QUESTION: Do you have a hard time picking the old songs to rerecord?
PAUL: I pulled out about fifty songs that I fancied singing and i gave a list of those to the director and said, "Let's just choose." So some of them got chosen for pure story reasons. Like "Yesterday" was included on the director's request because he wanted to set up the thing that happens towards the end of the movie where I become a busker. But something like "For No One," was just because I love that song and I realized I hadn't sung it since the twenty years ago we're talking about. I never ever did it in public. I did it only once on the record. And I thought, "Well, it's a pity that songs can just come and go that quickly." I wanted that one in just for my own pleasure. And then "Ballroom Dancing," for instance, was just put in because it's a very visual number. So I was a mismash of reasons...
Why shouldn't I sing 'em? Just because I once recorded them with the Beatles? They're not sacred, not to me anyway. I wouldn't say I do a better version of those. Maybe those are the definitive versions, maybe not. You know, I think "Long and Winding Road" in this is better than the original version. Just that particular version. So that was it, really. I fancied singing them and didn't see why not.
John and I once tried to write a play when we were just staring out, even before we wrote any songs. We got two pages and just couldn't go any further, we just dried up. It would have been great, actually, because it was like a precursor to Jesus Christ Superstar. It was about this guy called Pilchard who you never actually saw. He was always upstairs in a room, praying. And the whole play was about the family saying, "Oh God, is he prayin' again?" It was quite a nice idea, but we could never get him out of that room and downstairs.
QUESTION: There are so many books out on the Beatles. Do you have any plans to write an autobiography?
PAUL: The only thing that would make me do it that round about this age, you start to forget, you know. After twenty years, you don't remember it so well. And that would be the motivating factor, to actually get it down. But I haven't actually thought of doing it, really. But it's beginning to sneak into my mind maybe I ought to get it down even if it isn't going to be like Mick's. It's more a publicity stunt rather than a book.
QUESTION: You did the foreward for the Little Richard book. What did you think of it?
PAUL: It's a little bit gossipy ...
QUESTION: In the early press accounts, you were the good guy. But in later biographies, you're cast as the bad guy. Do you feel a need to give your side?
PAUL: Well, like anyone I wouldn't mind being understood rather than misunderstood. It's very tempting when someone like John was slagging off in the press. There was a period there when he was really going for me. It's very tempting to answer back, but I'm glad I didn't. I just thought the hell with it, he's going over the top like he does. He was a great fella, but he had that about him. He'd suddenly turn the table over and on to a new thing. And i was the table. But, I mean, a lot of it was talk and i think John loved the group. I think, though, he had to clear the decks for his new life. That was my feeling at the time. And there's nothing really you could say. But I don't think I was the bad guy or the good guy. I think originally what happened is that I'm from a very close, warm family in Liverpool, and I was lucky to come from that kind of family. John wasn't. John was an only child. His father left home at three. His mother was killed when he was sixteen. My mum died when I was fourteen, so we had that in common. But when it came to meet the press and I saw a guy in the outer office shaking, I'd go in and say, "Want a cup of tea?" because I just didn't like to be around that tension, that nervousness. So it fell to me to go and chat to the guy and put him at ease. Which then I looked like PR. So I became known as the sort of PR man in the group. I probably was. The others would say, "I'm not bloddy doing that interview, you do it." So I tended to look a bit the good guy in the media's eyes, because that's who I was being nice to. And i suppose the others may have resented that a little. But, eventually, I've got a wild, ruthless ambition kind of image. If you do well, you get a bit of that. I don't really think it's true. I think everyone was just as ruthless and ambitious as I was.
QUESTION: What do you think of the exploitation of Lennon's death?
PAUL: I think it's inevitable. You're talking about the West and capitolism. Exploitation's part of the game, really. I prefer to remember him how I knew him. I was in Nashville and saw a John Lennon whiskey decanter. Argh! He didn't even drink it. So yeah, it's a bit yucky. But you can't do anything about it. This is America, folks.
QUESTION: What would you say to arguments that rock 'n' roll was supposed to be a reaction against wigs, sets, and makeup (such as are used in the film)? And the whole thing is supposed to be not so heavily produced and a lot more intuitive?
