Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART ONE. WITH THE BEATLES
Chapter 9. LINDA
TIME FOR A NUMBER OF THINGS
After their last gruelling concert tour, the Beatles took time off to pursue independent projects. John went to Spain to act in Richard Lester’s film How I Won the War; Ringo kept him company. George travelled to India to study the sitar with his new friend, Ravi Shankar. Says the Indian musician, who was already an established star with an international reputation:
When I met all the four Beatles for the first time, I found young handsome Paul very charming; Ringo very funny and warm; and John reserved and restrained. However, George and I clicked immediately. I was impressed by his genuine attraction for my music, as well as our ancient Vedic philosophy. Before meeting me, George had already heard my LP recordings and live concert and had used the sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood’. Being a classical musician, it did not appeal much to me at that time, but later on I felt more comfortable with it.
With his band mates away, Paul decided to take a continental holiday, disguised as a nobody. Fooling around in the props department at Twickenham Film Studios, where the Beatles had filmed interiors for their first two movies, Paul had found that, by wearing a stick-on moustache, false glasses and an old coat, he could walk past even his fellow Beatles without being recognised. Jane was busy with her stage work - about to appear in The Winter’s Tale, followed by playing Juliet in Bristol-so Paul took off on his own, driving his Aston Martin to Lydd Airport on the Kent coast, an area which would come to play an important part in his life, putting the Aston on a cargo plane, and hopping over to France where, looking not unlike the moustachioed Alfred Jarry, he motored off into the countryside, shooting an extended home movie as he went.
After a few days Paul reached Bordeaux, where he visited a discotheque in disguise only to be refused admission, something he had never previously experienced. ‘So I thought, Sod this, I might as well go back to the hotel and come as him!’ Paul later told Barry Miles. ‘So I came back as a normal Beatle, and was welcomed with open arms.’ The experience reminded Paul of the advantages of fame. Bob Dylan once remarked astutely that most musicians become pop stars because they want fame and money, but soon realise it’s the money they really want. McCartney was unusual in that he enjoyed his wealth and his fame. Having posed briefly as a nobody, he never wanted to be a nobody again. ‘It made me remember why we all wanted to get famous.’ Paul met up with Mal Evans and drove down to Spain, intending to meet John and Ringo, but they had already gone home, so Paul flew on to Nairobi, where he enjoyed a brief safari holiday with Jane.
On the flight home to England Paul put his mind to what the Beatles might do next. Tired of touring, he thought it would be interesting to invent a persona for the band to inhabit, and make a special record in that persona that could almost serve as a substitute for live shows. In the first flush of flower power, bands with elaborate names had become commonplace: Big Brother and the Holding Company in the USA, for example, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in England. Fiddling with airline sachets of salt and pepper on the plane home from Africa, Paul came up with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Before plunging into the phantasmagoria of the Sgt. Pepper album, Paul worked with George Martin on a score for the movie The Family Way. In Paul’s mind there was no conflict between breaking new ground musically and making music, like this, to order. ‘If you are blessed with the ability to write music, you can turn your hand to various forms. I’ve always admired people for whom it’s a craft - the great songwriting partners of the past, such as Rodgers and Hammerstein,’ Paul has said of his reason for scoring The Family Way. The film was a Boulting Brothers production about a cinema projectionist (played by Hywell Bennett) who cannot consummate his marriage to his virgin bride (Hayley Mills) because he feels inhibited living at home with his parents. Audiences may have imagined they were in for a challenging kitchen-sink drama when they bought tickets in 1966 for a film about sex set in the urban north, but The Family Way was a stilted, old-fashioned picture depicting an England seemingly aeons behind swinging London.
