'People would write her really nasty letters; they'd send her turds in the mail.'
As a Beatle, Paul had always been the member of the group most eager to perform in public. For him, there was nothing as life- enhancing as those waves of love pouring over the footlights; for the other group members, there was nothing as tedious, scary, or boring. Now there was no one on his side of the footlights to complain, and on a roll from his new-found confidence as a solo songwriter and patriarch of a growing family - aspects of his 'revival' that owe a very great deal to Linda - it was time to put on a show. The 'empty barn' of the old MGM musicals became a series of provincial British universities, where Wings, in.early 1972, would arrive unannounced and offer to play that night for an astonished crowd of students.
Musicians, children and pets travelled in one van; roadies and equipment in another. It was all rather charming, there were no reporters watching and, although physically strenuous, it was rather a jolly little outing. 'I'm enjoying these one-night appearances,' Linda told a reporter for Melody Maker in 1972, one week into the tour. 'It's like a touring holiday! And the children love it too. We gave our elder child the choice of school or coming with us, and she chose the latter. Her teacher in London doesn't mind a bit. I mean, this is an education in itself, isn't it?'
(Incidentally, the same article ends with a description of Linda as the 'brilliant New York photographer who first met Paul on a Beatles American tour'. Where did they get that? This is Melody Maker, the most prestigious of England's music weeklies; surely it should have known better. Linda may have seen Paul from a great distance when the Beatles played at Shea Stadium in New York City in 1966, but she certainly didn't meet him until 1967. As the wise man said, 'There is no memory, there is no history, there is no truth . . . but we do the best we can.')
If Paul wanted to pretend he was starting all over with a baby band, and that the past ten years hadn't changed him a bit, well why not? Being so famous, he was entitled to do anything he wanted as a performer, even pretending that he was not famous at all. There was no one to tell him that he couldn't 'go home again', and in fact no one tells Paul McCartney what he can and can't do when it comes to being an entertainer; Linda could, but certainly no mere mortal on the payroll - and, anyhow, she knew this new band was essential for her husband's continuing rehabilitation as a musician, and that her presence was very much needed in this project.
'Linda was absolutely his support mechanism. There was a lot of ugly stuff going on in the background about the Beatles just then, and he really wanted her around. Paul and Linda would talk about it among themselves, but never in front of the group. That was "the other band", and now we're here. And he wanted her not just around, but in the band, onstage,' recalls Denny Seiwell.
'Paul had said when he was putting this university tour together that "We'll just have Linda play keyboards for a while." Well, I thought that was a novel idea; I hadn't known she played the piano. As it turned out, she had little knowledge of the keyboard, and Paul would just teach her her parts. And she would just try and stay with us.'
Linda's reluctance to be part of Paul's performing band was very real, but so was his insistence that she be up there. It would not have been her first choice as an activity by any means. She was never comfortable in front of a crowd, which certainly showed, and, as she told me many years later, 'I'd just as soon have stayed on the farm with the horses and kids, but Paul wanted me there, so ..." If she felt that she was being forced to do something she didn't really want to do, she was professional enough never to show her feelings on that matter to others in the organization. As far as anyone could see, as far as her behaviour would indicate, she was very much involved in the band. If it was going to be that way, she was going to make the most of it, as awfully difficult as it was. Any complaining would have been directly and only to Paul, with no witnesses; there were times when it was obvious they'd just had an argument, but it was, without fail, all kept in the family. And in interviews, she made it quite clear that being a performer was not the thing she wanted most in the world to do, but she did it - next question?
'Everyone respected her musical opinions, because Paul respected them so much; they had the same likes and dislikes in music,' says Denny Seiwell. 'So if Linda said something, and Paul was smiling, you knew that he was OK with that. She never said anything that was out of line, and she had a lot of good ideas, even though she couldn't pull it off musically or vocally at the beginning. Years later, she'd progressed and she'd become familiar with all of her parts and what she could actually contribute. I think she was pretty comfortable at the end. On the record that was just released [Linda's posthumous 'solo' album, Wide Prairie], her vocals are pretty damn strong. She didn't care what she sounded like, she was singing from the heart, and that was cool.'
