Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
Paul McCartney: A Life
Peter Ames Carlin
Paul McCartney: A Life is Peter Ames Carlin's biography on the ex-Beatle. And what a life it's been! You could almost say that Paul McCartney has lived three lives. But what kind of a life has it been? One that's seem quite a bit of tragedy that's for sure. Paul McCartney has paid a terrible price for his fame and fortune. Would he say it's been worth it? We can only wonder.
Q - Peter, just when I thought I've read everything there is to know about The Beatles, along comes a book like yours. You've got stories in this book that I've never seen before. For example, you state that John Lennon didn't want to see reporters. He didn't want to see fans. He used to go nose to nose with Brian Epstein, arguing about it. He'd refer to them as fascists.
A - Who did he refer to as fascists?
Q - That's what I was going to ask you. Was it the fans or the reporters?
A - I don't quite know where he's going with that one. Maybe he's talking about the reporters. Fans are just fans. They're not trying to control you per se, except in what their sense of you is, the mythology they've created for you to be a part of. The reporters on the other hand, especially back in those days, were those older guys, very non-simpatico with Rock stars. The Beatles did so many press conferences, so many availabilities with local, crusty reporters, I think a significant percentage of whom had zero interest in The Beatles. They were General Assignment reporters who were told to go and cover this weird and stupid phenomenon, where all these little kids were going insane over these weird looking dudes from England. A lot of these guys came out to humiliate them and didn't know anything about who they were and what they were trying to do. They just knew they hated it. Obviously you can sort of see, if you look back at that first American press conference when they got to JFK (Airport) in February of 1964. It was a very heavy atmosphere at first. All of those tough-ass New York reporters came in loaded for bear, thinking these kids were dumb, and they were gonna make fun of 'em. It turned out The Beatles were way smarter than the reporters and were happy to go at it with them, wit for wit. You can sort of sense how that atmosphere changed. The funnier they were, the more the reporters laughed, and it became kind of a love fest. But I think that didn't mean it re-drew the lines for every reporter. You see these guys getting trotted out a virtually every airport and every coliseum they played in for two or three years and getting the same kind of largely dim witted answers and a lot from guys who were upset with their hair and their affect on their kids, and demanding answers.
Q - You have a story about John bringing Donald O'Conner's daughter to tears when she came backstage. He said "I was just hearin' on the radio about your dad's being dead." Where did that come from? I've never heard that before?
A - That was a striking story. That was Chris Hutchins, the British reporter who had all these stories. He was really close with Lennon and really close with all The Beatles. A lot of those guys they liked got amazing access because The Beatles just liked hanging around with them. So Chris was one of those guys who got to travel with them and know them really well. So he got a really interesting perspective and a lot of those things got bottled up over the years because those people were friends with The Beatles and to the extent they have something new and interesting to say, they either didn't say it or no one asked them. I think Chris is one of those guys who only recently, people like me, younger writers, started going back after all those years to ask them "what was it like? What did you do?" There's a terrific book by a guy named Michael Braun called Love Me Do: The Beatles Progress. He put it out in 1964. It's out of print now. They just let this guy, who was a pretty smart college grad I think from the U.S., some magazines sent him over to do a story and just let him hang out with 'em for like a week or two. They spoke and talked about girls and swore and sex. They were in no way trying to hide themselves at that point 'cause they hadn't quite... but anyway, Michael Braun's book is a treasure trove. It's a great book. It's the head waters for a huge percentage of stories and anecdotes of people's sense of The Beatles from the early days, late '63. early '64.
Q - How many people did you talk to for this book?
A - If memory serves, somewhere on the order of 100 plus I think. It was a little tough sledding on that book because a lot of people had already been talked to death. You get involved with British people and they kind of want to get paid for interviews. That's part of their tabloid culture and American reporters are brought up to say there's just no way you can do that. You kind of poison the pool a little bit when you toss in money and pay people for their words. If people think they're gonna get paid, some people are prone to say anything and to keep juicing it up to keep it more attractive. So you really want to get somebody saying it 'cause they really want to tell the truth, or their truth. It's different if they've got something to sell. If they're playin' the game, that's part of the game. I'd always heard, and I can't say this for a fact, but someone told me Pete Best, and I tried to get together with Pete Best and get in touch with his brother, it was tough sledding. Someone over in Liverpool told me the brother (Roag) always wants Pete to get paid.
