Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 25. PASSING THROUGH THE DREAM OF LOVE
LINDA HAS CANCER
When Linda McCartney found a lump under her arm she went to see her general practitioner, who told her it was nothing to worry about and prescribed antibiotics. Still feeling unwell, Linda sought a second opinion, receiving the results by telephone at Blossom Farm in December 1995. Linda rang Paul to tell him she had a cancerous tumour in her left breast. Before going into hospital to have the lump removed, Linda also confided in Danny Fields and Carla Lane. ‘She said, “Look, I want to talk to you, come on in the house,”’ recalls Carla.
We sat in the kitchen and she just looked at me. She said, ‘I have cancer,’ and I went to open my mouth, and she put her finger up and she said, ‘Shush! Nothing. Don’t think about it. I want you as my friend to know, but we’re not going to talk about it.’ I said, ‘OK.’
Then Linda changed the subject, and rarely spoke of it again.
On Monday 11 December 1995 Linda underwent a lumpectomy - the removal of the cancerous tumour and surrounding tissue, rather than a whole breast - at the private Princess Grace Hospital in London, not far from the McCartneys’ St John’s Wood home. Paul and Linda then retired to their Sussex estate to allow Linda to recuperate. When the story broke in the press, as it inevitably did, immediately becoming a major story, Paul came up from the house to talk to the reporters gathered outside his gate in Starvecrow Lane. ‘The operation was 100 per cent successful, thank God,’ he told the media, ‘and the doctors have told her now just to get some rest.’
As he watched his wife, Paul was reminded of his mother’s terminal illness. Linda was enervated like Mum had been. It was a mark of how poorly Linda felt that she wasn’t with her husband on 30 January 1996 when he stood on stage in his old school assembly hall, now the Paul McCartney Auditorium, to open the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
To give Liverpool its Fame-type school had taken longer and cost more than anticipated, almost £6 million more than the original £12 million budget ($18.36m), with Paul loaning LIPA £1.5 million ($2.2m) to help bridge the gap, a loan that became £2 million ($3.06m) with tax relief when he declared the money as a gift, bringing his total contribution to £3 million ($4.5m). Despite such munificence, some Merseysiders grumbled that Paul could have paid for the whole thing himself, part of a surprisingly widespread feeling that the Beatles let the city down. ‘They never came back, really, when they left in the Sixties; they never came back to raise Liverpool’s profile,’ grumbles Dave Holt, a former Cavern-goer, over a pint in a Mathew Street pub. ‘Paul McCartney comes back occasionally to play - it seems he comes back when he needs a pay day.’ This attitude is unfair. Paul had maintained a home on Merseyside all these years, visited frequently in a private capacity and, in backing Mark Featherstone-Witty’s school, rescued the Inny from dereliction and brought new blood to the city, literally so in terms of the students who now came from around the country, and abroad, to study there, with corresponding social and economic benefits for Liverpool. LIPA also brought some welcome show business razzmatazz back to Merseyside, with Paul’s personal and ongoing close association with LIPA helping persuade other celebrities to become patrons. Some commentators believe the opening of the institute helped begin a wider regeneration of the city. ‘You had the Derek Hatton-era in Liverpool, which was pretty ghastly for the city, and everywhere was being run down, and it so happened that McCartney started to develop LIPA really before there was much hope in the city. It was one of the first things. And I think that gave other people hope, and things developed from there,’ says local radio personality Spencer Leigh, referring to improvements that continued through 2008 when Liverpool became European Capital of Culture, with a vast amount of new building work and other enhancements to the city. And rich though Paul was, £3 million was not an insignificant amount of money to give away.
While Paul had been generous, he had not frittered money on LIPA, and most of the difficult conversations he’d had with Mark Featherstone-Witty were about finances. At times of crisis, such as the overspend on the roof, Paul’s reaction tended to be expostulations of: ‘You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing!’ - which was the sort of thing he used to yell at Apple staff. While not pleasant, Paul’s criticism was on target then as now, as Mark admits with laughter: ‘There would always be the [reaction] from Paul, unless you’re careful, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing,” which of course would be partly true, unfortunately, because you don’t do this, in one’s lifetime, too often.’ On Inauguration Day, though, with the refurbished auditorium filled with happy faces, all rancour was forgotten. Paul gave a passionate speech in which he talked about the tremendous start in life he’d received in this building (apparently forgetting that he had lost all interest in his own studies as a boy after music entered his life) ; now he hoped others would benefit. ‘Obviously one of my feelings now is how proud my mum and dad would have been …’ he said. Then he stopped, choked with emotion, thumped his lectern, and continued: ‘But I won’t go into that because I’ll start crying.’
