Beatles Fans Thought Him "Cute"; He Saw Himself as Avant-Garde, Showing Lennon the Way. and Oasis, Who Adore Him? "Really They Mean Nothing to Me." (Interview with Paul McCartney)(Interview)(Cover Story)

By Richards, Steve | New Statesman (1996), September 26, 1997 | Go to article overview

Beatles Fans Thought Him "Cute"; He Saw Himself as Avant-Garde, Showing Lennon the Way. and Oasis, Who Adore Him? "Really They Mean Nothing to Me." (Interview with Paul McCartney)(Interview)(Cover Story)


Richards, Steve, New Statesman (1996)


Several of the staff at Paul McCartney's London base are exhausted. It is late afternoon and they are still talking about the night before, when they went to the Royal Albert Hall to see McCartney and others perform to raise money for Montserrat. The one person who shows no sign of tiredness is McCartney himself. He looks younger than his 55 years and says he enjoyed the evening with what he calls "the peer group" (Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and Sting). When I remind him that the last time we met I had just come from an interview with Gordon Brown, he produces his excellent impression of the Chancellor, which includes the unexpected, fleeting smile in the middle of a dour soundbite.

In spite of his ebullience McCartney is on the defensive. In an authorised biography to be published next week, Many Years from Now, he is quoted as saying that, without detracting from John Lennon, he wants to put "his side of the story", suggesting he is not entirely happy with the many accounts of their relationship already in print. Next week, too, his most ambitious album yet will be released, a symphonic work called Standing Stone. He is wary of the critical reaction from the classical reviewers, not used to rock stars moving on to their territory.

McCartney's motives for co-operating with a life story and his concern about the reaction to his new work are linked. He has always been a musical risk-taker and Standing Stone pushes the boundaries of his music further than before. Yet it is Lennon who is still regarded as the more imaginative, experimental Beatle. As McCartney prepares for reaction to his new musical venture he seeks recognition for his past daring.

"Since giving the interviews a couple of years ago for the biography, I have thought about whether or not I should have done it. I don't want to carry on trying to justify myself. But I don't regret cooperating with the book. You see, John and I grew up like twins although he was a year and a half older than me. We grew up literally in the same bed because when we were on holiday, hitchhiking or whatever, we would share a bed. Or when we were writing songs as kids he'd be in my bedroom or I'd be in his. Or he'd be in my front parlour or I'd be in his, although his Aunt Mimi sometimes kicked us out into the vestibule!

"So we grew up like twins and in the sixties we both started to get into avant-garde stuff. Now I did want people to know that while John was at the golf club in Weybridge I was doing a lot of stuff living in London. I was going to meet Allen Ginsberg and Bertrand Russell, who was living near me in Chelsea. It was a very rich period for me. My girlfriend [Jane Asher] was an actress and we saw a lot of plays. I did some work with William Burroughs. I did just happen to be doing this a couple of years before John met Yoko and he used to come in from the country and say 'Wow . . . you're doing this. It's really interesting."

McCartney feels he has not been given the credit for musical innovation that arose from his, rather than Lennon's, lifestyle at the time. "'Revolution 9' is probably John's most experimental song with the Beatles, but the year before, I wrote a piece called 'Carnival of Light', which was very avant-garde. It didn't get on the recent Beatles Anthology because some of the people involved thought it was too far out. But it's a 15-minute avant-garde piece which has so far been unheard. I liked it, but you've got to think John Cage was important to appreciate it, which I do. He was a big influence on me. John could only do 'Revolution 9' because I put a couple of tape recorders together and showed him how to do it. That's how he came to make 'Two Virgins'. John could never have done it otherwise. He was hopelessly untechnical.

"But I got this reputation of being the balladeer. The one who's into love. I was called 'The cute one'. Well I can tell you when I went home I wasn't cute at all. So without wanting to put John down, or to look as if I was justifying myself I did want to put the record straight: don't just put me down as an idiot who didn't know any of it and John taught me it all.

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