The 11th April 1970 issue of the Yugoslav TV, radio and entertainments magazine Studio featured a 4-page interview with The Beatles’ George Harrison by Veljko Despot conducted in London in January 1970. This is the first time it has been translated into English.
An exclusive interview from our correspondent VELJKO DESPOT with GEORGE HARRISON, one of The Beatles, who more than all the others avoids any publicity – especially now at the moment of crisis in which the most famous group in the world finds itself
All those who have been close to The Beatles for years say that George Harrison is the one who has changed more than the others. Even the fans, who have been following his development for a relatively short time, claim that he is no longer the old one. For many, he has represented the “finest” and “most decent” amongst The Beatles, and for most, he remains so to this day. The external changes were obvious, however, the internal ones have been more important. He had a slight inferiority complex, but the other Beatles and their friends never considered him stupid for a moment. George was just a “dear boy”, as well as a guitar fanatic the like of which John, Paul and Ringo had not seen before. He was much better than the others, yet he rarely laughed on stage, because he was so focused on playing. Apart from playing, he didn’t try anything else for a long time. He thought he wasn’t bright enough.
However, today after almost a decade of Beatlemania, George Harrison is another man, the man who out of all four was the first to rise above the world of The Beatles and found his own world – the truth, distinctive, but with his own goals, which at that moment the other three were lacking so much. They began to follow him.
It was precisely that George, the one of The Beatles who suddenly needed the rest of The Beatles the least, whom I tried to discover in London. At a bad time! To look for the man who is known for avoiding any kind of publicity with all his might and to find him at the moment when his press officer announces to journalists The Beatles’ latest decision to stop giving all interviews – at first is discouraging! However, the fact that I’d known George from before and another, perhaps more importantly, fact that he was in such a good mood helped me nevertheless to get this interview.
With very long shaggy hair, a full beard, smiling and extremely kind, he received me in one of the beautiful salons of Apple, The Beatles’ company, which is located not far from London’s famous Piccadilly. This George Harrison is incredibly thin, tall, with a sharp look and restrained movements. He speaks slowly and calmly, constantly twirling his beard!
In a casual conversation, he found out from me everything he was interested in about the earthquake in Banja Luka, pop music in our country, the work of the Yugoslav Beatles Fan Club in Zagreb and the sale of Beatles’ records, and also about nice summer holidays in Yugoslavia. “Oh, what can you do! Somehow I’ve got used to thinking of holidays as being connected to Greece and Spain.”
“The Beatles are also not trying to be Beatles every week of the year“
“George, your wife Pattie once said something interesting about you four Beatles…”
“She said: ‘I know that they are all parts of one whole. They all belong to one another. George is so connected with the others that I will never fully understand it. No one, not even a wife can get into it. I slowly began to realise that I wouldn’t even be able to become a part of that world.’ Is that whole still so solid, George?”
He thought to himself and slowly replied:
“I think these things are the same and have always been the same for all the girls or wives, because…You see, it’s the same for you, because you didn’t become one of the Beatles, I became one. That’s exactly why not even you can be a part of that part of my life, which, because of The Beatles, nor did my wife, which doesn’t mean that she doesn’t understand it either… if you understand me!”
“Yes, but I think you didn’t understand me. Because, in fact, I was interested in whether that whole of four parts called The Beatles is still as solid today as it was then. How else to understand John’s last statements about possibly leaving The Beatles?”
“Well… I don’t know, really! It all depends on what each of us wants to do. I mean, I won’t try to break up with The Beatles, because I want them to be with me. Each of us really has complete freedom to do what they want, so if John said that, then that’s his business! He has his Plastic Ono Band and The Beatles are also not trying to be Beatles every week of the year. We can do something, for example, an album, and that will make us The Beatles for nine months, let’s say… Yes, I think there is enough time for each of us to be what we want to be and to all be The Beatles at the same time. Most likely, this is also the way we’ll go.”
“But, anyway, you have to admit that it was not fair for John to state that he was not concerned with the success of your song Something in the charts, but with Come Together, because it is his composition…”
Suddenly I felt that I had touched a sore spot for George Harrison. He was quiet for a long time.
“Well, you know… I don’t worry about what anyone says or thinks, even if it was him… I mean, sometimes people let you down with what… (sighs)… what they think or say, but… there’s no point in being disappointed.”
“Conflicts between us originate from too much vanity…”
“John’s disagreement with Paul seems really deep. How do you explain that?”
“I think that these are all personal conflicts that originate from vanity, from one’s over large “me”. I don’t know, but I have no problem with John, I have no problem with Paul, I have no problem with Ringo. Maybe I don’t have them only because I think there are no problems, and they only have them because they think problems exist. It really is so simple and so complex, but it’s all about that “me”, which is something that we all have and which is not entirely good, but not entirely bad either. However, sometimes two such “me’s” clash and what happened now with the two of them comes about.”
“Being one of The Beatles is not the most important thing in life“
“Two years ago you stated that you no longer find satisfaction in being one of The Beatles, or literally: ‘All that Beatles stuff is cheap and unimportant. I’m fed up with all that, myself, all of us, the stupidity and senseless things we do!’ What do you think of those words today?”
“Yes, I agree with them! Maybe I should explain what I meant by that ‘senseless Beatles stuff’. No, it’s not about being one of The Beatles, it’s about being anyone else. You see, I identify people with their surroundings, with their friends, however, the first thing I recognise them by is this body made of blood, bones and nerves. However, people think THAT is me. Do you understand?”
For the first time since our conversation began, George raised his tone, his voice taking on an almost distressed overtone.
“I cannot limit myself, be satisfied with being a bag of bones, a physical body! The real “me” is something else, something that has a soul. And then people come to you who want to take pictures of your body, touch it, stand in a photo next to it, and all this with a COMPLETE misunderstanding of who it is and what it really is. And so… I agree with my words, because the most important thing in life is not to be photographed with one of The Beatles or even to be one of The Beatles! It’s all SO secondary, because we’re all playing our part of one big game, and I can still play one of The Beatles if that’s what people want me to do.”
“Our music can be understood in a serious and a less serious way”
“You once said that you are amused by people who take The Beatles’ music too seriously. I understand you, but anyway, say something more about that.”
“But I’m also unhappy if people don’t take our music seriously! It is, in reality, serious. But it’s all like what John said when returning our medals to the Queen, mentioning how his record was failing in the charts. He said that the whole thing shouldn’t have been taken so seriously, and it’s the same with our music. We talk about serious things through it, but it’s all about whether you want to take those things seriously or not. Our music can be understood in a serious and in another, less serious way.”
“We will perform live again!”
“At the end of last year, for the first time after three years of not performing, you appeared at a concert. It was with Delaney & Bonnie. Did you miss the atmosphere of the tours and the pleasure of performing in front of the audience all those years?”
“It was good, even very nice. It was good after not doing it for so long, good for a completely different feeling. But it doesn’t mean I’d want to do it again all the time. It also has its downsides.”
“Can we still expect the final return of The Beatles to the concert stage? Is there any kind of chance?”
“Very big, a very big chance! I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you for sure where and when, but the chances are better now than they’ve ever been!”
“George, tell me, finally, what do you think the key was to The Beatles’ success?”
“I don’t know! Many things… really I don’t know. Too many things! You might know that better than I do… or maybe this man, this poor man knows better…”
This referred to Derek Taylor, The Beatles’ press officer, who appeared at that moment.
“Our friend asks you what things you think led to The Beatles’ success.”