Q - I interviewed Pete Best and no one asked me for money. Pete and his brother Roag couldn't have been nicer. You have a story on page 94 that caught my eye. John dialed out from his Paris hotel suite for call girls and paid for them for everybody. Where did that story come from?
A - I can't remember off the top of my head right now. It was definitely somebody who was there. It might have been alluded to in Michael Braun's book. One of the things I try to do when I'm working on a book like this is, you go to the writers who were there because they're the ones who were not only there, but were also paying attention and writing things down and remembering those kinds of striking details. Hutchins was a great source. He was a reporter. He was there. He might not have been working on a story at that moment, but chances are he wrote it down soon afterwards and he's got a good working memory of that. When you're in a situation that feels like it could conceivably be historic, working with huge stars, even if you're just kind of hanging around, you tend to keep notes just in case.
Q - You have a story where Paul says to Brian Epstein: "If we all make it, that's fine. But if we don't, I'm going to be a star, aren't I Brian?" And he got Brian to more or less agree. I never read that before either. The public was always led to believe that in the eyes of Brian Epstein, John Lennon was the favored Beatle.
A - Again, you go to the index and that quote will be right there with the name of the person associated with it. At the time when I was writing the book, I was particularly aware of wanting people to know who my original sources were and where certain things came from. I'm pretty sure that was Tony Barrow. Brian told him about it later. Paul may have said that to Brian. We don't know what Brian said back. He probably just nodded and smiled and said "Sure. Fine." But Paul's point wasn't that he was going to be the star in The Beatles. It was that he was going to give his all to The Beatles and if The Beatles failed, that he was going to keep on going no matter what 'cause he knew what he wanted to do.
Q - Billy Hatten, the bassist for The Fourmost said about Paul, "He always had this protective screen like there was something he didn't want to tell you. If you got too personal, too close, he'd shut down." Why would he do that? What was Paul hiding?
A - That's the thing. If you're a star, people want to know everything about you. So they kind of expect you to be public property. What Paul's skill was, was to be warm and charming and to make people feel like he was their best friend, but up to a point. When they really tried to get to know him with that kind of intimacy where you really know what's going on inside somebody, that's where he would kind of back away. But we all know people like that. That was just him. The magic with Paul was that he was so good at seeming so warm and intimate when he was meeting somebody or talking to someone.
Q - I'm just wondering if Paul's new wife ever asks him, "What was it like to be in Hamburg with The Beatles?" or "What was that first tour of America like?" I wonder if he gives her a P.R. answer or goes into some detail.
A - I don't know. I'm sure she could tell you. If you're married to someone like that, you probably don't ask him those kinds of questions. That's probably something you get out of the way pretty early on, or you realize part of getting close to the guy is not asking him those kinds of questions.
Q - Had Paul's mother not died when he was so young, how do you think that would have affected his musical career? Would she have approved of him going off to Germany?
A - To some extent I think a lot of that core genius, core of creativity, comes from a dark place. Obviously losing your mother, who you're very, very close to when you're 14, throws you into about as dark of a place as you can get. His energy, his grief, got channeled into the guitar. Maybe if he'd had a perfectly happy childhood with both parents, he would've been happy to play music on the weekends and nights and would've been happy to become a teacher. Gone to teacher's college and become a high school teacher. Maybe so, maybe not. Maybe if that happened, maybe if Mary (Paul's mother) had lived, somebody else would've died and that person's kid would team up with John Lennon and we'd have a whole different world. (laughs) But who knows? Maybe she (Paul's mother) was so supportive that she would have OK'd anything he wanted to do and he would've been exactly the same guy. It's hard to know.