Sunday, June 19, 2011
Are you the Beatles?
No. I'm not the Beatles. I'm me. Paul isn't the Beatles. Brian Epstein wasn't the Beatles, neither is Dick James [Beatles' music publisher]. The Beatles are the Beatles. Separately, they are separate. George was a separate, individual singer with his own group as well, before he came in with us. Nobody is the Beatles. How could they be? We all had our roles to play.
Let's reapproach that. The Beatles were always talked about - and the Beatles talked about themselves - as being four parts of the same person. What's happened to those four parts?
They remembered that they were four individuals. You see, we believed the Beatles myth, too. I don't know whether the others still believe it. We were four guys. . . . I met Paul and said, ``You want to join me band?'' Then George joined, and then Ringo joined. We were just a band that made it very, very big, that's all. Our best work was never recorded.
Because we were performers - in spite of what Mick [Jagger] says about us - in Liverpool, Hamburg and other dance halls. What we generated was fantastic when we played straight rock, and there was nobody to touch us in Britain. As soon as we made it, we made it, but the edges were knocked off. You know, Brian put us in suits and all that, and we made it very, very big. But we sold out, you know. The music was dead before we even went on the theater tour of Britain. We were feeling shit already, because we had to reduce an hour or two hours' playing, which we were glad about in one way, to twenty minutes, and we would go on and repeat the same twenty minutes every night. The Beatles' music died then, as musicians. That's why we never improved as musicians; we killed ourselves then to make it. And that was the end of it.
I would like to ask a question about Paul and go through that. When we went and saw `Let It Be' in San Francisco, what was your feeling?
I felt sad, you know. Also, I felt . . . that film was set up by Paul for Paul. That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can't speak for George, but I pretty damn well know we got fed up of being sidemen for Paul. After Brian died, that's what happened, that's what began to happen to us. The camera work was set up to show Paul and not anybody else. And that's how I felt about it.
How would you trace the breakup of the Beatles?
After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.
When did you first feel that the Beatles had broken up? When did that idea first hit you?
I don't remember, you know. I was in my own pain. I wasn't noticing really. I just did it like a job.
What was your feeling when Brian died?
The feeling that anybody has when somebody close to them dies. There is a sort of little hysterical, sort of hee, hee, I'm glad it's not me or something in it, the funny feeling when somebody close to you dies. I don't know whether you've had it, but I've had a lot of people die around me. And the other feeling is: ``What the fuck? What can I do?'' I knew that we were in trouble then. I didn't really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared. I thought, ``We've fuckin' had it.''
When did your songwriting partnership with Paul end?
That ended . . . I don't know, around 1962 or something, I don't know. If you give me the albums, I can tell you exactly who wrote what and which line. We sometimes wrote together. All our best work - apart from the early days, like ``I Want to Hold Your Hand'' - we wrote apart always. ``One After 909,'' on Let It Be, I wrote when I was seventeen or eighteen. We always wrote separately, but we wrote together because we enjoyed it a lot sometimes, and also because they would say, ``Well, you're going to make an album; get together and knock off a few songs'' just like a job.
How would you characterize George's, Paul's and Ringo's reaction to Yoko?
It's the same. You can quote Paul, it's probably in the papers; he said it many times that at first he hated Yoko, and then he got to like her. But it's too late for me. I'm for Yoko. Why should she take that kind of shit from those people? They were writing about her looking miserable in the film Let It Be, but you sit through sixty sessions with the most bigheaded, uptight people on earth and see what it's fuckin' like and be insulted. And George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning, just being ``straightforward,'' you know, that game of ``I'm going to be upfront, because this is what we've heard,'' and Dylan and a few people said she'd got a lousy name in New York. That's what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn't hit him; I don't know why. Ringo was all right, but the other two really gave it to us. I'll never forgive them, I don't care what fuckin' shit about Hare Krishna and God and Paul with his ``Well, I've changed me mind.'' I can't forgive 'em for that, really. Although I can't help still loving them either.
What do you think of the Stones today?
I think it's a lot of hype. I like ``Honky Tonk Women,'' but I think Mick's a joke with all that fag dancing; I always did. I enjoy it; I'll probably go and see his films and all like everybody else, but really, I think it's a joke.
Do you see him much now?
