'I've always had the feeling that Paul pushed her into becoming a musician, maybe to bring her closer to him, I don t know.'
Looking back at those long months of depression and creative paralysis, Paul said, 'It was Linda who made me realize what . A a complete fool I was.' Between (and during) those awful periods of anxiety about the state of her husband and her household, Linda came up with the most simple and obvious reading of her partner's situation - it was about work. Work for Paul had always involved the Beatles, now there were no Beatles to work with, and hence no work; the consequence was a gaping vacuum at the centre of his universe.
It had never been a secret that although Lennon and McCartney were a team, many of the best Beatles songs were the product of one or the other of them. But whichever one of them did not do the major amount of creative work on any given song was always there to criticize, encourage, make suggestions, shut up, sing or play along with on the recording, split the royalties, no matter - he was there. Now for Paul John was no longer there, and the natural crisis of confidence that one expects to arise from this sundering of so close a partnership had escalated and spilled over into the emotional picture. The cook of the house was now called upon to help rebuild it, and fortunately she found herself up to the task.
Linda had borne the burden of Paul's very wobbly condition all by herself. There were no girlfriends either in England, Scotland or America with whom she could share her problems, and the farm in Scotland and the besieged fortress (the fans were always there, booing and hissing the wife of their idol) in Cavendish Avenue were metaphors for her isolation. Even if she had retained chatty relationships with her friends in New York, it would have been unimaginable for her to get on the phone to the Manhattan yentahood and bitch and moan about her husband's wretchedness. When you're newly married to one of the world's most famous people it would be indiscreet and rather tacky to tell people that he hasn't been out of bed in two days, that happily-ever-after has taken an unexpected downward and very steep turn, and so on. Besides, as I noted earlier, I suspect - only suspect - that Linda was advised by her father and brother, as well as by Paul, that it might not be a bad idea if she sort of avoided speaking to her nearest and dearest friends in New York while the legal madness with the Beatles was raging. Nor can I picture her saying, 'Gee Dad, Paul is really in a bad way.' She had to figure out how to deal with things quite alone.
I asked Linda, once this unhappy era could be looked at as history, what she would have done if she could have foreseen the turmoil that would envelop her household during the first year of her marriage to Paul. 'Would I have gone to London? Would I have married him? Is that what you mean? Well, no one looks forward to being confused. Yes, of course I would have married Paul, because it's all turned out to be so fantastic. We survived all that, you know? I can't say I would have handled it differently, except maybe there was a better way to shield Heather from what was going on. But I really wanted her to have a full-time father, and look, she got the best. Still, I might have thought more about how to make it easier for her. My God, if I had trouble dealing with all those changes in my life, think what it was like for her.'
Linda's daughter had been taken out of her first school in New York just weeks after enrolling, and was hastily moved to London at the end of October 1968, when she was five years old. She was placed in a new school near Paul's house in London, walking distance if the mob outside wasn't too threatening on any particular day. As Paul told Barry Miles, 'She didn't have an easy time because she was American and the kids made fun of her.' Heather made few friends at that school, and the farm in Scotland was one of the earth's lonelier places to begin with. Then, in the spring of 1969, Linda and Paul took Heather away from her classes for a trip to the south of France, and that was indeed to be a pattern with the McCartney family for the rest of Linda's life: the family travelled together, wherever and whenever. It was less disruptive for the younger children, because at least they had their older siblings for playmates, but at the beginning it was a very lonely time for little Heather. 'She's a very friendly person,' said Paul, which was and is true, but it's not much good being friendly when there is no one to be friends with.
Having on her hands a sad little child, a sad big husband, an infant and a world that loathed her, Linda became relentless with Paul, trying to convince him that he was a great songwriter and that he had to do something besides making the odd masculine repair to the farm buildings and worrying about the slow death of the Beatles. And so he roused himself from his torpor, renting small studios or working alone at Abbey Road on his first solo album, McCartney. The first song he wrote for it was 'The Lovely Linda'.