The Linda-haters were sure that she had forced herself into the band, as they had been sure that she had forced herself on Paul in the first place - both of which opinions are so disrespectful of Paul that one wonders if these people were really his fans. It was noted earlier that the idea of anyone 'snagging' Paul as a husband while he wasn't looking was absurd, and so was the concept that he, the consummate perfectionist, would allow any unwanted or unattractive element in the sound emanating from his band.
Said Laurence Juber,
She enjoyed that she got to work with Paul. It was tough for her, because she had an awful lot of responsibilities, and when I joined the band [early in 1978] James was just a few months old. The children were always her priority, always. It was very tough. She'd be up early dealing with the kids and Paul got to sleep late, even though they went to bed at the same time. She had her hands full, and maybe he could have gotten up a half hour earlier and helped her out a little more, but he was a really good dad, always talking about something to do with the kids.
I did pick up a certain amount of frustration from Linda at the way she had been treated by the public, the way that people had taken out a lot of anger on her. People would write her really nasty letters; they'd send her turds in the mail.
As a musician, she clearly didn't have the training, but she had good instincts. She'd been around, and she knew what the criteria were for being successful in the music business. I liked her, I trusted her instincts. I mean, she was a great person. And that band, it wasn't just Paul, it was a family unit. I couldn't imagine Wings without her, I don't think the band would have existed as a band without Linda. She was very much the anchor.
Some guys think they're busy being rock and roll stars, and the family doesn't exist when they're performing or in the studio. Paul wasn't working like that, he was working from the point of view of being a partner with Linda in this marriage, in raising their kids. The band didn't intrude on the family, and the family didn't intrude on the band. It was a great balance, they figured out a very synergistic way of working. Linda became a bit of a mentor for me in terms of my perception of a strong, intelligent, talented woman being a mother and collaborating with her husband. I learned a lot from her that gave me some sense of what is possible in that kind of relationship.
I never saw the two of them argue. I'd certainly see them angry on occasion, usually when they heard something that Yoko had said about them. Or something to do with business that he would get riled about, and she'd follow his lead.
And that she always did. There was always a party line. It was Paul's opinion plus her input, but it became the party line, the opinion, the last word. I think I am not the first person to deem Paul autocratic, which is not a moral judgment or an ethical one. He is simply autocratic. He is The Don. There are those on the payroll of his company, MPL; those who work for him at times; those who work with him not directly under his authority; those who collaborate with him occasionally on various projects; those who have worked with him and hope to do it again; those who have and do not hope to again; and those who simply hope to, who are terrified of incurring the displeasure of Paul McCartney. It is not pretty to be on the receiving end of that, which would be true simply because of his immense intelligence, but add to that his fame, his talent and his wealth, and he makes the 900-pound gorilla who can sit wherever he wants look puny by comparison. And nothing that concerns him gets past him without his approval.
His disapproval, manifested as a one-to-one thing, is reserved for those who are on his agenda Right Now, and it leaves strong people shaken. It is a very powerful and upsetting thing when Paul tells you he is displeased with what you have done, or what you have in mind; you will never forget that moment, if you've never experienced it before; the people on his staff have to become accustomed to his wrath. It comes and goes, and it is, after all, a privilege to work for him. They get used to it and remain extremely loyal. They love him, they suffer for him, they know he depends on them, and of course it is valuable for him to know that his 'people' are top-notch, can hold up and are going to stick around, which they are, which they do. He is well-served; I would say that of all the very famous people I've known, he is better served by a greater number of very smart and skilled retainers than any other. He has learned the importance of an impeccable organization totally under his control.
