Ever since Ringo Starr vowed, on a well-known cover of Buck Owens’s hit “Act Naturally,” that he’d become “the biggest fool to ever hit the big time,” the renowned rock ’n’ roll drummer has done all right for himself. As a member of the Beatles and as a solo artist, Mr. Starr has sold more than a few records, won some Grammy Awards and even had a minor planet named for him. But on Wednesday Mr. Starr will reach a very special milestone: he turns 70 years old.
As you’d expect, he plans to mark the occasion with a little help from his friends, and anyone else he can round up. Finding himself in New York on the big day, he is celebrating with a private event in the morning at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square; Hard Rock International is honoring the day at locations around the world. (Details are at ringostarr.com.)
In the evening he will perform a concert at Radio City Music Hall with his All Starr Band, which includes Edgar Winter, Gary Wright and Rick Derringer.
Mr. Starr spoke recently with Dave Itzkoff about hitting the big seven-O and some other recent accomplishments. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. Can I wish you a happy birthday ahead of schedule?
A. You can. And you can put the gift in the post or you can leave it at the concierge.
Q. What would you like to get this year?
A. You know what I’m asking for: peace and love.
Q. How are you feeling about the number 70?
A. As far as I’m concerned, in my head, I’m 24. That’s just how it is. The number, yeah, it’s high. But I just felt I’ve got to celebrate it. I’m on my feet and I’m doing what I love to do, and I’m in a profession, as a musician, where we can go on for as long as we can go on. I’m not hiding from it, you know.
Q. When you were 24 what did you think you’d be doing at age 70?
A. I don’t know, but when I was 22, actually, I remember this so well, and I was playing, and there was another band, and these people in that other band were 40, and I was saying, “My God, you’re still doing it?” [laughs] Which doesn’t look funny in black and white, but it was incredible, and now I’m waaaaay past 40. My new hero is B. B. King. I have a great line: B. B. is still playing, even though he is sitting down now. But hey, I’m sitting down already. You’ve just got to get on with it. I’d like to be out there pretending I’m only 55, but I’m not.
Q. What seems like an advanced age to you now?
A. I think 90. But we’ll see. It’s a birthday at a time.
Q. You’ve had a few interesting things happen to you over the last year. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is taking one of your drums.
A. They’re taking a whole snare drum. I’m lending it to them because, it’s well-documented, in 1964 that old Bill Ludwig, he presented it to me. I bought these Ludwig drums, and in the shop in England, the guy wanted to take the sign out, but I love everything American, the music and the instruments. So I made him leave the sign on. So I was a running commercial — on Sullivan, and all that touring of America, it said Ludwig drums. And so to thank me for that, they gave me this gold drum, and that’s the one that’s going into the Metropolitan for a year.
Q. How does that make you feel, to have one of your possessions on display at the Met?
A. Well, yeah, cool.
Q. That’s it?
A. I mean it. I’ve had a couple of pieces of clothing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Q. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t too shabby, but come on, this is the Met.
A. It’s cool. That’s all I can say. It’s very cool. I did a show there in January with Ben Harper, that’s how we got friendly with them, and they have an instrument room with a lot of very crazed African drums, old pianos, and so they thought this would be good.
Q. Are they letting you borrow anything from their collection in exchange?
A. Yeah, they’re giving me Tutankhamen’s tomb. No, they’re not giving me anything. I’m being kind to them.
Q. A few weeks ago the Vatican finally gave its approval to the Beatles. How did you feel about that?
A. It didn’t affect me in any way, but I do believe that the Vatican have better things to deal with than forgiving the Beatles. I don’t remember what it actually said — it had some weird piece in it, too. That they’ve forgiven us for being, what, satanic? Whoever wrote it was thinking about the Stones.
Q. Are you ever surprised by the unpredictable ways in which the Beatles continue to resonate in the popular culture? There’s a novel out now called “Paul Is Undead,” which imagines that you’re a ninja and your band mates are zombies.
A. I only ever see the covers and the titles. I don’t read it all. But it’s always on. There’s nothing we can do about that. What’s more interesting to me is that our records are still coming out. And they’re the same records and the new generation gets to hear them, and as far as that’s concerned, that’s the most important thing to me. The music we make, it’s still going on.
Q. Do you get much chance to listen to all the Beatles covers that continue be produced?
A. You have to talk to Sony about that. They have the publishing and they’ll give it to anyone.
Q. You’re using the occasion of your birthday to give a message back to your fans.
A. Yes, I want to spread the word that at noon, wherever you are — in New York, in L.A., in Paris, in London — I just pray that you’ll put your fingers up and say, “Peace and love.” I did it two years ago, it was the first time, and I did it out of Chicago because I was on tour. This year, we’re playing Radio City, so we’re doing it in New York. In Japan there were little get-togethers and it went worldwide, so that was great.
Q. Do you think we’ve got a good chance at getting peace and love this year?
A. I think the more we promote it, the more chance we have of getting it.