Guess you mean this one
Love me do
His tour of America is provoking 'Maccamania', he's about to marry the
woman he loves, and his favourite gallery is putting on an exhibition
of his painting. So why is Paul McCartney so riddled with
insecurities? Nigel Farndale finds out
The soundcheck over, Paul McCartney - he rarely uses the Sir - stares
out across the empty seats of the ice-hockey stadium, eyebrows raised
in that way of his, lost in thought. In two and a half hours these
chairs will be filled with Americans waving the Stars and Stripes;
holding up lighters; crying, singing, hyperventilating; greeting the
latest concert of his 19-city tour with what the press have been
calling 'Maccamania'. He hands his guitar to a roadie and picks up his
jacket, flipping it over his left shoulder in the same movement.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he steps down off the stage and
greets me with a cold, dry handshake. 'Art,' he says bluntly. 'You're
here to talk about art, right?'
McCartney: doing what he does best
'Here' is Long Island, New York, and it's news to me that I've flown
all this way just to talk about his paintings. 'Among other things,' I
answer, trying not to show the alarm in my eyes. What about the juicy
stuff? His children's feelings about his marriage in a few weeks' time
to a former swimwear model who lost a leg and became a charity
campaigner? His bitter feud with a dead man, John Lennon? What about
George? Linda? And, of course, what about the Beatles, a band 'bigger
than Jesus' that broke up more than 30 years ago and yet still sells
as many records each year as it ever did, a billion at the last count?
At least he didn't add 'and poetry and classical music', the other art
forms in which he has taken to dabbling.
As he leads the way along a corridor, a crowd - road crew, hangers-on
- mills around him briefly, jostling for position like petitioners in
a Tudor court. When we pass through a door at the end, their progress
is blocked by a security guard and I notice Paul McCartney's walk: it
is loose, swaying, almost a swagger. He will be 60 next month but,
apart from a few crow's feet around his bovine-big eyes and an
interesting chestnut tint to his hair, he shows little sign of it. 'I
think someone must have falsified my birth certificate,' he says, his
flat Liverpudlian vowels softened by 30 years of marriage to an
American. 'Joke! It's just I feel as youthful as I've ever felt. And
pretty fit. I used to have to wring out my shirts after shows. Now I
hardly sweat at all.' He is indeed looking lithe, tanned and
moisture-free - and a little shorter than I'd imagined. I've read that
he is 5ft 11in; but we all remember that conspiracy theory about how
he died in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced by a taller double,
only to give the game away by walking barefoot - a Sicilian symbol of
death - on the zebra-crossing outside the Abbey Road studios.
Backstage we sit on sofas in an ashram-like room draped with black
curtains, lit by candles, heavy with the smell of joss sticks.
McCartney scoops up a handful of nuts from the coffee-table. 'Excuse
me if I eat these while we talk,' he says between crunches. 'I usually
nibble at this time before a concert.' We have an hour before he has
to change for the show - less if he feels the talking is putting a
strain on that golden voice of his.
Alongside the bowl of nuts are copies of the Sun and the Daily Mail,
just arrived from England. Both carry full-page features about how,
after 11 September, Americans are saying McCartney is 'healing' them,
just as the Beatles did in 1964 after Kennedy's assassination.
Healing, Paul? Healing? 'I know! I know!' McCartney says, the puffy
curves of his lips smoothing out into a grin. 'Better than bad
reviews, I guess. Actually, I don't read them, because they have an
effect on me: I either think I'm too great or I get paranoid.' The
glowing reviews in the American press may have something to do with
the fact that he has not toured for a decade; also that the show
includes 21 Beatles songs; in the past McCartney has refused to play
more than one or two of them at his concerts. 'I used to get pissed
off when people called me "ex-Beatle Paul McCartney",' he says,
tossing another handful of nuts into his mouth. 'Now I'm more
comfortable with it.' He chews and swallows. 'JFK had died a few
months before the Beatles' first tour and there was a sense then of
America wanting to get back to normal after a world-shocking event.
The same is happening now, though I feel more connected with it this
time because I was in New York when the terrorist attack happened.'
