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Beatles Interviews Database: Paul McCartney Interview: Playboy magazine, December 1984 (Introduction)
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Playboy Interview with Paul and Linda McCartney:
Interviewed by Joan Goodman
Article ©1984 Playboy Press

Introduction / Page 1 / Page 2

Once, back in the mists of the Sixties, there was a partnership that, in addition to being the heart of a legendary performing group, turned out an incredible number of pop standards during a short, unparalleled burst of creativity. Both partners went on to further work and success, but it was their public spats and private tensions, their love and hate, the dynamics that shaped their work during those few years that became the grist for countless articles and books, gossip and, ultimately, mythology.

One of the two, John Lennon, has been dead for nearly four years. The other, Paul McCartney, after a lifetime of parrying with the press, remains an enigma. He had always been the Beatle who talked the most and said the least. In the early days, his friendliness and cheekiness made him an ideal spokesman for the Beatles; but since the group's breakup, his own penchant for sentimentality and commercialism, together with the posthumous adulation of the harder-edged Lennon, have left him with a public-relations image he is unable to shake. He is seen as clever but superficial, even managing to have sounded flip about his partner's assassination ("It's a drag").

After the years of touring and recording successfully with his new band, Wings, which included his wife, Linda, and later producing several solo albums to mixed success, Paul became even more reclusive, emerging into the limelight only to plug a new song or to be arrested rather spectacularly from time to time for possession of pot.

In the decade before his death in December 1980, Lennon reinforced the public perception of McCartney with often vitriolic and sneering comments on his music. He made fun of the easy, catchy tunes McCartney churned out, seemingly at will. McCartney would job back, but his tendency to distance himself from the public became more pronounced. When he did speak, he could sound self-serving and slick. Linda McCartney has not fared very well in the press, either: Often pictured as cold and presumptuous in joining her husband's band, she has been described the same way Yoko Ono was—as the interloper, one of the two women who "broke up" the Beatles.

These days, McCartney is once again in the public eye, actively promoting "Give My Regards to Broad Street," a movie he wrote and in which both he and Linda star. He is giving some of the required answers to the usual questions, as he has been doing for more than 20 years. But nearly a year ago, the McCartneys began a series of extraordinary conversations with free-lance journalist Joan Goodman. She suggested to them that they expand their talks and publish them as a "Playboy Interview," to which they consented, and the sessions continued off and on for nearly six months. It is in this "Interview" that Paul talks for the first time in depth about his relationship with John, his reaction to his death, the events surrounding the Beatles' breakup, his feelings about himself and his thoughts on his music with and without the Beatles. Linda, who has always found it difficult to "explain" herself, also talks frankly about her image and her husband's work, as well as her own.

Meanwhile, for the record and for anyone who has been on Mars during the past 20 years, here is a summary of the Paul and Linda McCartney story—thus far:

Born in Liverpool on June 18, 1942, to James and Mary McCartney, a cotton salesman and a nurse, Paul, with his younger brother, Michael, grew up on council estates, where his mother served as a midwife. His father had been a smalltime professional musician and was bent on self-improvement; his mother was, in Paul's words, "madly aspiring for her sons," hoping Paul would become a doctor. When he was 14, she died of cancer. His father continued their upbringing, surrounded by a multitude of aunts and cousins to ensure familial warmth. McCartney says, "We were like a big Italian family, someone always dandling a baby on his knee."

Adolescence was nevertheless a painful time for him and, perhaps, the source of a lifetime process of internalizing his feelings, putting on a cheery face—and sublimating it all into music. At 15, he began writing songs. It was that year that he met John Lennon, through a mutual friend, and later joined Lennon's group, the Quarrymen, named after his Liverpool school. Although untrained himself, McCartney brought technique to the group and to Lennon; his father had encouraged Paul's talent and had taught him harmony. He and Lennon hit it off well once Lennon was assured that McCartney's ability was no threat to his leadership of the group that was to become the Beatles.

By all accounts, Lennon and McCartney were supposed to be opposite sides of the same coin. John was sharp and aggressive; paul, soft and lighthearted. Observers were always eager to characterize and define their individual roles. Yet while Lennon was the leader of the group, it was McCartney who was its driving force. Lennon could be careless, disparaging of the Beatles. As George Martin, who produced virtually all of the Beatles' records, said to PLAYBOY, "Paul eventually became the one member of the group who always took an active interest in everything the group did. John tended to work very hard at his bit, then leave the rest and walk away. George, too. Paul got involved in everything."

In 1969, just days before Lennon married Yoko Ono, McCartney married Linda Eastman, a 27-year-old New York rock photographer who had a young child, Heather, by a brief first marriage. Born in 1941 in Scarsdale, New York, to a successful attorney (and later mistakenly identified as an Eastman Kodak heiress), Linda became a photographer of rock-&-roll celebrities. She confirmed in an aside to PLAYBOY that when she first met the Beatles, it was John who interested her; but soon she fell in love with Paul, who was breaking up a very public courtship of the British actress Jane Asher. By contrast with the upper-crust Asher, Linda was seen as a pushy American and was despised by the British press. The wedding took place during the height of the furor surrounding the Beatles' split.

McCartney adopted Heather, and he and Linda had their second daughter, Mary, later that year. A third daughter, Stella, and a son, James, followed. Linda carefully constructed a semirural, "ordinary" lifestyle sustained by the McCartney millions (they have huge land holdings in Sussex and Scotland) and a strong sense of basic values. Pronouncements from their camp always emphasized their uneventful existence.

Meanwhile, Lennon, with his gift for colorful media events, made his union with Yoko Ono seem like the ultimate in rock-rebellion marriage. This reinforced the proposition that McCartney was just an average bloke who had lucked into fame and fortune when he met John Lennon.