And Linda, of course, was so much a part of the ruling mechanism that it was, as Laurence Juber says Wings were, inconceivable without her. Let's not go too far with this comparison, but it works for a certain distance: think of the support the Queen gets from Philip, her husband, father of her children, very much a player in the business he married into - essential, in fact, to her ability to reign. The children, in both families, are at the front of all priorities by far (although, due in part to personality and in part to the inherent difference in the roles played by Mother and Father, Linda's children were fond of her without qualification); the one partner is far more visible, and must be seen to be a beloved public figure, while the other survives without mass adoration, requiring at all times, however, the complete loyalty and cooperation of the first. They fight, of course, but when no one is watching. On the other hand, there has never been a question of marital infidelity in the McCartney alliance, and there certainly have been questions in that other one - as I said, one can't take this all that far.
The 'royal' thing about Paul and Linda began occurring to me when I spent time with them in London in 1974, working on the book Linda's Pictures. Requests and suggestions were not floated by Linda (I had never seen this before from her), but 'issued'. Their comings and goings were occasions, their opinions were pronouncements - people seemed to walk backwards in their presence, if not literally then very nearly so. Their house was given over to the children, who drew on the walls and furniture (but not on the Magrittes and the de Koonings) as if they, the children, were the most important generation dwelling here - a very royal attitude. Come the summer, Linda told me, parents, kids and Martha, the giant sheepdog, would all pile into a green Rolls-Royce convertible and drive to the farm in Scotland - you knew that, as informal and proletarian as this journey was, they would not find the farmhouse dilapidated and inhabited by squirrels, that it somehow got taken care of in their absence and that they had to do little more than call ahead in order to find it habitable. I thought that was at least aristocratic, if not necessarily royal.
Once, in the mid-70s, they phoned me at my strange apartment in what is now fashionable Tribeca, but was then a dingy commercial neighbourhood deserted at night, and said they were coming over. Great, always great to see them. We sat on the floor, smoked some 'spliffs' (they had been spending time in Jamaica) and marvelled at my view of the Woolworth Building; when it came time to leave, they asked to borrow money for the cab fare so that they could get back uptown.
'Er, of course. Ten dollars? Did you lose a wallet or something?'
'No, we just don't bother carrying money in New York,' Linda replied, as I counted out ten singles. 'We just tell the cab driver who we are, and then we sign autographs for him and he says we should forget what's on the meter. That's what usually happens. This time, it was someone who didn't know who we were and he didn't know where he was going, and we were afraid we'd have a problem. Sure enough, he wanted money.'
'Money? My my! What did you do?'
'Well,' she said, quite vexed at the memory, 'I had some coins in my purse. I'm not even sure what country they were from, so we told him it was a lot of money in New Zealand or something, and he'd better take it, because that's all we had. But now we're afraid we'll get another one like that, so we'd better have some cash in case it happens on the way home.'
'You could lean into the cab and point to yourselves and see if he gets excited, Linda,' I suggested, still reeling from this anecdote. 'But no problem.' I thought that was extremely royal.
I must say I can see Paul and the Eastmans getting red with fury right now, because there was a time when I was truly broke and Linda helped me out, saying, when I tried to thank her, 'Let's just not talk about that, it's OK, let's not talk about it.' But it is nonetheless, as anyone who socializes above his or her economic station will verify, expensive to have very rich friends, or could be. I don't mean the taxi fare - it's all the Why don't you come to London and visit?' and 'Come and see us next week in East Hampton, don't you have a house there this summer?' On the other hand, it is so petty to complain that people who don't carry cash might not be thinking a great deal about it at all times. I take it all back.
Actually, I'm guilt-stricken for even bringing this up, but they are good stories. Rich friends are a two-edged sword, so to speak. One of the why-don't-you-come-to-London? questions was in response to my moaning that I had heard the National Gallery was having a once-in-a-lifetime show of the paintings of Poussin, who is one of my top ten painters of all time, and I said to Linda, 'I just can't, I can't afford the time or the money.' A few days later, by FedEx or one of those things, I got from London the catalogue of the show, with a note from her assistant saying that 'Linda thought you might want to have this', which was so incredibly sweet and thoughtful that the whole gesture just shines in my memory. It's the kind of thing you would want to do for a friend, but if you don't have an assistant whom you can call and command to do it, then it doesn't get done. So it's wonderful, absolutely wonderful, to have rich friends.