Any reference to Paul’s parents was liable to tap a deep well of emotion in this highly sensitive and sentimental man, but this very public display of feeling was also to do with Paul’s underlying concerns about Linda, who was now undergoing chemotherapy, despite the fact that the drugs she was taking had been tested on animals. This went against everything Linda believed in as an anti-vivisectionist. ‘If a drug has got to be used on humans then legally it has to be finally tested on an animal,’ Paul later acknowledged. ‘This was difficult for Linda when she was undergoing treatment.’
Despite the feelings of sickness induced by the drugs, Linda continued to work the phones for Paul, as she had always done, calling Danny Fields and asking when he and his colleagues at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame were going to induct Paul as a solo artist; also calling Yoko to ask her, as a personal favour, if she would let Paul have his name before John’s on ‘Yesterday’ when the second volume of the Beatles’ Anthology CD series was released in March. The fact that Paul’s most successful song was credited to Lennon & McCartney had always niggled with him; while it was well known that John had never thanked anyone for crediting him with that tune. John and Paul’s joint authorship of the Beatles song book was, however, a principle upon which Lennon & McCartney royalties were divided, and Yoko was reluctant to grant a favour that might set a precedent. If they went through the catalogue deciding which were John’s songs and which were Paul’s it might become apparent that, more often than not, Paul’s songs made more money. The credit on ‘Yesterday’ developed into ‘a major issue’, in Paul’s words, concluding unhappily when Yoko told Linda she would never allow Paul to have his name before John’s, a rebuff the McCartneys took hard, considering the fragile state of Linda’s health when she asked the favour.
With Yoko and Paul again at daggers drawn, and George Harrison declining to collaborate with Paul on any more ‘new’ band songs, the brief entente in the Beatles War was at an end. Still, Paul remained on good terms with his minor ally Ritchie, with whom he had a melancholy new bond. The previous December, Ritchie’s first wife Maureen had died of leukaemia at the age of 48, a death that touched Paul and Linda personally because of their own situation, because Mo was so young, and because she’d been an original member of the Beatles family, one of the first four girls alongside Cyn, Jane and Pattie. Mo was somebody Paul had been on holiday with, and seen constantly during the early days; she was also the mother of Ritchie’s three children - Zak, Jason and Lee - who were like cousins to Paul’s kids. He responded to her death by writing a moving song, ‘Little Willow’, encouraging Mo’s children to be strong, rather as he had written ‘Hey Jude’ to buck up Julian Lennon after John abandoned his family. ‘Little Willow’ is a good and a touching tribute to Mo, whom Ritchie had remained close to after their divorce, and in May Ritchie came to Hog Hill Mill to record two new songs with Paul: the ballad ‘Beautiful Night’ and their first co-written song, ‘Really Love You’, both of which were produced by Jeff Lynne. These were powerful tunes, performed with gusto, Paul and Ritchie apparently able to forget their troubles in their music, while Paul’s concerns for Linda seemed to bring a new sense of reflection to his lyrics.
Although Paul and Linda gave the impression publicly that they were confident of beating her cancer, Linda still wasn’t well enough to be with Paul in June when the Queen visited LIPA. Shortly after this, Linda privately acknowledged how ill she was by making out her last will and testament. It was a simple matter. She left her entire estate in trust to Paul, who was appointed co-executor of the will along with John Eastman; the income from the trust was to be paid quarterly to Paul until his death, after which the trust would be shared equally between the couple’s four children. Directing that her executors ‘pay the expenses of my last illness and funeral’, Linda signed the document at Hog Hill Mill on 4 July 1996, an appropriate date for a woman who had never relinquished her American citizenship. Also appropriately for a woman who’d made her life in the rock ’n’ roll world, the witnesses were her husband’s roadie and his studio engineer - John Hammel and Eddie Klein.