Thinking of his dad, and grandfather, and their love of traditional brass band music, Paul decided to create a brass band theme for the movie. As would subsequently be the case whenever Paul departed from straight pop music to ‘write’ for musicians who work from a score, he had to collaborate with an amanuensis, in this case George Martin, because Paul himself was unable to read or write music notation. The essential tune would always be Paul’s, but what he gave his amanuensis was often very brief, a simple phrase he would hum or play on the guitar or piano. It was for the other person to develop this idea into a score, with Paul making comments as the work progressed. George Martin had to pester Paul for the briefest scrap of a tune to start The Family Way. ‘I said, “If you don’t give me one, I’m going to write one of my own.” That did the trick. He gave me a sweet little fragment of a waltz tune … and with that I was able to complete the score.’ As a result Paul won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Instrumental Theme. It was his eleventh Ivor Novello, amazingly, and he was not yet 25.
SHE’S LEAVING HOME
Since setting up home together in Cavendish Avenue, a house they now inhabited as common-law husband and wife, Paul and Jane had become increasingly aware of their differences. Paul lived for his music and, after spending the afternoon writing upstairs in his music room, or round the corner at EMI on Abbey Road, he liked to go clubbing, often bringing a gang of musicians and other bohemians back to Cavendish late at night. Jane didn’t like clubs. She’d only ever had a polite interest in pop, and was not into drugs. She had her own circle of theatrical friends who didn’t mesh with Paul’s crowd. There were awkward evenings at Cavendish when Paul and Jane tried to mix their friends. The couple were most simpatico on those rare quiet evenings when neither had an engagement, Jane would cook and they’d sit together watching telly, as they did on 16 November 1966 when the BBC broadcast the drama Cathy Come Home, in which unemployment leads to a young mother losing her home and ultimately her child. Soft-hearted Jane asked Paul if they couldn’t do something to help people like Cathy, living as they did in their big house. They could give a girl a room. Paul said that if they took one in, they’d soon have others ringing up.
On the inauspicious date of Friday 13 January 1967, Jane flew to the United States with the Bristol Old Vic for a four-and-a-half-month theatrical tour. Paul was not at Heathrow to see her off. ‘The trouble is I don’t think Jane really wanted to leave me,’ the star complained to a reporter from the Daily Sketch who called at Cavendish to ask what was going on. ‘She signed for the trip about mid-year when it seemed a good idea, but when it came to the crunch it didn’t seem such a good idea. Anyway she’s gone and I’m sitting by myself.’ Even if Paul had been a man who liked his own company, which he wasn’t, there was no way he was going to spend four and a half months alone. He was going to have his mates round, pick girls up, drink, take drugs, leave his clothes where he dropped them and the dishes unwashed. He was going to enjoy the bachelor life. ‘The thing is with Paul he was never a bachelor,’ says Tony Bramwell, with a touch of exaggeration, for there had been Hamburg, but even then Paul was engaged to Dot. ‘From when he became a Beatle he was with Jane, [so] he’d never had that existence of being free.’
With Jane away, Paul also threw himself into work with the Beatles at Abbey Road, where many elements came together to enable the band to take another leap forward in their musical journey. Without concert commitments, the Beatles had limitless time to devote to their work now; their musical and intellectual ideas had expanded greatly; and, importantly, George Martin was increasingly involved as their arranger and enabler. At a time when other artists in Britain and the US were creating increasingly sophisticated music, not least the Beach Boys with their Pet Sounds album, the Beatles also felt pricked to show they were still number one. It was time to transmute from a grub-like pop act into a butterfly by recording the seminal rock album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The band had started work before Jane’s departure, in late November 1966, cutting John’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. The John who returned from his film-making sabbatical in Spain looked radically different to the fat-faced Beatle of Help! Having had his hair cut short for How I Won the War, lost weight, and taken to wearing National Health Service ‘granny’ glasses, John had transformed himself into a professorial figure, one who was increasingly strung out on acid, his new song being a psychedelic look back on his Liverpool childhood, the tune named after the children’s home Strawberry Field (sic) which stood in walled grounds near Aunt Mimi’s Woolton house, a ‘secret garden’ he’d roamed around as a boy. Although Paul played the haunting keyboard introduction, on a mellotron programmed with flutes, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was unmistakably John’s song, maybe his greatest composition, his vocal sending a shiver down the spine as he sang the wise and penetrating lyric, ‘Living is easy with eyes closed/Misunderstanding all you see’. Like Dylan, Lennon had the knack of writing couplets, like this, that seem to contain an essential truth. Paul was rarely such a philosopher. He glides along the surface of life in his songs, as he did to some extent on the next number the Beatles recorded, ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’. Although this is one of Paul’s best songs, and one that deals with a profound subject, old age, Paul sidestepped the darker issues involved - ill-health, loneliness, regret and fear of death - to create a jaunty number featuring old-age pensioners whom one could imagine throwing their sticks away and dancing to that cottage on the Isle of Wight. Like so much of Paul McCartney’s work, ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ is therefore an attractive song with a facile lyric. The song may ask a challenging question - ‘Will you stand by me when I’m old?’ - but the listener has no doubt the answer will be a cheery, ‘Yes, of course I will, silly.’
