When: July 6, 1973
Where: Birmingham, England (Odeon - an old movie house)
What: (Read the following paragraphs and you'll understand what).
In 1973, I saw myself disappearing. I was a grammar ghost, a sentence-writing cipher with barely a byline to hang my rent on. I knew what I wanted to do - write about music and the people who made it - but I didn't know how to go about getting there. I decided to send out concert reviews. I couldn't send an interview because I'd never done one. Buy a ticket, go see a band, and write about it. That I could do. Magazines responded; they rejected me. Rolling Stone
. Guitar Player
. The memento mori of a career that would never be. Death head form letters. There actually came a point when receiving personalized rejection notices made me feel like I was getting closer. After all, someone had to read the story in order to comment on how shitty it was. Did it matter that the work really was wonky? That I was sending live reports to publications that didn't run that type of article? That I hand-wrote the stories because the letters a
on my ancient Underwood manual didn't work? The y
wasn't a problem. But you try and conjure words that don't contain a certain letter - a vowel nonetheless - and all you can think of are words that do contain the vowel. Anonymity, shine your reflectionless light upon your stupidest son. I was fading like Levi's.
Youthful exuberance and blissful ignorance is a heady potable but it will only take you so far. I needed to go farther. Change. A road trip. At that moment, changing who I was on any percipient level seemed about as likely as being published. But I could change where I was and the summer after high school, I embarked upon the wandering nomad-does-Europe incursion. I stuffed a backpack with a pair of jeans - my best faded Levi's - a couple shirts, my best tale-telling writing pen and Kerouac's On the Road
(what else would you take?) and spent three months in Europe trying to find and lose myself.
The final two weeks were spent in England and here I could feel the metamorphosis beginning. I could feel myself not dissolving. I might yet outrun life as an outline. While in London, I met Tony Brainsby, a bigshot publicist who represented Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Curved Air, and Paul McCartney. Tony took me under his wing and let me sleep in his office. I don't know why really. I was an innominate object, a byline-less journalist. The only pieces I'd managed to get published were for a softcore porn rag called the LA Star
. No money. I gave him a copy when we first met. He thumbed through several pages before blurting, This is fucking great, mate.
I was beaming like the village idiot. Recognition, finally. He turned the paper around and showed me the black and white photo of a gravity-defying blond.
I was vapor. Insubstantial. I was the Escher etching of a hand drawing a hand in reverse; I was being erased. I could see him looking through me. He couldn't have taken me seriously but still he let me stay. Money was scarce and sleeping on a sofa was infinitely more desirable than bedding down in Hyde Park. After three nights in a row outdoors, even my parsimonious nature was ready to cough up for a cheap motel. When the pursuit of artistry runs headfirst into strange nocturnal murmurs, strange nocturnal murmurs win every time. The wonderful Mr. Brainsby, perhaps glimpsing in me the rumblings of a future rock scribe, allowed me access to his couch and entre into a world I would occupy for the next several decades.
One morning, he came into the office while I was still rising. A question: Paul McCartney is playing in Birmingham tonight and I wanted to know if you'd like to go and see the show and interview him afterwards?
After Paul McCartney came out of his month, I didn't hear much else. I knew he was putting me on. I waited for the punch line to come out. But it never did.
The entire experience was out of body. A fucking Beatle,
I kept thinking. One of the first interviews I'd ever done and it was going to be with Paul McCartney
. The next day I took a train up to Birmingham. Everything appeared to be slightly out of focus. Like when you go to the optometrist and he checks your eyes in that giant robotic looking device? He changes the lenses one at a time and until he reaches the perfect match, there is a slight blur. I was suspended in that one click away. The train had no movement. No loco-motion.
I attempted to write down some questions but it was someone else's hand moving the pen. I jotted something down. Will the Beatles ever get back together?
That's about all I could muster. I tested the batteries in my cassette player. Nothing. No play, no forward, no rewind. Checking the battery department revealed - no batteries. I'm about to interview Paul McCartney, my nascent career finally gaining purchase, and I have no batteries. I am breaking down into small pieces. Fractured.