Publicly, the McCartneys maintained an optimistic ‘we can beat this’ façade, as composer David Matthews recalls: ‘She never gave in … she was very brave. I think she believed she could overcome it. After all, she was living on all this very good food. That’s supposed to be good for cancer.’ Paul and David were working together now on Standing Stone, a symphonic tone poem of sorts (one with words) rooted in McCartney’s interest in Celtic mythology, and intended as a centenary celebration for EMI. The starting point for the work was the enigmatic standing stone on the McCartneys’ Scottish estate. Musing on what ancient hands had planted that slender but still massive finger of rock in the land had led Paul to paint a series of pictures and then, while jogging around the lanes in Sussex, he conjured up the beginning of a complementary epic poem, starting with the creation of Earth and a man who is, or believes himself to be, the first man, a character who comes to a new land where he meets a woman and erects a standing stone in gratitude for his survival; after which their peace is broken by invaders (as Kintyre was invaded by Vikings 1,000 years ago). Finally, the hero defeats the invaders using the cunning of Odysseus.
‘Standing Stone’ is a long (36 verses), densely woven and sophisticated poem unlike anything Paul had committed to paper before, making one wonder if it was all his own work. In fact, he did have some help with the editing of the poem. When the music of the same name was eventually released on CD, there was a discreet credit at the end of the liner notes: ‘Standing Stone poem edited by Tom Pickard’, with a similarly low-key acknowledgement when the poem appeared in the book, Blackbird Singing. Recommended to McCartney by their mutual friend Allen Ginsberg, Pickard had been invited to Blossom Farm to meet Paul at the end of 1995.
Paul gave me a copy of his long poem, ‘Standing Stone’, and said that he was using it as a model for the musical piece of the same name. He thought the poem was too long and wanted help editing it. This seemed natural to me, as most of the poets that I know, including myself, get close colleagues to help them knock off the rough edges and tighten up loose lines and generally give it a polish. Not exactly a shoe-shine relationship … maybe it required an occasional fellow cobbler’s skill too.
Over a month or so we went through every line together - mostly making them tighter, reversing order occasionally. He was an easy person to work with - completely without ego. He was happy to make changes where he saw the sense of it, and we pretty much agreed. Sometimes I’d suggest changes to a line but he would insist on keeping it, and that was a happy circumstance for me, picking up a few tips from a great songwriter. I mean we were approaching the thing from different perspectives, bringing two traditions together. He had already done that himself, writing it as a lyricist and a poet, and those traditions don’t always sit well together - but I thought in that long poem he pulled it off admirably. But essentially, the epic was already written in full, by him alone and I just brought some editing, line-tightening skills to the table. Some of how I see poetry washed into it, pretty much like a musician might influence a piece in a session with a lick here and there … the work is his.
This poem was not incorporated in the music of ‘Standing Stone’, but meant as a complement to and inspiration for the symphonic work. There would be a chorus, but the singers would be given simpler lines to sing. Nevertheless ‘Standing Stone’ was a project on ‘the biggest possible scale’, as David Matthews acknowledges, with ‘huge pretensions’. The music itself was complicated, created over a long period of time with the help of a cabal of expert assistants. In addition to Matthews, the composers and arrangers John Fraser, John Harle and Steve Lodder all helped. Paul referred to the men as his Politburo. ‘Again, I was trying to get him to do it, and again going through it for dynamics and phrasing which took ages,’ says Matthews. ‘It was very difficult to get him to cut anything. Sometimes I’d think it should be shorter in places, but he wouldn’t agree. He had his own ideas.’
Paul and Linda returned to Kintyre that autumn with three of their children: Heather, approaching her 34th birthday; Stella, now 25; and 19-year-old James. Their neighbours Alice and Duncan McLean were retiring from High Ranachan Farm, and Paul and Linda wanted to buy the McLeans’ 303 acres which, added to their existing landholding, would given them approximately 1,000 acres, roughly the same amount of land as they owned in Sussex and Arizona. As always, their motive was to preserve the landscape and its wildlife in a natural state - while also putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the public. The McCartneys went to visit the McLeans to tell them they were going to make an offer for the farm, which was accepted. Duncan McLean was happy to sell to Paul for the right price even though he knew McCartney wouldn’t farm the land as he and his brother had done. The men had a drink on the deal, Duncan pouring out drams of Glenmorangie whisky, to Linda’s apparent disapproval. ‘I don’t think she liked Paul to drink,’ observes Mrs McLean. ‘Linda was edging it away from him.’ The women went into the kitchen to make tea. ‘[Heather] told us she had a little pottery business and she wanted to be independent of her mum and dad, and didn’t want to be dependent on them for support.’