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ both came out of the composers’ Liverpool childhood, Paul creating the latter as a boy at Forthlin Road, only now putting lyrics to the tune. He looked homeward again with ‘Penny Lane’, a song he’d had kicking around for a year or so before the Beatles set to work on it in December 1966. Although the previous comments apply regarding lyrics, with ‘Penny Lane’ having a typically sunny sentiment, this time the words are better. Recalling the view from the top deck of the No. 86 bus, as he used to travel from Mather Avenue to the Liverpool Institute, past the circular bus and tram stop at the corner of Smithdown Road and Penny Lane, Paul was writing about a place he knew intimately, and already viewed nostalgically. Here was the landscape of his Liverpool childhood laid out as in a pleasant dream; the buildings, streets, shops and everyday characters he had grown up with:
Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to know.
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello.
John used to get his hair cut in Bioletti’s, which still exists, under new ownership, opposite Lloyd’s Bank on the corner. Paul observed it all beautifully, a cheerfully ordinary English high street arrayed under ‘blue suburban skies’, a lovely, poetic phrase. As has often been observed, there is a hint of psychedelia in the banker in the rain without his mac, the fireman with a portrait of the Queen in his pocket, but these images could just as easily be explained away as everyday English eccentricity. Sex was here, too, as it is throughout the Beatles’ work. The phrase ‘finger pies’ is a reference to heavy petting.
As with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, George Martin’s arrangement of ‘Penny Lane’ was immaculate, the producer working long hours with the boys to create the equivalent of classical tone-poems. ‘Penny Lane’ was brightened with a piccolo trumpet, which Paul requested after watching a performance of Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto on television. George Martin hired the very trumpet player Paul had heard, David Mason, to play on ‘Penny Lane’. ‘Paul sat at the piano and played what he wanted on the track, Can I play this? Can I do that? And then George wrote it down,’ says Mason.
We went on like that for about three hours until they got what they wanted, because Paul was quite limited in his chord sequences and things. I mean he wasn’t the greatest of pianists. He could play what he wanted to on the piano, and when he got what he thought it was going to sound like I played it a bit and then [he asked] Can he play it a bit higher? or Can you play so and so?
Many rock musicians attempted to combine their music with classical instrumentation in the years ahead, often sounding pretentious. With George Martin’s help, the Beatles melded pop and classical forms successfully to create music that is natural, honest and enduringly pleasing, and whatever shortcomings we might identify in McCartney’s oeuvre there is no lovelier song in the Beatles’ canon than his ‘Penny Lane’.
Like so many of his songs, Paul composed ‘Penny Lane’ on his little garret piano, which had been moved from Wimpole Street to the music room at Cavendish Avenue, and which, towards the end of 1966, was to be transformed by the trendy art group BEV. Comprising three young artists from the North of England - Douglas Binder, Dudley Edwards and David Vaughan - BEV was named from the first letters of their surnames. While sharing a London flat the men started painting their furniture in bright colours, inspired by the work of fairground artist FG Fowl. The furniture proved very popular. Macy’s became a US stockist and socialite Tara Browne commissioned the group to customise his Cobra sports car. ‘Tara, said: “You should meet my friend Paul. He’d probably like your work,”’ recalls Dudley Edwards. A meeting was arranged and, at Paul’s request, the group painted his piano with lightning bolts of red, yellow, blue and purple-creating one of the iconic musical instruments of the psychedelic era - returning the piano in time for Paul to complete Sgt. Pepper. McCartney paid them generously - their agreed fee plus a substantial tip - gainsaying what became an unwarranted reputation for meanness. As the story of McCartney’s life continues, we shall read numerous examples of the star being very generous with his money.
