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2003-Sep-13: Sir Paul's CNN Interview with Larry King

This evening, Sir Paul was interviewed (by telephone from London) about his first trip to Moscow on CNN's Larry King Live program. He was joined by Richard Shenkman, the editor of George Mason University's History News Network (from Seattle); Artemy Troitsky, the activist in the Russian rock movement, first rock D.J. and journalist in Russia, currently a division head for Russian state television, author of several books (from Moscow) and Sir David Frost, the acclaimed British journalist, television personality (in London with Sir Paul). Sir David is the host and contributing editor of "Paul McCartney in Red Square" which will be broadcast on A&E this Thursday, September 25.

Sir Paul was asked, what took him so long to get to Moscow?

"Oh, a number of things. (Hi Larry, by the way.) A lot of things really. I originally was going to finally get to Moscow just before 9/11 and I was at the time about to go back to England to do the show when 9/11 happened. So, I changed my plans, did the concert for New York, and so at the end of that what became a tour, I finally got to Moscow. But, in the early days, there were just a million reasons why we couldn't go."

How was the concert?

"The concert was fantastic. We had the best time. I felt like I was returning home. You know, obviously, with a song like Back in the USSR, I was keen to get there to play that song, see the reaction, and it was like someone had stuck an electric charge through the audience."

What was it like to be in Russia at last?

" Well, you know, as kids growing up and with the sort of Cold War and this whole idea that Russians were just these gray race of people, I was fascinated because knowing their history, knowing their culture or some of it, I was fascinated to go there and see it and it was really very special. We had a great time, went first of all to St. Petersburg because I originally had been asked to do like a master class there. So when the idea of playing in Moscow came up, I said look, let's go to St. Petersburg first and give a little back to the Russians, do a little bit work with their kids, and we opened a friend of mine's charity there. Anthea Eno has a charity for orphan kids, so we helped with that. And we did a little bit of time with the Russians and getting the feel of the country, which is a very beautiful place. St. Petersburg is a very beautiful city. And then we sort of marched on Moscow and did the show in Red Square and it was sensational."

And Heather and Sir Paul met with President Putin?

"We did. It was fantastic. We were invited to the Kremlin and we were sort of dropped off on our own and taken through these corridors, endless corridors. And we met with him and at first there was a bunch of press and photographs and cameras and things and then they eventually went, and it was just me, Heather, Vladimir Putin and his translator. And he eventually got rid of the translator, so it was just the three of us in the room. It was very nice. He seemed like a really great guy. I asked if he was going to the concert. He said he didn't think he was going to be able to get there, so there was a piano in the room, so I said well I'll tell you what, I'll give you a quick version of Let It Be.

"He did show up at the show later, but it was really nice. You know, it was a great feeling. It was a very interesting country to visit and under the circumstances, it was very exciting."

Is it true that Sir Paul had a little problem with the Moscow police?

" The morning after the concert I just sort of wanted to go back for a bit of after glow kind of thing. And Heather and I were just cycling around Red Square and of course we got stopped. And I said what's the problem, you know. And the guy said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I just about understood -- he was speaking in Russian. He basically indicated that we weren't allowed to cycle around Red Square. So, I fell out with the cycling police."

Back in the 60's, did Sir Paul realize how popular the Beatles were in the U.S.S.R?

"Well you know what was great was we used to hear rumors, people would come back and people knew from behind the Iron Curtain, as it was then called, that the Beatles were very popular. And people used to kind of smuggle their records in and you know, so we had an inkling that that was going on."

Why did Sir Paul select Sir David Frost to host his television special?

"Well David is an old friend of mine. I've known him since the '60's. You know we go back a long way, longer than we care to remember. But, yes, so I thought he would be the ideal person. You know he's - he has the sort of seriousness that the project needed, you know, and being an old friend, he seemed like the natural choice."

Did Sir Paul know Mr. Troitsky?

"Yes. I knew a little bit before. I had met him before we went to Russia. He wrote a book and that was where I first got this idea that we should do the program because you know he pointed out how significant this whole thing was and how significant the Beatles had been in bringing liberal thought and freedom to the kids in Russia, which in his view, had eventually kind of contributed quite heavily to the overthrow of communism."

Does Sir Paul know the Russian historian, Mr. Shenkman?

"I don't actually. No, but I'm interested to hear what he has to say."

Next, Sir David took the phone from Sir Paul and spoke:

"Well as Paul was saying, it was a real experience to discover. I'd been to Russia before. Paul couldn't until this dramatic moment. But, to discover, you know, the Russian people and so on, and the impact that the Beatles had had. I mean, the amazing thing was that people actually tried to persuade us and tried to persuade Paul that the Beatles have had more impact than we thought they had. In fact, it was that way around and they were all passionate about this and as Paul was saying there about the liberal thought and freedom, and it's an intangible thing. Obviously it's not cruise missiles or whatever, Beatles music, but it does have a power.

"And it obviously had a power, not the sole power obviously, in the end of communism out there. But it was thrilling - that scene in Red Square, Paul, I mean it was just incredible, wasn't it? I mean the reaction, as you said, to Back In The USSR, but also to all of the other members and the other fascinating thing that they said was that it was vital for us. There were 7,000 people on the seats, 10 - 30,000 people standing, and no cover at all, I mean totally open to the air. So, the concert would have been rather spoiled and certainly the show would have been rather spoiled as well, if it had been raining hard throughout the concert. And one of the officials there just said oh, don't worry. We'll just do what we usually do. We'll just inject the clouds and that'll be all right. So they injected the clouds or whatever and everything was fine and it was a lovely evening, you know, amazing."