While Heather seemed fragile, Stella was as hearty and robust as Paul himself, whom she resembled strongly in personality and features, and was soon to be appointed Creative Director of the French fashion house Chloé. James was a quieter person who shared Dad’s passion for music. When he took up the guitar, Paul advised his son to have formal lessons, to which the boy retorted: ‘You didn’t, Dad.’ So a third generation James McCartney learned to play music by ear. Just before the trip to Scotland, Paul and James had recorded a song together, ‘Heaven on a Sunday’, James trading guitar licks with his father. A true family affair, Linda sang backing vocals. It was one of the last times she would record with Paul.
SIR PAUL AND LADY Mc CARTNEY
As Lee Eastman had predicted, the time came when Paul McCartney’s considerable contribution to his country’s cultural and economic life had to be recognised with more than an MBE. Paul and Linda’s propensity for getting busted had probably delayed the receipt of more elevated honours, but it was now 16 years since the McCartneys’ last arrest and, what with Paul’s recent meeting with Prince Charles at St James’ Palace, and his charitable work with LIPA and his local hospital in Rye, Paul’s friends felt it was high time he received a KBE, elevating a Member of the Order of the British Empire to a knight of the realm.
Although Paul would always tell friends he didn’t expect to be addressed as Sir Paul, as if he hadn’t expected the honour, and didn’t want to be seen to be swanking it, the knighthood was instigated by one of his closest associates, and supported by a campaign of friends. Having had a conversation with Paul’s manager along the lines of ‘Oh look who’s got a knighthood now, while Paul is overlooked!’, Mark Featherstone-Witty took action. Anyone can nominate friends and colleagues for honours by filling out a Cabinet Office nomination form. Mark did so, suggesting Paul would be a worthy recipient of a KBE. This was done apparently without Paul’s express knowledge. Mark soon received a reply from the Cabinet Office. ‘Some man rang back from the office that deals with these things, enquiring if I knew that Paul already had an award, his MBE. The implication, I suppose, was that this was enough. At that point I gave him a piece of my mind.’ Mark also rallied support from friends and influential music industry figures, including Sir George Martin, who’d received his KBE the previous year. Their campaign was successful. News that Paul was to be knighted was announced in the New Year’s honour’s list, on 1 January 1997, the ceremony scheduled for March.
In the meantime, Sir George orchestrated ‘Beautiful Night’, one of the new songs Paul had recorded with Ritchie. Appropriately for a love song, the orchestration was overdubbed at Abbey Road Studios on Valentine’s Day, part of which Paul spent at Cavendish Avenue with David Matthews working on Standing Stone, which Paul now wanted to hear. ‘So he hired the London Symphony Orchestra so they could play it through,’ laughs Matthews, amazed at such largesse. ‘I don’t think he quite realises how the rest of us have to put up with slightly less rehearsal time and so on. You know, he can afford to have absolutely everything he needs …’ The following week, on 11 March, Paul went to Buckingham Palace to be formally knighted by Her Majesty the Queen, watched by Mary, Stella and James. Lady McCartney, as Lin was now formally addressed, was too ill to attend, giving her husband instead a watch inscribed with the words, ‘To Paul, my knight in shining armour’. Stella burst into tears during the ceremony, Mary saying afterwards: ‘It was just like the end of a wonderful film with the Queen placing the sword on Dad’s shoulders. I will never forget that moment.’58
Fourteen songs Sir Paul had been working on during his Anthology sabbatical were released in May as the album Flaming Pie, after John Lennon’s humorous explanation of why the Beatles were so named: ‘a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, “From this day on you are Beatles with an A”’. The eponymous title song - again produced by Jeff Lynne - worked much better than the ‘new’ Beatles singles Lynne had produced for the Anthology, possessing a pleasingly fat sound. The words were good, too, as they were throughout this new LP, which came as a welcome change.