When BEV broke up, Paul invited Dudley Edwards to come and stay with him at Cavendish. It was companionable having a young northern chap of his age around the house with Jane away. Also, like medieval princelings, each Beatle tended to maintain a court who served, flattered and amused them. Often these courtiers were given a small task to perform while they shared their Beatle’s privileged existence. In theory Dudley was at Cavendish to help decorate the house in the emerging hippie style, which was characterised by a combination of old, new and hand-made. Paul invested in many mod cons including a state-of-the-art kitchen, hi-fi, and expensive new colour television (which lured Aunt Ginny down from Merseyside to watch Wimbledon). The curtains were drawn by an electric motor, while the master bedroom had the luxury of an en suite bathroom with sunken tub. Paul was also buying antiques, including a huge clock, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, which hung in the dining room; a Victorian street lamp was erected in the front yard, contrasting with the geodesic contemplation dome in the back.
Paul set Dudley Edwards to work painting tiny creatures into the pattern of the William Morris wallpaper that covered his dining room walls, creating a vast mural. ‘I started painting the mural in his dining room, but Paul didn’t seem that bothered about the mural being done,’ recalls Edwards.
Paul would say, ‘Put your brush down, we’re going out shopping.’ That would be one minute and the next minute he’d say, ‘Put your brush down, we’re going to a night club.’ And the next thing, ‘Are you coming to the recording studio?’ I just accompanied him, went with him everywhere, basically enjoy[ing] ourselves.
With Jane away, Paul and Dudley entertained a parade of women at the house, including the American singer Nico, who visited Cavendish when her mentor Andy Warhol was passing through town and stayed. This was Paul’s domestic scene, in early 1967, while he was recording Sgt. Pepper.
In mid-January, the Beatles started work on their monumental track ‘A Day in the Life’, the inspiration for which is often attributed to the untimely death of Tara Browne. Paul was sufficiently close to the playboy heir to have invited him to Rembrandt in recent months. One night he and Tara decided to ride over to see Uncle Mike on a couple of mopeds. Paul came off his bike, split his lip and broke one of his front teeth. He would wear a cap afterwards to cover the broken tooth, and grew a moustache while the scar healed, helping start a trend. All four Beatles soon wore little moustaches. Not long after this incident, on 18 December 1966, Tara was killed when his Lotus hit a van in London. It was reading news reports of the death - GUINNESS HEIR DIES IN CAR CRASH; A BOY WHO HAD TOO MUCH-that is often said to have prompted Lennon to begin work on ‘A Day in the Life’, though Paul doesn’t recall a particular connection. The lyric was created in the cut-up style of William Burroughs, jumbling together scraps of newspaper articles, a compositional method John and Paul were a little sheepish about at first, according to BEV artist Douglas Binder who stumbled upon them doing a cut-up at Cavendish.
I think it was John who said, ‘If our fans knew how we composed our lyrics and music they’d have a real shock.’ He was embarrassed about it at this time because it was done in a surrealistic manner of actually tearing bits of paper from the newspapers, or headlines from the newspapers, connecting them to make some lyrics …
Although ‘A Day in the Life’ is primarily John’s song, Paul’s part was again significant. He played the evocative, dead-sounding piano and contributed the bridge:
Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head.
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late.
While being a relatively slight thing in itself, the bridge provides a nice, breezy contrast to John’s sombre verses (old boys from the Inny interpreting the line about going upstairs and having a smoke as Paul having a ciggie on the No. 86 bus to school).