After a year of lying fallow, McCartney "slapped himself about the face" and formed Wings. He did with the new band what he had wanted to do with the Beatles. They toured and they worked without fanfare. There was friction. Paul's domineering ways and Linda's lack of musicianship were blamed. She offered to quit Wings, but McCartney wouldn't have it. If they didn't get it right the first time, they would try again until they did. The enormous success of Wings, plus the popularity of McCartney's new songs among a younger generation—despite rough going from critics—vindicated him. More recently, his collaborations with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder produced yet more hits.

Unit recently, McCartney had always operated from the vortex of his prodigious musical talent; but in 1982, when he turned 40, he said he "thought it time to fulfill old goals." He had enjoyed making the Beatles' movies and wanted to become involved with film again. He looked around for a suitable script. Finding none, he commissioned one from Liverpool playwright William Russell, who had written the play "John, Paul,George, Ringo and Bert" about the Beatles. (Ironically, McCartney had been critical of it at the time.) He liked the new script, but "it was not quite in line with my thinking." As he had done before in his musical career, McCartney went back to square one. He read everything he could, took advice and wrote the film script himself. Meant originally to be a day-in-the-life home movie, it grew in scope when McCartney added a plot line about the disappearance of some valuable tapes. He fashioned his script around that idea and included 14 musical numbers -- some from the Beatles days, some from Wings, some new.

He cast himself in the starring role, wrote in parts for Ringo, his wife, Barbara Bach, and Linda, and once again invited record producer George Martin to supervise his music. It was on the set of "Broad Steet" that interviwer Goodman met the McCartneys. She reports:

"I was warned before I met Paul McCartney, by people who didn't know him, that I had best be careful. He was a slippery customer, they said. He was manipulative with the press, using charm as a shield. He would come on as ordinary and friendly, and, if I weren't careful, I could find myself actually liking him. These people, who mostly held to the notion that Lennon was as deep as McCartney was superficial, implied that being taken in by McCartney would be tantamount to being relegated to an intellectual Siberia. No danger of that with Linda, however. She was generally reckoned to be a bitch—cold, tough, snooty.

"I was a basket case by the time I got to Elstree Studios, just outside London, where they were shooting 'Give My Regards to Broad Street' (the title uses a London railway station, one of the film's locales, as a play on the old song title). I sat off in a corner of an elaborate set that looked like a futuristic lily pond bathed in purple light. Paul and Linda, on piano and keyboard, Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather from Toto and bass guitarist Louis Johnson, all of whom are in the film, were dressed in white bellhop costumes with short, spiky wigs and white, catlike kabuki make-up. It was the setting fer 'Silly Love Songs'—- one of the film's big numbers, and everything was going wrong. The hydraulics that raised and lowered the modules weren't working. The atmospheric puffs of steam were blowing in the wrong direction, Porcaro got hit on the head by a loose pipe and someone had shouted at the script girl and made her cry.

"A general ennui settled over the sound stage while technical people tinkered and conferred. Then, in a sudden burst of energy, McCartney lifted the gloom, baaging out an impromptu ragtime tune addressed to the script girl, Brenda 'Bunty' Loader. As the musicians played backup, McCartney suddenly sang out, "We love Bunty, Bunty's our friend / We love Bunty, we will till the end.' Bunty's tearful face beamed a bright red as tensions dissipated.

"After watching McCartney work at high speed, under time pressure, under budget pressure, I came to respect him. He was not unfailingly good-tempered and charming, but he was fair and, for someone who doesn't have to lift a finger, he works hard.

"Watching from the side lines one day, George Martin remarked to me, 'Paul is amazing. I couldn't stand the pace he sets. He gets up incredibly early in the morning, he drives in from his place in Sussex, which is two hours from here, and goes home every night to be with the kids. He's in make-up first thing in the morning, he acts all day, and during lunchtime he talks about production problems with somebody. In the evening, he has discussions with the director and the producer about the staging or the lighting or whatever. It's like the old Beatles recordings. He's involved in everything.'

"Although Martin is far from a yes man to Paul — there were visible tensions on the set — during a pause in the proceedings, he leaned back and reflected on the man he has worked with for 20 years: 'I think Paul is a genius. It's a great joy to work with someone you respect very highly. But too many people tell people like him, 'Fantastic! You're absolutely brilliant! You can't do anything wrong!' The fact is, they can do wrong, and someone has got to tell them. Paul knows this. He has his ego streak, but he's not that bad.'

"I found all this to be true, the first interviews with Paul were hesitant affairs, with Paul supplying the information he wanted to get across, much of it familiar fan stuff. The time and depth required by this 'Interview' made him wary. But as time went on, he seemed to feel less threatened, and another facet of his personality began to surface: He has an inner need to say the truth, to set the record straight. It was then that the deeper, more heartfelt, more revelatory information came out. But it was tough holding on to the momentum: Once, Paul broke off our conversations to do a TV interview plugging the movie just before we were to meet; when he came in to resume our talk, he was back in PR land, being flip and cute. A wasted day.

"With Linda, it was a different problem: She hesitated to talk at all, but once she opened up, it was pure and straightforward. Over the months, the relationship between Paul and Linda became clear: The McCartneys may have an old-fashioned marriage, in the sense that Paul is very much the provider, but it is more equal than anyone realizes. The way they live -- the fact that they're vegetarians, their preference for the rural over the jet-set life, their determination to shield their children from stardom -- is Linda's doing. They have adjusted to each other over the years, like any other couple. And the family has learned to separate Paul McCartney the superstar from Paul McCartney the man. Linda says, 'At home, Paul is Daddy; but when our James sees him on the box, he says, There's Paul McCartney!"

Source: Transcribed by from original magazine issue
Introduction / Page 1 / Page 2
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