Paul McCartney: A Fireman Interviewed.

Paul McCartney has been on nothing but a roll with his latest string of albums.  OK, really since Flaming Pie, he’s been on an outstanding run that has been nothing but outstanding.  Those late-career solo albums are all simply stunning.  It’s really hard to find a true clunker in there at all.  His latest masterpiece, while not a proper McCartney solo album, is one his best solo releases period.

The same can be said for interviews as of late with Sir Paul.  Since his divorce Paul has approached the media with a sense of openess and reflection that we have not seen or heard for many many years.  Yes, sone of Paul’s interview answers are canned and retreads, but ever the public figure, Paul is able to always give us new insights into his mind, and life.  Ever informative and entertaining.

Here’s what we’ve read.

I imagine you know who Paul McCartney is, but here are some recent data: He’s 66 years old, single and financially secure. He recently released Electric Arguments, the third album by Fireman, an ongoing McCartney side project that represents the former Beatle’s foray into trance and dance music. Composed of McCartney and British producer/deejay Youth, Fireman opens its third full-length release with “Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight,” a tune that features the most bone-rattling vocal McCartney’s delivered since “Helter Skelter.” The first time I heard it on the radio, I thought it was Jack White. Not bad for a 66-year-old. On the occasion of the album’s release, McCartney agreed to a short chat.

L.A. WEEKLY: At what point did you become an adult?

PAUL McCARTNEY: When my first baby was born.

How old do you feel emotionally?

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your life?
Linda’s death.

What was it about Linda Eastman that made her such a stabilizing force in your life?
She was just such a supercool girl. She just was. She was supercool.

Do you believe in destiny?

Do you believe in karma, or do some people get away with murder?
I believe in karma (laughing), and I believe people get away with murder, too. For a while. Somewhere down the line everyone must pay for their misdeeds.

The Beatles’ music was always wonderful, but at a certain point it became something more than entertainment; at what point did you know that the work you were doing was important?
It’s difficult to discuss this without sounding immodest, but I think I started to feel it around the time of “Eleanor Rigby.” Prior to that, I thought the music was very good, and I realized we were in a different league when we wrote “From Me To You,” because it had a middle eight in it and went somewhere we hadn’t been before, but you used the word “important.” For me, “Eleanor Rigby” was the start of that.

Does music have the power to bring about social change?
Yeah, that’s a proven fact. “We Shall Overcome” and “Give Peace a Chance” are two examples, and there are thousands of less obvious examples. “We Shall Overcome” is inextricably bound up with the civil rights movement, and “Give Peace a Chance” equals Vietnam. Those are two huge events, and that music was hugely important to them.

Is it important that your music be commercially successful?
It’s not important, but it’s preferable. I like the idea that people hear my stuff, and if it’s commercially successful, that’s a good sign that it’s being heard.

What’s the most significant difference between work you do as Fireman and the rest of your music?
Fireman is improvisational theater. When I sit down to write a song, it’s a kind of improvisation, but I formalize it a bit to get it into the studio, and when I step up to a microphone, I have a vague idea of what I’m about to do. I usually have a song, and I know the melody and lyrics, and my performance is the only unknown. In this case, I had neither lyrics nor melody to go on — and it felt great. The previous Fireman record didn’t have vocals, so when we began adding them for this record, the music moved into the area of improvisational theater, as the lyrics were improvised in the studio as well. I’d arrive at the studio in the morning and the first thing I’d do would be to apologize to the engineers. I’d say “Okay, guys, this could really be the most serious error of my career.”

Working that way, how do you know when a piece of music is finished?
Instinct. I paint, and that’s the trick with painting, too, particularly if you paint in the abstract form. You’ve just got to know when it’s time to stop.

To what degree was the music sculpted in the editing?
Very much, and that’s where Youth comes in. I trust him implicitly. He’s a deejay, and I went to one of his gigs to watch him work and he’s good. He mixes stuff there and then, and it’s the same process with Fireman. He takes everything I throw at him and selects what he thinks is the best, and 99 percent of the time I agree with him.

What’s the most useful thing about money?
Helping people who are ill. I have a very large family and if anybody gets ill, I can help them.

What’s the biggest problem money creates?
Wow, you’re getting deep girl! I’ve never even met you! Okay, the biggest problem are the kinds of people who have license plates like one I saw in East Hampton: It read ‘rich 1.’ The kind of people who actually believe they’re cool because they’ve got money — I can‘t begin to describe the symptoms of that, but you know what I’m talking about.