Still more interesting are the twin passages of ad libertum orchestral music, coming before Paul’s bridge, then again after the last verse, building to the climax. These bold musical passages were Paul’s idea, working in the same uncompromising spirit of composition as Germany’s Karlheinz Stockhausen. McCartney and Lennon were both now familiar with the leading ‘serious’ composers of their age-the likes of Berio, Cage and Stockhausen - some of whom they had met or had contact with in other ways (Paul struck up a correspondence with Stockhausen). These composers had stretched the boundaries of ‘classical’ music in the twentieth century, creating works seemingly as far removed from Beethoven, say, as rock ’n’ roll would seem to differ from their own music, though of course ‘music is music’ as another avant-garde composer, Alban Berg, has remarked. Rock ’n’ roll songs are shorter and simpler than symphonies, but they are made up of the same notes and not necessarily less affecting. In the spirit of these innovators, Paul put a radical suggestion to George Martin as to how they might fill 24 bars in the middle and end of ‘A Day in the Life’, though his initial instructions were impractical. ‘He said, “I want a symphony orchestra to freak out,”’ recalls Martin, who said the musicians wouldn’t know what he was talking about. Instead, he wrote a musical shriek for 41 musicians, playing their instruments from the lowest to highest note.
The recording of this remarkable passage of music was organised as a happening, and filmed for posterity. The Beatles came to the session in what was becoming identifiable as flower power costume (whimsical, colourful and foppish), while George Martin and his orchestra were requested to wear evening dress. The studio was lit with coloured light-bulbs, the Beatles passing out masks and other items of fancy dress, which many of the session players obligingly wore. One elderly violinist performed wearing a gorilla paw; another wore what looked like a penis nose. The Beatles invited their friends, partners and fellow celebrities to take part, including the singer Donovan, a particular mate of Paul’s, and members of the Rolling Stones and the Monkees, the American band recently created in emulation of the Beatles for a TV show. It showed how confident and essentially good-natured the Beatles were that they were friendly towards the absurd Monkees, then making their first visit to the U K. Monkee Mike Nesmith recalls being invited to the ‘A Day in the Life’ session as if they were equals: ‘It was festive and crowded with people well known in the music scene and business of the time. Because it was a working session there was a certain understanding that there had to be work done, and that we were all part of it.’ After Paul had conducted his apocalyptic ascending chord, the celebrities were asked to emit a final, punctuating hummm, later replaced by a crashing E chord, played by Paul and others simultaneously on keyboards, the sound allowed to reverberate on the record until the needle lifted. Thus Paul became a composer of serious orchestral music, at the cutting edge of what was happening in the twentieth century, decades before his more self-conscious and conservative forays into ‘classical’ composition with his Liverpool Oratorio and other works.
By the standards of the day, Sgt. Pepper took a long time to record: five months including mixing. Considering the exceptional quality of the work it now seems to have been achieved quickly, and Paul still found time to do other things. In January, Dudley Edwards asked if the Beatles would contribute music for a rave he was helping stage at the Roundhouse, a disused train shed in North London, an event the hippies were calling The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave. Working with his fellow Beatles, Paul created a 13-minute sound collage the band called Carnival of Light, made up of tape loops and extemporaneous screams and shouts. Paul handed the experimental tape to Dudley. The star was displeased when organisers at the rave allowed the tape to run on past the section he’d intended to be heard, with the result that the crowd was treated, in addition to Carnival of Light, to a demo of ‘Fixing a Hole,’ one of the new songs on Pepper, that also happened to be on the spool. ‘He was quite angry about that,’ recalls Dudley. ‘It wasn’t intentional. I was busy trying to do the light show, so was Doug[las Binder]. I don’t know who was left with the responsibility of playing the tape, but anyway it got an airing - I think Paul forgave us in the end.’
