Paul’s public comments about his own music are littered with comments from “regular people”. It’s as if he values their estimation of his work more than his own. The most recent example of such a comment was made during a McCartney interview with Pitchfork while promoting the archive edition of Ram.
Years after I made it, one of my New York nephews, who was in his early 20s, said, “Ram‘s my favorite album. I just love it, man. We play it in college and all that.” It totally took me by surprise. And that awoke my interest in the album. Then I started to hear the same thing from a number of people through the years.
One of the oldest Ram quotes along these lines was from late 1973 when interviewed by Paul Gambaccini. Gambaccini was poking around the question of how Paul views his work when Paul offered the following comment about someone liking Ram:
There were a lot of bum notices after Ram. But I keep meeting people wherever I go, like I met someone skiing. As he skiied past me he said “I loved Ram Paul.” So that’s really what I go by, just the kind of people who flash by me in life.
McCartney has the most unusual way of evaluating his own work in public. He seems to dig what he’s doing while he’s doing it. After that, his convictions and public statements diverge as he hears back from the general public and professional critics.
In the same interview, just prior to telling the story about the skier, Paul said “I don’t like criticism whatsoever”. That isn’t particularly surprising. What is noteworthy about the comment is how absolute it is. I’ve never known an artist who enjoyed being criticized (except arguably Neil Young – but I don’t know him!), but it’s certainly part of the job.
Supposedly, he wasn’t going to put out the material that eventually became McCartney II. Then some friends asked if it was his next album, which it then became. In that case, he thought the tracks were un-releasable, or shouldn’t be released. Then he decided that they should all be released as a double album.
Truth: Paul Loves His Music – All Of It
I think that Paul absolutely loves probably 90% of his work. I’d bet he thinks it’s brilliant and would argue the point. He might think less of a few things, but overall I believe his personal estimation of his own work is probably very high. What he says in public is pure politics. He only admits to liking what everyone else likes. His positive remarks on McCartney II were made within the context that the underground electronica scene likes that album (how true that is, I have no idea). He placed his positive comments within the context of “other people like it too”. Yet even on tracks that were more traditional, it’s clear that he admires his work. He has a great memory of the details for seemingly every track – the where, why, how, etc… He could easily talk about “Waterfalls” or “On The Way” as much as “The Fool On The Hill”. Another interesting display of Paul’s memory and seeming respect for his own work is in his commentary for The McCartney Years DVD.
Of course, unless we’re privy to Paul’s thoughts, there is no way to know what he really thinks. Everything he says is “public”. However, there is a difference between a DVD commentary and an interview with Rolling Stone. Paul is extremely conservative in what he admits to liking when dealing with high profile publications such as major magazines and television. When he is less visible, such as in a book, a DVD commentary, or an interview he believes won’t ever be published, he talks about his work differently. The only way to guess what he really thinks is to read between the lines and compare. Of course, when it’s something low profile, Paul is less guarded and will talk at length about say, “Pretty Little Head”.
When it comes to the Wild Life deluxe edition, he’ll probably agree that it wasn’t a great album, but he’ll describe it as a “funky little album”, and quirky, and lo-fi, and unlike anything else. And he’ll be telling the truth about what he really thinks. Since there has never (to my knowledge) been a sustained argument that Wild Life is a great album, I don’t think Paul will make that case. But since many of the tracks have received positive re-evaluation, I think he’ll go with that and tell us why he agrees.
Here is what he previously said about Wild Life
Critics didn’t like Wild Life when it came out so I started thinking like them, that it was rubbish. Then, when I heard it a couple of years later, I really liked it and found it interesting. Okay, it didn’t make me the biggest blockbuster around but I don’t think you them all the time. I like to have a couple of albums like that because it adds to the whole thing, really. But what made Wild Life okay for me was when I saw this fella heading for the hills in California holding a copy of Wild Life. So someone liked it.
Given that Paul has to (or has decided to) comment on each album in promotional material, and within the actual contents of the presentation, the Archive series might be one of the most creatively courageous things he’s ever done. He’s being cautious by putting out the best albums first. McCartney II was the exception and yet he went on record and basically said it was great. Even doing something like packaging “Bogey Music”, let alone something like “All You Horseriders”, in such lavish packaging and charging $90 for it, is ballsy. It’s an encouraging sign.