No, I never do see him. We saw a bit of each other when Allen [Klein, Beatles' late-period manager] was first coming in - I think Mick got jealous. I was always very respectful of Mick and the Stones, but he said a lot of sort of tarty things about the Beatles, which I am hurt by because, you know, I can knock the Beatles, but don't let Mick Jagger knock them. I would like to just list what we did and what the Stones did two months after on every fuckin' album. Every fuckin' thing we did, Mick does exactly the same - he imitates us. And I would like one of you fuckin' underground people to point it out. You know, Satanic Majesties is Pepper; ``We Love You,'' it's the most fuckin' bullshit, that's ``All You Need Is Love.'' I resent the implication that the Stones are like revolutionaries and that the Beatles weren't. If the Stones were or are, the Beatles really were, too. But they are not in the same class, musicwise or powerwise, never were. I never said anything, I always admired them, because I like their funky music, and I like their style. I like rock & roll and the direction they took after they got over trying to imitate us. He's obviously so upset by how big the Beatles are compared with him, he never got over it. Now he's in his old age, and he is beginning to knock us, you know, and he keeps knocking. I resent it, because even his second fuckin' record, we wrote it for him. Mick said, ``Peace made money.'' We didn't make any money from peace.
Do you think you're a genius?
Yes, if there is such a thing as one, I am one. When did you realize that what you were doing transcended -- People like me are aware of their so-called genius at ten, eight, nine. . . . I always wondered, ``Why has nobody discovered me?'' In school, didn't they see that I'm cleverer than anybody in this school? That the teachers are stupid, too? That all they had was information that I didn't need? I got fuckin' lost in being at high school. I used to say to me auntie, ``You throw my fuckin' poetry out, and you'll regret it when I'm famous, '' and she threw the bastard stuff out. I never forgave her for not treating me like a fuckin' genius or whatever I was, when I was a child. It was obvious to me. Why didn't they put me in art school? Why didn't they train me? Why would they keep forcing me to be a fuckin' cowboy like the rest of them? I was different, I was always different. Why didn't anybody notice me? A couple of teachers would notice me, encourage me to be something or other, to draw or to paint - express myself. But most of the time they were trying to beat me into being a fuckin' dentist or a teacher. And then the fuckin' fans tried to beat me into being a fuckin' Beatle or an Engelbert Humperdinck, and the critics tried to beat me into being Paul McCartney.
How did you first get involved in LSD?
A dentist in London laid it on George, me and the wives, without telling us, at a dinner party at his house. He was a friend of George's and our dentist at the time, and he just put it in our coffee or something.
When you came down, what did you think?
I was pretty stoned for a month or two. The second time we had it was in L.A. We were on tour in one of those houses, Doris Day's house or wherever it was we used to stay, and the three of us took it, Ringo, George and I. Maybe Neil [Aspinall] and a couple of the Byrds - what's his name, the one in the Stills and Nash thing? - Crosby and the other guy who used to do the lead. McGuinn. I think they came, I'm not sure, on a few trips. Peter Fonda came, and that was another thing. He kept saying [in a whisper], ``I know what it's like to be dead.'' It was a sad song, an acidy song, I suppose. ``When I was a little boy'' . . . you see, a lot of early childhood was coming out, anyway. So LSD started for you in
1964. How long did it go on?
It went on for years, I must have had a thousand trips. Literally a thousand, or a couple of hundred? A thousand - I used to just eat it all the time.
The other Beatles didn't get into LSD as much as you did?
George did. In L.A. the second time we took it, Paul felt very out of it because we are all a bit slightly cruel, sort of ``we're taking it, and you're not.'' But we kept seeing him, you know. We couldn't eat our food; I just couldn't manage it, just picking it up with our hands. There were all these people serving us in the house, and we were knocking food on the floor and all of that. It was a long time before Paul took it. I think George was pretty heavy on it; we are probably the most cracked. Paul is a bit more stable than George and I.
I don't know about straight. Stable. I think LSD profoundly shocked him and Ringo. I think maybe they regret it.
Did you have many bad trips?
I had many. Jesus Christ, I stopped taking it because of that. I just couldn't stand it.
You got too afraid to take it?
It got like that, but then I stopped it for I don't know how long, and then I started taking it again just before I met Yoko. I got the message that I should destroy my ego, and I did, you know. I was slowly putting myself together round about Maharishi time. Bit by bit over a two-year period, I had destroyed me ego. I didn't believe I could do anything. I just was nothing. I was shit. Then Derek [Taylor, Apple press officer] tripped me out at his house after he got back from L.A. He sort of said, ``You're all right,'' and pointed out which songs I had written: ``You wrote this,'' and ``You said this,'' and ``You are intelligent, don't be frightened.'' The next week I went to Derek's with Yoko, and we tripped again, and she made me realize that I was me and that it's all right. That was it; I started fighting again, being a loudmouth again and saying, ``I can do this. Fuck it. This is what I want,'' you know. ``I want it, and don't put me down.'' I did this, so that's where I am now. At some point, right between `Help!' and `Hard Day's Night,' you got into drugs and got into doing drug songs. A Hard Day's Night, I was on pills. That's drugs, that's bigger drugs than pot. I started on pills when I was fifteen, no, since I was seventeen, since I became a musician. The only way to survive in Hamburg to play eight hours a night, was to take pills. The waiters gave you them - the pills and drink. I was a fucking dropped-down drunk in art school. Help! was where we turned on to pot, and we dropped drink, simple as that. I've always needed a drug to survive. The others, too, but I always had more, more pills, more of everything because I'm more crazy probably.