“Well, everyone should know that… or no one” replied Taylor. – “Anyone could answer that, but they wouldn’t know how to explain it…”
George thought to himself, looked somewhere far away and quietly said: “I don’t know. It’s magic… maybe.”
On page 14 of issue 656 of Plavi Vjesnik (Blue Herald) published on 20th April 1967 in Zagreb there is a short report by Veljko Despot about The Beatles from Abbey Road Studios where they were recording the now legendary album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He was lucky enough to chat with them and discuss the as yet unreleased recordings outside and inside the studios.
I have translated this article direct from a printed copy of the weekly magazine – including the titles of some songs as they were published. I believe this is the first time the text has appeared in English anywhere.
ALL THE WAY FROM YUGOSLAVIA?
One young Englishman sent a letter to the music paper Melody Maker saying:
“Classical music has achieved complete independence with the works of Stravinsky, Bartók and Schoenberg. Electronic music was formed by Stockhausen and John Cage, and jazz by Bob James. It seemed that there was nothing else left to say in music. But suddenly, so to speak, out of nowhere, Strawberry Fields Forever appeared. This is a new and revolutionary form of songwriting.”
The little record by The Beatles with the songs Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever, released in the second half of February, has so far sold several million copies. Even before it appeared in American shops, The Beatles won a gold record with it because over a million copies were sold in advance!
The long-awaited record has pleased all of The Beatles’ fans, and most certainly those from Liverpool. The Beatles did not forget their hometown or their fellow citizens and dedicated both songs to Liverpool. John wrote Strawberry Fields Forever and Paul wrote Penny Lane. About which John says:
“We’ve been intending to write a few songs about certain places in Liverpool for a long time. I started working on Strawberry Fields in October, during the shooting of the film in Spain, and Paul finished Penny Lane before the New Year.”
Penny Lane is a little street in Liverpool that Paul used to walk down as a child, whilst Strawberry Fields is located right near John’s former house where he lived as a boy.
Whether that young man was exaggerating in his letter or not, we leave it up to you, but the fact is that Strawberry Fields really is something new, something that has not been heard in pop music before. With both of these songs The Beatles have gone further than all other bands, and so far for many that they won’t be able to reach them if that’s even possible for any of them.
Strawberry Fields Forever has attracted attention because of its melodiousness and the special sound that the whole song creates. With the special recording technique of John’s voice, the electronic recording of Ringo’s drumming and the use of various instruments, as though a dream was trying to be described in the language of music. This was greatly contributed to by the Mellotron, an instrument that can produce sounds similar to many instruments – in this case the flute.
Penny Lane, one of the nicest songs that The Beatles have recorded so far, has John playing on the piano as a basic accompaniment, however, in addition to the usual guitars and drums, you will also hear a trumpet, double bass, piccolo and horn. The solo is sung by Paul, and for a good part, John does too. The text is simple and therefore appealing. It is, in essence, the description of a small street in a big city and the life on it.
The very release of the record and the success that followed dispelled the doubts of even the greatest sceptics about the continued existence of The Beatles as a group. The frequent rumours about the breakup of the group ended when manager Brian Epstein signed a contract with the company E.M.I. in January about recording records. About which George Harrison said:
“This contract should put an end to all the rumours about the breakup of The Beatles. Brian signed a nine-year contract with E.M.I. for us. This means we will make records – as a group – right up until 1976!”
The Beatles went to work and the first result was Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields. However, they have not stopped there. For several months already, John, Paul, George and Ringo have been working on recordings for their new LP. They have settled in E.M.I.’s studio no. 3 (sic) in St. John’s Wood in London, where they arrive every day around 7 in the evening to stay until 4 or 5 in the morning.
For any interview with the Fab Four, you must contact their press officer Tony Barrow, who will explain to you that every minute of The Beatles’ time has already been arranged and if you want you can come back sometime at the end of August “to see what can be done for you.” There was nothing else for me to do but set off to St. John’s Wood.
Paul was usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. As his house is located near the studio, Paul sometimes arrived on foot. This little walk passes without consequences because few people on the street recognise Paul due to his thick black moustache that gives him a stern and dignified appearance. Once when he was entering the studio like that, I asked him to tell me how many compositions they had recorded so far.
“Six compositions have been recorded completely, and now we are finishing four more.”
These six compositions are: A Day in the Life – John sings solo accompanied by a 41-member orchestra, directed mainly by Paul McCartney! There is another string ensemble in the composition She’s Leaving Home. Paul sings When I’m 64 solo, and Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning (sic) is sung by John and Paul as a duet. The composition, which has taken exactly one month to record, and which is sung by John, is called Meter Rita (sic). And one more composition – Sergeant Pepper’s Blues (sic).
Until his departure for his concert in Zagreb, Ravi Shankar, the greatest living sitar player, attended these recordings along with The Beatles producer George Martin and their permanent technical staff. Shankar is George Harrison’s teacher and used to stay in the studio until the wee hours of the morning, watching him play the sitar.
“How many of your compositions will be on this album?” – I asked George as he locked his dark green Ferrari.
“We are working on my composition right now and it will probably be my only thing. I say “probably” because we still don’t know if the record will have 12 or 14 songs.”
Ringo will also sing one song on this record, but it’ll be recorded last because it hasn’t been written fully yet. Cute Ringo is very petite and short, and almost always timid. He also grew a moustache, and critics say his nose looks smaller now.
As always this time too, The Beatles are not without their fans. Every evening, around thirty girls, who want to see their idols, gather in front of the studio. They most faithfully bring blankets, thermoses with hot coffee and sandwiches with them, waiting for them to leave the studio, even if it is at 5 in the morning!
When a big black Rolls Royce with black windows appears at the end of the street, it means that John is coming. The girls gather around the car, and when John gets out, they calmly separate and make way for him. Always in a good mood, John cracks a little joke or signs a picture or leg cast for some of them. During a break between two recordings, I entered the studio building and met John in the hallway. I told him that I was from Yugoslavia, which surprised him.
“All the way from Yugoslavia? That’s quite a long way away, isn’t it?”
I asked him when we could expect the release of the record that they were preparing.
“At first we thought that we would finish it by the end of March, but as things stand now, the record will not come out until the end of May. As for us, we will finish our recordings by the middle of April.”
Those who have heard some finished recordings say that it is something completely different from what people expect from The Beatles. They think that the record, which is called SERGEANT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, will be excellent and that the vast majority of people will be surprised.
The Beatles have not disappointed their audience yet and they in return still believe in them.
As I was the first ever translator to be a guest at the Hotel’s regular events it was particularly interesting to take part. We talked about many aspects of the translation process and how translators work. And of course we also spoke at length about Veli Jože – what the story means, about the characters, how it is still an important piece of Croatian literature, its significance to Croatian identity and ultimately about freedom.
The audience also took part with some very interesting questions about translation, language and publishing. I was honoured to be a guest and I am very grateful to Anne-Kathrin, her husband Gordan and children for such a warm welcome and stay at the hotel.
If you do not know about Hotel Balatura then I thoroughly recommend visiting their website here. – and their Facebook page here. They offer a superb relaxing stay in a renovated old stone built farmstead, vegetarian food, an outdoor pool, rooms for seminars, yoga, and the rooms are stunning – I stayed in the Fijolica (Violet) room….. it has a four-poster bed, a huge open fireplace, a balcony with a hammock and the bathroom has a sunken mosaic-lined bath…..
An edited version of Veli Jože was published around 1930 in a collection of Vladimir Nazor’s short stories called Istarski Bolovi. In this edition Nazor wrote a foreword describing how he came to the idea of the Veli Jože character whilst on a visit to Istria. Below is that foreword that he wrote in Crikvenica.