The proverb ‘nice writes white’ applies to Paul’s career. Although ambitious, impatient and sometimes overbearing, Paul is essentially a decent man, a happily married family man for many years past. But domestic happiness does not tend to beget great art. Rather it engenders the bland; in Paul’s case, prosaic and clichéd love songs. His albums typically featured one or two outstanding tunes, padded by filler, with a marked propensity for the sentimental, and though he agonised over some albums, many of his records had been put out before enough reflection and revision had taken place. Flaming Pie was different. The fact that the tracks had been written and recorded over a long period of time - the oldest, ‘Calico Skies’, dated back to 1991 - gave Paul a sense of perspective, allowing him to cut out weak material. Working on the Anthology, and talking about his life for his forthcoming biography, also caused Paul to reflect on the Beatles, and here were some of the best songs he’d written about the band and the wider Beatles family, including ‘Flaming Pie’, ‘The World Tonight’ and ‘Little Willow’. Importantly, Paul McCartney sounded less cocksure, more like a man in his fifties should. There were love songs on the new record, but not ‘silly love songs’, more interesting ones like ‘Somedays’; also songs about parenthood (‘Young Boy’); while a melancholy sense of vanishing time imbued ‘Heaven on a Sunday’. The collaborations with Ringo Starr and Steve Miller were joyous. The co-productions with Jeff Lynne also worked well, with Sir George Martin’s orchestration lending a touch of class to the CD. There was in summary a sense of quality and substance to Flaming Pie that had been missing from Paul’s albums for years, the material also having a touch of winter about it, as one expected from an artist reaching an age where loss and regret are as important as love and sex. Bob Dylan released such a wintry album in 1997, Time out of Mind. This was shortlisted along with Flaming Pie for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. Dylan won, deservedly, but Flaming Pie was a strong contender.
Moreover, Flaming Pie marks a turning point in Paul’s mature career, after which his music generally becomes more interesting. In the years ahead he would sell less records, partly because of a sea change in the way the public consumes music, but the work he put out was often better than his more commercially successful albums of the Seventies and early Eighties. Certainly Flaming Pie is a finer record than Wild Life or Venus and Mars.
Paul also seemed less concerned now with being relentlessly commercial. As a case in point, he was working again with Youth on a second Fireman project, Rushes, recording enigmatic, trance-like ambient tracks which, though lacking conventional lyrics or melodies, are beautiful and moving. ‘He just rang me up, he said: “I want to do some more Fireman. I’m really up for it, come down, and let’s just do something new, and jam,”’ remembers Youth.
So we did and I think, reading between the lines on that one, I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was when Linda was very ill, and by the time we’d finished it she was dying, and for me it became very much a requiem for her … It certainly wasn’t consciously discussed when we made it, but the emotion of it and the sadness and the melancholy, it definitely picked up on that. That was happening … It is a very sad [record].
From the sublime to the ridiculous: the Anita Howarth (née Cochrane) paternity case blew up again in May 1997 when one of her relatives gave newspapers details of the £5,000 pay-off Anita received from NEMS in 1964, an old story still capable of making front-page news in the British tabloids 33 years later (when the pay-off would have been worth £64,000 [or $97,920]). As a result, Anita and her son Philip, now a 33-year-old lighting technician, told their story to the Daily Mail. ‘There was never any doubt in my mind that Paul was Philip’s father,’ Anita was quoted as saying, while her son described the paternity issue as an albatross around his neck, causing him to dislike Sir Paul and take comfort in drugs. He revealed that he’d developed a heroin habit as a young man, which led to petty crime. ‘I had started stealing from everywhere, even from home. I had turned into a rather nasty character.’ Anita then told Philip that Paul wasn’t his father, thinking this would help him. It did for a while. Philip stopped using drugs. Mum joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But when the story blew up again in 1997, Anita admitted to Philip she actually thought Paul was his father, but wasn’t 100 per cent sure. The only way to know for certain was to take a DNA test, so they asked a solicitor to contact McCartney. The star didn’t take the test, but Philip says he did, and so did another man whom Mum thought could be a contender, with the result - some years later - that this other man was proven to be Philip’s father. Thus ended the four-decade farce of the Liverpool typist who claimed Paul fathered her child. Like the German barmaid story, it turned out to be completely untrue. Paul’s only children were those he’d had with Linda, plus his adoptive daughter Heather.
