"Not Guilty" is an interesting song, a rebuff to your critics.
Actually, I wrote that in 1968. It was after we got back from Rishikesh in the Himalayas on the Maharishi trip, and it was for the White Album. We recorded it but we didn't get it down right or something. Then I forgot all about it until a year ago, when I found this old demo I'd made in the Sixties. The lyrics are a bit passé – all about upsetting "Apple carts" and stuff – but it's a bit about what was happening at the time. "Not guilty for getting in your way/While you're trying to steal the day" – which was me trying to get a space. "Not guilty/ For looking like a freak/Making friends with every Sikh/For leading you astray/On the road to Mandalay" – which is the Maharishi and going to the Himalayas and all that was said about that. I like the tune a lot; it would make a great tune for Peggy Lee or someone.
Critical reaction to the album in England has been exceptionally good. People have said it's the best since 'All Things Must Pass.' Is that your feeling?
Well, I hope it does as well as All Things Must Pass. I think this album is very pleasant. It's like I was saying earlier, when I went and asked the guys at Warner Bros. "You're so smart, tell me what's happening," because I really don't follow the charts and all that anymore. When it came down to it they don't know any more than I do. But I think even without following trends, paying no real attention to what's going on and just writing your own songs, you still have as much chance as if you follow things closely. In fact, you probably have a better chance, because you're less affected by superficial change. It's more likely to be original.
Do you feel very estranged from what is happening musically and socially at a grass-roots, youth-culture level?
Well, musically the punks have been and gone, haven't they, and it all seems to be very musical again. Elvis Costello is very good – very good melodies, good chord changes. I'm pleased about his success, but I never liked those monotone kinds of yelling records.
Didn't they say the same thing about Larry Williams and Little Richard?
Yeah, but those guys were inventing something at the time and I don't think punk was inventing anything except negativity. The old rock & roll singers sang fantastically, they had great drummers, great sax players. As far as musicianship goes, the punk bands were just rubbish – no finesse in the drumming, just a lot of noise and nothing.
Did the lyrical preoccupations of British punk – the way it was addressing itself to contemporary social issues – did that excite or depress you?
Well, I felt very sorry when the Sex Pistols were on television and one of them was saying, "We're educated to go into the factories and work on assembly lines . . . " and that's their future. It is awful, and it's especially awful that it should come out of England, because England is continually going through depression; it's a very negative country. Everybody wants everything and nobody wants to do anything for it. But it's a very simple thing; how do you give people money if there is none? The only way you make more money is to work harder. Now that may be all right for me to say because I don't have to work in a factory, but it's true. But out of all that is born the punk thing, so it's understandable. But you don't fight negativity with negativity. You have to overpower hatred with love, not more hatred.
Could you personally afford not to work again?
Yes. It's not for the money that I do what I do; it was never for the money really. We hoped we'd make a living out of it when we [the Beatles] were teenagers, we hoped we'd get by [smiling], but we weren't doing it for the money. In fact, the moment we realized we were doing it for the money was just before we stopped touring, because we were getting no pleasure out of it. Then we found out we weren't even getting the money. The Americans were keeping it all, and we were paying so much tax – ninety-five percent or more. So it's never been for the money really, although it can be nice to have some money. I mean, there's nothing worse than standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain, wishing you had a car.
You've invested in the new Monty Python film, The Life of Brian.
Well, I'm what they call the executive producer. What happened was that I helped to raise the money for them in order to make the film when the previous backer pulled out. As I'm a Monty Python fan, I wanted to see the movie – I like to go and have a laugh too – and a friend suggested that I try and raise the money. So we just got a loan from a bank. It's a risk I suppose.
I first met Michael Palin and Terry Jones in 1972, I think. I met Eric Idle in 1975, at the California premierè of the Holy Grail film. And although that was the first time I'd ever met him, I felt like I'd known them all for years, because I'd watched all the programs and had had them on videotape. So it only took ten minutes before we were the best of friends.
I think after the Beatles, Monty Python was my favorite thing. It bridged the years when there was nothing really doing, and they were the only ones who could see that everything was a big joke.
You were involved in the TV production of the Rutles' All You Need Is Cash as well. Did Eric consult you on some facts?
Yes. I slipped him the odd movie here and there that nobody had seen, so he could have more to draw from. I loved the Rutles because in the end the Beatles for the Beatles is just tiresome; it needs to be deflated a bit, and I loved the idea of the Rutles taking that burden off us in a way. Everything can be seen as comedy, and the Fab Four are no exception to that. And there were so many good jokes in it. Belushi as Ron Decline: "You ask me where the money is. I don't know where the money is, but if you want money I'll give it to you," and "You ask me where the money is. You know I was never any good at maths . . . " [Laughing] It was just like Klein. Even Allen Klein himself thought it was just like him. I think he liked it. One thing you can say about Klein is that he's got his good side, too. Even though we've sued each other for years I still like the man.
How do you spend your time when you're not recording?
I stay home and dig – not so much with a spade – but I dig the garden, putting trees in. I like gardens; I like the pleasure they give you. It's like a meditation in a way – you can get everything out of your mind groveling in the soil! I spend a lot of time with the wife and the baby.
For the last year, I've been spending a lot of time working on this book of song manuscripts. The idea came from some guy who does these limited-edition books that are leather bound, printed on nice, thick parchment paper – the whole works. He approached Eric Manchester, the Rutles' press officer [alias Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press officer], and asked if I'd be inclined to do a book of my own songs. I'd been meaning to put together as many of the songs I'd written as I could find, just for my own archives, anyway. I've spent a year collecting together all the old songs. Eric Manchester is writing an intro. The problem was to think of a title, but we've called it I Me Mine, because it's the old ego problem of "This is my book." [Grinning] So this is like a little ego detour of mine really.
It's rather expensive, isn't it?
Well, the price is about $250, I think. But the original idea was just to do one for myself, for my own interest, and it's grown a bit from that. It's limited now to 1000 copies, but I don't think anyone will make any money out of it. Each one is handmade, and it's a very expensive sort of thing to do. But we'll probably do a cheaper paperback version as well if anybody's interested.
You haven't had a major chart success for a while; is it important to you that the new album is a hit?
Not really. It would be nice, but I'm not into that competitive type of thing with the record business anymore. It would be nice just because there are a lot of records out that sell a lot that are no better – put it that way. Also it would be nice to have a hit because it would make me feel more like doing another one. But if it's not, I won't be in tears or be upset.
So it's not important for your self-esteem?
No. But the thing is, the general public thinks if you have a hit and you're on the TV and in the papers, then you're more successful than if none of those things are happening. Out of all the ex-Beatles, that is most evident with Paul, because Paul is continually making records, films of himself onstage and more records – keeping in the public eye. And to the public that constitutes success. In the record business that is success. Whereas I choose not to be on TV so much or that much in the public eye, and so therefore my record sales must suffer because there's less exposure.
But you plan to continue making records?
Oh, I'll make another couple, I think, before I call it a day.
You can foresee a time when you will call it a day?
So you're not going to die for rock & roll?
[Emphatic] Oh no. I'm not going to die for rock & roll. Not at all.
This story is from the April 19th, 1979 issue of Rolling Stone.
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