Entering into the spirit of the thing, I ask if this tour is also
about 'healing' Paul McCartney - after all, he has said that he 'cried
for a year' when his wife, Linda, died of breast cancer in 1998. 'Yes,
there is a lot of that for me. And I have a new woman in my life who
I'm going to marry, so that's part of that, too. Heather has made me
feel more at ease with things. After two full years of horror and
doctor's offices and scares and diagnoses. . .' He trails off. 'In
truth when you have been through that and come out at the end. . .' He
trails off again. 'I'm grateful not to have to spend my days doing
that any more. And I'm lucky to have found a good woman who is strong
like Linda, and beautiful and positive and funny.'
He found it odd dating again after so many years of marriage and he
felt guilty, too, but soon rationalised that it would be what Linda
wanted. With the 33-year-old Heather Mills, he tells me, it was 'big
attraction at first sight'. Then, 'I really started to fancy her.' The
marriage will take place at his home in the Hamptons, near New York,
on 6 June, three days after he performs at The Queen's Golden Jubilee
concert at Buckingham Palace. His daughter Stella, a celebrated
fashion designer, won't be designing the wedding dress. And there are
rumours that his other children - Mary, James and, from Linda's first
marriage, Heather - are not wildly enthusiastic about the union
either. 'I think a second marriage is hard for the children,'
McCartney says, nodding gravely. 'No matter who it is: people in my
position are told not to worry, that time will heal. But it's very
difficult. It's difficult for all of us. They find it difficult to
think of me with another woman. But it's how it is and how it must be,
and I think that, more than anything, they want me to be happy - and
this is what makes me happy.'
It's a steely remark, as cold and dry as his handshake. McCartney once
said, 'I'm not really tough. I'm not really loveable either.' He was
half-right. You don't stay at the top for as long as he has without
being pretty tough and single-minded. His comment about how his
children will just have to lump it seems to reflect this, as do his
thoughts about his reaction to George Harrison's death last November.
Looking distraught, McCartney went before the cameras to pay tribute
to his 'baby brother'. Was he wanting to make amends for the flippant
comment he made in 1980 when John Lennon was shot? 'It was definitely
to do with that, yeah. I was conscious of that. I was just as
distraught when John died, probably more so because it was a shocking
murder. I knew George was going to die.
I'd seen him and I knew. He had terminal cancer. . .' He shakes his
head at the memory. 'But you're right. When John died I didn't know
whether to stay at home and hide or go to work. I decided to go to
work, as did George Martin, and at the studio we talked about John and
cried and when I was leaving that night, in the dark, in the London
traffic, I had the window slightly open and someone pushed a
microphone in and asked me what I thought about John dying. I said,
"It's a drag." I couldn't think of anything else to say. And, in
print, it looked so heartless. When I saw it written down I thought,
It was not just in print. He said it with a shrug, as if in an attempt
to be cool. And the callousness of the comment seemed to confirm what
many suspected McCartney really felt about Lennon. When the Beatles
broke up in 1970 the world blamed Yoko Ono. But John, George and Ringo
blamed Paul, partly because he had, they thought, become too bossy,
partly because he refused to work with the band's sinister new manager
Allen Klein (later imprisoned for tax fraud), partly because he was
the first to tell the press - much to the annoyance of John Lennon,
who had already told the others in private that he was planning to
leave the band and wanted to break the news himself.
Feeling angry, unemployed and bewildered, McCartney retreated to his
farm on the Mull of Kintyre, grew a beard, drank too much and had what
he later described as a nervous breakdown. Eventually he recovered his
composure, became a vegetarian, sued the Beatles, recorded the
gorgeous 'Maybe I'm Amazed', formed Wings - with Linda on keyboards
and vocals, much to everyone's amusement - and had a long run of
chart-topping singles and albums. He also wrote 'The Frog Chorus'.
Lennon, meanwhile, moved to New York, became a junkie and revealed
himself to be the borderline psychopath many had always suspected him
of being. He embarked on a hate-campaign against McCartney, comparing
his former partner to the cabaret artiste Engelbert Humperdinck.