When the album came out in the spring of 1970, it included as an insert a 'self-interview' by Paul, somewhat circuitous on most points, but most definite when it came to answering the question 'Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney become an active songwriting partnership again?': 'No.' Well, John was supposed to say that first, according to an agreement the partnership had arrived at the previous October, but Paul jumped the gun and John was furious, accusing him of perpetrating a publicity stunt designed to promote the solo album. John told Rolling Stone that he, John, had quit the Beatles months ago, but the break-up was supposed to be a secret.
'It's madness when you think of it - who got to tell first,' Linda told Playboy. In any case, it was Paul's own announcement (as was the Life magazine statement the previous autumn, but people wrote that off as being induced by the stress of having to deny that he was 'dead'), and now the world knew that the catastrophe of the Beatles break-up was real. Since it was Paul who'd broken the news, Linda now led the cast of 'the women who broke up the beatles', and the scorn heaped upon her by the press and the fans was even worse than it had been at the time of the wedding a year earlier.
It must seem very odd for anyone under forty to read that people could regard the break-up of a rock group as such a significant event, because there is certainly no band today, nor has there been any perhaps since this all happened, capable of making such a gigantic impact simply by affirming that they now no longer exist. It is unlikely that there ever will be such a band again, simply (well, not so simple at all) because music, the music business, audiences and the culture have changed so much in the past thirty years. One potent reminder about the vast popularity of the Beatles is the fact that early in 1964 they held the top five positions on the Billboard singles chart. The five biggest records in America, the five with the biggest sales and the most airplay, were by the Beatles. It was unprecedented and almost certainly will never happen again; occasionally, an artist will have two records in the top five, and that is a major event in the music industry. All five? Inconceivable now.
Also, there was much going on about 'the end of the sixties', symbolized in the public mind and the media (for lack of something more specific than the general rot that was setting in) by the Altamont festival in northern California - ironically, one of the greatest performances ever by the Rolling Stones, but newsworthy because a deranged homeless person was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel. Big deal, you may say now, but this was a very serious blow to the 'peace and love' generation and its image. Soon, the stars themselves would start dying, but not with the fabulous timing of the unlucky drifter in a bizarre green suit who got himself killed in December 1969. Flower-power was expiring quickly, and although the Beatles, much to their credit, never came near that wretched phrase themselves, they were the ultimate carriers of the Universal Love message - literally, in fact, because in June 1967 they wrote and sang a song that was part of the first live broadcast to be aired around the world thanks to the brand-new satellite technology; it was titled 'All You Need Is Love' and it was Great Britain's contribution to a multinational telecast called Our World, seen by a record 400 million people.
In these times when nothing nice is Really Big, except things that are horrible, it is poignant to recall an era when there was an attempt to make 'nice' dominant. Of course that failed to happen, and the end of the Beatles was the main clue that it never would. And if you were one of the two women blamed for that ending (and, what's more, the nicer, younger, more vulnerable of the two by far), it was a very heavy thing.
Effectively, Paul McCartney's career as a solo musician began in 1970 with the release of McCartney, which went to number one in the US album charts and reached number two in the UK. The acceptance by the public of Paul alone was therapeutic at the very least, and he has never stopped giving Linda the credit for pulling him out of his desolate slump.
Linda McCartney's career as a musician - which was destined to bring down on her even more abuse than had ever before been slung in her direction - began with Paul's next solo effort, Ram.
The writing of six of the twelve songs on that album is credited to Paul; the other six are credited to Paul and Linda. Now is the time to recall our little publishing lesson in the previous chapter. The majority shareholder in Northern Songs, which publishes, i.e. owns (a large percentage of) the copyrights of any and all songs written by Paul McCartney (and John Lennon, together or separately) until 1973, is in 1971 a giant conglomerate called ATV. Well, if Paul wrote a song, ATV would collect their percentage of the copyright (publishing) on every record sold; however, if he co-wrote a song with anyone not bound by the Northern Songs contract, as Linda certainly wasn't, then she owned half the copyright and ATV did not get their piece of her piece.