That summer, the McCartneys checked into the Plaza Athénée Hotel in New York, so Linda could be treated by the renowned oncologist Larry Norton at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. When she heard that Paul was in town, his most devoted New York fan Linda Aiello (née Magno) came by the Plaza Athénée with her friend, Toni Kraker, intending to give Paul gifts for his forthcoming 55th birthday. Linda Aiello was now a woman of 43, married to a New York cop, but part of her heart still belonged to Paul, whose signed photo from the Give My Regards to Broad Street publicity junket hung on her bedroom wall. Hotel staff warned Linda and Toni that it wasn’t a good time to approach Sir Paul, but the women walked up to him anyhow as he rounded the corner. Paul reacted furiously, angry in a way the women had never seen before, refusing their gifts, saying they shouldn’t be bothering him, and storming into the hotel. John Hammel then came out and explained: Paul and Linda had just been given some bad news. The girls later found out that Linda’s cancer had spread to her right breast.
Suddenly, death was all around. The McCartneys were shocked when they heard in May 1997 that musician Jeff Buckley, son of Linda’s Sixties’ lover Tim, had drowned in the Mississippi River. The McCartneys had befriended Tim in recent years and were taken aback by his premature death, which followed the early demise of his father in 1975. Not long after this came news that George Harrison had throat cancer, which spread to his lungs. A lifelong smoker, his prognosis was not good. Then Derek Taylor, former Apple press officer, died at 63 of throat cancer. When Paul attended the annual Buddy Holly Week luncheon that September, without Linda, he appeared worn and tired, the grey showing through his thinning hair. Linda’s appearance had also changed. This became evident when she felt able to accompany Paul to Paris in October to watch Stelly’s first catwalk show for Chloé. Gone was Linda’s long blonde hair. She had lost a good deal of it during chemotherapy, and had what was left cut short. Lin was determined to make the best of her trip, though, applauding and smiling enthusiastically during her daughter’s show.
That autumn, Linda accompanied Paul to the London and New York premières of Standing Stone, at the Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall. Final preparations had been somewhat fraught, with Paul asking the composer Richard Rodney Bennett to re-orchestrate some of the work done with David Matthews. ‘In the end he wanted a slightly richer sound,’ says Matthews.
Richard is an absolute expert on producing the ultimate Hollywood sound, and Paul is really rather addicted to that. A lot of Standing Stone is like that, too, because [Richard] re-orchestrated the ends of the movements. They are very beautifully done. They are slightly in conflict with the rest of the piece, which is much more quirky. Suddenly the music sort of smoothes over and it becomes very, very sort of Hollywoodish - that’s what Paul wanted.
There was also some to-ing and fro-ing over who would conduct the première performances, the original idea being to have fellow Liverpudlian Sir Simon Rattle conducting his City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Rattle pulled out, apparently unsure about the piece. Another name conductor, the American Kent Nagano, was approached. ‘Then he got cold feet, twice, and I had to ask him to stand down,’ said Paul.
In the end, Lawrence Foster conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 October 1997, as he had in the recording studio. The huge theatre was packed on the night, Paul’s presence lending a classical event the giddy atmosphere of a rock show, Sir Paul and Lady Linda holding hands as they took their seats, beaming like boyfriend and girlfriend, despite their careworn faces. Clearly Linda was proud for her husband, and Paul was delighted to share this moment with her, for ultimately the music the audience was about to hear revolved around their life together, and their love, as was indicated by the CD photography. The CD case and booklet were illustrated with Linda’s photos of her horse Blankit beside their standing stone at High Park.
The audience applauded the entrance of the conductor, who bowed, turned to the orchestra and began the bold, energetic first movement about the creation of man, after which the piece followed the narrative of Paul’s poem. The music was varied, incorporating characteristically catchy McCartney tunes, also some spare, modern music in the second movement, which adhered to Sir Paul’s keyboard computer work, together with mistakes he’d made, liked and kept in; while Richard Rodney Bennett had indeed brought a lush, dramatic flair to the work. Inevitably, the piece built to an emotional climax, with the chorus singing a few simple but nonetheless powerful words Paul had written in praise of love:
with all the time it seemed we had
whatever time I have to spare
will be with you
for ever more.
In the end, Paul’s journey through life with Linda had led him to believe, as it says in the Bible, that life without love is meaningless, or as the Beatles sang so succinctly, ‘All You Need is Love’. He’d been singing that theme his whole life. Now there was a strong sense in his writing, for Standing Stone, that he was addressing a lover whom he knew would soon pass beyond his touch.