PAUL: Maybe. I don't think it was really a reaction against that. I think it was a reaction against the current popular music at the time. We liked Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Elvis, all the American stuff. And all the black American stuff, Motown. You know, at that age, you tend to get cliquey. You like B-sides that people have never heard of. And our act was based on that kind of stuff. All our early Beatle albums are B-sides of black artists, most of the stuff. So I think really we just wanted a ballsier sound because some of the people, for us, were getting too sloppy. So we wanted to react against that, I suppose, in the same way punks reacted against stuff we were doing later.
QUESTION: You mentioned talking to MTV yesterday, which brings to mind that you were making promo films, as they were known then, when very few people were. What caused you to be a pioneer?
PAUL: I think when we started off, the first thing we did was appear on TV shopws like Hullabaloo! In England it was Ready Steady Go and before that it was Thank Your Lucky Stars. That was what you did. You'd go on TV and do your song. And they make a little live video. And later on, if you couldn't be at the thing, people started to suggest, "Well, maybe you'll make a littl thing and send it to us." So once that became available to us we started to get a bit imaginative. I remember one night meeting this Swedish director [Peter Goldmann] in a nightclub and he started saying, "Well, we could really be far out, you know? Yeah, wow, really heavy, psychedelic, up a tree." That turned out to be the "Strawberry Fields" promo, which was pretty far out for its time. And from there, we just continued. We got hooked, we liked the idea of putting on strange clothes and riding white horses through rooms.
QUESTION: Is there any likelihood of compiling those films and putting them out on home video?
PAUL: Hmmmm. I suppose so. I hadn't actually thought about it. The old stuff tends to be a little bit sticky.
QUESTION: There've been reports you might bit upwards of $60 million for Northern Songs. How important is it to you to regain control of your old material?
PAUL: I'd really like to do it. Just because it seems natural that I should be allowed to own my own songs eventually. And I figure whoever's been publishing them has made a lot of money on me. But if you sign 'em away, you sign 'em away. That's the law of the land. And i signed 'em away, so I can't really blame the fella who bought them. But I'd like to get them back just because they're my babies, John's and my babies. Like "Yesterday." I think if you tell the man in the street that Paul doesn't own "Yesterday," it would surprise him. And the trouble is having to ask permission to sing it in the movie. That gets you. But actually, the publishers were quite fair. I think they only charged me a pound. I think they saw the irony too.
QUESTION: Would you tour again?
PAUL: Yeah, I think I might. I wouldn't rule it out. I think implicit in that last question is,"Since John would you tour again?" Yeah, I think I would. I certainly wouldn't rule it out, because I don't think you can do that. You start to just live in fear of everything.
QUESTION: How have you kept your hunger and drive? Why do you keep pushing so hard?
PAUL: Because I think to do the other would be really boring. I couldn't think what I'd do the other way. I'd sit at home, but then the kids go to school. While the kids are there, fine, but then the children are going to school and they've got their lives. I'm not the kind of person that can sit home easily and just twiddle his thumbs. I can take a good few weeks' holiday, but I do actually like getting out there and talking to people and developing things. I've always had a kind of mania for that kind of stuff. Every so often I'll get an idea for something and think that might be good to talk to someone about, and I'm off again. And sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. It's just a little idea and it turns ito three weeks' work. I don't know why I'm still so hungry. I think it's just because I enjoy it. I'm lucky enough to be in a profession where what you do is actually fun rather than banging rivets in a car or in a conveyor belt. It's actually very creative. Other people do what I do for a living as a hobby.
QUESTION: Your current work will always be compared to your past work with the tendency to devalue the current. Is it that difficult to live with? Do you ever want to get rid of the Beatles?
PAUL: Not really. I know what you mean, though. I have to admit that looking at all the songs I've written that probably there's a little period in there that was my hotest period. "Yesterday," "Here, There, And Everywhere," a bunch of stuff that just came all in a few years. I suppose it was because we were at our height and the novelty becamea very important factor. What's happened to me over the last ten years is I've tended to assume that the critics were right. Yeah, you're right. I'm not as good as I used to be. But in actual fact, recently I've started to think, "Wait a minute, let's check this out. Is this really true?" And I don't think it actually is. For instance, a song called, "Mull of Kintrye," which sold more records than any record in England, is from my "bad period." The song, "Band on the Run," that's also from my bad period. I think what happens after such a success as the Beatles, everyone including me, thinks there's no way we can follow that, so you just assume it's not as good. I think as a body of work, my ten years with the Beatles, I would say is probably better than this stuff. I do tend to be a bit gullible and go along with whoever's criticizing me and say yeah, you're right, I'm a jerk.