ATV sued Paul for $1 million for trying to put something over on them; their feeling was that Paul could perhaps have co-written a song with David Crosby or Keith Richards, for example, and then things could be politely worked out. But the lawsuit was based on the perceived impossibility of Linda having made any musical contribution to the work of Paul. So, the first cackles of incredulity she had to bear in the long, long process of becoming Paul's musical partner - whether or not that eventually happened is still argued far and wide - came very publicly and loudly, from the company that controlled his own publishing. ATV's lawsuit claimed, in effect, that the songwriter Paul McCartney, of all people, whose copyrights ATV owned a large percentage of, had a) tried to cheat them, and b) insulted their intelligence by asserting that his wife, of all people, could have anything to do with creating music.
Paul defended the songwriting credits by insisting that Linda had indeed collaborated, if only to the point of making suggestions and offering opinions, but the suit was withdrawn when Paul agreed to do a TV special for ATV, which in turn agreed that Linda was entitled to collect whatever money was due to her. With no small amount of irony, Paul noted that the only money coming into their household was from Linda's share of the copyrights on Ram, because all his other income was being held up by lawsuits.
Linda's status as a songwriter, the suspicions of ATV notwithstanding, is affirmed by Jimmy Webb in his excellent 1998 book, Tunesmith -Inside the Art of Songwriting. Webb, no slouch at generating hits, wrote such remarkable songs as 'McArthur Park', 'Wichita Lineman', 'Up Up and Away', 'Galveston' and 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix'. He ends the book with a dedication: '. . . to the memory of the songwriters who have left us during the writing of this book'. There follows a list that includes Sammy Cahn, Cab Calloway, Kurt Cobain, John Denver, Henry Mancini, Laura Nyro, Jule Styne, Jeff Buckley, Irving Caesar, Carl Wilson, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Garcia . . . and Linda McCartney. What a great honour, what vindication, and how much it must please her husband to see that among the posthumous tributes to have come her way.
A much more contributory and active role for Linda in Paul's musical endeavours was being planned by early 1971, when the family was in New York for the recording of Ram; she was to start going really and truly professional by singing back-up on other people's albums - no kidding.
Musician Leslie Fradkin was working on his first solo album at the time and enlisted the help of his friend, the much sought-after studio drummer Denny Seiwell, who was then working with Paul, to come over when he had some time and help with overdubs and such. Seiwell walked into Fradkin's studio, and said, 'I have a bass player for you.'
'You can park your gear over there,' Fradkin said to the bassist. 'I'll be with you in a minute.'
He didn't look anything like what I remembered, he had aviator glasses on and his hair was slicked back, and then I realized who it was, but I didn't pass out, I was preoccupied with getting my own thing done. So he introduced me to Linda, and said, 'Well, she can help out too, she can sing.'
My attitude then was, and it's always been, that if he says it's OK, then it's OK. I never felt that she should have nothing to do with his music. I knew that she'd sung on 'Another Day' [a true duet featuring Paul and Linda, it went to number one on the British charts], and I knew that she'd done bits and pieces on his first album that they did at home or something.
She had a little trouble with pitch, I vaguely recall. But I thought if she wants to sing, that's fine. The record sounds very good, by the way. Paul seemed anxious about her confidence, and he encouraged her a lot. I've always had the feeling that Paul pushed her into becoming a musician, maybe to bring her closer to him, I don't know, but it was definitely something coming from him, not from her. He was very much the instigator. She was like, 'OK, I'll give it a try, but I'm kind of scared, I don't really want to do this.'
I think history shows that she grew as a musician and got better and better, and as time went on she actually became, I think, quite good. That thing Howard Stern did I thought was terribly unfair, it was horrible to do that.
'That thing' was a cruel prank played on Linda that, alas, everyone knows about. For years, it was the first thing that came into people's minds when they heard her name.
First you must know that every microphone on a stage goes into a different channel and is mixed at a 'soundboard', a huge blinking console that always seems to be set up right in front of your fine orchestra seats. The person operating the device hears everything on stage one microphone at a time, and then mixes the sounds to produce what the audience hears.