Ja ne znam — barem na ovom polju rada — ništa valjano učinit iz puke dužnosti.
Kad mi se desilo da sam se — još prije no je nešto u meni samo dozrelo — morao odazvati nekom otvorenu ili nijemu pozivu, što sam god uradio nije mi pošlo sretno od ruke, čak ni onda kad sam se oko toga dosta izmučio.
Dogodilo mi se to i u Pazinu, godine 1904.
Netom vidjeh gdje naši ljudi u Istri nemaju svoje pisane povijesti, i ni o čemu ne umiju pričati, i gotovo ništa ne znadu o svim onim sredovječnim kulama i dvorimo od kojih se ruševine ponajviše vide u dolini između Lupoglava i izvora Raše, ja se dadoh na prilično naporno traženje i proučavanje barem svega onoga što su Talijani i neki Nijemci — makar i tendenciozno — iznijeli o minulim zgodama u istarskoj zemlji. Smatrao sam svojom dužnošću što više, ma i od koga. primiti da sve to odmah i dadem onima koji su od mene nešto očekivali, a u lakoj beletrističnoj formi, pa čak i riječima što su — u onom kraju i baš onim ljudima — mogle biti najpristupačnije.
Ali nisam uspio.
Ni balade »Krvava košulja« (Pula, Krmpotić, 1905), ni historijski roman »Krvavi dani« (Zagreb, Scholz, 1908), ni soneti »Istarski gradovi« (Veliki Ćiril-Metodski koledar za 1907, Zagreb, Klein, 1906) nisu mogli — uz svu silu historijskih podataka — da što i reku, jer sam u njima progovorio načinom koji nije bio moj i o stvarima što sam ih samo — čitao! Te balade i taj roman otpali su već davno — sasvim i za uvijek — iz sklopa mojih književnih radnja, a sam ne znam hoće li se za neke od tih soneta naći opet kakav kutić, kada budem iznova koješta pregledivao i premještao u zgradi svojih stihova.
Svoju »dužnost« prema Istri učinio sam malo kasnije, u Kopru, na drugi način.
Kopar, negda sjedište providura, koji je upravljao mletačkim dijelom Istre, talijanski je gradić s krilatim lavićima na zidovima starih zdanja, s rijetkim praunucima negda brojnih i imućnih venecijanskih plemića, od kojih se o jednome i sad priča da nije — u svoje starije dane — prekoračio nikada praga očeve mu palate, da ne stane nogom na tle koje nije više pripadalo Serenisimi. U tome gradu ima čak i seljaka, doseljenih već davno iz krajeva bivše Mletačke republike, dok ćeš u njemu teško naići na mještanina naše krvi i jezika. Ali se zelje i mlijeko kupuju, u jutarnje satove, na trgu, a jaja, sir i »domaći« hljeb i na pragu kuća, od naše čeljadi iz sela svuda naokolo. Tiho ulaze ranim jutrom ta naša čeljad u gradić da, gotovo šutljivo, obave svoj posao, pa da ih odmah i nestane. Kreću se po Kopru kao u tuđoj kući i sjećaju više na podanike koji nose gospodaru danak u hrani no na seljane-prodavce što drugdje znadu biti katkada i preveć slobodna vladanja u saobraćaju s kupcima, pa bili ovi posljednji i neka gospoda. Takvu sam krotost i pokunjenost našeg seljanina pred građaninom gledao i u srcu Istre, ali sam baš u Kopru najbolje vidio da jest nešto ružno — od novog doba još ne napadnuto, od našeg narodnog pokreta jedva uzdrmano — u odnošaju između hrvatskoga istarskog sela i talijanskog ili potalijančenog istarskoga grada ili varošice.
Osjetih da se nenadano nalazim otvorenijih očiju pred onim što sam do tada uzalud tražio u historičkim knjigama i u svojim dotadašnjim lutanjima po Istri. Čemu sam u onome romanu i u onim baladama pričao o nekim romantičnim zgodama u starim zamcima i dvorima, kad se, baš u ono doba, u seoskim kućicama i pojatama, počimala stvarati duša Onoga, koji nije još sam progovorio i o kojemu još niko nije znao što reći?
Čemu — posred mnogih drugih — došljak Ivan Sinković, i luteranac Stjepan Konzul, i barun razbojnik iz Keršana, i vitez Psoglavac iz Vranja ispod Učke, u mome romanu iz prošlih dana, kad je onda bio već narastao Onaj koji je nastanio i krš i polja i klance i žalove istarske, i sve ih iskrčio i izorao, posijao i nasadio, i napučio ih stokom, pa hrani i sada gradove — što, stari, ovdje propadaju, tamo opet, novi, niču — donašajući im još uvijek svoj trud i svoju muku, stojeći i na trgu ili pred vratima kao podanik koji prti danak za gospodara.
Uvidjeh napokon da mi je o Njemu pisati.
Ali je On svugdje pomalo, a nigdje posvema. Ima na hiljade lica i na hiljade imena. Razdrobljen je u bezbroj kapljica kao rosa na livadi. I rekao bih da svaka njegova — i najmanja — čest ima svoju dušu. Osjećaš ga, ali ga ne možeš, ni otkuda, svega ugledati kao ni rijeku, more i planinu. I kao što nisi kadar vidjeti ga — čitava — u prostoru, ne možeš ga — cijela — zahvatiti na jedan put ni u vremenu.
Do znah dakle o kome bi morala pričati moja knjiga o Istri. Naslutih napokon pravog svoga »junaka«; ali kako da slijem sve mu pruge i bore u crte jednog lica, sve mu tuge i obijesti u osjećaje jedne duše, pa da ga ugledam pred sobom potpuna, kao od jednog samog komada? Na koju grudu da namjestim sva njegova ognjišta, i u koji trenutak da sažmem sve dane njegova života?
Nasta za me novo, možda još teže, traženje.
Mislio sam da ću se i ovog puta uzalud izmučiti, kad nađoh što mi trebalo, a na čudan način, i na mjestu gdje se tome nisam nadao.
O uskrsne praznike odvezah se ranim jutrom, po drugi put, u Motovun, star gradić opasan zidinom na vrhuncu osamljena brijega. Pred njim široka kotlina, za njim šuma kroz koju rijeka kao da jedva puze dolje prema moru. Tišina u lugu, na vodi i u obamrloj varošici gdje su i lica starosjedioca izblijedjela i puna dosade kao i pročelja njihovih drevnih kuća. Trom rad i mrtvilo u talijanskom gradiću, dok sve naokolo i naširoko naši seljaci izlaze iz svojih raštrkanih kućica da obrađuju zemlju, sijeku drva, pasu stoku. Gledajući s visoka, iz grada, ne čuješ žamora: rijeka Mirna samo šuti, šuma je umukla u zaklonu od vjetara, a orači i pastiri toliko su daleko u nizini, da ne čuješ ni zveketa poljskog alata ni glasa ljudi i životinja. Zaželjeh se onog mira i zelenila; pođoh ne misleći zapravo na ono što sam tražio.
Ali ispade drukčije.
Već u kolima uskotračne željeznice gužva ljudi iz obližnih mjesta i selaca.
Rekrutiranje u Motovunu!