But God, they say, looks after the weak and stupid and that evening He had his hands full (Note: Remember those prophetic words I uttered in the main essay about being prepared? I wasn't just talking to hear myself talk )
. Right across the street from the Odeon, the cinema where Wings was playing, was an electronics store. There are batteries of every shape and function. They are purchased, inserted into my cassette deck, and tested. Motion. Wheels are turning. I am no longer evaporating
From this moment on, it's truly difficult to recall anything clearly. I remember seeing Linda on keyboards and Henry McCullough on guitar, and some left-handed bass player singing. I'm trying to watch the show - and the band does sound remarkable - but I am fixated on only one thing: Please, God, do not let me disappear in front of one of the Beatles.
The show ends and I'm escorted backstage. There he is, sitting in a corner, Linda and kids by his side, the rest of the band alternately sitting down and walking around, drinking beer and noshing. I'm introduced and I think I said Steve but it may have been Walter. There were a couple other writers there and they seemed so confident, so unaffected by this man sitting in front of them. So chill. As if it was no big deal holding court with an icon.
Paul, and maybe this is why he is Paul
, sensed my trepidation, my terror, my anxiety, and took me under his wing. He had me sit beside him and, holding my $5 microphone, I made an attempt at professionalism. At one point he accidentally brushed the arm-extended mic with his hand and quipped, Sorry, mic.
It was the most brilliant thing anyone had ever uttered. He knew, he understood, what it meant for me to be there with him. He gave himself to me. No question was too stupid or too small. Even when I posed the inevitable Beatles reunion query - again - he just grinned and bared his soul.
I don't know really. What I say is if we just kinda get friendly and cool and if anyone wants to work with the other I done a little bit on Ringo's new album and the other two did too. And those kind of little things we're all happy to do. But a definite no to the Beatles reforming because I think it's gone too far. I think if the Beatles had broken up for a week and then reformed, there was a possibility. But it can't go two years and reform again.
The interview flew by and before I knew it I was back on a southbound train heading for London. Had it not been for the conversation being recorded, I may have questioned the entire experience. A magical mystery tour. Me, a 20-year old no one, breaking bread with a Beatle. The cute one. Paul McfuckingCartney. I could feel myself growing substantial, gaining momentum, shape shifting from vapors to visibility.
To this day, that moment still remains essentially indefinable. I constantly try to refine the memory, un-blur it and add dimension, but it will always be dream sequence-like. That was fantasy-given-flesh, my own personal fairy tale in which the common man is plucked from obscurity and vanquishes the dragon. A sort of faux-real life roman a clef. I mean, how would you describe it? You're a virgin writer gone off to see the world. Someone presents you with the opportunity of talking to a Beatle. You're scared senseless and every indicator is pointing to the true north of fucking up. But you don't. You are not calm, under control, engaging, or insightful, and only marginally professional (you did buy new batteries but neglected to see if you had any cassette tapes and Thank God again that you had one left). I possessed none of those qualities that 6th of July, 1973. But I was there and I managed to get through it without turning invisible in front of Paul McCartney. In fact, I wasn't even close to throwing up all over the guy and I had a long way to go before I made a complete idiot of myself. In my mind, I had been perfect
How do you feel when the press writes something negative about you and your music? Does it affect you at this point in your career?
It hurts me, for a second. Let's face it, everyone's press gets to them, ain't no one who's above his press. It does get to them but there are certain people, me included, who, after the first few seconds reconciles it and says, 'Well, blimey, it's only one fella writing this and he's trying to do a good job and stuff.
' But he doesn't necessarily know, so you do have to keep reminding yourself.
It's been written that you took some heat about even agreeing to do this Bond film, Live and Let Die. How did this all come about?
|"If you get five people, it's pretty hard to get a band out of it."|
There was a fella who used to work at Apple and he had mentioned it to me. He knew Albert Broccoli (producer) and he said, 'Do you fancy doing a Bond thing?
' and I said, 'Sure.
' And he said 'Do you want to do Diamonds Are Forever
and I tried to think of a tune for it. But then we couldn't do it because of some contractual things and he asked if I wanted to do the next one. So he gave me the book to Live and Let Die and I thought, 'Christ, how am I going to write a song called that?
