[As part of our New Regime here at Dullblog, we’ve started reaching out to commenters with interesting, well worked-out opinions to write these up as posts. Commenter @Faith pitched this idea last week, and here’s what she came up with. Enjoy. — MG]
By FAITH CURRENT • (The headline quote is from Carlin’s McCartney: A Life, p. 215)
Every time I read a new McCartney bio, I dread this moment in the story. I ache for Paul’s naive enthusiasm, for the damage it will do to his credibility, for the soft underbelly it will expose to those whose knives are out for him, for the way he makes a difficult time in his life just. that. much. more. effing. difficult. “Don’t doooooo it!” I plead, willing my words back across time and into his stubborn, heartbroken, addlepated, whiskey-soaked skull. (Do I take these things too personally? Why, yes, yes, I do.)
But of course, my cries go unheard and he does do it. And as self-sabotaging and ill-considered as “I’m gonna go with Linda on keyboards” appears at first glance, I think there’s a case to be made that Keyboard Linda may have been essential to Paul’s post-Beatle future.
One of the things that makes The Beatles so endlessly fascinating is that there is paradox around every turn. And the paradox inherent in the Lovely-Linda-Joins-The-Band Caper is that the Paul McCartney who thought this up is the very same Paul McCartney who has a track record of pushing back hard against anything that compromises the quality of his music. Paul seems to have been the one who protested loudest about Stu’s and Pete’s musical shortcomings. That guy matures into Studio Obsessive Paul. Which then turns into Micromanaging Paul, the Paul of “let’s do sixty-two fun-filled takes of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer!’” royally pissing off everyone in service of a song he apparently didn’t even like.
We admire Paul for this attention to detail, and we should. For one thing, we don’t get Sgt. Pepper without it. But mistakes were, you know, made. Damage was, you know, done.
So how to reconcile Perfectionist Paul with the guy who said, “I’m gonna go with Linda on keyboards”? Here’s the key: Paul’s perfectionism always happened in a situation where he was making music with his best friends. Best friends were who you made music with, and if you needed to polish them up a little bit, redo their guitar parts or sweeten their vocals, you did it. After the breakup, Linda was his best friend—therefore, she should be in his band.
Paul’s 1970 Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp makes sense…if you had been a Beatle, living in the Beatles bubble. I think it’s easy to forget now how sheltered all four of The Beatles were, even in 1970. They’d pretty much gone right from being kids living at home, to being ensconced in the protective Beatles bubble in its various forms. What part of the Beatles experience was a bubble? All of it. Even Hamburg, for all its decadence, was a bubble in its own way. Bravado aside, it’s hard to imagine that all of them — still teenagers on the first go-round in ‘61 — weren’t collectively terrified by what they found there. Between the extreme culture shock and the language barrier, the baby Fabs no doubt sheltered together even more than they had in Liverpool.
Then, there was Brian taking care of them, that bubble, where he made all the arrangements of care and feeding, and all they had to do was perform and make music. Then Beatlemania—“a room and a car and a stage and a car and a room…” And after that, John, Paul, George and Ringo were more or less gods walking the earth, with any semblance of the “real world” dissipated forever.
Paul was perhaps the most protected of them all, living at home even after things started to take off. Even when he finally moved to London, Paul eschewed a flat of his own in favor of the domestic comforts of the Asher home. He’s admitted that he stayed with Jane long even after it was over between them because he didn’t want to lose his connection to her family and especially to Mrs. Asher’s maternal ministrations.
In addition to their isolation, there’s The Beatles’ odd habit of drafting friends with no musical ability — John forming the Quarrymen in which no one knew how to play a note; Paul teaching John guitar, Stu buying a bass he didn’t know how to play. Really the whole, “my mom has a tea chest, let’s start a skiffle band” vibe that kicked all of this off in the first place. I suspect Paul thought that’s just how you did it. First you picked the people you wanted in the band — people you liked and trusted and that you could stand spending a lot of time with in very close quarters — then you taught them how to play. That’s a pretty haphazard way to put together the most important band in the history of the world, but incredibly enough, it worked.
While Linda being in Paul’s new band was weird to the rest of the world (including probably Linda), it wasn’t in the slightest bit weird to Paul. Music had always been a special thing Paul did with those he was closest to, starting all the way back with his dad. So what happens when your best friends, the people you make music with, don’t want to make music with you anymore? It’s a double loss…and a big problem.
It seems that Paul was by far the most devastated by the breakup. Consider his being so distraught by John’s divorce announcement that Mal Evans had to drive him home. And then his breakdown in Scotland, during which he was rendered so nonfunctional that Linda worried for his sanity, and perhaps even his life. And rewinding, there’s his plea in “Oh! Darling”: “I’ll never make it alone” – contrary to conventional wisdom that Paul knew he was the most suited for solo success, I think Paul was terrified to carve out a career as a solo artist.