You see, I think it depends on whether something is your idea or theirs. For example, I was in London and on the phone to Linda despairing that the limited run of Dame Edna Everage (the comedian Barry Humphries) in a West End theatre was sold out. 'Can you help me get a ticket?' I begged. She told me to call her back in one hour. When I did, I was told that a ticket would be at the box office in my name and that I should send a cheque for the amount of the seat (with no broker's fee, which I'm sure in retrospect there was) to the McCartney office. That was fair.
The utterly gracious Linda.
But she could be severe, dismissive businesswoman who had power and used it, not always making niceties her priority.
Denny Seiwell recalls first coming to Scotland at Paul's request (the ruined rental car story from a previous chapter). He was joined there by his wife Monique and guitarist Hugh McCracken and his 'lady' Holly. After fiddling around for a day at the farm McCracken and Seiwell were asked to come back the next day, but 'Leave your wives at home, would you?' suggested Linda, 'home' being a typically Scottish 'no frills' hotel in Campbeltown. The McCrackens were having no part of this peremptory attitude and soon left for New York. The Seiwells stayed on, taking up residence at a nearby farm. 'She just didn't want to worry about having other people around,' Seiwell surmises. And she saw no reason why she had to. If anyone had told her it was perhaps a bit rude to summarily dismiss two women who had travelled thousands of miles with their men to be there, and couldn't exactly spend the afternoon at a matinee while the guys played their instruments, Linda would have been shocked at the accusation: rock and roll was men's business, everyone was there to take care of business, and that was that. There was no time for anything extraneous.
People who have worked with the McCartneys are very aware that there's an 'us' and 'them' dynamic always in play. I recall a story about a woman who was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and asked someone on the staff what she should wear. 'The Queen does not notice what people wear,' she was told.
The problems in Wings were never about what people were wearing, but how much credit they were getting, how much dignity they had and what they were being paid. 'On the one hand he talked, talked, talked family,' says a musician who was with the band for a while. 'On the other hand, there was no family here, it was, "Here's the Pop, and here's the kids." There was lots of business stuff that wasn't getting addressed and wasn't taken care of, and it was causing a lot of frustration and resentment in the band.'
In other words, the musicians weren't getting paid what they felt they deserved (try $175 a week, which was nothing even in the early 1970s or about three or four times that amount in today's money), and the situation exploded on the eve of the group's departure for Lagos, Nigeria, in August 1973, where they were going to record Band on the Run. Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough, who'd been with them since the university tour, simply quit, in a bitter argument about money. Linda and Paul, with only Denny Laine from the band, went on to Africa and made the record without them.
And were lucky to get away from Lagos alive. Invincible the McCartneys often felt themselves to be, but they were certainly foolish to go walking alone at night in an unfamiliar Third World city, carrying cameras and wearing expensive watches. Sure enough, a car that was slowly following them contained not the usual batch of McCartney fans on an innocent stalking mission, but five youths who set upon the terrified couple, brandishing knives. 'He's Beatle Paul! Don't kill us, please!' Linda screamed to the attackers, more vicious even than the Apple Scruffs; the thugs settled for not killing them, as we all know, but took everything of value they had, after waving their knives at the jugular veins of our adventurous recording artists. As the legend goes, they were not killed because they were white, and the robbers knew that white people could not identify black people in a police line-up. Muggers whose victims can point to them with certainty are summarily shot in this most populous of all countries in the African continent. Anyhow, Wings, short of members though they were, made a great album, which just goes to show . . . something or other.
Those who have been dismissed from the McCartneys' presence, particularly in the wake of a confrontation about money, recall that 'Thanks for nothing, see you never' was Linda's way of saying goodbye to people who indicated they were less than grateful for the opportunity to be in a band with Paul. Whether or not she and Paul agreed or disagreed about the complaints they heard, they responded as one. 'Thanks for nothing, see you never.' In fact, there were attempts at patching things up over the years, and a major reconciliation backstage in Anaheim, California, between the McCartneys and the Seiwells in 1993. 'It was genuine, they were great, the kids hadn't seen Monique in years, and it was really nice,' Denny smiles, happy that it ended - for he and Monique never saw Linda again - the way it did. 'I really thought that between the four of us, Paul and Linda, Monique and I, there was a great bond, and there had been so much left unsaid and undone that really needed to be addressed, and just never got addressed.'