McCartney would try to patch things up and have 'very frightening
phone calls' with Lennon which always ended with one telling the other
to 'fuck off' before slamming the phone down. In 1976 Lennon said of
McCartney: 'He visits me every time he's in New York, like all the
other rock 'n' roll creeps.' McCartney felt hurt, not least because,
as he said in 1987, 'I always idolised [John]. We always did, the
group. I don't know if the others will tell you that, but he was our
If George was his baby brother, was John his big brother? McCartney
smiles, causing crinkles to arc downwards from his hazel eyes. 'Yes,
definitely, although not in the Orwellian sense. John was older than
me and, in the good sense of the phrase, he was a big brother. He was
a lovely guy. But we were very competitive. Looking back on it, I
think it's. . .' He purses his lips. 'It's awkward. You don't always
say to people what you mean to say to them when they are alive. And
with John, we had a guy relationship, loving each other without saying
it. We never looked at each other and said, "I love you," but people
would ask us, "What do you think of the rest of the Beatles?" and we
would say, "I love them." So we knew indirectly, peripherally.' He
rubs his hands together to brush off some crumbs. 'We were brothers.
Family. Like an Irish family. It's not unusual to get brothers
fighting, but we did it in the spotlight - everyone got to look at the
O'Malleys arguing. We gave and took a few good blows. But with John,
we made it up by the time he died and I was very thankful for that. We
were talking normally about baking bread. And cats - he was a cat man.
He would talk about going round his apartment in his "robe" as he
called it by then, dressing-gown to us. So, ordinary stuff.'
But there's more to it than that. For years now Lennon's role in the
Beatles has been talked up and McCartney's down. Lennon is portrayed
as being deep and cool, McCartney shallow and cheesy. Yoko Ono has
played a large part in this. Most witheringly she said four years ago,
'John was the visionary and that is why the Beatles happened. Paul is
put into the position of being a Salieri to a Mozart.' McCartney has
been trying to counter this, to make his version of the Beatles story
the official one, most notably in an authorised biography, Many Years
From Now by Barry Miles. He wants it to be known, for instance, that
he, not Lennon, was the one who introduced the Beatles to Stockhausen
and the avant garde.
Does he feel he has finally set the records straight? 'I became more
comfortable that my contribution was being recognised, yes. And
George's. Sad that he had to pass away before people really saw it. .
. There was a re-writing of history after John's death. There was
revisionism. Certain people were trying to write me out of the
Beatles' history, as well as the other two. George was reduced to the
guy standing with his plectrum in his hand, waiting for a solo and, as
John would have been the first to admit, George was very much more
important than that, as a character, as a musician. And Ringo is now
being sidelined because he wasn't a composer. We all needed each
other. We were four corners of a square. There were people close to
John, saying, "Well, Paul just booked the studio," - which was
galling. The trouble is', he says, scooping up another handful of
peanuts and speaking indistinctly through them, 'I became worried that
the John legend would totally wipe out any of our contributions. I'm
sure I got paranoid about it, but, hey, that's normal for me.'
Such was McCartney's paranoia he even tried to have the Beatles songs
he wrote retrospectively credited to McCartney-Lennon (as oppose to
Lennon-McCartney, a brand as revered as Gilbert and Sullivan, or
Rodgers and Hammerstein). Yoko Ono, who inherited Lennon's estate,
refused to give permission for this. 'I didn't want to remove John,'
McCartney tells me, 'just change the order round. I don't mind
Lennon-McCartney as a logo. John in front, that's OK, but on the
Anthology (1996), they started saying "Yesterday" [a tune that came to
McCartney in a dream] by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and I said,
"Please can it be Paul McCartney and John Lennon for the sake of the
Trade Description Act? Because John had no hand in that particular
song."' He jiggles his knee up and down in agitation. 'I recently went
to a hotel where there was a songbook and I looked up "Hey Jude"
[another McCartney song] and it was credited to John Lennon. My name
had been left off because there was no space for it on the page. Do I
Just a bit. Everyone knows who wrote which Lennon-McCartney
composition because the songwriter always took the lead vocals. And
he's Paul McCartney, for goodness sake. His boyhood home has been
preserved for the nation by the National Trust. According to the
Guinness Book of Records, he's the most successful songwriter in
history. Bigger than Elvis. Bigger even than John, now. How can he
possibly feel insecure about his reputation?