The hook that got me into it was 'When you were young and your heart was an open book/You used to say live and let live/But now you say live and let die.
It's just one of those things, I like to vary it. I just don't like to do the same kind of thing all the time. Then Rolling Stone said, 'McCartney to do Live and Let Die - so it's come to that.
Have you had much feedback on the television special you did, James Paul McCartney?
Yes, 50/50 feedback on that one. But you get letters from kids like in Redwing, Arkansas, and they love it, they go potty over it. And you meet people on holiday, Americans, and they go (assuming southern accent), 'Hey, man, that was a real nice special ya did.
' We were in Jamaica and we met a GI with a Purple Heart (medal). He'd been shot up a bit in Vietnam and we gave him a lift. And he said, 'Hey, man, you really look like Paul McCartney.
' And I said, 'Yeah, man, a lot of people take me for him, a terrible business. I wish I had his money.
' And I was doing all this bit and I suddenly felt bad because here was some GI on holiday so I said, 'Well, actually man, you know why I look like him is because I am him.
' And the wife, Linda was there, and he was all made up (in uniform) and he said, 'Yeah, you just had that big concert up north
' and I said, 'What are you talking about?
' and he was talking about a TV show I had done. And I asked him if he dug it and he said, 'Yeah, man, it had a lot of heart.
' The people themselves kind of dug it.
Where did the criticism come from?
Linda McCartney: Newspapers.
If you're looking at it like, 'We know what it can do
' and 'Is this going to blast our minds out?
' - from that point of view it didn't. Let's face it, we were doing a special for Chevrolet and you can't do an awful lot on a special for Chevrolet. We had little things in there that would have bit a bit mindblowing. Like we were gonna do a drag scene. I do a song and dance thing and in the middle of it we were going to change all into drag and I was gonna come on and do like a big Diana Ross bit. And Linda was gonna be a fella and all the others were going to be girls. But Chevrolet sent a very heavy letter saying, 'Due to the sponsorship blah blah blah.
' Chevrolet were the money behind it.
What would you do different if you did that show again?
Oh, I don't know, we'd do a whole other thing.
Are you going to do another one?
Oh yeah, I think so. I think it's a good medium, telly, because everyone's got one in their homes. But it is a bit hard because you meet television people and television people are a whole breed. They're like film people. They know exactly what they want and no TV people like bands, they don't like any bands. They prefer to have a solo artist so they can visual all around it. We kept saying to them, 'Man, show his guitar, people who like guitars like all that. Just show his foot stamping and rock 'n' roll kind of thing.
' And the guy said, 'Well, we'll cut away to a field full of lambs.
' So there was a bit of that but we were quite happy with it. I didn't think it was bad.
The editing must have taken months.
Actually that's a laugh because it didn't take months at all. They went right out on the street, right outside L Street where it was made, and they took a TV camera out there and did it in like two days. It was just a bunch of people. And some fellow wrote his own tune for 'Yellow Submarine,' it was a whole new tune and the fella made it up. 'So we sailed into the sea/In our yellow submarine
' (Paul sings in offhanded manner).
I liked that woman.
She could have been a star that woman, she was brilliant. She sings 'She Loves You' or something, she's a real old dish. Could have been a star that one.
Has it been difficult for you putting together a new band? There would seem to be an extraordinary amount of pressure on you to come up with a group of musicians that could compete with the Beatles.
It was a bit touch and go at the beginning because it was a bit difficult for me to just suddenly develop a new band. Because let's face it, the Beatles played Hamburg for like a year solid, playing eight hours a day before we ever were anything. Then we still came back to Liverpool and played for years at these little places, Litherland Town Hall and the Aintree Institute. So it took a long time but that was the idea. We felt, 'Well, we can't take quite as long with this band but we're gonna kinda duck out of the press thing and do little anonymous gigs.
' We did our university tour we did and a Europe tour which was a bit more kind of press but we thought we've got to swallow our pride and go right ahead.
Were those considered breaking-in tours?
