Whatever Paul McCartney says or does is news. In September, when he went to give a concert in Israel—making up for the Beatles concert that the Israeli government forbade at the last moment, 43 years ago—he was attacked by some pro-Palestinian critics for ”singing to the enemy.” No matter the ”enemy” audience was perhaps 20 per cent Arab, or that he also used his trip to visit Edward Said’s music school on the West Bank. When he sang, he also—in his trademark low-key, non-preachy way—pointed his audience in the direction of compromise and healing.
One of the prices of Paul’s fame is to see his honest words and thoughts twisted almost out of recognition. I saw this happen close up last week when my long conversation with him was published in Prospect. It seems that the press has a mindset about the McCartney-John Lennon relationship that demands anything that Paul says be squeezed into a mould—even if the words don’t really fit at all.
The story was spun a certain way in the British newspapers, led by the Sunday Times. Then the wire service, Associated Press, carried the story around the world, where it was printed in literally hundreds of papers. One report, and the world is given misleading information by editors too uncaring or unmotivated or just plain lazy to make a call to Prospect to ask for the original wording. Not one journalist called me.
The fact is that the interview carries not a word of rivalry with John Lennon. Nor does it say anything about which Beatle discovered the Vietnam war first, (the main themes of the Sunday Times/AP story). There is no foundation for the allusions the story made to McCartney’s (mythical) claim, at Lennon’s expense, to have written the best of the Beatles’ tunes.
The interview runs to about 5,000 words. The discussion on the Vietnam war is perhaps a dozen lines of that. There is one mention of Lennon—when Paul describes how he returned from a conversation with Bertrand Russell to tell the other three what he had heard from the old philosopher about the evils of the war in Vietnam.
I met Paul at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys over 50 years ago. We were classmates. We played cricket together and I witnessed the first Beatles’ concert when he and George Harrison (in the year behind us) played for our class on the the last day of school. We yelled like groupies!
We have stayed in touch. In May, I sent Paul the column that I wrote on the newspaper hype about the 40th anniversary of the student rebellion in Paris. We decided to meet and discuss our lives and what had made us want to fight racism and war.
We met twice and talked—about school, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, right through to the Russian invasion of Georgia. On the way we discussed literature and the impact of FR Leavis on the writing of “Eleanor Rigby” and Paul’s feelings on the likelihood that his songs will still be sung in 500 years’ time.
Paul is a self-effacing, intelligent man. He may grab the spotlight on the stage. But he has no need to twist history. And neither should the press when reporting on him.