Nađoh gradić pun čeljadi, najviše naših seljaka. Čuče u hladu pred crkvom na zidini i uz visoki joj toranj; sjede na pragovima kuća, pod svodom tijesnih ulica; čekaju da novačenje započne. Očevi, pa i mnoge majke, dopratili sinove. Mnogi umorni i prašni od hodanja, gotovo svi zabrinuti i mučaljivi. Motovunski trgovčići otvorili dućane, obilaze čeljad, nude koješta. Ali seljani imadu sve što im treba u svojim torbama, pa se građani ljute, bockaju ih porugljivim šalama, tjeraju ih odasvuda. A seljak sve podnosi, premještava se, šuti i gleda u sina koji će sad u gradsku vijećnicu, pred komisiju, da se svuče. — Mene hvata bijes, a sam ne znam na koga se više ljutim: na jezičave i žučljive trgovčiće ili na onu ustrpljivu ljudsku marvu. Nema nigdje nikoga s kime bih se mogao sastati pa da se, barem, malko izjadam. Ta, danas je dan kada čak i najoštriji žandari dozvoljavaju koješta mladićima što će doskora u carevu službu, a ovdje: gle!
Vrzao sam se po tijesnu gradiću, a već u podne krenuh niza cestu k željezničkoj stanici ispod brijega da ondje sjednem u gostionici i dočekam vlak kojim ću natrag u Kopar. Motovun je bio već nada mnom, kada čuh iza sebe korake. Starčić je hitao nizbrdo posrćući nešto od vina, a mnogo od muke kojoj je jedva odolijevao. Kad mu na talijanski pozdrav od-vratih hrvatskim jezikom, on mi se odmah pridruži i otvori mi srce. Jao! uzeše mu jedinca, a on — kumpar Zuan Grbljina — star, i njegova Barbara uvijek nateklih nogu. Eto, napio se da lakše donese ženi crnu vijest. Četiri godine sin u Puli, na ratnom brodu, a dvoje staraca u praznoj kući kraj neobrađene zemlje. Žalost! Propast!
— A imate li, kumpar Zuane, stoke?
— Imam kravu. Boškarinu. Samo nas ona može još spasiti. Čudo od blaga!… A znate li vi doktora Laginju?
— Znam ga.
— Ali onog pravog? Onog našeg.
— Da. Baš njega. Pa i nema drugih.
Starčić skoči. Lice mu se razvedri. I poče pričati kako je već dva ili tri puta dognao Boškarinu, usred ljeta, u Pazin, pred komisiju za nagrađivanje domaće stoke; a ona gospoda ni pogledati na njegovo blago. Valja da Laginja dozna i za tu nepravdu pa da pomogne. Boškarina! Do 12 litara na dan, a svake godine tele krupno kao magarčić. A Motovun treba i mlijeka.
— Gospodine, da je vidite? Naša je kuća tu blizu. I on me povede. Barbara mu pročita na licu što je sa sinom pa udari u kukanje, povuče se nekamo. Ja se nađoh u trošnoj zadimljenoj kućici gdje je, za ogradom, preživala u polumraku krava. Malena, mršava, bez jednog roga a — pričini mi se — i bez repa.
Starac kao da je zaboravio na sina. Gladi kravu i govori:
— Zlatna! Ide iz nje mlijeko kao voda niz Mirnu.
»Pjan ili omamljen žalošću?« — pitam se ja i žurim se da odem. Jedva se otimam seljaku koji mi viče, i izdaleka:
— Laginja! Nagrada!
Novačenje već gotovo; čeljad sišla iz grada, slegla se uza stolove pred gostionicom pokraj stanice. Ko ne čeka na vlak, sjedi i pije sa znancima prije odlaska u selo. Novaci okitiše šešire, drže se skupa i pjevaju. Starija čeljad kukaju i tuže se da su momci iz grada i ove godine dobro prošli. I sada je motovunski načelnik pomagao građanima. Uzeše u vojnike malne same seljake. Sjedi pokraj njih i nekoliko Motovunjana koji dopratiše znance na stanicu. Odgovaraju težacima. Ove je pak vino osokolilo; ljute se:
— Mi moramo sve za vas. Kopati. Orati. Pa čak i pušku nositi.
Ne znam što je sve bilo. Najednom vidjeh: stolovi se ruše; Motovunjani bježe; neki jure za njima. Kamen doleti, udari o sto; neka djevojčica jauknu.
— Ubi dijete! Oni iz grada!
Komešanje. Ljutnja velika, no izgledalo je da će vikom i svršiti, kad iz gomilice novaka izađe neki mršavi dugonja, zasuče rukave, dignu štap:
— Ljudi! Za mnom!
— U grad! — planuše novaci.
Stariji se nećkali; zahtjevali da se miruje i ne prave ludosti. No se mlađarija stavljala u red, vikala dugonji: »Jože, vodi!«, a na licu dugonjinu blistale oči, treptao svaki mišić. »Ne puštajmo ih same!« vikale žene od kojih se u nekima budila vučica što se boji za svoje mladunče. Sva se čeljad dignu. Povorka se stvori; krenu uza cestu.
Uđoh i ja u nju.
Spočetka se samo vikalo i psovalo prijeteći pestima, mašući štapovima. Dugonja je široko koracao, izbacivao iz sebe oštre usklike. Kupilo se usput kamenje, trgale se motke iz plotova, prihvaćalo sve čime bi se moglo udariti. Išlo se hitro uzbrdo dišući sve teze, više od nemira no od napora. Gore, na domaku prvih kuća, vođa stade, a s njime i povorka.
— Sad će biti zla.
— Natrag, djeco!
Mlađarija uđe u ulicu. Stariji se uskomešaše očekujući početak borbe. No mjesto vike i lomljave ču se pjevanje:
Ko će tebe, travo, kosit Kad ja pojdem pušku nosit? Trava zelena!
Gomila se maknu, uđe čitava u grad.
A Motovun pust i šutljiv kao groblje. Sva vrata i svi prozori zatvoreni. Ni psa na ulici. Strah građana utoli, odmah i sasvim, ljutnju seljaka. Čuđenje pa luda radost. Dugonja je sada skakao pjevajući iz svega grla na čelu povorke. Izbacivao iz grla pobjedničke krikove, udarao štapom o zatvorena vrata, smijao se grohotom jeki što bi na to zatutnjila u ovećim kućama. Seljani su za prvi put prolazili, pjevajući i kličući, ulicama gdje su se do tada usuđivali samo šaptati. Hvatalo ih čudno pjanstvo. Prometali se u obijesnu djecu. Igrali se na trgu, jurili okolo grada po zidini i uzalud zvali sad ovog sad onog građanina da otvori prozor i da se pokaže. A onaj dugonja — u znak prezira, iz prostakluka, ili od neprobavljena vina? — stade baš pred načelnikovom kućom, odriješi gaće i — čučne.
Na stanici vlak zviždnu; sve potrča niz brdo.
Stigosmo na vrijeme, ali nas bilo toliko da i ja ne nađoh mjesta u kolima.
Prenoćio sam kod seljaka ispod grada.
Sjutradan u Motovunu sve mirno. Građani se hvalili kako su svojim mudrim vladanjem uradili da hitro izvjetri sva obijest pjanih novaka. Bili su sigurni da se nije pokvario odnošaj između njih i njihovih radinih i dobrih kmetova. No se odmah uvjerih da nije baš sve tako.
Između seljaka, koji su tog istog jutra nosili u Motovun zelje, mlijeko i koješta što građaninu treba, upoznah i dugonju.
I u njegovih kretnjama, pa i na njegovu licu, nije više bilo svih onih tragova bojažljivosti i pokornosti. Nešto se bijaše već promijenilo.
Vratih se ipak loše volje u Kopar.
Doskora vidjeh da sam baš u Motovunu našao što sam tražio.