What’s the most significant historical event you’ve witnessed?
The death of John Kennedy. He was our hope and he got wiped out, and we hadn’t realized that hope could get wiped out quite so easily. But now Obama’s brought it back. I love it.

Is memory more apt to be a source of pain or pleasure?

Do you feel nostalgic for the past?
Nostalgia’s not the right word because it implies something sort of wrong. I love the past. There are parts of the past I hate, of course. My mum died, Linda died, John died, and George died, so I can’t say I love everything about it, but I have a great affection for the past. And why shouldn’t I? I was just some kid from Liverpool, who walked around the streets with John Lennon, and wrote songs with him, and met this beautiful girl from New York, then married her and had kids with her — why shouldn’t I love the past? Mine has been good.

What aspect of the future, as you envision it, do you find most disturbing?
It’s not a good idea to look at, or for, disturbances. They come anyway, so I don’t invite them. Rather than just moan “We’re all fucked,” it’s better to work on avoiding them. A big subject of mine is a report recently completed by the U.N., called Livestock’s Long Shadow, which makes the point that the most important thing people could do for the future of the planet would be to eat vegetarian. Cattle rearing is one of the most destructive human activities on Earth, and at this point, it’s taking a bigger toll on the planet than airplanes and cars.

Are most people willing to change?
People are willing to change when they have to. I suppose people would all go to Disneyland and have milkshakes at McDonald’s and wear Bermuda shorts if you didn’t tell them it wasn’t a good idea, and sometimes we have no choice but to speak in their ears very loudly.

Would you agree that most artists do their best work when they’re hungry?
I think that’s probably true.

When people approach you on the street what do they want?
More often than not they just want to communicate, and it’s normally quite cool. Everybody these days has a camera on their phone, so now they ask, “Can I have a photograph with you?” I say, “I’d rather not, because if I have a photograph with you, then somebody else will see us and say, ‘I’ve got a phone and I’d like a photograph, too.’” It’s funny, I was talking to a celebrity friend, and he made the point that people who don’t even like your work line up for autographs and photographs, saying, “I can get one for my grandma!” Often, when I’m approached for a photograph or autograph, I try to persuade the person that what we really want is communication. That takes longer than signing a quick autograph, but it’s an important point to make.

Are you able to move about the world with freedom?
With impunity — I go into shops, to movies, and I walk around. I’m now in a car heading into London with my longtime assistant, and if we need to stop at a shop or a petrol station, we will. I’ve always held on to that, and it’s a very important part of who I am.

What an amazing thing, to be able to walk into a shop and make people happy simply by walking in.
Tell me about it! I’m very aware of that, and it’s incredible.

Source: LA Weekly


32 Responses

  1. In the late 60’s Paul and Linda moved to a quiet place in Scotland and raised a family, instead of doing heroin and get waisted at The Rock and Roll Circus and other hip rock clubs at the time. For decades, he was criticized for being sort of uncool and “ordinary”, but it wouldn’t suprise me if that’s one of the reasons he is still so alive creatively, while many others burned themself out.

    The fun thing about “Electric Arguments”, is that you listen the record and think it’s brilliant contemporary music. It’s not good for being made by a 66 year old ex-beatle. It’s just great inventive music. Not generic at all. : )

  2. Paul wants cowboys to be out of work. 😦

  3. IMO Electric Arguments is comparable to a modern day Sgt Pepper. A brilliant masterpiece.

  4. Yes, McCartney HAS been in the midst of a major personal and artistic zenith since about 1989. Anyone who says otherwise or who claims he “sucks” is not only putting on airs, but is probably utterly ignorant of the work he has been doing. I am highly suspicious of anyone who claims they don’t like McCartney. How many artists have remained relevant throughout five decades? Not Jagger, not Floyd, not Clapton… just McCartney! The scope and breadth of his vision is staggering.

    I don’t know how he does it.

    D. Crabapple

  5. I believe that Paul McCartney has two sides to him the ballad side and the rocker side.I noticed that those sides come out of him alot.I listen to Helter Skelter which is like real heavy metal compared to what others were doing back in 1968.I heard Paul say that he was the most Avagent Garde of the Beatles.He used to make backwards tapes back in 1965 long before everyone else was doing it.The stuff he claims he was doing at the time was way out there.He was very much into Frank Zappa at the time.I would give anything to hear “Carnival of Life”a song the Beatle recorded back in January 1967.I heard that Paul wants to release to release it,but Yoko,Ringo,and Olivia are against it.I hope they will come to their senses and let it be release it.An army of Beatle fans will love to hear it.

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