Ringo spoke to GQ about reuniting with Macca, recording a long-lost song written in mind for him by John Lennon, and an incessant attitude that preaches peace and love.
How does it feel putting out your 20th album?
Ringo: It’s far out, isn’t it? It’s my 20th album. I’m still making albums. We went from vinyl to CDs, and now it’s vinyls and CDs that are being sold. And I believe the kids are into cassettes.
It’s all coming back. You go into a store, and you’ll never find a CD but you’ll see cassettes and vinyl.
I must go out again. I want to find the cassette shop. I only got rid of my cassettes like three years ago and now it’s coming back.
How do you continue to find new things to say musically? At a certain point, did you ever think you said everything you wanted to say?
No. If I felt like that, I would have made one record. On this record, we mention peace and love at least four times, so I’m promoting peace and love on the record. But I’m having a bit of fun with rock and roll and we have a great ballad. I also write with other people on this one. If you backtrack to the other records, there’s usually ten tracks that I’ve written with someone else, this one has five. There’s also a cover of an old song, “Money (That’s What I Want).” I wanted to record “Money” and I wanted to do it my way. That’s the joy of making your own record: We wanted to do it, so we did.
Bob Dylan once said all songs were already written and floating around the universe, and it’s up to the songwriter to capture them and write them down. Do you agree with that?
Well, in many ways I really understand what he’s saying. But all we need is one line and then we can write a song. Once I put a baseball cap on backwards and went to an event in Los Angeles and the cap said “Life is good.” Because of that, they sent me a t-shirt and a book and a lot of stuff. So anyway, I’m sitting in my room with (co writer) Gary Burr (trying to write a song) and we don’t have anything. Nothing. It’s not coming out of the air. We’re just like… I don’t know. But I happen to look at the coffee table and a book was on there that said “Life is good,” and we then we wrote a song from that. We need to just get a kick, and then we can finish any song.
Throughout your career, you could have conveyed any message you’d wanted to. But the message you chose, the one you still promote, is of peace and love.
Well, the other side of that story is “Back off, bugaloo!” [Laughs.]
In a recent interview you said, “This is why I love life, things just arrive.” Do you feel like things are predestined?
In a way, yes. But I also feel that every day is a good day, but I can drag it down. I live a life now that if I’m in a great space and having a good day, I think that it will go on forever. And if I’m on a bummer, I’ll say, “This too shall pass.” I try to be honest through the day. But sometimes, things don’t work out. Sometimes something happens and your plan gets changed. Somebody told me, which was great: “It’s great to have plans, but when they change, don’t get upset.” But what about me, I’m going to miss the flight! Okay, so get the next one! All of your cryin’ and moanin’ is not gonna stop the plane from taking off.
It seems like you know what’s truly important to you. Where does that instinct come from?
I think you get it by living life. I feel I’ve always been more of an optimist than a pessimist, and so there’s always a donkey in the room. [Laughs.] You know, you grow old and you go through certain experiences. I think the ‘60s and the introduction of… well now they’re not even legal anymore, but medications. And [people like psychedelic drug proponent] Timothy Leary.. things like that open your mind.
There’s a close to a Beatles reunion as we’re ever going to get on What’s My Name with Paul McCartney playing bass on a song called “Grow Old With Me,” which John Lennon wrote with you in mind. I understand you didn’t even know of Lennon’s demo until recently?
I didn’t find it till this year. I never heard about it, never knew about it. I was really emotional when Jack Douglas, the producer who produced John, mentioned it to me. He said, “Have you heard what they call The Bermuda Tapes?” I said, “No, I don’t have a copy.”
At the beginning (of the demo, you can hear John say), “Oh, this would be good for Richard Starkey… this would be great for you, Ring!” When I first heard that, I did get a little emotional to hear his voice mentioning my name, because I’m an emotional guy. Anyway, he recorded all the other tracks, but this track he hadn’t recorded. He’d done a demo, that’s all and I had never heard of the song, and had no awareness of it at all. But I thought that it was a beautiful song. I decided I was going to do it and thought it was really important.
How did Paul get involved?
I did the vocals first and then I wanted real friends to come and play with me. I thought the only guy who could really play bass on this for me was Paul . And Paul happened to be coming into town. I said, “I’ve done this song I just found and I’d love for you to play bass.” He said, “Sure, okay.” And that’s how I got Paul: I asked him and he said yes. He is the most melodic player, I love playing with him. He played beautiful and then he sang with me, that was nice too. (But) he’s been on five or six on my albums, so it’s not like the only time he’s ever played with me.
Your new book, Another Day in the Life, mostly features photos you took with your iPhone.
I just love taking pictures. I have a nice collection of cameras and in the ‘60s I was using a lot of fish eye and prism lenses. I liked to see where you could take it with the lenses. There’s a great picture in the book of George (Harrison) that I took with a prism lens on the Magical Mystery Tour. Sometimes you want to get artsy with them, and other times you just want to take a picture. You see a bug on the floor, you take a picture.
You were also a very early adopter of selfies. You took a selfie in a mirror in the ‘60s.
Yes, I did. I’m the first man ever to take a selfie. Ever!