Lik kmeta-orijaša Velog Jože stvori se najedanput – gotov i čitav — pred mojim očima. U njega lice i kretnje, poroci i vrline, duša i tijelo svih onih što ih do tada nisam znao umijesiti sve skupa u jedno i prožeti to svoje djelo dahom života. Ugledah ga pomaknuta u prošlost, u dane kad su njegovi gospodari bili još jači, on još slabiji, al je prva iskra samosvijesti već vrcala iz njega. Uza sve ono što bijah vidio po Istri i doživio u Motovunu, ja sam sada osjećao da Velog Jože — buntovnika i bjegunca — ipak ima, a njegov dan — ma i polagano — da ipak sviće. Gledao sam ga u prošlosti, pod motovunskom zidinom i na Proglavčevu brdu, s legendarnim banom Dragonjem daleko na planini iza njegovih leđa i s galeotom Ilijom u galiji na obližnjem moru, jer ga nisam još mogao vidjeti u jednoj od njegovih idućih preobrazba – u liku mladoga mučenika Vladimira Gortana.
I godine 1907., u Kopru, napisah priču o njemu. Mislio sam da govorim o zgodama koje su davno započele a onda se baš dovršavale. Ko bi bio tada vjerovao da će se 1919. desiti nepravda što će Velog Jožu iznova dovesti u onu trošnu kolibu ispod Motovuna? I da će moja pripovijetka biti nešto što priča i o njegovim današnjim nevoljama?
»Veli« je »Jože« bio napisan i — čini se — već i tiskan u »Balkanu« što ga je u Trstu Nehajev uređivao, kad se otvori u Kopru Istarski sabor, i ja se nađoh s doktorom Laginjom. Opisah mu — uz smijeh — jadnu kravicu Boškarinu i donijeh poruku kumpara Zuana iz sela motovunskoga.. Ali ozbiljno Laginjino lice jedva da se promijeni. Ne progovori ni riječi dok sve ne ispričah. A onda reče:
— Nazore, nemoj tako! I ako je kumpar Zuan bio onog dana malko pijan, znao je što govori: imao je pravo; bio je iskren. Pače. Da, čitav potok mlijeka teče iz vimena njegove krave. Znam već davno svu silu takvih kumpara Zuana i njihovih krava. Naša Istra nije — kako je razglasiše — jadna sirotica, jer gotovo svaki kumpar Zuan ima u njoj svoju Boškarinu. I čitava ti je ta naša mala seljačka pokrajina takva jedna čedna ali blagoslovljena kravica što je neki samo muzu. Kad ti je kumpar Zuan dao, na odlasku, ruku, jesi li osjetio koliko ima žuljeva na dlanu? Jesi li u Motovunu pomislio ko hrani sve one dokone građane? Motika Velog Jože i krava kumpar Zuanova. A Boškarina je doista nešto golemo. Starčić to osjeća pa ga boli što na njegovu kravicu niko i ne gleda, a rugaju se i njoj i njemu ponajviše baš oni koji se hrane njenim mlijekom. Komisija za nagrađivanje domaće stoke! E, da. Ona nagrađuje krave dovedene iz daleka, gojne i krupne, ali koje ne mogu živjeti u čednim stajama naših seljaka i ne znadu pretvoriti u mlijeko oštre sokove svih trava na istarskim pašnjacima što su često puni kamenja i drača. Zna kumpar Zuan što govori i što se njemu hoće. Zna on svoju zemlju i svoju živinčad. Jest, njega ide nagrada, jer je malena i mršava Boškarina zbilja »čudo od blaga«. A pođeš li opet onamo, pozdravi mi staroga i reci mu da primam njegovu poruku.
Starog Zuana nisam više vidio, ali ga nisam zaboravio. Napisah priču o njegovoj kravi. Vidio sam je napokon onakovu, kakva je lebdjela pred očima doktora Laginje. Sad sam tek razumio kumpara Zuana, njegov gnjev i njegovu žalost.
A poslije rata i okupacije Istre, godine 1919., u Zagrebu, razgovarao sam jednom s Laginjom o novim nevoljama naših seljaka između Učke i Trsta. U njegovu je glasu nešto drhtalo, dok reče:
— A možda će baš oni, ti rabotnici svoje zemlje i čuvari svoje stoke, najlakše odoljeti. Neće stari Zuan u selu motovunskom ni klonuti ni propasti, ne otmu li mu i kravicu. Velika je u njoj moć. Možda se baš uz nju najlakše i — čeka.
Tako su dakle nastale te dvije priče koje možda grade najvjerniju sliku ljudi i dogođaja baš ondje gdje izgledaju najviše fantastične pa čak i groteskne.
Sve ono o mraku koji nosi pjanog seljaka po noći — pa i o načinu kako ga kumpar Zuan ukroti — uzeto je iz narodnog praznovjerja u srednjoj Istri.
»Veli Jože«, koji je, kao knjiga, izašao u nakladi »Matice Slovenske« (Ljubljana, 1908) uz ilustracije Šaše Šantela. ima i svoje pokraćeno ilustrovano izdanje za djecu (»Narodna Knjižnica«, Zagreb, 1923.). Obe su pripovijetke ušle u II. izdanje mojih »Istarskih priča« (»Hrv. pripovijedači, Dr. B. Vodnik, Zagreb, 1917.). I te dvije blizanice, ponovno dotjerane, izlaze opet skupa, praćene samo jednom svojom mlađom sestricom, legendom o Divičinu gradu u Puli, a u knjizi s naslovom »Istarski bolovi«, jer ćemo baš sada naići u njima na koješta što peče i boli.
V. N. Crikvenica, 1930.
My English translation of this foreword is included in my new translation of Nazor’s original 1908 verison of Veli Jože and this is now available as a paperback and ebook on Amazon as well as many other ebook channels – more info here.
Smiling Tears – Selected Poems is the new collection of poetry by Draga Vranješ Vargović of Virovitica that I translated in early 2022.
This translation was based on her original heartfelt edition Nasmijane suzethat was published in 2021. This edition and the new English language edition have been superbly illustrated by Draga’s son Karlo.
The printing of Draga’s English edition was sponsored by pastor Karl Kriger, Darel Landresmith, producer Zlatko Geib and the actress Linda Evans. For now it is on sale in Barnes & Noble book stores in the USA.
My new translation of Vladimir Nazor’s Veli Jože is now available on all Amazon sites as a paperback and ebook (Kindle) as well as on other ebook channels (see below).
Vladimir Nazor’s most famous work amongst his extensive opus is the story Veli Jože.
As part of his teaching career, he was transferred to the Croatian department of the Teachers’ School in Koper in 1906. Since his parents lived in Trieste, he often visited the then editor of the newspaper Balkan Milutin Cihlar-Nehajev on Saturdays.
Balkan was a daily newspaper published in Trieste from 1st September 1907 until 30th April 1908. A total of 199 issues were published during these eight months. The initiator, owner and publisher was Matko Mandić. It was the first Croatian daily newspaper west of Rijeka, and played an important role in the final phase of the national revival movement in the Istrian-Dalmatian area, trying to unite the struggle for the national rights of Croats in Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia. The paper published texts by famous writers of the time.
Nazor conceived his story of Istrian life and the formation of the character of Veli Jože around this period. His own foreword about the origins of the story is featured at the beginning of this book.
Veli Jože was printed as a feuilleton from the first issue of Balkan in 27 instalments (1st September 1907 to 3rd October 1907).
