The Library of Congress is full of wonderful treasures, and today it released a new chestful: a collection of interviews on topics such as sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Included is Paul McCartney relating how pot and other drugs boosted the Beatles' creativity: "Sgt. Pepper owes a lot to drugs, to pot. That was us getting into that. It was rather innocent compared to what you talk about these days. It was very innocent. It was never seriously heavy stuff. Things got heavy later with one or two of us. Then, it was quite mild. It was like a drink. It was nothing. It was never lethal. It was never that crazy. We were never sort of out on the floor like you'd hear about Stones sessions where you couldn't wake the guitarist up. … Possibilities started to come in like mad. So that was a very rich period."
The interviews were done by Joe Smith, a record-label executive who had amazing access to music's stars. In June, he donated the collection of more than 200 interviews, and the library is making them available free to the public on its website. The first group of 25 includes the words of giants from Bo Diddley to Mick Jagger, Linda Rondstadt to Yoko Ono.
McCartney also notes that lyrics to the song Paperback Writer (a personal favorite of mine) were originally cast as a letter to the editor. He says it was another example of the group broadening its subject matter through the influence of illicit substances.
The interviews are fascinating, and worth a break from literary pursuits. You can also take a look at Smith's book, "Off the Record," which detailed some of the interviews. But hearing the voices is a great treat, even if the sound quality is sometimes muddied, and the noise of police sirens or jets can be heard in the background.
"One of the great things about the interviews is how relaxed many of them are," Matt Barton, the library's recorded sound curator, said in a statement. "They're not on camera and they're talking to someone who's very much a colleague and a peer, if not a musical artist. The tone is very different and the camera isn't on them."
Here are excerpts from other interviews:
Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ outlaw image: “I think there was a lot of time wasted with this band with all that image stuff. And eventually, of course, I think it contributed to Brian (Jones) cracking up completely and to a certain extent Keith (Richards) becoming a junkie.”
Yoko Ono on the breakup of The Beatles: "Paul was the only one trying to hold The Beatles together. But, then again, the other three felt that Paul was trying to hold The Beatles together as HIS band. They were getting to be like Paul's band, which they didn't like….There was an incredible period of unpleasantness for John, so he was in fact delighted that he was out of it."
Tony Bennett on Louis Armstrong: "He invented jazz. He invented the whole art of popular music. He actually invented it. … He was the fountainhead. There isn't any note or anything in popular music that's ever been done that Louis Armstrong didn't do before anybody else. He did everything."
Bo Diddley on Elvis: "Elvis Presley copied me and Jackie Wilson – he combined the two acts together. At the time, he had a good thing going. I thank God that he did. I take my hat off to him. The name of the game is make money, and that's what he did. He was a lucky man. I haven't seen anybody else come behind him and do that same thing except Michael Jackson and Prince. I still don't think they've stepped in Elvis's shoes."