Paul McCartney: The Rolling Stone Interview
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.
Then there was the trouble in Nigeria with Fela Ransome Kuti [Ex-Ginger Baker’s Air Force].
You heard about that? All it was was we were recording in Lagos. Lately we’ve gone to two different places to record, just for the fun of it. We’ve been to Lagos and to Paris and in both of the places they say, “Why did you come here? You’ve got much better studios in England or America, you must be daft!” And we say, “Well, it’s just for the fun, it’s just to come somewhere different for a different type of turn-on, that’s all.” They never really seem to be able to understand it. I think old Fela, when he found us in Lagos, thought, “Hello, why have they come to Lagos?” And the only reason he could think of was that we must be stealing black music, black African music, the Lagos sound, we’d come down there to pick it up. So I said, “Do us a favor, we do OK as it is, we’re not pinching your music.”
They felt that they have their own little ethnic thing going and these big foreigners are taking all their bit and beating them back to the West with it. Because they have a lot of difficulty getting their sound heard in the West. There’s not an awful lot of demand, except for things like, what was it, “Soul Makossa.” Except for that kind of thing they don’t really get heard.
And they are brilliant, it’s incredible music down there. I think it will come to the fore. And I thought my visit would, if anything, help them, because it would draw attention to Lagos and people would say, “Oh, by the way, what’s the music down there like?” and I’d say it was unbelievable. It is unbelievable. When I heard Fela Ransome Kuti the first time, it made me cry, it was that good.