Mr. Troitsky, the Russian rock movement expert was asked if the Russian people at the concert understood what they were hearing at the concert.

"Well I think that the music spoke for itself. The Beatles, they did music that was so tremendously vibrant and funny and energetic and it was absolutely unlike, you know the official Soviet folk music that we didn't need to know the lyrics to understand the message of his music."

Mr. Shenkman was asked as editor of George Mason University's History News Network, what was the significance of Sir Paul's Moscow concert?

"Well, what's interesting is that if you've got 100 historians in a room and you ask him for three days, you know, what were the causes of the breakup of the Union, I'm sure that probably not one of them would think to say the Beatles. They would say the usual answers of well, maybe it was the Pope and his visit to Poland in the 1980's. Some Republicans might say no, it was Ronald Reagan and the buildup of the U.S. military bankrupting the Soviet Union. And this idea of the Beatles, it's just fascinating, and I watched a documentary the other day, and I thought well maybe there's really something to this."

Sir Paul was asked if he felt a bit overwhelmed to hear that he contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union

"Yes. You know, it's - it did really. Before we put the film together, I thought well, you know, OK, we maybe had some sort of influence as a sort of liberal thinking Western group. But, the more I listened to what people like Artemy was saying, it became a very fascinating story. They were saying that they used to take x- rays - x-ray plates of these to print Beatles records. And one of the guys on the x-rays, you know, so they kind of bootlegged our records.

"But one of the guys in the program says that unlike all the propaganda, all the official propaganda from the West even, the Beatles just walked in. And I thought that was a very telling statement, you know, that we stood for sort of young people thinking freely, behaving freely. I'm enjoying the freedom that obviously we've grown up in, in the postwar period. And I think that communicated to a lot of these kids and they just thought you know what, and I think that made them realize that they had rights and had a voice. So I think it was a contributing thing and it's fabulous for me. I'm just some kid trying to make a living."

Sir David Frost added:

"Yes, I - it took me rather by surprise; I must say the degree to which one experienced it. And the things about like with the x-rays that Paul was talking about and then and there was a period when electric guitars were banned as they were part of the sort of evil rock music and so on. And people had to make their own electric guitars, but they were obviously determined to do so. And today there's a new atmosphere and as he said, President Putin did come to the concert. As you'll see in the film, he comes in a very chic and black shirt, open-neck black shirt, and a very touching moment because the people around, the seats have been privately reserved for him, and the people around him all started to applaud and they were all positive interestingly. And but, he then went - because Paul was still playing - up there on the stage and so he turned around to all the other people and it was a thoughtful act by a leader to say no, go back to his show, not mine, you know, nice moment."

Mr. Troitsky was asked to define the true story of rock in Russia.

"Well, I think they wanted to put it like it was and when I wrote this book, you know, I never even imagined that I would meet Paul McCartney someday participate in the Larry King show. What I wrote about the impact of the Beatles on the Soviet youth was just absolutely sincere and the impact was really tremendous."

Mr. Shenkman was asked about the role rock music played in the demise of the Soviet Union.

"Well, the value of the music is the feelings that it gives people and what I thought was really interesting in the special is there's a wonderful interview there with the Defense Minister Ivanov and he talks about how when he a young boy, he was listening to the Beatles surreptitiously, apparently, because the music was officially banned in the Soviet Union. And that's really fascinating to think that here's this man who is a defense minister of Russia and he's thinking back to the impact that the music had on him. And it's something that you can't calculate. You know, you can't say how many divisions did the Beatles have? Stalin famously said to President Truman about the Pope, how many divisions does the Pope have? But it's that kind of a similar thing, but it's still a power."

Mr. Troitsky was asked how did he become a Beatle fan?

"Well I think I heard them first when I was eight years old and we've been living in Prague, Czechoslovakia, now a non-existing country, at that time, and this was a record, it was a single called She Loves You, and I became a fan quite admittedly."

Mr. Troitsky sat beside Mr. Gorbachev during Sir Paul's concert?

"Yes. I was really honored that Mr. Gorbachev sat right next to me, to the right, and he came to the concert with his newly wed granddaughter, Ciena (and her husband, and those youngsters, they -- unfortunately, they left the concert in the middle. They said that they got some studies to do or maybe, I don't know, but what was really astonishing is that Mr. Gorbachev himself, he stayed there alone until the very end of the concert and he looked absolutely happy, and he's been singing along a little bit."

Mr. Shenkman was asked to critique the special.

" I watched it two days ago and of course, you get caught up in the music. I have to admit that for maybe 15 years I haven't really listened to the Beatles music all that much. I OD'd on it as a young person and then, watching it I was moved to tears to remember all those songs and just it was a little embarrassing to be sitting there in front of the television and crying, but it moved me to tears."

Did Sir David Frost enjoy the special?

"I loved the project and as Mr. Shenkman was saying, Mr. Ivanov, the defense minister, young still and vigorous, but to think that he changed - his career was changed by listening to the Beatles, decided to study English and things like that. It was really absolutely fascinating. And of course, as Mr. Shenkman was just saying, the music is just terrific. I mean I must have seen this show while we were planning it three or four different places, three or four different times and you never grow tired of it."

(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)


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