Definitely, for us. It was to get the band used to playing. Because if you get any five people, it's pretty hard to get a band out of it unless you've been going a year or so. It takes that long for five people to begin to understand each other.
After playing with the same three musicians for such a long time, was it difficult to find new players? When you chose the people in Wings, were they your first choices?
Yeah, they were all first choices. I didn't do it like thinking, 'OK, who are the best musicians in the world?
' and get it together like that. It was all done very kind of random, really; there was like a great element of randomness in it. I went to New York and we auditioned drummers which everyone said later was about the uncoolest thing you can do because these drummers are like the world's top. And there's me, I just got them all down in a basement and said, 'Alright, lads
' And they're sitting there and there's no band, each drummer is just sitting there. But Denny (Seiwell) was the one who kind of appealed to me; I thought he looks good, he sings, and he can drum great. And he's picking up a lot of compliments now from musicians who think he's a red hot drummer.
Brinsley really digs him, Brinsley's drummer goes crazy over Denny. That's Billy (Rankin).
Was that your idea to bring Brinsley Schwarz on the tour?
We did that special, that TV special, and that was kind of the end of our breaking-in period. We really hadn't played very well, I don't think any of us thought we played very well as a band up until the end of that special. And the last night, we did a concert for the special which we didn't dig too much, it just didn't get enough on for us. It was a bit of a dead audience.
And the audience was just sitting there all hot.
And they were all lit (with lights) and it was very. But we did a gig at the Hard Rock Caf in London which is a real tiny, little thing for kind of charity. And Brinsley Schwarz were on before us and they kind of warmed it all up and they got a standup. Once you've heard a band rock a bit you can't go on and not rock, you've got to play better. So we thought,'Great,' and we went on after Brinsley and that was the first night we thought we played at all well. We were all double made up with that night. We rocked a bit that night.
What are you going to do for a second encore? You'll have to have one now.
There are a lot of features with the act that are still a bit raw. Our opening is still possibly a bit raw, and the end we could go on a bit longer, but this is all fine tuning. The thing for us, the way we've done it is the idea of having places to go still. This is only our third thing really - university tour, European tour and this.
Do you consider these extra dates to the main Wings tour?
|"There are a lot of features with the act that are still a bit raw."|
These are extra dates because you can't leave out Newcastle if you're doing Britain and you can't leave out Birmingham. We almost left Glasgow out and just did Edinborough which would have been terrible. Sheffield was another scruff town, Joe Cocker's hometown. Drinkers. They're all good places we had a little round of applause for Joe.
Glasgow was left out and I said we've got to do Glasgow. That was my favorite gig.
There are certain places in England which are just scruff towns where a lot of scruffy people live, a lot of common great people, salt of the earth people. Liverpool is one, Glasgow is another, Newcastle is another. Birmingham is almost like that. It's got 'em (scruffs) but it's not Glasgow, it's not Liverpool. Those are the best audiences. We played two shows there (Liverpool) and the second show was just ridiculous. Because it was hometown and we had returned to the hometown and we were a bit apprehensive.
Do you have any idea when you'll be coming to the States?
I hear my visa is coming through in the next couple of weeks - we hope anyway. The man who can give me a visa has said he doesn't see any reason why I shouldn't have one. A man called Mr. Javitz. Senator Javitz. I just hope he's not messed up in the Watergate thing. He's supposed to be a good man and Linda's dad knows him. Linda's dad is a lawyer in New York and he's a great bloke, a good lad.
Paul, is getting busted going to hinder you getting into the States.
Well that's the whole hindrance, that's the whole bit - the drugs charge.
We haven't been there since Ram because of that bust.
The great laugh is, neither case was because we were even caught smoking it or anything. The first case was because we were trying to receive it (marijuana) through the post but we never actually received it. But it was coming through the post and it was addressed to us; it was just some daft guy working in the office who didn't know. And he sends it 'To Denny Seiwell of Wings.
' And this big grass package arrives.
It wasn't even good grass.
And what was the second case?
The second case was we were trying to grow it and by the time we got to court the plants were full-grown bloody things.
When they brought this thing in court it was dead.
