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Paul McCartney Is Not Dead (And Neither Is the Past)

From lingering lawsuits to the day he met John to that rumor about his early demise - McCartney addressed it all in his most in depth 'Rolling Stone' interview ever

January 31, 1974
Linda and Paul McCartney on the cover of Rolling Stone
Linda and Paul McCartney on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Francesco Scavullo

This January marks the tenth anniversary of the Beatles' appearance on the American charts. Last month Rolling Stone conducted its first full-scale interview with Paul McCartney, in six sessions starting in a London recording studio and ending on a New York street. The New York sessions took place the day after McCartney had entered the US for the first time in two years, visa problems stemming from two marijuana violations now finally resolved.

McCartney was cautious in his responses during the first two sessions. He and Linda remembered being on vacation in Scotland when they were first shown John Lennon's lengthy interview (Rolling Stone Number 74 and Number 75, January 21st and February 4th, 1971), and having been deeply hurt by it. At first he seemed to want to avoid the kind of controversy Lennon's interview had generated but in later conversations he became freer with his answers.

Because the various sessions were necessarily disconnected, our text does not follow in all cases the actual sequence of questions. For example, McCartney's discussion of his legal difficulties is compiled from three separate conversations. One of those discussions was prompted by an incident on a New York street. We were walking down 54th Street towards the New York office of Eastman and Eastman, attorneys – Lee and John Eastman, father and brother of Linda McCartney (whose photographs illustrate this interview).

A man in a gray suit with a colorful umbrella approached McCartney and asked, "Mr. McCartney? This is for you." It was an American copy of a process from Allen Klein that had been served on Paul two weeks before in London. An outraged PR man howled; McCartney smiled and told the man, "Thank you very much." He was being sarcastic.

The villain of the scenario, so far as he was concerned, was not the man in the gray suit, but Klein himself, whom McCartney calls a "punk." McCartney claims he sued his fellow ex-Beatles in High Court because it was the only way to sue Klein. When we queried the head of ABKCO Industries about the suit, he seemed to relish the new confrontation. "He now has the opportunity to say anything he wants in court," Klein told us. "He has his opportunity to fight me face to face. I am welcoming it. Now he's in the same ring with me. Isn't that what he wanted?"

John Eastman made this statement concerning the Beatles/Apple/Klein suits and Paul's involvement in them:

"John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Apple and others started an action in England against ABKCO and Klein. This complaint alleges ABKCO and Klein took excessive commissions, practiced fraud, suggested conduct which would have been a fraud on the tax authorities in the US and UK, mismanaged Bangla Desh and otherwise mismanaged the affairs of the complainant. This action is now pending against ABKCO and Klein.

"ABKCO then sued Lennon, Harrison, Starr, Yoko Ono, Apple and other related companies in the US. It claims damages against them of $63,461,372.87 plus future earnings.

"ABKCO also joined Paul, claiming conspiracy. Its only claim against Paul is that Paul conspired with Yoko Ono, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as well as Bag Production and other corporations wantonly, maliciously, fraudulently, wrongfully and intentionally without justification in law or fact to damage or injure plaintiff (ABKCO).' Damages are sought for this alleged conspiracy of $34 million plus interest."

Our interviews were delayed some months, first by a Wings tour and later by a series of recording sessions in Nigeria. Even after that wait, the McCartneys seemed surprised at how much we wanted to know. In the end they were interviewed in a London recording studio, Paul's Soho office, Lee Eastman's offices and apartment in New York (where baby Stella McCartney wore the interviewer's watch on her foot) and the studio of cover photographer Francesco Scavullo. As the interview begins, Paul is telling how he wrote one of the songs he recorded in Nigeria.

– P.G.

We were in Jamaica on holiday and we were staying in a little house outside Montego Bay, and we read in the local newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, that Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen were in town filming Papillon. They were just along the coast from us. We were saying it would be great to meet him, have dinner with him, so Linda rang up. She's good at that, I'm always a bit embarrassed.

We got friendly and were chatting away. We'd been talking about songwriting, and Dustin was saying he thought it was an incredible gift to be able to write a song about something. People think that, but I always maintain it's the same as any gift. It probably is more magical because it's music, and I think it is more magical. But take his acting talent. It's great. I was saying, "It's the same as you and acting, when the man says 'Action!' you just pull it out of the bag, don't you? You don't know where it comes from, you just do it! How do you get all of your characterizations? It's just in you.

So he says, "You mean you can just do it, like that?" He was lovely, Dustin. [Does Dustin Hoffman impersonation.] "You can just do it?" We went back a couple of days later and he said, "I've been thinking about this, I've seen a little thing in Time magazine about Picasso, and it struck me as being very poetic. I think this would be really great set to music." It was one of those Passed On bits, you know, Transition or whatever they call it. ... [Sees unusually dressed studio assistant.] ... Transvestite. ... So he says there's a little story here. In the article he supposedly said, "Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink any more." He went to paint a bit, and then he went to bed at three in the morning. He didn't wake up the next morning and they found him, dead.

I happened to have my guitar with me, I'd brought it around, and I said, yeah, sure. I strummed a couple of chords I knew I couldn't go wrong on and started singing "Drink to me, drink to my health," and he leaps out of his chair and says, "Annie! Annie!" That's his wife. He says, "Annie! Annie! The most incredible thing! He's doing it! He's writing it! It's coming out!" He's leaping up and down, just like in the films, you know. And I'm knocked out because he's so appreciative. I was writing the tune there and he was well-chuffed.

Then we went to Nigeria and we were working in Ginger's studio – Ginger Baker/ARC Studio in Lagos, nice studio down there. We thought we'd do this Picasso number, and we started off doing it straight. Then we thought, Picasso was kind of far out in his pictures, he'd done all these different kinds of things, fragmented, Cubism and the whole bit. I thought it would be nice to get a track a bit like that, put it through different moods, cut it up, edit it, mess around with it – like he used to do with his pictures. You see the old films of him painting, he paints it once and if he doesn't like it he paints it again, right on top of it, and by about 25 times he's got his picture. So we tried to use this kind of idea, I don't know much about it to tell you the truth, but what we did know we tried to get in the song, sort of a Cubist thing.

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