If you had some time on your hands on this summer weekend 50 years ago, you might have sat down to read the August 17, 1968 issue of the British music paper New Musical Express, as I did just now. (After being unable to find it online, I got on the eBay and had it dispatched from the UK.) The Beatles are on the cover, though John is mysteriously missing (what do you make of that, conspiracy theorists?). On page 3 Paul is interviewed by journalist Alan Smith, who begins thusly:

Hot sun on the back of my neck, exhaust fumes at the back of my throat, four friends in front of the tape recorder. Left to right Mr. Derek Taylor, Mr. James Paul McCartney, Mr. Peter Asher and Mr. Tony Bramwell, some of whom may be known to you. Hand reaches down to the recording button … push forward … raise the mike and speak.

From there things start to get a little weird. Smith asks Paul about plans for future films, and Paul answers evasively:

There’s films I’d like to make on my own, with not me in ’em, just people in ’em. Just anything films.

Films of what goes on. Films of grass. Films of people moving about.

One suspects, especially given the presence of Derek Taylor, that some cannabis was ingested before/during this interview, if not something stronger. Films of grass, indeed.

After that there’s a bit of passive/aggressive back-and-forth about money and motivation. Says Paul:

We’re dedicated to making what should be made, and incidentally – there’ll be money.

If you didn’t need money to get things, and if you got things by swapping ’em, then by a roundabout method we’d be dedicated to swapping.

Then the subject turns to the current state of The Beatles as a recording entity:

Whenever we lay off recording for a long period of time — which we do — we get out of the habit, and it’s not together and it’s not happening. It takes us a couple of weeks to get to know each other again and how we play.

For instance, when I went to L.A., I heard things on the radio that completely changed a lot of things I’d been thinking about music and about sounds I was hearing. So it made me write a couple of songs differently or arrange them differently.

So now it’s getting back to how it should be again … rockers … rocking! Which is where the Beatles should be and what we should be doing.

Well, maybe, if you leave out “Revolution 9” … which Paul would have liked to do. Though you could hardly call recent Paul songs like “Blackbird,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” and “Rocky Raccoon” rockers.

This is followed by a bit of talk about Apple, with Paul giving the usual line that “Apple is an organisation where you don’t have to (grovel), where if you’re good you get recognised.” That part is boring. It gets interesting again when Smith asks Paul about helping “cripples (or disabled persons, as my correspondent of last week tells me).” Paul’s answer is … um … shall we say, un-PC?

Cripples are not necessarily having a hard time of it. And if they are having a hard time of it … it’s their hard time. It is, man.

Say what, Paul? Smith, rather nonplussed, gives him a chance to walk that one back, but he doubles down.

Starvation in India doesn’t worry me one bit. Not one iota. It doesn’t, man.

And it doesn’t worry you, if you’re honest. You just pose.

And I guess you have to give Paul for being honest, though I wonder if Derek Taylor went pale at this point, envisioning a repeat of the “more popular than Jesus” controversy. But apparently you’re allowed to say things like that; I think Paul got a bit of grief for it, but no records were burned. (They didn’t have that many Beatles records in India to begin with.)

The interview concludes with a discussion of matters spiritual. Paul, according to Smith, “says he believes in something called God, but anything and everything is God.” The last printed sentences are as follows:

Long conversation and then, finally, a statement. “The Truth about Me,” says Paul, “is that I’m … Pleasantly Insincere.

“And that’s the Whole Truth, and nothing but.”

And there we have it — the pull quote, and good words for Paul’s tombstone: “Pleasantly Insincere.”

Which makes you wonder, if he knows that, why does he do it? Because it’s good for business? Because he’s uncomfortable letting his real self show?

Truth is, despite his jaunty surface, Paul may be the most unknowable of The Beatles. John at least talked about his issues in public, sometimes wrote songs about them; Paul crams his way down inside. I don’t think he means his cold-sounding words about cripples and India any more than he believes that ob-la-di, ob-la-da life goes on. He’s just playing a part.

Which is kind of too bad. I’m not spending any valuable hours feeling sorry for Paul McCartney, but I do think a dedication to pleasant insincerity has limited him as an artist. He’s written plenty of very lovely songs, but never dug very deep.

And this is getting pretty lengthy and heavy for what started as a Sunday afternoon’s distraction. I’m going to pull the plug now, but I’ll leave you with this item from page 6 of the NME; file under What Might Have Been.

Latest stories circulating in the music business suggest Eric Clapton may join the Rolling Stones, after the Cream disbands at Christmas.