During a rehearsal of 'Hey Jude' sometime in the mid-1970s, as the band was playing the famous (and endless) 'nah nah nah na-na-na nah' coda, the guys at the mixing board, chortling over Linda's contribution, made a tape of it. It was not exactly vocalizing such as Janis Joplin or Aretha might have done, but few singers on earth sound good when their vocals are played back or listened to a cappella. In fact, even the best sound pretty awful, even comical, when you take away all the instrumental backing.
But Linda McCartney was a target waiting to be hit, and here was the ammunition. The tape of her isolated voice circulated around the world, and every raucous macho morning jock couldn't wait to play the mortifying morsel. It's still around; as recently as a year before Linda died, it went on to the Internet and got a whole new life.
'I've been in recording studios where everyone was listening to that and laughing their heads off,' said Pete Townshend. 'I would fucking bang the table and say, "Just stop! Just stop!"'
'All those things get to you,' Linda told Playboy's Joan Goodman, 'but I can handle it. I can just wipe it out, I don't dwell on what people say about me. I actually dwell more on what people say about Paul, for some reason. Maybe it's because he can't handle it.'
'Of course I've known about that tape,' Linda said to me in the late 1980s. 'I'm used to people laughing at me. It just rolls off my back now. It didn't always, but now it does.'
When she married Paul, all the girls hated Linda. When she participated in her husband's musical work, especially when she appeared with him on stage, all the guys hated her, because this was a Beatle, and how dare she?
In 1971 Paul decided to put together a band with himself and Linda as the core members. He claims he got the name 'Wings' when he was praying for Linda in the course of the very difficult birth of their daughter, Stella, in September of that year.
'Paul wanted, I think, to recapture the innocence of when bands just used to get together to bang around in the garage,' says Leslie Fradkin. 'The public relations mistake he made is that he was already well past the point where the critics would accept that from him, but conceptually he had a wonderful idea.'
The untrained singing of Linda and her keyboard playing were no doubt important elements in the 'innocence' that Paul was looking for. It was the innocence of beginning. And Linda's voice was, in a sense, a 'found object', like the instruments the Beatles would find in the closets and cabinets of the Abbey Road studios, and then use on their recordings.
Pete Townshend had high praise: 'I know that there was something about Wings' sound which had a particular kind of quality to it that definitely came from the way that she sang. I've heard people on the inside of Wings boldly state that Paul used to come in and replace all her vocals. And I know that that's bollocks. I know it's bollocks, I know it's nonsense. 'Cause you can hear her. You can hear her voice. You know the human voice is the hardest to imitate. And you know she's in there, she's part of that sound and she's part of the character of it. I think when you're a composer, you work with the elements that are around you that are part of your human palette.'
There were eight configurations of Wings between August 1971 and January 1980. Only Linda and Paul McCartney and guitarist Denny Laine were in the group, and on every recording, for the entire time. The group(s) played for millions of people around the world and sold millions of records; if you add up all the people they played for, and all the records they sold, it was more than the Beatles.
The story of Wings is a book in itself; there follows a listing of some critical dates and recordings to which you can refer if necessary - the personnel changes have been omitted. You need only know that the two superb and articulate musicians who contributed to the current book are drummer Denny Seiwell, who played with Paul and Linda during the Ram sessions in early 1971, was part of the original Wings line-up and left the group in August 1973; and Laurence Juber, guitarist, a member of Wings from early in 1978 until January 1980, when the group effectively ceased to exist after Paul was arrested for marijuana possession in Japan, spending over a week in jail and ruining a very lucrative and long-awaited series of concert dates. Both Seiwell and Juber are now living in Los Angeles and thriving.
So, in a nutshell (and with great indebtedness to Rock Movers and Shakers, by Dafydd Rees and Luke Crampton, Billboard Books, 1991):
- By late 1971 Wings have been formed, after the release of two solo albums, McCartney and Ram. The group's first album, released in November, is Wings Wildlife.
- In early 1972 the band embark on a 'minimal' tour of British universities, with two vans, three children, two dogs and various musicians.
