Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A fan who happens to be a journalist meet Paul

I have often thought that if you worked for a newspaper or magazine or if you were a photographer, then you would have a better chance of meeting one of the Beatles than if you were say an elementary school teacher (cough cough).   But what if the big moment comes and you have to play it cool, like you are a super geeky Beatles fan?   That is the predicament journalist David Gritten found himself in during Paul's Broadstreet media blitz in 1984. 

I found this article in the January 1985 issue of With a little help from my friends.  It is reprinted from the January 20, 1985 edition of "Newsday" and interestingly enough Lizzie Bravo is the person that submitted it to WALHFMF, so she is the person to thank for having this story! 

A photo taken during one of Paul's many interviews

Fan taken photo of Paul before or after a day of interviews

Meeting Paul McCartney
By David Gritten
From the January 20, 1985 edition of “Newsday”

Seated on a sofa outside the Polo Lounge at the Beverly hills hotel, I watched the rich and famous come and go and tried in vain to look as casual and languid as everyone around me.  Inside, thought, a tourniquet of anxiety was tightening somewhere in the region of my solar plexus – in about 10 minutes, I would arise and take an elevator to an upstairs suite, where Paul McCartney was awaiting me.  I would interview him for an hour or so, and in the spirit of the artificial nature of these meetings, we would be polite, urbane, witty and quotable – rather like two civilized friends enjoying quality conversation.

This is how celebrity interviews go, all things being equal.  I’ve done hundred.  But McCartney was to by my first Beatle, and that explained my impending anxiety attack – I knew that with a curt word, a dismissive gesture, he could crush me.   The tourniquet tightened further.  Could I last the hour without saying something so utterly stupid that he’d shoot a derisive glance from under those big, hooded eyes and mentally dismiss me from his world forever?

Clearly, this was no reasonable state of mind for a sane man of 36 to be in.  But if you’re 36 or thereabouts, and grew up with the Beatles, you’ll understand why actually meeting one might reduce you to such a state.  For knowing kids of my age, the Beatles’ songs proved an ever-present soundtrack to the movie of our adolescence.  Any one of us can probably affix a pivotal teenage memory to a dozen of their songs.  For me, “all my Loving” immediately evokes an awkward, fumbling first kiss:  “don’t bother me” brings back the tentative donning of a back polo-neck sweater, as worn by the Fab four themselves.

Of course, the songs became more than standard teen-drama fantasies.  “Help!” was an anthem for every alienated kid who felt sensitive, unique and misunderstood:  “Happiness is a warm gun” seems like a savagely ironic anti-war, anti-establishment statement which heightened our political awareness.  They were even more:  In Britain, especially, the Beatles told a generation of kids it was okay to be working class, strident, confident and cheeky.  They blew away the sense of life having to be secure, predictable and dull that prevailed in the 1950s and literally liberated us from the limits of our expectations.  The Beatles told us that, indeed, the British Empire was sinking beneath the waves of historical progress and that was no reason not to have fun. 

I’d been aware of Paul McCartney since I was a 14 year old schoolboy back in Britain, and I’d watched fascinated as the Beatles stormed my country, then the world. Of the four, I’d particularly identified with Paul.  I was a little baby faced too.  Left-handed like him, I’d mimed playing bass McCartney style with a broom handle in front of my bedroom mirror, lip synching such songs as “I saw her Standing There” until I was word perfect. 

His penchant for collarless Cardin jackets and boots with Cuban heels had impressed me, and I slavishly followed suit when he abruptly dropped them form his wardrobe.  My home became a war zone as, to my parents’ horror, Paul’s hair hit earlobe length, and then almost should length, and mine vainly tried to keep pace.  I casually scoured the high schools of my native Birmingham for a cool auburn beauty to compare with Paul’s girlfriend, Jane Asher.  I’d been puzzled when he ditched Jane, defensive when he made his silly pilgrimage to see the Maharishi, and taken aback (though still supportive) when he admitted taking acid.  Over a seven year period, I listened over and over to every Beatle record, saw their movies, bought their merchandise and absorbed trivia about them.  Oh yes, Paul McCartney and I go back a long way. 

I confided none of this to the woman next to me on the sofa outside the Polo Lounge.  She was Anne Knudsen, a colleague and photographer who was there to shoot pictures of Paul for my story.  I figured strongly that Anne, who was in her late 20s, might just be a little young to grasp fully the import of this occasion.   There was something I wanted to broach to her, but today she seemed a tad subdued, in contrast to her normally, effervescent personality.

“You know,” she said suddenly, “this is probably the most famous person we’ll ever meet.”  She grinned disarmingly.   “Have you been thinking that?”

I decided to take my chances with her.  “Look,” I said, “while McCartney and I are talking, do you think you could, ummm….”

“Shoot some pictures of the two of you together?”
“For a souvenir?”
“You don’t think it’s unprofessional?”
“Hell no!” said Anne cheerily.  “I intend to ask him for his autograph.  And I’ve NEVER done that.  But this is Paul McCartney, isn’t it?”

She rummaged around in her camera bag, and pulled out a slip of white paper.  It was the assignment slip I’d written for the photo department to request that I photographer should accompany me.  In the section where you dash off a few notes for the photographer’s guidance, I’d written, “PAUL McCARTNEY- He’s an obscure English pop singer, but we think he may have a future.”

