Paul McCartney Interview about film `Magical Mystery Tour' (1967, December 27)
|While the film "Magical Mystery Tour" is historically regarded as a very early advance into the music video age, it was universally bashed by critics following its first airing in black and white on BBC-TV. The next evening following the program's initial telecast, David Frost invited Paul McCartney to discuss what had already become known as the Beatles' first critical failure.
Q: "The Beatles' music brings unanimous enthusiasm and approval pretty well. Last night their television show did not bring unanimous enthusiasm and approval, and everyone seems to be discussing it today. Here is the man most responsible, Mr. Paul McCartney."
Paul: "Good evening, Mr. Frost."
Q: "Good evening, Mr. McCartney. Why don't you think that the critics liked this film?"
Paul: "I don't know, you know. They just didn't seem to like it. I quite liked it myself."
Q: "Well, I liked it. I didn't see it last night because I was busy, but I saw it today, and I liked it... I mean, with reservations and so on. But why were people so puzzled by it?"
Paul: "I think they thought it was 'bitty,' which it was a bit. You know, but it was supposed to be like that. I think alot of people were looking for a plot, and there wasn't one." (laughs)
Q: "I saw it in color. That sort of helped, too."
Paul: "We thought we could just do a thing... See, we've been waiting for a couple of years now to make another feature film. and we've been asking people to write stories and write plots. But nobody's come up with one, you know. So we thought, 'We'll do something which isn't like that,' which isn't like a real film inasmuch as it's got a story and a beginning and... We'll just do a selection of, you know - We'd put together alot of things that we like the look of, and see what happens. (pause) I liked it. (laughs)
Q: "Did you have a point in mind when you... I mean, some point to get across at all when you did this?"
Paul: "No. See, that's the trouble, seriously. You gotta do everything with a point or an aim, but we tried this one without anything - with no point and no aim. It's like, you know, we make a record album and all the songs don't necessarily have to fit in with each other, you know. They're just a selection of songs. But when you go to make a film, I don't know, you seem to have to have a thread to pull it all together. We thought that doing a mystery tour, you know - it's all happening on a bus to this group of people - would be enough of a thread. and then, calling it a magical mystery tour, which - like a firm advertises a magical mystery tour, and you go on it, and it really is magic - then anything might happen, and it WOULDN'T have a thread if it was magic."
Q: "What's the difference between what you were trying to do here, and say - if you took an EP, which most people have of Magical Mystery Tour - and played that while looking at a kalidescope?"
Q: "What's the difference between that and what you did? I mean, was that what you were trying to do?"
Paul: "That's the thing, you know, that there's no real difference between that - except that we had people in the kalidescope, and we had things happening. But, I mean, it's not really all that disconnected. The trouble is, that uhh, if you watch it a second time it does grow on you. and this is one thing we forgot, because when you make a record - alot of people listen to our records and say, 'Well, I don't like that one,' you know. But the second time 'round they say, 'Not bad.' and after a few plays they say..."
Q: (jokingly) "Well, now the BBC are going to show it seventeen times. Just sign the thing today."
Paul: "Yeah. (laughs)
Q: "Is the fact that it didn't get across to alot of people - does that fact alter your opinion of it? Do you say, 'Right. It seems to have failed?' Or do you still think it's precisely as good as if people had said it was very good?"
Paul: "Yeah. I think it's as good as I always thought it was. But when we were making it, I think all of us thought, 'This has got a very thin plot. We hope this idea of doing a thing without a plot works, because the one thing we're gonna be able to say is - It hasn't got a plot.' But yeah. We thought, 'You don't need a plot. You don't always need one.' Because, like, the things you did today probably didn't have much of a plot."
Q: "Oh, I was plotting all day."
Q: "But no, I can see it. Would you call it a success or a failure today?"
Paul: "Uhh, it's both. You know, it's a Success Failure."
Paul: "You can't say it was a success, you know, 'cuz the papers didn't like it. and that seems to be what people read to find out what's a success. But I think it's alright. I think the next one will be alot better, and it will have a fat plot... as opposed to a thin plot."
Q: "But, I mean, what is success then? How would you define that?"
Paul: "I don't know. I wouldn't try. I suppose, you know - I don't know how many people liked it who saw it."
Q: "How many people here liked it?"
Paul: (judging the show of hands) "There's a few, you know. It wasn't much of a success!" (laughs)
Q: "They like YOU much more than they liked IT, you see. (to the audience) But I mean, you better watch it again and again on BBC."