With the subtitle Istarska priča (an Istrian Story), Nazor’s Veli Jože was next published in book form in Ljubljana in 1908, in the imprint of Hrvatska Knjižnica, published by Matica Slovenska, along with the now well-known illustrations of Saša Šantel. The newspaper version and the one published in this book are supposedly somewhat different, although I have been unable to have an insight into the 1907 Balkan version. Nazor changed and refined the famous story about the Motovun giant several times over the years to come, and also prepared a special “clean” version for children – the one that has been used as reading material for decades in primary schools. The 1908 version includes several scenes that feature supernatural, and what today might be considered as racist, elements and as such is seemingly unavailable or unknown to the general reading public now.
In 2015 my translation of Nazor’s 1930 seemingly “sanitised” edit, included in his Istarski Bolovi collection of stories was published and printed by Naklada Kvarner. However, it is the 1908 book version that I have used for this new translation and it includes the supernatural elements and all of Šantel’s illustrations – as a faithful reproduction, and therefore supersedes the 2015 translation.
As both Šantel and Nazor passed away in the 1940s I have respectfully used their works in line with the copyright law in Slovenia and Croatia, which states that works enter the public domain 70 years after the authors’ deaths.
Martin Mayhew, Rijeka, May 2022
“…..The chamberlain looked through the smoke at a disgusting, old hag who was moving around the fire with tangled grey hair, all tattered and barefoot. She danced around the burner to the strange cooing and whining of the little owl on the wall, she threw some herbs and small stones into the fire and waved a bare horse’s shank over the top of the burner. She uttered some strange incomprehensible words and sang a wild song under her breath. She gritted her teeth, blazed her big green eyes and bent her eagle-like nose left and right…….”
One of the handful of books I’ve worked on so far this year is Stone siblings: Continuous Midnight Clocks in Savičenta and Dvigrad by Vjekoslav Gašparović.
Vjekoslav Gašparović’s detailed research provides a fascinating history of the stone clocks of this part of Istria as well as the stories behind their creators, how they were made and even how time was measured centuries ago. It was a very interesting translation and proofreading project and I am proud to have been involved.
Publisher : Zadruga Praksa Paperback :184 pages ISBN-10 : 9535794949 ISBN-13 : 978-9535794943 It is available on Amazon here. Direct from Vjekoslav Gašparović and also in the castle in Savičenta.
Ivan Ferdinandov Lupis – izumitelj torpeda by Vinicije B. Lupis is the definitive story of the inventor of the torpedo. It takes a detailed delve into the archives and features period photographs, diagrams, illustrations, handwritten documents and registry entries concerning Ivan Ferdinandov Lupis, whose name has appeared in several different forms. As the author explains…
“…one of the set goals of this book was to quote in detail all versions of the names and surnames of his distant and close relatives, in order to find out the real form and national feeling of Ivan Lupis. Likewise, in the first publications in Croatian about the inventor of the torpedo from the beginning of the last century, in the magazine Jadranska straža, where one of the collaborators was his relative Ivan Lupis Cvitkov/Vukić, the inventor of the torpedo is quite simply named – Ivan Lupis. I hope that this book will once and for all break with the servile mentality in Croatian science and to stop Croats, who in the past were forced to translate their names and surnames in official administrations, now in free Croatia, from using Giovanni, like during the period of latent forced Italianisation in the 19th century or the fascist period, and simply use Ivan Ferdinandov Lupis.”
The book is essential reading for anyone interested the invention of the torpedo, which was later developed upon by Robert Whitehead in partnership with Lupis, and of course this period in Rijeka’s history.
I was honoured to be the translator of the English language summary for this superb Croatian language edition.
Ivan Ferdinandov Lupis – izumitelj torpeda by Vinicije B. Lupis 188 pages ISBN 978536035625 Publisher: Ogranak Matice hrvatske u Rijeci Printed in October 2021 – 500 copies.
Issue 935 of the Yugoslav informative weekly VUS – Vjesnik u srijedu (Herald on Wednesday) published in Zagreb on 1st April 1970 contained an interview with Ringo Starr by the Croatian journalist Konstantin Milles (Miles) at Apple’s offices in London. This interview has seemingly never been published in English. So, I decided to translate the text as it was printed in VUS. It would seem that this interview was conducted just weeks before The Beatles announced their separation because the LA première of The Magic Christian and the police raid of Lennon’s Bag One exhibition are mentioned – i.e. January 1970. Barrie Wentzell’s photographs are seemingly dated to 1969.
Obviously my translation will not be an exact transcript of the original conversationbut Ithink it contains insight into Ringo’s life and The Beatles at this critical point in time. If anyone can provide extra details I would be grateful 🙂
Ringo Starr – THE MUSICAL BEARD
Konstantin Miles’ conversation with Ringo Starr, the simplest and most modest Beatle, who finds the meaning of life in his family and “kids.” (Photographs by Barrie Wentzell)
When I entered the room into which I was led by secretary Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ “press chief,” something almost unbelievable happened to me. I was well aware that Ringo Starr had changed his look. I had seen at least thirty photographs of him in recent months with a “new edition” – that is, with a beard. Just a short time before that, I’d looked at his photos taken in Los Angeles at the United Press headquarters, at the gala premiere of the film (The Magic Christian – 29th January 1970) in which he stars with Peter Sellers – and in those photos, of course, he had a beard. But anyway, when he suddenly approached me now, in this big office in Apple, I still looked around, looking for him, even though he was standing right in front of me, offering me his hand.
The Ringo Starr, which was standing in front of me, was a bit confused because he (maybe) realised that something was going on, this Ringo Starr was completely different from the shaggy drummer I’d seen in hundreds of photos. The difference is not only that he now has a beard, and it should be emphasised that it is very neat, his beard – is a beard that could have been worn by some respectable and serious French statesman from the end of the last century. (This beard is something completely different from the famous beard that Lennon had when I interviewed him in Amsterdam: it is the beard of a man who, obviously, looks after himself and to the tidiness of his appearance.) There are also other reasons. Today, Ringo has a carefully groomed hairstyle, and he dresses with a discreet, measured elegance (of course by modern terms and standards, which means that no university professor or reputable banker would dress like that yet, but from today’s youth’s point of view, these clothes are quite conservative). A month before Derek Taylor spoke to me about Lennon: “Did you see his haircut? And what he’s wearing!” He said this almost with surprise, and then he added: “Well, he’s dressed kind of like you!” I burst into laughter: “So like some old philistine, a square, right? Is that what you want to say?” “No, I didn’t mean to say that…”Taylor began but then burst out laughing too. “The main thing is that we understand each other!” I said. Derek Taylor hadn’t told me that by accident. His statement “fell” into the context of the conversation we had had with him. And that again was all in the context of the events that have been going on with the Beatles lately (actually the last few months), about all kinds of rumours about them and so on. I don’t mean that stupid rumour about the death of Paul McCartney that had resonated so sensationally. I was not interested in that rumour, simply because I suspiciously thought that it was “mounted” by the Beatles’ propaganda service, and therefore ultimately my interlocutor Derek Taylor. (Truth be told, I have to admit that I don’t think so now, but since McCartney is “alive and well,” it doesn’t matter anyway.) I was with Taylor for the last time shortly before Lennon’s interview. After leaving that interview, I cursed myself because of inexplicably circumstances I had simply forgotten to ask him why he always used the past tense whenever he spoke of himself as a Beatle. The events that were taking place in the “Beatles Empire,” the various rumours that were circulating, made this very issue more and more important.