Before the New York première in November, Linda spent time backstage at Carnegie Hall with Danny Fields, who introduced her to a friend of his who’d been a devoted McCartney fan in her youth, so much so that when Paul married Linda the girl wore mourning to school. ‘So I brought her with me, now a woman, who had been a Paul worshipper [and introduced her to] Linda … I said, “This is Bonnie. She hates you for marrying Paul; she wore black when you got married.”’
Lady Linda growled: ‘If she still wants him, she can have him.’
The friends then talked until Paul appeared. ‘Security people called him; it was time to go and they walked down the hallway at Carnegie Hall and she turned around and waved [goodbye].’ It was the last time Danny ever saw Linda.
Paul and Linda then flew to Arizona to try alternative therapy. While they were at their ranch, Lin invited her ex-husband Mel See and his partner Beverly Wilk over for a barbecue. Although Mel’s relationship with Paul and Lin had been difficult in the past, they had got along better in recent years, for Heather’s sake, fragile as she was, and now they put their remaining differences behind them, spending a pleasant evening together on the porch, Paul cooking veggie burgers on the barbecue. ‘They kind of made amends,’ says Beverly. Linda was delighted when, after the sun went down, a family of javelina pigs came rooting around the porch after their titbits. She took pictures of the bold creatures. Mel and Linda and Paul parted on good terms, Paul giving Mel a painting he had made, titled Holy Cow. It was the last time Mel and Linda saw each other.
BEFORE THE DAWN
Paul and Lin came home to England for Christmas, spending the holidays with the children at Blossom Farm rather than on Merseyside. There was frost on the Sussex fields, the bare trees on the estate silhouetted against grey skies during the short mid-winter days. On 25 December Paul took Linda outside to see her present: a pair of Shetland ponies, festively named Shnoo and Tinsel, the animals’ breath clouding in the winter air as they stood together patiently in the stables.
On Boxing Day Lin felt well enough to host a drinks party for friends and neighbours, including the now-elderly Goon star Spike Milligan and a young actor named Walter van Dijk, who had recently bought a cottage just outside the McCartney estate with his musician partner Anthony Marwood. Linda, who always took an interest in the local people, had extended a neighbourly invitation to Walter and Anthony. Chemotherapy had further altered Linda’s appearance. ‘She’d lost quite a bit of her hair,’ reports Walter; ‘there was just really sort of peach fuzz on her scalp.’
The Christmas party was well attended, many people gathering to talk in the kitchen. Walter was charmed to notice a Beatles poster stuck to the McCartney fridge. Paul’s Fellowship of the Royal College of Music was framed on the wall. Walter congratulated Sir Paul on the fellowship. ‘Yeah, it’s kind of amazing for somebody who doesn’t read a note of music,’ Paul replied, adding sweetly: ‘Nice fellow, though.’ The food was vegetarian, naturally, and Lady McCartney felt well enough to urge guests who hadn’t gone veggie to do so without delay, giving out inscribed copies of her cookbooks. She told those who said, apologetically, that they only ate fish that that wasn’t good enough. ‘Do you think fish don’t experience pain when a hook goes into their mouth?’ she asked, contorting her face. Paul spent some of the afternoon with Spike Milligan at the piano, writing a song. Then the old comedian - a family friend - announced he’d had enough. ‘I’d like to wish you all a happy new year,’ he said loudly, adding with characteristic curmudgeonliness: ‘but I’ll be glad to see the back of you.’ Not long afterwards, Walter and Anthony said goodbye, too. ‘We went into the sitting room, and [Linda] was sitting there with Stella and James and Mary - Stella was sort of sitting in between her legs - and she said, “Well, see you guys again next year!”’
Linda was putting on a brave face. In recent months she’d tried every possible treatment, consulting with the most eminent doctors in London and New York, undergoing ultra-strong doses of chemotherapy as well as a bone marrow transplant, all in an attempt to beat her cancer. She even gave up her lifelong habit of pot-smoking, though it was too late to make a difference. Linda was doomed, and she knew it. ‘Look, that thing we talked about, that cancer business,’ she said on the phone to Carla Lane, ‘it’s got a-hold of me.’
‘Linda, darling, you don’t know what’s round the corner. They are working hard on it. Every day they come up with something. Let’s have faith. One day somebody is going to say, “OK, I’ve cracked it.” You’re going to be here when that happens.’
