When Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg was approached by the Empire State Rare Book & Print Fair to speak at this year’s event in New York, the interest in his life and all the stories he could potentially share was so vast that he was invited to talk about any subject he’d like.
“I’m very much of a different generation from the people there. And so I’ve probably got stories and experiences in my life which will connect with them, but I come from another generation,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “It’s all changed so much with how you get information, whose opinions you listen to, whose opinions you have to listen to, whose opinions you don’t want to listen to. And life has changed in such an absolutely fascinating way, and I come from ‘pre’ that. It’s like an albatross talking about The Beatles, but I’m happy to do that.”
The acclaimed video director, best known for his work with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, will participate in the fair this weekend, heading down from his home in Hudson, N.Y., where he now resides with his wife. They made the move upstate three years ago from Los Angeles, having grown familiar with the area while their daughter was in college at Bard. They’d begun to tire of the ongoing wildfire season on the West Coast, as well as the Los Angeles traffic (made worse by the fact that Lindsay-Hogg doesn’t drive).
These days, Lindsay-Hogg’s days are filled with painting, which he’s done for 25 some years, and writing; he’s at work on a new book, based on the time he directed a play by gay rights advocate Larry Kramer.
While he might wonder if people want to know about his experiences with The Beatles, it seems impossible to imagine that the book fair audience won’t be curious about his years of working with the band. Thankfully, he’s more than happy to oblige.
“The first time I met The Beatles — I did four videos of The Beatles — but the first time I met them, I was waiting for them to come in and they were going to have a meal break, and I was put in this kind of living room, and then over in the side was where they’re going to have their supper,” Lindsay-Hogg recalls. “And unlike other rock ‘n’ rollers who’d have take out pizza or Chinese food, The Beatles were at a table with a tablecloth and knives and forks and red wine or white wine on the side. And then when they got there, someone would bring out a shrimp cocktail and then they’d have chicken, and it was like being in a restaurant. Anyway, before they came into the room, I was getting nervous because I’d never met them before. And then they all came in at once. Suddenly, after having waited for 25 minutes, suddenly the door opens and they kind of, like the Marx Brothers, they all fall into the room, one after the other. And I looked at them and it was kind of like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny had all come in the room together because I realized their faces, their faces were so famous by then.
“Thinking about it years later, comparing those days to these days, I thought in their days when they became famous, you could only become famous in four or five ways. You could be on magazine covers. You could be on television, you could have a record out, you could be in the movies, and you could be on the radio. And that was about it. There was no TikTok. There was no way of becoming famous and holding onto your fame, but if you had your record, the movie, the radio, the whatever, that somehow made your fame very real because the people who made you famous, the newspaper, the radio, the television, it was in their interest to keep me famous because then you’d sell newspapers, you’d sell magazines. You’d be in the television show.
“So everybody was invested in being as famous as they could be. And that’s because there were only so many sources you could choose to be famous because the other ones didn’t exist. Unlike now, I mean, if you and I decided to, we could get to be very famous for a short time. It’s not like what it was. The world has changed so much. And you can like it or you cannot like it, but that’s what the truth is. It’s changed so much and you have to adapt to it.”
He is not as involved in the music video space today, but he takes note of something interesting when it comes his way.
“What’s the guy called, Lil Nas X? The one that does them with Elton [John]? Yes, he’s very good. He’s got an enormous presence, and he’s got a lot of style, and he’s got a very good way of doing it,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “Then there’s Jon Batiste, who won the Grammy last year. I’ve seen his videos, but he’s an incredible performer, let alone a musician. I don’t search them out because I don’t care in the same way that I used to because I’m a child of rock ‘n’ roll, whereas someone else you might be talking to might say, ‘Well, I’m a child of hip-hop or dance music.’ But I’m very much ‘Elvis Presley saved my life.’ But I was lucky, I had the first generation [of music videos], which morphed into TV specials like what I did with Simon and Garfunkel.”
Lindsay-Hogg dropped out of Oxford after a year after he was offered a job to work on an Orson Welles play in London (there have long been rumors — and Lindsay-Hogg has suspected — that Welles was his real father, although it has never been fully proven; his mother’s close friend Gloria Vanderbilt once told him that Welles indeed was).
“I didn’t have any normal skills. I didn’t have any particular physical skills. And also, not that I get bored easily, but after a certain point, if it doesn’t engage me, I lose concentration. That’s what I do at school. So then I’m no use to myself or the people I’m working for,” he says. “Whereas if I’m interested in something, whether it’s doing a play or doing a movie or talking to you or writing a book, whatever, then I can do that to a fairly high degree of success.”