Especially the rumours that the Beatles were “in crisis”, that the disintegration of that band is “imminent” (a rumour that is completely absurd), that the Beatles have “came to a dead end,” that they are facing “financial ruin”…
But then things began to happen that were, to say the least, interesting: first there was a “court coup” in Apple, allegedly to save the entire concern from financial ruin that it almost ran into due to the long-standing “bohemian” leadership. The financial management, precisely with dictatorial powers, was taken over by a completely new man, brought in from America – and he then in a short time laid off half of the staff and liquidated half of the companies that belonged to Apple. Now the financial situations are reportedly settled (which is not difficult to achieve in the situation where money, after the release of each new long-play record, flows into the kitty like a torrent). As a Yugoslav, it was not difficult for me to notice the differences between the former “working atmosphere” at Apple’s headquarters (it was almost a “club” atmosphere, about which domestic readers do not need much explanation) and that of today’s. Many familiar faces have disappeared, such as the Greek inventor, with whom the Beatles had created a fantastic laboratory, spending several hundred thousand pounds on it. Since I had a big interview with him, I was interested in his subsequent fate, and more so because talking to him, I noticed that he was under a lot of nervous pressure, in a real situation of “non-stop stress,” “Where is Alex?” – I asked. “I don’t know,” answered Taylor. “I heard he was somewhere in London.” I didn’t ask any further. However, when Taylor told me that George Harrison was just in the process of buying a “new house” (a 120-room country mansion) that would cost him £150,000 – it became absolutely clear to me that, despite the rumours, the financial circumstances of Apple (and the Beatles) were absolutely fine. However, the disappearance of that bohemian “go and come” atmosphere, due to which Apple had always been my favourite place for business visits in London, it’s not just the atmosphere that rules in Apple. Although, not everything has changed. And not all the colourful creatures that gathered here have disappeared. For example, I was glad to find the young Londoner with the hair of a Papuan cannibal (which makes his head half a metre in diameter), who still serves drinks there, and in the meantime types up letters with one finger on each hand. Beat compositions were still constantly echoing in the rooms, and since my last visit, someone had mounted a small moving film projector that throws psychedelic optical effects on the walls. However, the beat music today is mixed with the constant brisk typing of typewriters, urgent business conversations being made over the phone – everything is somehow different, “business-like.”
The fact that Lennon cut his hair and dresses “like a philistine”, Ringo’s great tidiness in the way he dresses, the strange and perhaps slightly sad seriousness that reigns today in Apple (where for weeks they say the staff have been using the black humour question instead of a greeting: “Haven’t you been fired yet?”) – all of this suggests that great things are happening in Apple. I told Taylor this openly, and then suggested that he arrange interviews with at least two Beatles and Apple executives, because I wanted to write a report on the subject of WHAT ARE THE BEATLES ACTUALLY PLANNING? Taylor answered: “Yes, that would be a great subject, but you’ll have to be patient.” “How long?” I asked. He replied that he didn’t know, that he could not say for sure, but then, in a later conversation, in a different context, he informed me that this month the Beatles were meeting “for important decisions… very important decisions”… and that because of this, as cardinals when electing a new pope, they will be unavailable to outsiders, primarily to journalists, for a time. “Does this mean that a big turnaround is indeed being prepared? That the Beatles have found themselves at the end of the road… at least this current time? Of this stage?” I asked. “Something new and significant is sure to happen, but what…” “The Beatles themselves don’t know that yet, do they?” I said. Taylor looked at me and shrugged.
In this atmosphere of great changes, of which only the external symptoms I could see, and there “on the spot,” there where it has a completely different and greater meaning, more weight than in newspaper columns, in this atmosphere it was inevitable that I didn’t recognise Ringo at first glance, that I almost asked him where Ringo was, and when he would arrive. We sat down, or more precisely sank into huge armchairs at a large teak table that stood in front of the fireplace where real logs were burning. The Beatles had bought the only large three-story house, built in the Georgian style, in Saville Row several years ago, then they remarkably tastefully remodelled and modernised it, however, they left many things reminiscent of the past, most notably the fireplaces in the luxurious “boss” offices. Today this white building is one of the most beautiful in the City. Just as guardsmen are on duty in front of the royal palace or the Horse Guards barracks, there are always a few girls in front of the entrance to this building, waiting to see the Beatles “come to work.” On the very ground floor, at eye level, are the two windows of Lennon’s office with a typical “Beatles stunt”: the windows have been replaced with mirrors, and when a girl climbs the iron fence in front of the house, wanting to peek inside instead of Lennon or Yoko Ono’s they see their own face: something that always happens to little provincials. Ring’s office is located on the mezzanine floor but facing the courtyard of the building. Harrison holds court in a room next to Taylor’s, whilst Paul McCartney reportedly doesn’t have his own office at all, and when he comes to Apple, he borrows someone else’s. But this has been very rare lately anyway. In fact, only Lennon and Ringo Starr “sit” in the office every day, whilst the other two work from home.
We began to chat, waiting for the Papuan to bring us drinks.
MILES: There is a lot of talk about you and the other Beatles, and much is being written too. For example, like you feel that you’re losing touch with your audience, as though you consider you’ve moved away from the “source,” that you’ve retreated into some ivory towers. It is said, for example, that you lament for the good old days when you performed in public, went on tour…
STARR: If you were in our shoes then, you wouldn’t think so now. That was something scary. Something we certainly couldn’t stand anymore. We were young then. We are, admittedly, still today… aren’t we?… but still not so young…
MILES: Still, I have the impression that you feel some nostalgia for those times. And yes, you recently performed at some concerts and drummed in front of the audience…
STARR: Yes, but not with The Beatles. I did indeed go on one little tour with another group. I did it out of curiosity… maybe out of nostalgia too… but going on new tours with the Beatles… it’s simply out of the question. Touring is something terribly hard, something that is for people younger than us.
MILES: I wasn’t thinking that you’d really go on tour. I was thinking of the rumours that you were organising public concerts in front of an audience again… Now and then.
STARR: We won’t do that.
MILES: Is it because your music has become so complicated and so dependent on electronic gadgets that it would be impractical?
STARR: That is one of the things that we’d take into account if such a thing came to mind. But, that’s not the only thing. There is something much more important. We could be able play more simply, and so we could therefore perform in front of an audience, and yet our “sound” would be good, interesting, attractive. After all, you also know that some of our new compositions are very simple.
MILES: So what it is about then?
STARR: About something infinitely simpler. We know what such concerts would look like. These would not be concerts at all, just as our former performances in front of the audience were not concerts at the time when we were still Beatles… Man, we didn’t even hear ourselves in that hellish noise! They were not concerts. It was a circus. We are serious enough today that we wouldn’t want to put up with that.
MILES: You said: “Whilst we were Beatles…”Why do you and Lennon use the past tense when talking about yourself and the Beatles? After all, you’re still Beatles, aren’t you?
STARR (laughing): Of course we are, and yet we’re not… we’re not in the old sense. When we say that we were Beatles, then we mean those Beatles who raced around the world and performed in front of audiences, the Beatle-moptops, howlers… in that sense. We mean the young Beatles, the green Beatles, the red-faced Beatles…
MILES: But, isn’t that connected to something else? With something that only in a certain sense relates to the past, but is actually about what happened after that past, that affects the present, and even more, actually concerns the future. It is said that nothing could be said about you today that someone once… then… said wittily about you: that one does not really know whether you are one head with four bodies or one body with four heads; you used to be inseparable. Today you no longer are. You were inseparable in what you did. Today you all do your own thing.