We got this old white-haired Scotch judge and he was great actually, he was a good lad. He let us off. He wasn't hard, he wasn't out to get us kind of thing. He said, 'Can I have a look at those? I've never seen a plant cannabis. I don't know what it looks like. Can I have a look at it?
' And then the court brings up this big cannabis plant. If it had been a film it would have been a great film because I'm standing there in this suit, this bloody suit, trying to look civilized. And I say, 'It wasn't me, your honor; I've got a suit on. Couldn't be me!
' I'm standing up there and the whole of Campbell Town is at the back, all in the stranger's gallery. In the end then it was a laugh because our QC, our lawyer came up and he was a bit smart that fella I must say. A cheeky fella. Because the judge said, 'Right, fined one-hundred pounds.
' Because the other side was saying, 'Seeing as he's wealthy, I think you should fine him a real big fine and really hurt him with it.
' So the judge said, 'OK, a hundred pounds
' which wasn't really very severe. And our fellow who was a bit cheeky said, 'Excuse me, me lord, I'd like to ask for fourteen days to pay.
' I saw my cousin yesterday and he said when he heard that he thought that was very cheeky. He said, 'Flying in on a chartered jet and asking for fourteen days to pay a hundred pounds.
Do you think it's simply because you were a Beatle that America has made it so difficult for you to get a U.S. visa?
I suppose so, yeah. Because a lot of other people who have done the same thing all got in. John has had problems getting out. Again, it's the same thing, he's too public a figure. You've had certain people with a bit of dropsy here and there and they get in. We've had to be a bit more legal about it. The Faces kind of thing, they've had a few problems with it. But we have to watch it.
Getting back to music for a minute, were you pleased with Red Rose Speedway as a progression from Wild Life?
Yeah, fairly pleased with that one. We liked that one. After we do these dates, we do Newcastle and then we finish and go into a bit of rehearsal and work up the new songs.
Didn't you say about five years ago that you'd like to get a band together and just turn up? Just do a gig.
That's what we did on the university tour exactly. The first night we turned up at Nottingham University and just because it was the first university we could find. We went to big towns and actually, I think we thought of the university idea on the road. When we started off we thought, 'We're going north on the M1and were gonna try and find places to play.
' And so we're in the van there, storming up the M1, and we're gonna try and find places to play.
I had just joined the band and we thought, 'Let's just try it out and see what happens.
It was great because we'd just pull up somewhere and ask for a gig and every place we got a gig.
We arrived at Nottingham University very late at night, a bit wasted, a bit out of it, and Trevor and Ian, two roadies, just went into the university and saw the student's union. Went up to the student's union and just said, 'Have you got a gig? Can you give us a hall?
' We told them 'Don't even say who it is,
' just try and get a gig. Eventually they said, 'Look, it's cool, it's Paul McCartney and Wings and it's gonna be a good show.
Did they believe it?
No, they didn't believe it at first. We had to book a hotel because we hadn't booked any hotels or anything, it was really like gypsies. We found ourselves a hotel for the kids, dogs, the lot, and we turned up at the university the next day. The man had a table by the door and he just charged 50p entrance, the normal kind of dance fee. We went on and did the thing and they all sat down on the floor and they all dug it, all the university students, and that was why it was good. We surprised them.
The aim was just to have a band, pure and simple. Have a good band. As to where we play, we're easy. We'll play down a pub if it's cool, if we feel like it and they like it. But that's the thing for us, we won't naturally just play 50,000-seaters. That's' the interesting thing, we got Denny from New York, we auditioned some drummers there, and I knew Denny (Laine) was a good guitarist and good singer and stuff. So I just rang Denny up. And Henry was a kind of friend of Denny's and Ian's and he turned up one day at a rehearsal we were doing.
Drunk again. We didn't really know, we were just thinking about it and stuff and he turned up and he played good and stuff and that's the kind of thing I meant about the element of random. It wasn't like, 'OK, now let's audition another fifty guitarists and let's see who's who and what's what.
' We just thought, 'Great, let's see how it goes
' and we had a band together then. It worked out good.