John almost certainly had similar self-doubt, but he also had Yoko, whom he’d managed to convince himself in his heroin-drenched haze was a credible musical replacement for Paul McCartney. George pretty much just wanted to go play Guitar Hero with Clapton et. al., and record his backlog of alleged masterpieces that hadn’t passed Beatles muster. And Ringo, the world’s most famous sideman, was by then probably at least somewhat relieved at the prospect of playing with anyone who didn’t engage in screaming matches.
So of course when Paul finally dries out and picks himself up off the filthy floor of his Scottish hovel and starts to make music again, he’s going to draft Linda to support him in the studio and in that most intimate of intimate places, the writing process. Of course he’s going to do that in the absence of the other three, and of course primarily in the absence of John.
Here’s another thing that almost certainly spun Paul into the musical arms of his new bride — unlike the bonded band of brothers that was The Beatles, he was now facing the unsettling-at-best and terrifying-at-worst prospect of working with a band in an employer/employee relationship rather than as creative partners.
Okay, sure, Perfectionist Paul was probably salivating a little at the freedom of finally being able to tell everyone exactly which notes to play with a clear conscience because he’s now signing the checks. But I doubt that satisfaction was enough to offset the daunting prospect of making music with for-hire outsiders, rather than with childhood friends who shared his history, his inside jokes and the occasional group wank.
I think that for Paul, music has always been the way he expresses his love in the world, maybe the only place outside of his family life where he lets his guard down. And actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if he made himself more vulnerable making music than he does with his family. Making music, for Paul, seems to be a form of making love — not sex, love. And I wonder if especially during that most fragile post break-up period, he was too raw to do that with strangers. We all know Paul was fine with sex with strangers, but making love…. making music, that’s a whole other thing. And thus, of course, his first solo album was just him and Linda.
But I actually think it was even more stark: Given he was paying them, the prospect of making music with strangers may have felt like musical and creative prostitution—something that would have been particularly traumatic for him so soon after losing the other three, especially John.
(SIDE NOTE: It’s maybe worth noting that despite what must have surely been an avalanche of requests throughout the years, Paul has taken on relatively few collaborators — the most promising of which, with Elvis Costello, fell apart as quickly as it began. Was it too intimate to do the musical nasty with a stranger, even if — or perhaps because — the stranger in question bore similarities to John? But I digress.)
Before the split, Paul had been pushing the other Beatles to get back to where they’d once belonged as a way of healing the rifts that had opened up between them. He wanted to return them to their beginnings as a raw, scruffy little road band, “Ricky and the Red Streaks,” piling into a van and playing roots rock-and-roll in the shaggy little dance halls where they’d started out. And wouldn’t that have been something? Can we take a minute to mourn that this didn’t get to happen? I mean, the bootlegs alone…
Paul did with Wings what he’d wanted to repeat with The Beatles, to repeat what had worked so spectacularly the first time around. Hence the impromptu college bus tour, the ramshackle rehearsal space, the rushed and rough approach to the initial albums, the (probably somewhat forced) “family” atmosphere, and of course, Soulmate 2.0 at his side — without a doubt a poor substitute musically for John Lennon, but who else but Linda could do it?
Only this wasn’t anything like the first time around. It wasn’t four childhood friends who’d shared an experience unique in all the world, forged in the crucibles of Liverpool and Hamburg and Beatlemania. And he wasn’t an unknown 15-year old kid playing “Twenty Flight Rock” in the basement of St. Peters Church on an upside down guitar. He was Paul McCartney and everyone was watching, including an awful lot of people who wanted him to fall on his ass. (I’m looking at you, Jann Wenner.)
To Paul’s extreme credit, his wacky plan worked. Wings became a huge success, and he’s the only solo artist of that generation who continues to chart singles in 2022 — a stunning accomplishment by even Beatles standards.
In the matter of Lovely Linda Joins The Band, Paul was right. Despite her musical limitations, without Linda as a creative collaborator, I’m not sure Paul would have been able to pull himself together enough to have a successful solo career at all, or at the very least, not for a good long while. And that ultimately would have been far, far worse for his legacy than any musical damage Linda inflicted. (And btw, can we agree that it took some steel ovaries for her to perform onstage with Paul Effing McCartney?)
The Beatles are a paradox, and so it seems is Paul. “I’m gonna go with Linda on keyboards” was both a spectacularly bad musical decision and also one of the most necessary post-Beatles decisions that Paul made. And maybe, just maybe, it also took steel testicles for Paul to be willing to do it—especially then, in the immediate aftermath of the greatest group ever, with John being…well, we all know how John was being.
Because of Linda, Paul got to keep making love to us with his music. And we got to keep being made love to. We got “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Backseat of My Car” and “Tug of War” and “Liverpool Oratorio” and “Jenny Wren” and those exquisite McCartney/Costello demos and so much more. I for one am willing — more than willing — to accept Linda on keyboards in exchange for all of that. And for Paul’s sanity and happiness too.