- July 1972 sees the kickoff of a major European tour, in Chateauvillon, France.
- The album Red Rose Speedway is released in May 1973 and goes to number one in America and number five in the UK. Also that month, the TV special James Paul McCartney airs on the BBC. In '73, there are three major hit singles: 'Hi Hi Hi', 'My Love' and 'Live and Let Die'.
- August '73: Wings record the phenomenally successful LP Band on the Run in Lagos, Nigeria.
- In 1974, with Band high in the charts around the world, Paul McCartney finally gets a US visa - which has been held up by pot busts in the past few years - and Wings go to Nashville to record, where Paul also produces Peggy Lee's Let's Love.
- Venus and Mars in 1975 makes number one in the UK and the US; the single 'Listen to What the Man Said' is number one in America, number six in the UK. Wings go on a thirteen-month tour.
- Wings at the Speed of Sound goes to number one in the US and number two in the UK in 1976. 'Silly Love Songs' tops the US singles charts, reaches number two in the UK. The 'Wings over America' tour begins in May, with Paul making his first appearance in the US, in Fort Worth, Texas, since the Beatles' last concert in San Francisco ten years earlier. A UNESCO benefit in Venice to help save the sinking city is such a massive event that the city sinks even further. In December, the world tour ends in London.
- Wings over America, the album, makes number one in the US and number eight in the UK in 1977. 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is in the top ten in the US, only number twenty-eight in the UK; but 'Mull of Kintyre', released in September, becomes the biggest selling British single of all time, yet bombs in America. The album London Town is recorded on a fleet of yachts in the Virgin Islands, to be released in 1978.
- Later in 1978, Wings' Greatest Hits is number five in America, number twenty-eight in Great Britain. In 1979 Paul's song 'Haven't We Met Somewhere Before' is turned down for the movie Heaven Can Wait, but makes it into Rock and Roll High School, performed by the Ramones, who named themselves after Paul's first stage name (with the Silver Beatles in 1960), Paul Ramon.
- Shortly after getting an award for being the most successful composer in history, having sold 100 million singles and as many albums, Paul is arrested in Tokyo in January 1980 for bringing a bag of marijuana into Japan in his suitcase. His nine days in jail mean the end of the Japanese tour, and Wings fall apart.
The preceding has been disgracefully compressed but it's just there to give a Wings perspective/retrospective, as it were. We are by no means finished with that eventful decade. In fact, let's go back to the pre-Wings years, as Ram was being recorded in New York, as recalled by drummer Denny Seiwell. As always, Linda and the children were there during the sessions - Heather was eight and Mary was about eighteen months old.
'Linda made tea during the recording of Ram,' Seiwell recalls. 'Mary was tiny and jumping all over; there was a playpen for her in the control room of the recording studio. It was the first time I ever had a cup of English tea. I thought, "I can get used to this." Anything Linda did, she really did well.'
It was at that time, early in 1971, that Linda called me - it was the first time I'd heard her voice since she had left for London in September 1968.
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'Hi, it's Linda. We're in town. Can we come over? Paul would love to meet you.'
'7 West 20th Street, right?'
'We'll be right over.'
Nothing about 'I missed you', or 'I suppose you're wondering . . .', or anything to indicate that an unusually long period had gone by for two friends who used to talk every day. Linda was now operating on MST, McCartney Standard Time, and she would for the rest of her life. In their own minds, and in their lives, the McCartneys were the Greenwich Meridian. As the Queen is the Fountain of Honour, they were the Fountain of Events - this royal metaphor will be heard many times in this story, and from many sources.
Linda wanted her 'new' husband and her old friend to like each other, and there was no problem with that from where I sat; there is no one more charming than Paul, and of course it was exciting to meet him, and great to see Linda again. Except for a certain deference towards her husband in her manner, which was certainly to be expected, she hadn't changed a bit. She took control of the situation, because she had to, and Paul offered the obligatory - and he offered it most graciously - 'Linda has told me a lot about you. I'm glad we're getting to meet each other.'
