You have said that you just wanted to be the bass player again.
Well, with the Beatles I was the bass player. So it occurred to me, "What a nice, clean idea: I do bass and vocals. Let's go back to that if I'm going to make a new record." It was a bit of a release, really. I didn't have to think about much, because it's very instinctive for me.
There's a great thing about bass playing and singing. There's only a few people who do it. It's like this [rubs his belly and pats his head], particularly something like "Day Tripper," where I had to go [sings the bass part] "dum, do-do, do-do-do, do-do, do-do-do," and [sings] "She's a big teaser/She took me half the way there." It's a very strange feeling at first. But you do it so often, you learn how.
With all the success you've enjoyed, what are your hopes for this album?
I'd like it to have the same effect on people as it has on me. You get a good feeling off it. I would like it to communicate that good feeling. It seems quite positive.
And, for that reason, very appropriate for the times.
I've approached records in millions of ways. This one was approached in a very offhand way, and I don't mean that in a bad sense. I like the result, and I believe in that approach — in life. [Painter] Franz Kline said, "Don't make so much of it," and I always liked that. That's the sort of expression I latch onto.
Of course, I'd also like the album to do well, because... I'm used to it. I'd like people to like it, on a lot of levels.
Will you be touring next year?
It's likely. I just don't know how. People are starting to talk about smaller gigs, which I like the idea of. But then you get into that vicious circle of, well, they say 5,000 people in Cleveland couldn't get in. And you go, "Oh, we should've played a bigger gig then." Then it's 20,000 couldn't get in in New York. So it's always a trade-off against the intimacy you want, which is a little club somewhere, and people being disappointed because they couldn't get in.
But it's not a terrible problem to have. A worse problem would be, nobody shows up. [Laughs] So I'm definitely thinking about it. I like the idea of getting out — getting out of the house.
On another subject, there was a panic this year when a tabloid newspaper in England fabricated a quote from George Martin that George Harrison, who had been undergoing treatment for cancer, was about to die.
I spoke to George immediately after that. He said, "I suppose you're ringing about [the newspaper reports]." I said, "Not really, but I'm concerned." He said, "I just got an e-mail from George Martin, who said, 'I promise you, George, I really didn't say that. I wouldn't ever.'"
I don't really like to talk about [George's health] because I don't know enough about it. I don't really like to pry. Obviously he's had problems, and I'm not sure of the current stage of things. But every time I ring him, he's very upbeat. So I just cross my fingers and pray that things will be all right.
The Beatles 1 collection was one of this year's biggest records. Since, unlike George and John, you never went through a phase of disparaging the Beatles, do you see this kind of success thirty years later as something of a validation?
Like, "That's why I always loved this group?" Yeah, that's probably true. And I did always love it. Sure, you go through things — fame is very difficult to deal with. I think George once said, "It cost me my nervous system," and I know exactly what he means. But I try and rationalize things — that's my way. You wanted to get famous and rich. What did you expect? You expected it to be the same as being infamous and poor? [Laughs] So I accepted it.
I was thinking the other day about the achievements people want in life. It was sort of shocking as I started to think of some of mine. Let's say, imagine being the guy who wrote with John Lennon? Jesus Christ, I mean, what about that? The guy.
Let's just go over this again: The guy that wrote with John Lennon. Are you kidding? I have such an admiration for John, like most people. But to be the guy who wrote with him — well, that's enough. Right there, you could retire, and go, "Jesus, I had a fantastic life. Take me, Lord."
There was a major televised John Lennon tribute show this year. Were you asked to participate?
No. But I do get asked to appear in a lot of John tributes. It's difficult for me. I don't have the best relationship with Yoko and, obviously, to be in those things... it would help. So I generally pass and just wish everyone well.
It's really a pointed affair for me. For most people, it's great. They love John. You go, you play a John song, it's beautiful. If I was anyone else, I'd do it. It just feels difficult.
It seemed that after John died, people often felt that part of praising him meant putting you down.
The minute John died, there started to be a revisionism. There were some strange quotes, like, "John was the only one in the Beatles." Or "Paul booked the studio" — I don't want to get into who said what, but that was attributed to someone who very much knew better. "John was the Mozart; Paul was the Salieri." Like, John was the real genius, and I was just the guy who sang "Yesterday" — and I got lucky to do that. Even with John in that song ["How Do You Sleep"], when he sang, "The only thing you done was yesterday."
I tried to ignore it, but it built into an insecurity. People would say, "Paul, people know." I said, "Yeah, but what about fifty years in the future?" If this revisionism gets around, a lot of kids will be like, "Did he have a group before Wings?" There may come a time when people won't know.
It was only after we'd stopped working together it even reared its ugly head — the whole idea of who wrote what. You remember the story of John getting pissed because he went into a restaurant and the pianist started up with "Yesterday"? Really, John once said to me, "I wonder how I'll be remembered." I was kind of shocked. I said, "I'll tell you how you'll be remembered: You're great. But you won't be here. It won't matter to you, so don't worry about it." And I thought, " Why'd he get into that?" But now I understand.
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