'I know! That's what people say to me. Because I'm fucking human. And
humans are insecure. Show me one who isn't. Henry Kissinger? Insecure.
George Bush? Insecure. Bill Clinton? Very insecure.' It's a curious
crew to compare yourself to - the model for Dr Strangelove, a Texan to
whom English is a second language, a philanderer - but perhaps it
makes sense in light of something McCartney said at the height of
Lennon's war of words: 'John captured me so well. I'm a turd. I'm just
Improbable though it may seem, Paul McCartney appears to have suffered
periodically from low self-esteem. Linda McCartney once said, 'I don't
dwell on what people say about me. I dwell on what people say about
Paul, for some reason. Maybe it's because he can't handle it.' For all
his chirpy optimism, mannered blokiness and double thumbs-up gestures,
he is, it seems, prickly about his reputation. As Private Eye
discovered when he reacted with cold fury to the inclusion of one of
his poems in Pseud's Corner recently, he takes himself very seriously.
His 'fucking human' comment is intriguing in another respect: it
suggests that, in his professional life at least, he suffers from
Paradise syndrome: having a perfect life he needs to find something to
feel anxious about. It's not enough that he's credited jointly with
writing the soundtrack to our lives, he wants his name to come first.
It won't suffice that, since he was 20, millions of his fans have been
calling him a genius - he needed to hear it from his 'big brother',
his musical equal, his idol, John Lennon.
But you can't help feeling that he should be, that he can afford to
be, a bigger man. He shouldn't rise to Yoko Ono's bait. It looks so
petty. Worse than that, his attempts to control not only the Beatles'
history but also their mythology have come across as boastful,
petulant and self-serving. Perhaps it is just that, for all his gifts
as a lyricist, he frequently expresses himself badly in conversation,
often hitting the wrong note, not saying what he means. His mother
died when he was aged 14: his first response? 'What are we going to do
for money now?' He has regretted that line all his life. Even his
heartfelt tribute to his 'baby brother' George seems a little
patronising and ill-considered. He must have known that Harrison
always hated being thought of as the baby of the band, not least
because when the Beatles first formed Lennon used to refer to 'that
bloody kid hanging around' - and Harrison, long after the Beatles
broke up, said he thought that was how Lennon still regarded him.
Perhaps McCartney's insecurities only seem undignified - even indecent
- because in so many other ways he is such a dignified, decent man. He
pays his taxes, he doesn't wear leather shoes on principle, he sent
his children to the local comp, he was faithful to his wife for 30
years (something almost unheard of in the priapic world of
rockstardom), he does his own shopping at Selfridges, he travels on
the Underground. The superstar next door image he has tried to
cultivate may seem like a tragic affectation given that he is worth
£713 million, but at least he tries.
'You said I have this thing about wanting to be seen as an ordinary
man: well, I'm sorry but I am,' he tells me. 'It's just too bad - I
can't be anything other. I'm a lucky ordinary guy, it's true. I've
done a lot of things and fulfilled a lot of my dreams, but it doesn't
mean. . .' He smiles ruefully. 'I assumed, like you, that when I met
someone who had done well that they would be saintly and just say,
"Thanks, I know I am OK now." But it doesn't work like that.' Yet, to
the outside world, he seems so positive and well-adjusted. 'Yeah, but
my worst fear is being found out. . . I don't want to elevate any
higher than I am now. Sir Paul McCartney is as elevated as I ever wish
to go - in fact, it is a little too high. It was a great honour and
all that but. . . I need the people around me to know I am still the
same and I want to feel the same, because I like who I am. A bit
insecure. So I don't go, "Fuck you! How dare you tell me that. I'm
better than you." It would be easy to do but I don't want to get like
that. Know why? Because I'm working-class [his father was a cotton
salesman, his mother a nurse, and he grew up on a council estate]. If
I got like that now, people, the crew out there, would be doing this
[he flicks the V-sign] behind my back as I walk past.'