STARR: It’s obvious that we have distanced ourselves from each other in a certain sense and to a certain extent. But the conditions were different then. We were constantly on the road, so that must have been one of the reasons that we were constantly together. We were mostly unmarried. We didn’t have families, we didn’t have wives, we didn’t have children. In that respect, we were freer, yet on the other hand, we were more restrained, more attached to each other… because of that we were constantly physically together… in the same hotel, on the same planes, under siege. There’s none of that today.
MILES: But even when you stopped touring and returned to London, you were still inseparable. At least for some time. You lived close to each, like neighbours, were constantly together, had dinner and lunch together, listened to records together… Today there’s no more of that…
STARR: Yeah, today there’s none of that really. I repeat: we got married, started families, widened our interests that are not always exactly the same. It’s one thing to keep four guys together, even if each has a steady girlfriend; it’s another to bring together four men who are already approaching middle age and even more their wives. And their children. But we are still connected… and not just because of business, so to speak.
MILES: So the rumours about the breakup of the band are unfounded?
STARR: Not only unfounded, but absurd too. We can do all kinds of outside activities. I, for example, am performing a bit in films, as an actor. John is leading the fight for world peace and organising exhibitions…
MILES: Which the police have raided… (Bag One – raided by police 16th January 1970)
STARR: … However, we know very well that we can only survive or fail as The Beatles, that it all starts and ends there. If we stop being Beatles… if we suddenly stop being Beatles… we would be left without a foundation.
MILES: And according to that…
STARR: … according to that we’re remaining The Beatles, and we will be for as long as the audience wants us. And they show us that they do want us by the successes achieved by each of our new records.
MILES: You mentioned your tours with other groups, and you didn’t, let’s say, mention anything else, which in your case is quite new: that you suddenly discovered you were a composer. How is that only now? And then immediately with such success. Haven’t you had inspiration before, so to speak? Has your muse only now started working?
STARR: I’ll tell you something you won’t believe: I’ve had ideas for compositions before, but I just didn’t know how to make them real…
MILES: What do you mean? That sounds quite unbelievable…
STARR: Melodies and tunes came to my mind… but I didn’t know how to… how can I explain… how to put them on paper, write them down, set them to music, that’s it…
MILES: I still don’t understand…
STARR: I only know how to play the drums. Did you ever hear of some composer composing with a drum?
MILES: Come on, please: you’re not going to claim that you don’t know any instrument other than the drum? And if you really need an instrument: if a melody comes to your mind, you could whistle it nicely to Lennon or McCartney… and they’ll make sure that it’s set to music.
STARR: That’s right, but I haven’t done it. That’s how my melodies came and went… but I just remained Ringo the drummer…
MILES: Whilst the others composed… That didn’t bother you? It didn’t bother you that, for example, it was said that the Beatles have three composers and one performer?
STARR: That I’m a little dull, right?
MILES: Not quite that, but…
STARR: I’ve never had any kind of complex about that. I am a simple and unambitious man… unambitious in the sense that I have no kind of pretensions, no intellectual pretensions, no creative pretensions… and I take life as it comes. That’s how I approach life and I deal only with what makes me happy…
MILES: And that is?
STARR: First of all, my family. I am crazy about my family! I just can’t wait to get back home, you know?
MILES: And what do you do there?
STARR: I deal with the children. I chat with the wife.
MILES: And do you, for example, listen to music… other people’s music?
STARR: I have all the possible electronics and stereo systems, high-fidelity and so on at home… and a huge number of records… but I don’t listen to much music. In fact, I never listen to it in the sense of sitting down, putting the turntable on and then listening. Nobody actually does that any more today. I eventually “listen” to music as a soundtrack to something else…
MILES: And what kind of music do you like to listen to the most in that sense?
STARR: I like rock ‘n’ roll… I like blues… I like country music… I like ballads…
MILES: Are there some performers or composers or groups that you especially like?
STARR: I’m afraid they don’t exist. At least they don’t come to mind now.
MILES: Tell me something that really interests me. Do you, the Beatles, still meet up… I mean in a social sense… with wives, friends… I mean not only for business.
STARR: We still meet, although less and less.
MILES: OK. So, can I ask you a question that just came to my mind… that is, whilst you were saying that you don’t listen to music. Do you, at these kinds of meetings, get-togethers, then play music… I mean for your own enjoyment, for your own pleasure?
MILES: I wanted to say: do you have jam sessions?
STARR: Yes, of course we do. Believe it or not, we love to play.
MILES: And what do you play then?
STARR: Just rock ‘n’ roll.
MILES: I expected that answer. But doesn’t that mean that rock ‘n’ roll, the music that you started out with, is the only music that really makes you happy, that really excites you… and that all that other stuff is intended for the audience?
STARR: I don’t think that could be said. We are also excited by that other music, but differently…
MILES: It’s actually about nostalgia for… let’s say… first love… and the fact that you can’t resist the raw power of rock ‘n’ roll, its originality. But, Lennon told me, his life was decided the moment he heard Elvis Presley’s first record… when he first heard rock ‘n’ roll. At that moment, he decided to buy a guitar and become a musician. Was it so sudden for you too?
STARR: I played in all sorts of groups even before Presley appeared. At the time, I didn’t think I would make a living from playing for the rest of my life. I should have become an engineer. But then the Beatles took me in… as you know, I was the last member of the group to join… they even ditched the guy who played before me…
MILES: You told me you were a simple guy, with no pretensions. But still, you can’t ignore the fact that as a Beatle you are one of the most influential Britons. All the polls prove this… even today. How does that affect you?
STARR: I don’t think about that. That is, I’ve never really thought about it much… I take care of that today…
MILES: In what sense?
STARR: I’m trying, when I already have influence, to make that influence positive. You see, for example, I’m full of family virtues. Besides that, I’m hardworking. Besides, I don’t “perform”… I mean: crazy, I don’t go crazy.
MILES: And yet you did get involved with drugs. And as such as an influential man!
STARR: Yes, but I did free myself, I completely freed myself. Because I realised where it was leading. Because I realised that a man who gets used to drugs… that that man loses his freedom, that he eventually stops being a man, that he turns into a “vegetable” – and ruins everything around him.
MILES: So you didn’t drop the drugs just because of the trouble with the police?
STARR: No. I stopped them because I realised where it was leading. Now I smoke cigarettes.
MILES: When they compare you to the other Beatles they say: “Ringo always follows the others! He’s excellent… a supporting actor!”
STARR: That doesn’t bother me. I don’t have any kind of pretensions. If people think I’m dull and if it pleases them, then let it. Of course, I have my own opinion about that.
MILES: I didn’t mean to allude to something so vulgar. That didn’t even cross my mind. Rather, it is said that you, The Beatles are preparing some great new things… I don’t mean new compositions but something completely new… that you are about to make a great turnaround.
STARR: But we were always creating something completely new. We never stood still. And we won’t in the future either.
MILES: And what will it be new in this case?
STARR: We still don’t know. At least I don’t know. Take that as an answer. If that something already exists, if it is “in progress,” I wouldn’t tell you about it anyway. That’s clear, isn’t it?
This is the second interview I have uncovered related to The Beatles in old Yugoslav magazines. The first one was with John Lennon – you can read it here.
Kulturna ruta bećarca i gange – Cultural Route of Bećarac & Gangais the dual-language monograph that celebrates the establishment of this cultural route between the town of Pleternica in Croatia and the municipality of Tomislavgrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It features extensive details about the life, traditions, religion, history and of course the singing styles and verses of bećarac (Pleternica) and ganga (Tomislavgrad). There is also beautiful photography of both towns and regions.
I was the English translator for this superb edition from 2019. ISBN 9789534873113 , 235 pages.
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