How do you think LSD affected your conception of the music? In general?
It was only another mirror. It wasn't a miracle. It was more of a visual thing and a therapy, looking at yourself a bit. It did all that. You know, I don't quite remember. But it didn't write the music. I write the music in the circumstances in which I'm in, whether it's on acid or in the water.
What was your experience with heroin?
It just was not too much fun. I never injected it or anything. We sniffed a little when we were in real pain. We got such a hard time from everyone, and I've had so much thrown at me and at Yoko, especially at Yoko. We took H because of what the Beatles and others were doing to us. But we got out of it.
I read a little interview with you, done when you went to the Rock & Roll Revival over a year ago in Toronto. You said you were throwing up before you went onstage.
Yes. I just threw up for hours until I went on.
Would you still be that nervous if you appeared in public?
Always that nervous, but what with one thing and another, it just had to come out some way. I don't think I'll do much appearing, it's not worth the strain; I don't want to perform too much for people.
What are your personal tastes?
Sounds like ``Wop Bop A Loo Bop.'' I like rock & roll; I don't like much else.
Why rock & roll?
That's the music that inspired me to play music. There is nothing conceptually better than rock & roll. No group, be it Beatles, Dylan or Stones, have ever improved on ``Whole Lot of Shaking,'' for my money. Or maybe I'm like our parents: That's my period, and I dig it, and I'll never leave it.
What do you think rock & roll will become in the future?
Whatever we make it. If we want to go bullshitting off into intellectualism with rock & roll, then we are going to get bullshitting rock intellectualism. If we want real rock & roll, it's up to all of us to create it and stop being hyped by the revolutionary image and long hair. We've got to get over that bit. That's what cutting hair is about. Let's own up now and see who's who, who is doing something about what, and who is making music, and who is laying down bullshit. Rock & roll will be whatever we make it.
Why do you think it means so much to people?
Because the best stuff is primitive enough and has no bullshit. It gets through to you; it got through to me, the only thing to get through to me of all the things that were happening when I was fifteen. Rock & roll then was real; everything else was unreal. The thing about rock & roll, good rock & roll - whatever good means and all that shit - is that it's real, and realism gets through to you despite yourself. You recognize something in it which is true, like all true art. Whatever art is, readers. Okay. If it's real, it's simple usually, and if it's simple, it's true. Something like that.
How do you rate yourself as a guitarist?
Well, it depends on what kind of guitarist. I'm okay; I'm not technically good, but I can make it fucking howl and move. I was rhythm guitarist. It's an important job. I can make a band drive.
How do you rate George?
He's pretty good [laughs]. I prefer myself. I have to be honest, you know. I'm really very embarrassed about my guitar playing, in one way, because it's very poor; I can never move, but I can make a guitar speak. I think there's a guy called Ritchie Valens, no, Richie Havens. Does he play very strange guitar? He's a black guy that was in a concert and sang ``Strawberry Fields'' or something. He plays, like, one chord all the time. He plays a pretty funky guitar. But he doesn't seem to be able to play in the real terms at all. I'm like that. Yoko has made me feel cocky about my guitar. You see, one part of me says, ``Yes, of course I can play,'' because I can make a rock move, you know? But the other part of me says, ``Well, I wish I could just do like B.B. King.'' If you would put me with B.B. King, I would feel real silly. I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it.
You're going back to London. What's a rough picture of your immediate future, say, the next three months?
I'd like to just vanish just a bit. It wore me out, New York. I love it. I'm just sort of fascinated by it, like a fucking monster.
Do you have a rough picture of the next few years?
Oh no, I couldn't think of the next few years; it's abysmal thinking of how many years there are to go, millions of them. I just play it by the week. I don't think much ahead of a week.
Do you have a picture of ``when I'm sixty-four''?
No, no. I hope we're a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that - looking at our scrapbook of madness.
By JANN S. WENNER