He checks his watch pointedly. 'Now,' he says. 'the Walker Gallery,
Liverpool.' There is an exhibition catalogue for it on the
coffee-table and as we flick through the paintings - bold colouring,
some abstract, some figurative - I nod approvingly. Pretty disturbing,
though, some of them. 'Oh. Yeah, a lady friend once walked through my
studio and said, "Paul, what would a psychiatrist make of all this?"
Here,' he says stopping at one. 'It's red, so I suppose you could say
"demonic, red, hell," but I just like red. In the Rorschach test, some
people see a butterfly, some see a devil. You are supposed to betray
yourself in painting. But that's OK. I don't try and hide anything
about myself.' He turns to a warmer image. 'These beach paintings
aren't disturbing, though. That was just a memory. Shark on Georgica
is somewhere I used to sail. I knocked the paint pot and a shark
appeared. I like that accident. Perhaps it betrays some hidden fears.'
Freud said there are no accidents. 'Exactly.' He flicks on a few more
pages. 'The curator picked this one out and says it's very sexual. I'm
not sure what he means but I'll go along with that. That could be
phallic.' He gives a thin laugh and moves the page round to view the
painting from a different angle. 'When I was a kid I used to draw nude
women and feel guilty. Now when I look at nudes in photographs and
paintings I don't giggle. I had to get over that block, get over the
smutty stage. I started painting seriously when I was 40, when I had
children, and that was when I got over it. To have babies we do have
to do certain things. . . Here's a nude of Linda. Why not? I was
married to this woman for 30 years.'
Has he painted any of Linda since she died? 'No, I haven't painted too
much in the past couple of years. Well, I've done one or two and they
are a bit disturbing. But they would be, wouldn't they? I was
He grieved properly for Linda, he says, something he didn't do when
his mother died from breast cancer. 'I certainly didn't grieve enough
for my mother. There was no such thing as a psychiatrist when I lost
her. You kidding? I was a 14-year-old Liverpool boy. I wouldn't have
had access to one and I do now. I saw one when Linda died and he said,
"A good way to grieve is to cry one day and not cry the next,
alternate days so as you don't go down one tunnel." I took his
McCartney has said that in the months following Linda's death he
thought he might die from grief; did he mean he considered taking his
own life? "No. I was very sad. In deep grief. But never suicidal. I'm
too positive for that. After a year. . . It was as if the seasons had
to go right through, as if I had to feel like a plant. A couple of
months after the end of that cycle I began to realise I was also
having other feelings, that I was emerging. . .'
That all you need is love? 'Mmm. I am a romantic. I like Fred
Astaire.' Me, too, I interject. 'That's good,' he says. 'Now I feel I
can open up to you. I always say to young guys, "Be romantic," because
not only do women love it but you'll love it, too. English men are so
reserved, though. The idea of being caught with flowers on the bus!
You hide them under your jacket.' He mimes hiding a bunch and looking
nervous. 'Well, I'm not like that any more.'
McCartney looks at his watch again. Nearly time to go to his dressing
room. Presumably the big difference between touring America in 2002
and 1964 is the seats; audiences today don't wet them quite as much.
'I think the main differences is the age range of the audience,' he
says with an easy laugh. 'The Beatles audience was essentially our age
or younger, a lot of screaming girls. Now the audience is layered:
people the age I am now, but also their children and grandchildren.
They were holding up babies the other night, which was like, What?'
I say I imagine people bring their babies along because they want them
to have a stake in history - like watching the Queen Mother's funeral
procession. 'Yeah, there's probably something in that. People want to
be able to say, "I was there."'
Later I make my way upstairs to take my seat for the concert. The
excitement of the crowd is palpable and infectious. And when a giant
silhouette of Paul McCartney's violin-shaped Hofner bass appears on a
screen on the stage, everyone goes nuts. The screen lifts, the crisp,
heavy, opening bars of the Beatles song 'Hello, Goodbye' are heard,
and thousands of hairs on the backs of thousands of necks stand on
end, mine included.
'The Art of Paul McCartney' opens at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
(0151-207 0001) on 24 May
Tickets to The Queen's Golden Jubilee pop concert have already been
"Because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside"
- Paul McCartney, 1982
[This Message Has Been Edited By Amalthea On May 18, 2002 03:23 AM]