Paul: (jokingly) "Seventeen times."
Q: "Can it be a success when people don't like it?"
Paul: "It obviously matters. If this morning, we'd awoke to find fantastic reviews then we would have all said, 'It's a success.' and I wouldn't have been on tonight, David."
Paul: "But it doesn't matter all that much, 'cuz people said about two of our records, like - 'Strawberry Fields' and 'I Am The Walrus' to name but two. They said, 'Those are terrible,' you know, 'You can't talk about Let-Your-Knickers-Down on telly. You can't do it.'"
Paul: "But you can, you know. I just done it!"
Paul: "and it's alright, you know. Because, in about a year or two, these things that didn't look like successes will look a bit more like successes... you know, as people get into that kind of thing."
Q: "You said today, somewhere, that if this first film that you made yourselves had been a rave, then there wouldn't have been a point in doing any more. What did you mean?"
Paul: "There would have been a point, but it wouldn't have been as much of a challenge to do the next one. At least now we know that we've got not all that much to live up to. (laughs)
Q: "How often do you have a message, actually? Do you often say, 'I hope a point gets across to people out there'?"
Paul: "Umm, no. I never say that. But everything has a message - but you can't just pick out one little thing and say, 'Is that their message.' You know, everything we do is never intended to have a great deep message - But it has. Like everything you do, like everything everybody does."
Q: "Like when John and George were talking about the Maharishi, they were saying that the main sort of point of his massage was 'Know thy self,' and so on. Is that what you..."
Paul: "It's got to be... It's the only point in anything anybody does ever, if you just get to know what it is you're doing. We don't do it deliberately - like 'Okay, we gotta get this message over in our songs.' We just do songs. But if you ask the question about the message, I think there is one there. I still don't know what it is."
Q: "It's there, but you don't know what it is."
Paul: "But I'm trying." (laughs)
Q: "By the seventeenth time..."
Paul: (jokingly) "...I should know. Yeah."
Q: "When you approach something like this, do you all equally feel the same sort of thing, like - do you all have a sort of kinship of feeling about the Maharishi? Or about the approach to this film, for instance? Or do you all not?"
Paul: "No. Like any four people it varies. We don't all exactly feel the same thing. It's pretty near though, that's why we've kept going as we have, you know. Because we happen to be pals, so we've got nearly the same kind of attitudes about most things."
Q: "How do you catagorize yourself? I mean, people think of Ringo as the clown, and George as the sort of mystic, and John as the rebel. What would you come out as?"
Paul: "Oh. I don't know. (pause) I keep hearing that I am 'The Cute One.'"
Paul: (laughs) "I don't know."
Q: "You've had five years of all this, now... looking at everything from a very special vantage point. Do you, in general, sort of respect the human race more now... having seen it close range in this way for five years?"
Paul: "Yeah. Of course, you know. The human race is fantastic - but what the human race does, I'm not always so keen on that as I used to be."
Q: "How do you mean?"
Paul: "Well, the human race does some fantastic things, and that's another program."
Q: "Well, we'll get it into this one."
Paul: "Okay, well, you know the kind of thing I mean. Before you come into showbiz, you tend to think 'It's great, it's fantastic,' and 'That's my aim in life is to be rich and famous,' and you can't see much more beyond that, you know. But, once you're rich and famous, you start to wonder what it is you're actually doing. It can be disappointing if you suddenly realize that everyone is fighting and everyone is messing it up generally... for themselves, folks. I don't blame ya 'cuz I do it too. But we got to get together on this thing, David."
Q: "What did you decide, when you were rich and famous, was the point of what you were doing?"
Paul: "The point? I can't see a point. I think the point is just to do it to the best of your ability. Do it as best as you can, you know, and to try and help. That's the only point I can see is just to try and help yourself and others. It sounds very christian, and it is."
Q: "What are people doing to 'mess things up'?"
Paul: "For a kickoff, people still believe that thing about 'We gotta fight, because if we don't fight, they'll fight us.' and so everyone keeps the myth of war going. It's a bit silly because they're killing each other off and fighting and shooting. and then, all the little follow-ups to that kind of thought."
Q: "It always strikes me that, while you're associated with all these new movements that come up, or whether people call them Flower Power, or whatever - that YOU particularly tend to become impatient with simplified vague explanations - like the phrase 'Make love not war,' for instance."
