On 10 August 1968 Paul McCartney gave an interview to Alan Smith of the New Musical Express, in which he candidly admitted: “The truth about me is that I’m pleasantly insincere.”
The interview caused some controversy upon publication, mainly for McCartney’s thoughts on India.
Starvation in India doesn’t worry me one bit, not one iota. It doesn’t, man. And it doesn’t worry you, if you’re honest. You just pose. You’ve only seen the Oxfam ads. You can’t pretend to me that an Oxfam ad can reach down into the depths of your soul and actually make you feel for those people – more, for instance, than you feel about getting a new car.
New Musical Express, 1968
The interview was published in the following week’s NME, dated 17 August 1968. Here’s the full article:
Paul McCartney in a no-punches pulled interview with NME’s Alan Smith
HOT sun on the back of my neck, exhaust fumes at the back of my throat, four friends in front of the tape recorder. Left to right Mr. Derek Taylor, Mr. James Paul McCartney, Mr. Peter Asher and Mr. Tony Bramwell, some of whom may be known to you. Hand reaches down to the recording button… push forward… raise the mike and speak.
Inhibited by the wayside Question Time, and the first enquiry is an inarticulate one. “Films? How about films? I mean, you must give me something specific… the United Artists commitment…”
P. Mac Cee: The only trouble is, Alan, I don’t like to be specific. Now, I wouldn’t mind if I had a few things to say. But I’m afraid it has to be… it has to be… general.
Looks like it’s going to be hard going this. Yes, but, I say, and Paul sends the whole thing up wid dis sudden Brooklyn bit about ‘we’s just a group of boys who get togedder, by d’roadside, an’ we’s gonna make it big wid our next album on d’ Apple label’.
Yes, yes, I struggle, but the commitment to United Artists…
A few films in the air
P. Mac Cee: “Right, well go on, and I’ll give you some evasive generalisation! There’s a few films in the air. There’s films I’d like to make on my own, with not me in ’em, just people in ’em. Just anything films.
“Films of what goes on. Films of grass. Films of people moving about. And then films I’d like to make with the Beatles band. Which would be musical films.
“But… they shouldn’t just be musical films, which everybody offers. They should be the other thing as well. And it’s probably going to be up to us to think of it, because people don’t seem to be coming forward with offers.”
It’s going nicely now. I’m warming up to it. I ask if the Beatles are now dedicated to making money, for whatever reason.
“No, that’s not what we’re dedicated to. We’re dedicated to making what should be made, and incidentally – there’ll be money.
“If you didn’t need money to get things, and if you got things by swopping ’em, then by a roundabout method we’d be dedicated to swopping.
“We’re only dedicated to doing.”
But then, I say, you’re obviously out to expand Apple and make it a thriving business concern, and Mr. Asher agrees but points out that the reason is not to make a fortune. Mr. Taylor agrees and says the Apple policy is to make and sell hits, hits, hits – hit records, hit films, and hit electronics.
Suddenly: “There’s something else you want to know, Alan, and I’m willing to give it to you. But if you just sort of say: ‘Films,’ then I’ll say: Right, Alan, Eggs.”
Get a bit hurt. Ah yes, I say, but you know what I want to know. “Yes,” beams Paul, “I know I do!”
Mr. Derek Taylor puts it all in focus: he interviews me. Alan Smith, he says – are you dedicated to making money, as it is said of you that you are? I have to admit it, I am. I believe money will help my loved ones and me to live in comfort and style. “And style?” emphasises Mr. Taylor – “you’re in good shape, Alan.” It was nice to have me on the show.
I’m being put down, and although goodwill dilutes the sting, it’s still a bit uncomfortable being grilled by so many chefs at the roadside barbecue.
So it’s back to the car and I think Right, Mate. No punches pulled this time. Turn the tape over, put it at the beginning, switch on and know I’m wiping out Cilla Black and Davy Jones with every word.
Do the bold bit about now look here, I interview many artists and most of them are specific, you know.