‘I don’t think so,’ replied her friend, a tough broad to the end, though still soppy over animals. One of Linda’s final efforts on behalf of her fellow creatures was to spend £8,000 ($12,240) to liberate a pack of beagle pups bred for vivisection.
The reason for Linda’s pessimism was that she had been told her liver was enlarged, indicating the cancer had spread to that vital organ. The situation was all but hopeless. Sir Paul and Lady Linda gathered themselves to travel to Paris to support Stella’s second fashion show, then returned to Blossom Farm so Linda could attend to some final details. The cottage Heather was living in on the estate was transferred legally into her name, leaving Linda’s vulnerable eldest child with a secure home; Linda helped her second daughter Mary plan her forthcoming wedding; and she and Paul went into Hog Hill Mill to record two of Linda’s songs, ‘Appaloosa’, a childlike song of devotion to Blankit, the tone of which was quite a contrast to ‘The Light Comes from Within’, a furiously angry song about animal welfare littered with expletives. Linda spat out her contempt for those who’d mocked her as a simple-minded dreamer, lazy and thick, berating an imaginary male critic as a fucking no-one, a ‘stupid dick’. Paul and James backed Lin on this shrill parting shot to the world, after which she went home and wrapped up gifts for family members and friends, making arrangements for the presents to be delivered after her death. She also made her goodbye calls.
‘Hi, Honey!’ she said brightly when she got Carla on the line, sounding so well, perhaps because of her medication.
‘Hi, what are you doing?’ asked Carla. Linda explained that she and Paul were getting ready to go to Arizona; it sounded as if their car was at the door. (Carla heard Paul in the background saying, ‘Come on …’)
‘Now, listen, I’ll be away for five days,’ she said. ‘Have you got any more chickens?’
‘Of course, I’ve always got hundreds of them,’ replied Carla, referring to the chickens at her animal sanctuary.
‘When I come back, I want you to bring me some, OK? About seven.’ Carla made a note of it. This sounded optimistic. After a pause, Linda let her mask slip, saying suddenly: ‘I love you, Carla.’ It was out of character for Linda to express herself so emotionally, and when Carla put the phone down she sat and thought about it. ‘Now that hit me hard. She doesn’t talk like that … I knew that something awful was about to happen.’
Sir Paul and Lady Linda flew to Tucson at the end of March, driving from the airport to their desert hideaway, turning right off East Redington Road, through their unmarked metal gate, and down a dusty track to their little tin-roof house by the wash. Neighbours in this lonesome desert community heard that the McCartneys were back, and that Linda was poorly, but nobody made a fuss. Mel See received word that Lin didn’t want to see anybody except immediate family; the children were at the house with Paul. It was springtime in the desert, beautifully warm in contrast to the English winter, but not yet too hot. The wildlife was up and about, the javelinas rooting for the fruit of the prickly pear cacti, rattlesnakes slithering out from under rocks after their hibernation. The cottonwood trees down by the wash had shed their blossom of cotton ball buds across the trails; the saguaro were coming into bloom, big white flowers opening up in the spring sunshine. The really big cacti were already ancient when Linda was born, and they would stand here solemnly after she had gone. Paul and Linda rode out together while they could, enjoying the wilderness.
Around the end of the first week in April, Linda’s liver began to fail. Doctors warned Paul that his wife only had days left. One doctor suggested he warn her that she was about to die. Paul chose not to, believing Lin wouldn’t want to know. On the afternoon of Wednesday 15 April 1998, Paul and Linda went for a last desert ride. Paul had to put a hay bale down for Linda to step up on as she climbed carefully into her saddle. As they rode gently along the trails a rattlesnake crossed their path. The sun was setting as they arrived home, just before 7:00 p.m., smouldering red over distant Tucson, its last rays streaming through the sentinel cacti. The desert night has a timeless stillness, the stars very bright. When the sun rose on Thursday 16 April, Linda felt too unwell to get up and spent the day in her bed, a gentle breeze blowing through the house as the sun warmed the tin roof, and the red-tailed hawks wheeled overheard looking for prey. She slipped into a coma. Night again, the last night. The darkest hour comes before the dawn. The children told their mother they loved her. She became restless around 3:00 a.m. Paul got into bed with Linda and told her she was on Blankit; they were riding through the Sussex woods; ‘the bluebells are all out, and the sky is clear blue’. By the time he’d finished the story his wife was dead.