Paul: "I don't mind the slogans that come out of it as long as they're good ones, like 'Make love not war.' It is over-simplified, but slogans have to be."
Q: "To what extent do you feel responsible for the effects that you can have on people in the sense that they'll do what you say? I mean, the obvious example is when you say something about LSD or something, people are slightly more likely to do what you say."
Paul: "I don't feel responsible because I'm always a bit suspiscious of people who say they're responsible, becuase they're not really straight ordinary people - it always seems to be a politician getting up and saying 'These boys are responsible for the nations morals.' and he says 'I am, and we'll do our best when we get in if you'll let us.' and when they get in, they don't. and they're not really responsible. People that say they're responsible always cop out on responsiblity. So I don't feel really responsible. But at the same time I don't want to hinder things."
Q: "For instance, when you said the thing - I know it's months old..."
Paul: "No no, these people - they asked me. You know, that was the trouble. They said to me, 'Have you ever had LSD?' and I said, 'Uhh, yes.' and that was it, you know. and it was a big newspaper story, and I was made to look as though I'd said to the whole nation, 'Take LSD,' you know. and I haven't. I just said, 'Yes, I've taken it.' and, uhh, maybe it would've been better if I'd said, 'No, I haven't.' But maybe it would have also been better if they hadn't have asked me."
Q: "Right. and what would you say now to the young people in this audience about drugs?"
Paul: "Don't bother, you know. There's not much point. There's no need for drugs, but theres no need for alot of things. Theres no need for alcohol either, and you know, it goes on and on. You can't just say drugs, because when you say drugs you gotta say 'and also don't drink whiskey,' and you sound like one of these fellas who says it!"
Paul: "and I'm not, you know."
Q: "Is there anything else that, if you ran into some of your contemporaries in Liverpool, is there anything with the fantastically special life you've had in the last five years that you've learned that you could tell them... that they might not realize about?"
Paul: "Umm... (long pause) I don't know, really. There's alot of hints I could offer. I don't know whether they'd take 'em, because I don't think I'd have ever taken 'em. Hints about if you're trying to make money. Alot of people don't realize how easy it is, because alot of people work there, with the boss there, and they're satisfied to do that."
Q: "How is it easy to make money?"
Paul: "Well, YOU know."
Q: (laughs) "But, I mean, I wouldn't have said 'easy.' That's the difference."
Paul: "I think that I always found it difficult to make money when I wasn't being myself. I really found it.... 'cuz I was being the fella in that position - that's what I thought I had to be. But I never realized that, in fact, you want the fella in this position to be himself, and not to say 'Yes, that's jolly good.' You want him to say, 'Well look, I'VE got a good idea for this.'"
Q: "Yeah, but are bosses as lovely as that?"
Paul: "No. and that brings you to good bosses... because they should do the same thing. They don't realize it either."
Q: "The difference is that you and I are in areas like television or music or whatever where there isn't a great organization and a great system, and sort of individual people with ideas that lead to the way for them to express their ideas. But there may not be that in, for instance, the police force or in the garment industry."
Paul: "Yeah, well, okay. I can only speak for my bit of it. I can tell them how to make money in entertainment."
Q: "What about the rest? Anything else other than the money side?"
Paul: "Right now, the only advice is the one that I've always had - to always be me-self."
Q: "and another thing - you don't TAKE advice, do you? I mean, you..."
Paul: "Well, because the advice is often to not be yourself, you know. It's like the show last night. The advice really, if we had taken it, after today's Trib would've been, 'You get a good choreographer, lads. A good director, producer. and get alot of money behind ya, and we'll have 5,000 dancing girls, and we'll have you hanging from a christmas tree. and it'll be great because it'll be...' and it's true, it would have been safe and set and everything. But we thought 'We'll try it our way, and if it doesn't work...' It doesn't matter too much that it wasn't the success that we'd hoped, you know, for that reason. Because still, at least we were able to be ourselves. and do what we thought was right."
Q: "and what you think is right, next time, may be different as a result of this experience."
Paul: "Yeah. But that's the only way you can learn, you know. If we'd learned by putting ourselves in someone else's hands and then letting them say, 'We've got to do the vaudeville here, then it isn't us doing it. and that's the point of what we've done. You know, we've always just made records according to how we thought they should have been made, and alot of people said, 'Well, that's not the way they're doing it now.' and we said, "We'll carry on and do 'em like this, and see if you like 'em when you get used to 'em.' and it's worked."
Source: Audio copy of the original interview