One thing about meeting people who are very famous is that you cannot ask them very much about themselves; they have to do virtually all the asking. Otherwise, it's as if you were conducting an interview, and it just doesn't feel right. Besides feeling that it would have been a bit rude to ask a Beatle, 'So, what are you doing these days?', I didn't really want to work very hard at this whole renaissance. That was up to them. She'd turned her back, had found greener pastures, was now trying to re-establish something that once was, God bless her. I still loved her, and there was as always a little protective feeling towards Linda; I wanted to see what she'd brought home, so to speak. And I wanted the Beatle to perform, in my living room, to please his wife by pleasing me. I thought I was entitled to that, and besides, we were all too smart and grown-up for anything to go wrong; we were all going to make sure that everything was hunky-dory.
I was working in a dead-end publicity job at Atlantic Records then, and was glad to chatter all about the Rolling Stones, David Crosby, Steven Stills. (Crosby had been a great friend of the Beatles; Stills had been a great friend of Linda's) and my beloved Stooges, whom I was managing on the side. It was very music business, and then it turned into Linda asking me about all our mutual friends; it was instantly clear that I was the only one of the old crowd she had contacted in the course of re-emerging into New York rock and roll society.
Steve Paul, the owner of the Scene, was discussed, as was the crowd at Max's Kansas City, the Fillmore, the Chelsea, etc. We shared our devastation at the deaths of Janis and Jimi the previous autumn (Janis' close friend and biographer, Myra Friedman, would have appreciated hearing from Linda at the time Janis OD'd in LA; it was known that Paul and Linda had been in New York when it happened, but there was not a word of sympathy offered - the Fountain of Events syndrome starting to take shape), and of course Lillian's name soon came up.
Where I had once described our mutual friend as 'not smiling wildly' at Linda's neglect, this time I just said, 'She's pissed.'
'Uh oh,' Linda acknowledged, but I knew she would do nothing about it. She was afraid to confront a pissed-off Lillian Roxon, as was everybody else. I told her she should call, but she never did. (Naturally, I told Lillian all about it as soon as they left. 'They must have a new record coming out,' she said most disdainfully. 'They need all her friends in the press back on their side. I'm not surprised they called you.' Meaning I was a pussy? I didn't pursue it. Lillian was sliding into deep detestation of her erstwhile best friend.)
Paul was staying out of the sentimental reminiscences, but when I remarked to Linda, 'Gosh, I miss your pictures, I wish there could be a book of them,' he came vividly to stage front.
'That's just what I've been saying!' he said. 'Her pictures are great! There should be a book, more than one, definitely!'
'Well it would be beautiful,' I replied. Linda asked me if I would work on such a project with her, and I said sure.
The whole mood of the little get together had changed. If they were asking me to line up support for a forthcoming album or musical project of any kind, they were being so subtle that I didn't notice it. What Paul wanted was the rehabilitation of Linda in the public mind, as a photographer worthy of having her name on a book of her work, and he was really, really into the idea. It occurred to me right then that he thought the world should know that he had married a person who was remarkably talented, an artist in her own right. John Lennon had married a woman who was an artist in her own mind, and his; Paul was convinced that he had done just as well in picking a creative mate, probably better. I thought, 'Way to go!' It was a very good moment. And it was all about Linda. Paul loved her and wanted her to shine. He was proud of her, proud of the choice he had made, proud of the partnership that his fans and all the press had questioned the validity of from the very beginning. They were wrong; he was right; he had done very well, if they only knew ... It was my great pleasure to be an instrument in the campaign to prove that Linda McCartney was no groupie, no dizzy debutante, no destroyer of groups - that she was instead an incredibly smart, loving person with an astonishing gift for photography. Her pictures would speak for themselves, and the contempt would start to lift and vanish.
How optimistic we were, and how long the fight was going to take. Because Paul wasn't going to be happy with just a book (or books) of Photographs from a beautiful woman who was a perfect wife and mother - he had to put her in his new band and so subject her to a whole new round of ridicule. In the long run, he was right: she rose to the challenge. In the shorter run, Linda would suffer greatly.