask, Can I come round and see you? I’m interested. Lived in First Street in Chelsea, and I just knew some American guy assisting him or something and I’d just go in and we’d talk about Vietnam. Around 1966, the main thing is people were getting high. That’s the main thing. It was the shift from drink to pot in fact, is really all it was. There’d always been pills on the fringe of it, so it became a bit more of a beatnik scene, a bit more of a jazz scene, with Dylan – big influence. He was coming out of the New York poetry thing and we were crossing over into each other and you’d meet him and his thing would be more like, I don’t drink too much but I smoke a joint. It would be nice to have a nice clean little cover story for it all, but that’s what it was.

It’s very difficult to talk about it now because drugs have come through such a big thing and now you’re talking drugs you’re talking hard drugs. You’re talking death through drugs. So everyone’s very anti-drugs, quite rightly. When we were talking then it was a much less terminal thing. It was actually an alternative to booze. Scotch seemed a bit rough. It’s fairly rough stuff the old barley, fairly debilitating once you’d had a few of them, and pot was more gentle and more quiet and more thought-provoking, so that’s what did the U-turn, that’s what made the big tum in people’s minds. It was a move away from accepted values and you thought it out yourself rather than just accept it.

But Dylan, when I got in and talked to him I played him some of the Sergeant Pepper album, bit late. He said, Oh, I get it, you don’t want to be cute anymore. That summed it up, that was sort of what it was. The cute period had ended and it was now… Whereas we’d been artists with a cute edge, because that was what the scene was and that was what was required. We’d really always preferred to not have to do the cute thing. It started to be art, that was what happened. Dylan brought poetry into the lyrics so you found John doing, You’ve got to hide your love away. We were highly influenced by him and he was quite influenced by us in fact as well. He’d thought I Want To Hold Your Hand – he’d heard I Want To Hold Your Hand because it was number one in the States. He’d thought in the middle eight, after the middle eight it said, “I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide” and he thought it was “I get high, I get high, I get high”.

Someone would bring out a record, he’d bring out a long record so we knew it’d be OK to do Hey Jude long. Why can’t we have one seven minutes? You started breaking a lot of boundaries, questioning previous values. It went right across the board from questioning the straight – we go to the pub and we have a scotch. Became a different thing. You didn’t go to the pub, you stayed in and maybe had dinner with people and wine. Much more gentle, civilised scene. Consequently, if it was artists you were talking to it was quite a buzz. It kind of changed from showbiz to art and became very exciting with the cross-fertilisation you’d get in with gallery owners like Robert Fraser. It was actually an exciting period for me. The funny thing is John’s ended up as the one with the avant-garde – if you’re talking broad general brush strokes – John’s ended up as the one that’s the avant-garde guy because he did all that with Yoko. Well actually, quite a few years before he’d ever considered it, when he was living out in the suburbs by the golf club with Cynthia and hanging out there, I was getting in with a guy called Miles and the people at Indica. I used to beat his house a lot of nights, just him and his wife, because he was just so interesting, very well-read. So he’d turn you on to Burroughs and all that. I’d done a little bit of literature at school but I never really did anything modern.

I FIND THIS VERY INTERESTING because it’s something I realise l didn’t put around a lot at the time, like l helped start International Times with Miles, helped start Indica Bookshop and Gallery where John met Yoko. Was big buddies with Robert Fraser and was very into Magritte. So I had a very rich avant-garde period which was such a buzz, making movies and stuff. Because I was living on my own in London, and all the other guys were married in the suburbs, they were very square in my mind, and they’d come in, and come into my pad where there’d be people all hanging out and weird sculptures and stuff and I’d be making, piecing together little films and stuff.

l remember John came and he was quite turned on by it all. When he made that album Two Virgins he was hopeless technically. I had to set up a couple of tape recorders and I showed him this whole system that I used, and he, being John, the difference between him and me, he’d make the record of it. Whereas, being me, l’d do it and experiment with it and then bring it to our mainstream records.

John’d always want to jump over the cliff. He once said that to me. Have you ever thought of jumping? l said, Fuck off. You jump, and tell me how it is. That’s basically the difference in our personalities. John is the guy who said why don’t you try trepanning. He came to dinner once, me, Linda, him and Yoko. This was when he got avant-garde a few years later, because once he met Yoko all the shit he’d seen me doing for the last four or five years, it was like, he could do it now. He threw over his suburban life with Cynthia, got divorced. He brought Yoko down to breakfast, he stayed up all night.

Then he went totally, unfortunately, went too far. Went into heroin and stuff – well crazy. He did masses of great stuff but then he could let it all out, be himself and all these bizarre sides to his character that he’d never dared let out before, he now suddenly let out.

But for me the interesting period was a couple of years before all that, before he went to New York and it was quite heady, very artistic. Like showing my movies to Antonioni, stuff like that. Dead cool really. And watching movies with Andy Warhol, round at my house, because my place was almost the centre of the social scene at one point because I was on my own. There was nobody to hang anyone up. This big house in St John’s Wood. It was like a salon, almost. Brian Jones, John, Mick, Marianne, always round there. It was great. Some magic moments. Robert Fraser was this gallery owner – the guy who got busted with The Stones. He’s a great guy, he died a few years ago, he was great. He was brilliant and I bought a couple of these Magritte paintings through Robert – dirt cheap. We didn’t think he was going to be famous one day. In fact I now think he’s the best surrealist. Certainly didn’t think he’d ever be that. He was just one that we all liked – the skies, the doves and the bowler hats. Robert’s greatest conceptual thing he ever did, it’s like a scene out of a movie for me, was, it was one of these long hot kind of summers and I had a big back garden in St John’s Wood and we were all playing in the back garden, sitting amongst the daisies, and he didn’t want to break in on our scene. So he arrived and when we got back in he’d gone, but he’d left a painting just as we came through the back door, just on the table. It was a Magritte painting with an apple which we used for the Apple thing. That’s where we got the Apple insignia, this big green apple. And written across the apple were the words ‘Au Revoir’, like a calling card.

I used to go to avant garde music concerts like. That was me, all that Stockhausen shit in The Beatles. I went to this guy Luciano Berio who’s now an electronic classical kind of guy. It was good, it was a good kind of crossover. A lot of stimulation for me. What Pepper came out of was all of that. Very exciting period. I’m not trying to say it was all me, but l do think John’s avant-garde period later, was really to give himself a go at what he’d seen me having a go at. He didn’t dare do it while he was living in suburbia. Couldn’t do it because the vibe was wrong. Had to come to my house and sneak vicarious thrills.

Last updated on October 16, 2023


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