“Think he’ll sign that?” said Anne.  “Maybe I’ll ask after we’re through, right?”

And so we trudged upstairs to meet McCartney.  Ours was not the only interview that day – we were actually sandwiched in between two others – but that didn’t detract from the occasion.  He greeted us warmly, immediately asked what part of the old country I was from, and to my delight, did a more than passable version of a Birmingham accent.

McCartney was dressed in black trousers and a short-sleeved shirt with green and black checks.  He looked cool, tan and relaxed.  His hair was modishly short, and his sideburns now nonexistent, which made him look younger than his 42 years.  Creases around his eyes were heavier than I’d expected, but his ingenuous grin and his wide-eyed gaze conspired to make him look as boyish as in his prime.
I’d actually said hello to him two night previously, surrounded by perhaps 800 people – an appallingly crowded press reception in a Beverly Hills restaurant.  “Say hello to someone from the old country, then!”  I roared above the deafening gathering, “I’m interviewing you later this week!”  He smiled briefly.  “Oh yeah?  Good.  How’s it going then?”  McCartney said just before being whisked away to face more cameras.  I was convinced he’d never remember me.  Wrong. 

“Ah, my English friend,” he said, extending a hand as we strolled into the suite.  “I was wondering when I’d catch up with you.”  This was a flattering start, and we arranged ourselves to talk on a chaise lounge.  “Could we have a cup of tea?” he asked a public relations aide.  “I mean a decent cup of tea, if that’s possible.”  And he shot me a sly, conspiratorial wink.  I asked him how he had coped with the crush of that previous night.  “Oh, I like all that kind of stuff, really,” he said airily, “I mean, it’s only like a Liverpool pub on a Saturday night, isn’t it?  Well, you know that.”   In the space of two minutes he had co-opted me into his terms of reference. 

For the next hour, we talked nonstop, and it was a warm, friendly, sometimes funny conversation.  McCartney has the habit of putting those around him at their ease -- I felt almost as if I were talking to say, a cousin who’d emigrated when I was in my teens, but with whom I shared a host of references and memories from childhood.

I think it was Derek Taylor, the erstwhile Beatles press officer, who wrote that McCartney has the knack of focusing on the people’s he’s with, turning those big, mournful eyes of his on them, and making them feel that, very sincerely, they’re the most important person in his life.  Ten minutes later, when their backs are turned, said Taylor, he’d be doing the same trick to someone else.  But I didn’t care.  Somewhere on the periphery of my consciousness I could hear the shutter of Anne’s camera clicking away.  Time stood still, and I was in heaven.

What we actually talked about in on tape, I’ve played it back, but it’s more subtext than substance that I remember.  I asked him about his new movie, “Give my Regards to Broadstreet” (which he was in Los Angeles to promote).  We talked about his family, about his taste in music, the other two surviving Beatles, about coping with fame.

Of course, I really wanted to ask him about Jane Asher and the Cuban heels and the Cardin jackets and the length of his hair and the Maharishi, but I knew enough o know such questions weren’t appropriate.  Some of his feelings about that stuff are private to him, and they’ll always be private to me, too.  Only once, I fancy, did I catch him off guard.  He was telling me how he missed John Lennon’s input when he wrote songs.  “I’d written a song called ‘Getting Better,’” he said, “and for some reason it wasn’t quite right.”  “Yes,” I said, “and then John came along and suggested the line ‘It couldn’t get much worse.’”  McCartney’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly.  “How did you know that?” he said, puzzled.  “Oh,” I said,, reddening, “I must have read it somewhere, I suppose.”  I changed the subject rapidly, not wishing him to think I was some dangerous, trivia-obsessed nut.
Everything else went smoothly.  He signed Anne’s assignment slip, and laughed politely at my written wisecrack.  We all shook hands cordially and said our goodbyes breezily as though we did this regularly, and we’d meet to do it again the following week.

Anne rushed off to get her pictures printed, and to get her assignment slip framed and mounted, and I returned to the office to write my story.  It hadn’t been an average interview, that was for sure, and I felt both elated, because I’d acquitted myself well, and frustrated, because I could have sat there for six more hours.  Because I had that much to ask.  Because I felt I knew him that well.

Driving back along the palm-lined boulevards of Beverly Hills, I thought again about Derek Taylor’s rather tart putdown of Paul.  Yes, he done exactly that to me.  Yes, I’d been manipulated.  Sure, I thought Paul was a nice guy.  But then, wasn’t it just a sophisticated form of defense mechanism to protect his privacy?  Today, any minor-league starlet with a bit part in a prime-time sitcom is wont to complain she can’t go shopping without being stopped by fans.  But if you’re Paul McCartney, that loss of privacy goes deeper.  All your life, you’re meeting people about whom you know nothing, but who seem to know everything about you.  A couple of times in our interview, I’d inadvertently proved the point.

And given the fact that it must be wearing on the psyche to meet people constantly on such unequal terms of familiarity, I’d say, despite Taylor, that he handles himself with grace and wit and charm.  Still, don’t expect an objective, detached opinion about McCartney from me.  I’m just a fan.

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