The European tour that began in France in the summer of 1972 was a big-time thing, very much in contrast to the 'Surprise! We're here!' tour of universities earlier that year. The shows were promoted in advance, advertised and now subject to reviews in the press, both British and local. Reporters for major periodicals had had a hard - if not impossible -time trying to get to any of the stops when Wings were playing colleges; sometimes the band members themselves had not known where they would be playing in the next few days. But now the knives were being sharpened for the arrival of Paul McCartney's new band; and indeed the eyes and ears of the world were focused on the group, travelling the highways of Europe in a double-decker flower-power-painted bus that reached speeds of 35 mph. And when the distance between shows was too much to drive, there were private jets and a fleet of limousines waiting. Local castles, run as guest houses by down-and-out European nobles, were preferred to ordinary hotels, and haunted castles were most desirable because they so delighted Heather, now nine years old.
Having to play in British school cafeterias with barely any lighting and a very modest sound-system was one thing for Linda; now she was part of a major concert tour, and she was petrified. 'She actually cried on my shoulder the night before we left for France,' Seiwell recalls. 'It was one of the few times that she and I really shared a moment, we were the two Americans and that was kind of a bond. All of us were nervous, but she was terrified. Obviously, the European press was going to compare whatever they saw and heard to the Beatles. Uh-oh. Linda was actually hoping that she could pull it off, but it was scary for her.'
'I didn't want to let Paul down, I didn't want to let the band down,' Linda told me over tea one morning in London two years later. 'I knew they'd say I couldn't play or sing, and all the who-does-she-think-she-is? stuff, and they'd be right. But I was always hoping that I wasn't going to be the headline, or the part of the review that everyone would remember because it would be so funny. Ha ha, let's think of new ways to say how terrible she is. It was too much to hope that I'd be ignored, like I deserved. Or maybe they'd just put their opinion of me in a separate little box on another page. Yeah, right.'
Some unattractive comments were made by Linda in the 1984 Playboy interview and one cannot ignore them, wish them away, or pretend that they are professional, because they're not. I find them rather shocking to this day. Paul is called away from the interview, and Joan Goodman asks Linda what the Wings period was really like for Paul. She answers that 'Paul felt very frustrated. He wanted it to work with Wings, but we just picked the wrong people. He needed the best to work with, but he had to carry all the weight.'
The interviewer then asks if Paul was as dictatorial as some accounts by musicians who worked with him make him out to be. 'It's part of the same problem,' Linda explains. 'Paul is such a good musician, and none of the Wings were good enough to play with him, including me, for sure. They were good, not great.'
Well, trying to excuse Linda for her patronising attitude towards her erstwhile fellow band members, perhaps one can say that it was only four years since Wings ended and the hurts were still raw. That's lame, though; musicians (or any artists or any anythings) do not speak of other musicians who worked for them as 'good, not great', not for publication, anyhow. It was not necessary for Linda to make any excuses about the Wings oeuvre - it was after all supervised completely and quite thoroughly by Paul, with some advice from his wife. And one wonders if this was the 'party line'; Paul could not, would not say that about colleagues (whom he had hired), but perhaps he didn't mind it being said. Speculation - and still, not one of Linda's finest moments.
Though not savagely butchered, literally, in Lagos in the summer of 1973, Linda and Paul could not have been unaware that they had been sliced to pieces most mercilessly earlier that year, when the fearsome journalist Lillian Roxon reviewed their television special, James Paul McCartney, in New York's Daily News. Her cuts were the unkindest of all - until Linda's other best friend, Blair Sabol, let fly again in 1975. This wretched falling out among girlfriends was a real tragedy of jealousy, abandonment, betrayal and plain old misunderstanding, played out on a very public level. People who had once loved Linda for all the right reasons now did not hesitate to humiliate her as only they could.
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