Everybody got to know each other; you know me, I know you, and we took each other for what it is. We were a little bit scared of each other.
It started off we were a little bit apprehensive and it was 'Who's this we've got in the group?
' but we managed to cool out.
Did you have plans from the beginning to include Linda?
|"That's the thing for us, we won't naturally just play 50,000-seaters."|
Yeah, Linda was a kind of first inclusion because we'd done Ram together. I worked her so hard in New York because it was all very well having Linda on harmonies but I'm not having her do bum harmonies. So I only worked her like mad. I mean she had never done it before, she'd never done a thing before. If you listen to Ram, all those harmonies on there are just me and Linda. Pretty good, some of them. It was quite hard work as I said. I worked her hard on that album. There was a bit of (mimics Linda), 'What do you mean I'm singing flat?
' But in the end it was OK and we did it.
You must have noticed tonight that the more rock tunes you did created a bigger response. Will you emphasize those more and more?
That's what we're thinking, that's the way we're going to include a few more of those kinds of numbers. The main thing in performance, an average audience always go for numbers they know. Witness tonight when we did 'C Moon;' as soon as we hit 'C Moon,' which was a hit in Britain but not in the States, how the audience reacted.
On the university tour, we did some numbers twice.
But rather than go back, we'd like to do new numbers in the same vein. And on the next album we'll have another bunch of numbers from which to choose. And by the time that album is done the whole act will be there.
What are the differences between America and Britain? Do they have specific musical tastes?
About 3000 miles! How do you find America? Would you believe I don't know really. The only thing I used to think was their dress sense was worse. I used to think they were never very in what they dressed in.
Would you change anything musically so it was more suitable for America?
I don't think so, no. I think by the time we go to the States there will have been a few changes made, but we'll still use the same basic act when we come back Britain.
How did it feel getting back on stage?
It's now beginning to feel really good. It feels good to have a gig. If you're just recording it's very nice but you get a bit sterile. It's a bit testtube, a bit like being in the laboratory. And if you go out and play, it's the difference between sex and artificial insemination. Do you get what I mean? That's what I think audiences. It's true enough, isn't it?
There was a period when all the other Beatles were taking shots at each other. How did that feel?
During that period it was a weird little period, everyone was a bit bitchy. But it's over, I reckon. And if it isn't I don't mind because anyone who does it is blowing it.
Do you see much of the other ex-Beatles?
The other lads? Well, Ringo lives in London so see I see a bit of him. I've seen George a little bit and I saw John in New York. No, we don't really keep much up. The fact is we were the Beatles kind of thing but I'm now in a new band. So you don't keep up your old contacts. Like Denny doesn't keep up with the Moody Blues. It's nothing against them.
Do you get any satisfaction from your predictions about what was going to happen financially and management-wise? You've been proved right when they didn't follow your route.
I feel a bit of satisfaction but I don't feel smug about it. I keep cool about it because I don't want to turn around and say, 'I told you so.
' I knew all along that the manager who was in at the time wasn't the right man. I tell you, I'm mainly satisfied that it's over, I don't care if I was right or whatever1. I'm just glad that we were able to get our hands on it in the end.
Are there still possibilities of a Beatles reunion?
I don't know really. What I say is if we just kinda get friendly and cool and if anyone wants to work with the other - I done a little bit on Ringo's new album and the other two did too. And those kind of little things we're all happy to do. But a definite no to the Beatles reforming because I think it's gone too far. I think if the Beatles had broken up for a week and then reformed, there was a possibility. But it can't go two years and reform again. But I'm quite happy in the knowledge that we started off, we did all that we were gonna do and we finished. And now for me the whole trip is I've got a new band and it's much more exciting. It's a whole new thing and like going right back to the beginning again.
Being on stage, then, must be a natural place for you.
You see I've always been, I suppose, a bit shy about getting up on stage. I remember the first time I ever got up on stage, I hauled my brother up with me. He had his arm in a cast, he'd broken his arm at scout camp, and I brought him up there with me. I brought my guitar with me and guess what I sang? 'Long Tall Sally.' I was eleven and still doing it.
2007 Steven Rosen