“O.K. then,” says P. Mac Cee, feet up and defences coming down.
“Whenever we lay off recording for a long period of time – which we do – we get out of the habit, and it’s not together and its not happening. It takes us a couple of weeks to get to know each other again and how we play.
“For instance, when I went to LA, I heard things on the radio that completely changed a lot of things I’d been thinking about music and about sounds I was hearing. So it made me write a couple of songs differently or arrange them differently.”
Hint of things to come… “So now it’s getting back to how it should be again… rockers… rocking! Which is where the Beatles should be and what we should be doing.”
Long discussion about Apple and what it means and what it stands for. Paul points out that in the past there were creative people who had to go on their knees for work, and for records and films and to get the breaks, man. “And everyone gets down on their knees and grovels a bit.”
Don’t have to grovel at Apple
The idea now is that Apple is an organisation where you don’t have to do that, where if you’re good you get recognised. The trouble is that so much of the pop and record business at the moment is run by people who don’t have a clue what it was about.
The ones who do know – it shows. Jerry Wexler, Herb Alpert, Berry Gordy and so on. When you have thinking, involved people like this, it isn’t necessary to depend all the time on The Big Fat Men.
Start to get around to the no-punches-pulled bit. Talk about cripples (or disabled persons, as my correspondent of last week tells me. Sorry. A word can cut like a knife.)
What about helping people like this, I ask. What about giving them the money to buy things to make things, to obtain their satisfaction and self-respect?
Paul: Well, what about helping the cripples?
Me: Well, why not?
Paul: Well, why?
Me: Because maybe they’re having a hard time of it, and you’re doing all right. Don’t you believe in human kindness?
Paul: Cripples are not necessarily having a hard time of it. And even if they are having a hard time of it – it’s their hard time. It is, man. It doesn’t matter what you say about helping cripples or India… there’s no way to pour millions of pounds into India and make India all right.
Let me get to your conscience, I say. You must have seen, in India, people with their bellies hanging out with hunger. No, says Paul. I didn’t see that. Have you?
But doesn’t it worry you? “No,” says Paul flatly, “starvation in India doesn’t worry me one bit. Not one iota. It doesn’t, man.
“And it doesn’t worry you, if you’re honest. You just pose. You don’t even know it exists. You’ve only seen the Oxfam ads. You can’t pretend to me that an Oxfam ad can reach down into the depths of your soul and actually make you feel for those people – more, for instance, than you feel about getting a new car.
“If it comes to a toss-up and getting a new car, you’d get a new car. And don’t say you wouldn’t – ’cos that’s the scene, with you and most people.
“The point is also `Do you really feel for Vietnam?’ and the answers are the same, Maybe I’d rather listen to a rock record than go there to entertain, and maybe, underneath, that’s the truth in all of us. I know one is morally better than the other, but I know I’d never get round to it. I’d be a hypocrite.”
Everything is God
Says he believes in something called God, but anything and everything is God. Never thinks about eternity or outer space – more concerned with inner space.
The Crunch. Ask him to analyse himself and tell him I have always believed him to be Likeably – repeat, likeably – insincere.
Pause. “To you, possibly,” says Paul. “Because I think ‘Here’s NME newspaper. I don’t think Alan Smith, person, at all. I think I have to watch what I say because you don’t say certain things to papers. I think maybe NME – Enemy!
“Whenever I’m faced with a Pop Press Conference or a drink with the reporters, I can’t be sincere… ’cos I wouldn’t be there. But I suppose that by being pleasantly insincere, I can at least get to know people on some level in the short space of time.”
Long conversation and then, finally, a statement. “The Truth about Me,” says Paul, “is that I’m… Pleasantly Insincere!
“And really that’s the Whole Truth, and nothing but.”
Also on this day...
- 2014: Paul McCartney live: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
- 1963: Live: Springfield Ballroom, Jersey
- 1962: Live: Riverboat Shuffle, MV Royal Iris, River Mersey
- 1961: Live: St John’s Hall, Liverpool
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.