QUESTION: Do you feel as if you're competing with your past work?
PAUL: Yeah, a little bit. I think this new song, "No More Lonely Nights," I felt good about that. There are, I think, some decent things in there. It's not all rubbish. But I think it's a natural thing the Beatles to assume he must be on a losing streak now. And I tend to go along with it. But I don't think it's really true.
QUESTION: Do you just sit and wait for songs to come to you?
PAUL: No, I just tend to sit down and try to write a song. I think the best ones come of their own violition. "Yesterday," I just fell out of bed and that was there. I had a piano by the side of my bed. I mean, that particular song I woke up and there was a tune in my head. And I thought, "Well, I must have heard it last night or something." And I spent about three weeks asking all the music people I know. "What is this song? Where have you heard this song before?" I just couldn't believe I had written it.
QUESTION: Is there any contemporary or historic you would ever dream of collaborating with?
PAUL: Yeah, Cole Porter. Or Gershwin. Someone like that. Those are my greats.
QUESTION: What about Sting or Elvis Costello? Have you ever thought of the chemisrty that might develop there?
PAUL: I've thought of what it might be like to work with people like that. It'd probably be nice. But I haven't actually thought about it enough to do anything about it.
QUESTION: What do you think of Julian Lennon's album?
PAUL: I think it's great. What surprised me is he has a very good voice. I'd heard that he sounds like his dad and I guessed that Phil [Ramone] was doing a sort of Lennon soundalike record. But I found it very surprising. His voice goes to very pleasant places. Okay, it's a little like his dad's, but that's on purpose, I think. He shows a musicality I didn't know he had. Mind you, I haven't met him for about ten years.
QUESTION: Are any of your kids involved in music?
PAUL: We just do little bits and pieces, never very formal. It's normally screaming. I am not pushing them because I wasn't pushed. It just developed out of my love for it. That's probably why I still like it. I used to do piano lessons, but I hated them, it was like homework. And I had enough homework for school. So to have another batch was a definite loser. So i couldn't handle piano lessons ever. I still can't write music.
QUESTION: Do you worry about your public image?
PAUL: I try not to. I spent so long worrying about everything, never mind the image ... just getting up in the morning. There's always something to worry about. So I'm trying now with this film and everything. You can imagine the amount of worry when you've got a film riding on you. But I really do try to take the approach, "Now, look, I've given it my best shot. I've done all I can do, I'm not going to worry." It doesn't completely take all your worries away. But these interviews, for instance, I've just pretended i'm going on a holiday. It's silly in a way to do it, but it kind of works for me. I'm coming to meet a bunch of people rather than a threat. And I get by that way.
QUESTION: But in doing all this, you expose yourself to a lot of ghosts, Lennon, the Beatles ...
PAUL: You do. But that's the risk you run just going out in the morning, It'd be easier to just stay home and just send out videos,. But that's not what I'm here for. This is life, the main event. I'd rather just get out and run the risk than stay home and rest on my laurels. But it is a risk, and once or twice in this movie I did have the horrors, thinking, "God, I've really exposed myself here." And one of my fears, actually, is that I've written this movie. And the people who're going to criticize me are all writers. Probably every single one of them figures I'm going to pretend I'm just a fella in a film. It's either good or bad. That's all there is to it.
QUESTION: You used the phrase, "That's not what I'm here for." Do you have a feeling of what you're here for?
PAUL: I'm not sort of living a legend. I'm not doing the thing that's written about me. That's the sort of alter ego, all of that. I'm really just bringing up a bunch of kids, going from dawn to dusk. I'm here to just have a good life if possible, please.
QUESTION: Do you feel that any responsibility comes with your gift?
PAUL: I don't see it like that. Maybe there is one, but I'm just thankful for it and feel really lucky. It sounds a bit corny. But I make my money very cleanly. I don't have to exploit anyone. Which is pretty rare, you know, to make a lot of money cleanly.