How does it feel to be an object of nostalgia already?
We've been nostalgia since 1967. It's fine. There was a time when I don't think any of us liked it – that 1968 to 1969 period. But now it's funny. [Grinning] It's like being Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy. But the music still stands up, still sounds very good, a lot of it.
Apart from films and stage productions done without the Beatles' permission, are you happy with the way the actual Beatles recordings have been repackaged and promoted over the years?
It doesn't bother me anymore. At first it was pretty crummy. We always had complete artistic control from the outset, and we took great care over running orders, having the right songs in the right places and good sleeves – it was all done with a bit of taste. But straightaway they started screwing that up in the States, holding back tracks from albums so that, for every two albums released in Britain, they could release three over there. But still, everything we did continued to be in pretty good taste until the contract expired, and then they started shoving out all these repackages with crummy sleeves and everything. It doesn't bother me as long as they keep paying the royalties.
Another subindustry that's grown up in the Beatles' wake is all that personal reminiscence about the band. There seems to be an extraordinary number of people who were either your manager, your road manager, delivered the milk . . .
[Laughing] Yeah, and the fifth Beatle . . . there're about 10 million fifth Beatles. No, really, that's sickening. All those Beatlefests and things are a terrible rip-off. These people – "the man who gave away the Beatles" – none of them know what they're talking about. It's like Britain has always been hung up talking about the Second World War – even now you turn on the TV and they love to talk about the war. It's like that. The Beatles were in and out of these people's lives in a flash, and yet they're still there fifteen years later talking about the ten minutes we were in their lives, and robbing the money of innocent kids while doing it. It's pathetic. It's immoral; it shouldn't be allowed.
But the fact that those people can prosper suggests that people still don't want the memory of the Beatles to die. There's an incredible need people still feel to have the Beatles.
Well, they've got 'em. They've got the films – Help!, A Hard Day's Night, Let It Rot, Tragical History Tour. They've got lots and lots of songs they can play forever. But what do they want? Blood? They want us all to die like Elvis Presley? Elvis got stuck in a rut where the only thing he could do was to keep on doing the same old thing, and in the end his health suffered and that was it.
The Beatles fortunately did that hit-and-run. But every year we were Beatling was like twenty years; so although it might only have been five or six years it seemed like eternity. That was enough for me, I don't have any desire to do all that. It might have been fun for everybody else, but we never saw the Beatles. We're the only four people who never got to see us. [Laughing] Everybody got on a trip, you see, that was the thing. We were just four relatively sane people in the middle of madness. People used us as an excuse to trip out, and we were the victims of that. That's why they want the Beatles to go on, so they can all get silly again. But they don't have consideration for our well-being when they say, "Let's have the Fab Four again."
You wouldn't want to go through it again?
Never. Not in this life or any other life. I mean, a lot of the time it was fantastic, but when it really got into the mania it was a question of either stop or end up dead. We almost got killed in a number of situations – planes catching on fire, people trying to shoot the plane down and riots everywhere we went. It was aging me.
But we had a great time. I think fondly of it all, especially as we've been through all the aftermath of Apple. Everybody's sued each other to their hearts' content, and now we're all good friends.
Do you see the others often?
Paul and Ringo I see from time to time. I haven't seen John for a couple of years. I get post cards from him – it sounds like the Rutles [smiling], but he keeps in touch with tapping on the table and post cards.
Why is he so inactive?
He's probably not. Just because he's not Beatling doesn't mean he's inactive. It's like, for me to do this interview now people can see that I'm here talking. But if I'm not doing the interview I'm inactive. But I'm not really – I'm at home doing other things, or going places doing various things . . .
But John is publicly inactive, not making records.
Well, I don't blame him. I've found if I take a two-week holiday, by the end of those two weeks, I'm just about ready to enjoy the holiday and I have to get back to work. If you retire or knock off the work, then there's a while of feeling, "Wow, I should be doing something," until you slowly mellow out and think, "Wow, this is good. I don't have to be mad all my life, I don't have to live in the public eye." And I'm sure that's all he's doing, enjoying his life.
Fans feel almost cheated when the performer stops performing . . .
I know, but that's their own concept. It's a selfish concept to think, "Go out and kill yourself for me . . . " But I myself would be interested to know whether John still writes tunes and puts them on a cassette, or does he just forget all about music and not touch the guitar. Because that's what I did, all of 1977 I never picked up a guitar, never even thought about it. And I didn't miss it.
Do you like the music Paul is making now?
I think it's inoffensive. I've always preferred Paul's good melodies to his screaming rock & roll tunes. The tune I thought was sensational on the London Town album was "I'm Carrying," but all the noisy, beaty things I'm not into at all. But then that's not only with Paul's music, that goes right across the board. I'm not a fan of that sort of punky, heavy, tinny stuff. I like a nice melody.
But the Beatles could turn out a fair rock & roll song in their day.
Yeah, we used to do all that, but as far as listening to it, I'd rather hear someone like Little Richard or Larry Williams. I never liked all that stuff in the late Sixties after Cream had broken up – all those Les Paul guitars screaming and distorting. I like more subtlety – like Ry Cooder and Eric Clapton. Eric is fantastic. He could blow all those people off the stage if he wanted to, but he's more subtle than that. Sometimes it's not what you do, it's what you don't do that counts. And personally I'd rather hear three notes hit really sweet than to hear a whole lot of notes from some guitar player whose ears are so blown out he can't hear the difference between a flat and a sharp.
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