Paul also continued to give thought to the Beatles’ next film, one they were contracted to make. Having considered making an anti-war picture, as discussed with Bertrand Russell and Len Deighton, but which John had effectively now done as a solo project, and having turned down producer Walter Shenson’s suggestion that the Beatles remake The Three Musketeers, the band commissioned an original script from the fashionable playwright Joe Orton, whose hit farce Loot Paul had enjoyed. Orton was riding high on the success of his second play, Entertaining Mr Sloane, in January 1967 when he was summoned to Brian Epstein’s newly acquired townhouse in Chapel Street, Belgravia, a ritzy address near Buckingham Palace. The playwright found Paul in the drawing room listening to an advance pressing of ‘Penny Lane’. Orton thought Paul’s new moustache gave him the look of a turn-of-the-century anarchist. Over supper, McCartney said that while he generally only got ‘a sore arse’ from going to the theatre (a dig at Jane), Loot held his attention. This and the fact that Orton confessed to a fondness for smoking grass served to break the ice. ‘Well, I’d like you to do the film,’ Paul told the playwright. ‘There’s only one thing we’ve got to fix up.’
‘You mean the bread? ’ asked Orton. He requested and received thrice his usual fee and shortly thereafter turned in a typically outrageous script, Up Against It, in which the Beatles would commit adultery and murder and be caught in drag in flagrante. It was rejected.
Although it seems obvious now that the double A-side ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/‘Penny Lane’ was a masterpiece, the best single the Beatles ever released, it was their first single since ‘Please Please Me’ to fail to reach number one in Britain, kept off the top spot by Engelbert Humperdinck, an old Larry Parnes act, crooning ‘Release Me’.25 Perhaps the new Beatles were too arty for their fans. The band was clearly drifting away from the eager-to-please light entertainers of yore. The accompanying promotional film for the new double A-side showed the boys as hirsute hippies, John dramatically changed from mop-top to whiskery intellectual. At least Paul smiled from under his anarchist moustache; John increasingly wore the remote expression of the heavy drug user.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’ did not feature on Sgt. Pepper in the UK or the USA, where Capitol Records used the same track listings for the first time. If they had included those two songs on the album, Pepperwould have been even more impressive, and George Martin considers the failure to do so ‘the biggest mistake of my professional career’. What would they have left off, though, to make room? Perhaps George’s India-inspired ‘Within You Without You’, which was interesting, but didn’t quite fit. Apart from ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and ‘Fixing a Hole’, Paul’s other contributions to the album were ‘Getting Better’ and ‘Lovely Rita’, the latter a slight work inspired by the experience of being given a parking ticket outside EMI Studios by a traffic warden named Meta Davis. That might have been dropped in favour of ‘Penny Lane’. A reformatted Sgt. Pepper along these lines is very attractive.
Although a concept album of sorts, only the second track, ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, sung by Ringo as Billy Shears, developed the narrative set up in the opening song, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. It was when Neil Aspinall suggested that the boys should reprise this tune on Side Two that the album became a song cycle of sorts, though never a full-blown one like the Who’s Tommy (1969). It was really the way Sgt. Pepper was packaged and presented that gave the impression of a cohesive work of art.
Paul claims credit for coming up with the concept of the album sleeve, in which the Beatles stand with cut-outs of their heroes in an ornamental garden, the work realised by their artist friends Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth. Originally the cover was to be a design by the hippy art group the Fool, of whom more later. ‘Robert [Fraser] pulled out this cover that the Fool had done - looked like a psychedelic Disney,’ recalls Jann Haworth. ‘He just showed it to us and said, “I don’t like this, and I think Paul really isn’t happy about it, I think really you should do it.”’ Husband and wife proceeded to build a three-dimensional stage set - something Jann’s set designer father did for his living - Jann overseeing the planting of an ornamental garden in the foreground, red flowers spelling out BEATLES, while Peter concentrated on creating the crowd of heroes, using blown-up, tinted photographs of famous people, only some of whom the band suggested. ‘Basically they chose about a third of the heads,’ recalls Jann. ‘It wasn’t a big enough crowd.’ So the artists came up with the rest. Paul’s choices included Fred Astaire and William Burroughs. John’s wish list included Jesus and Hitler, both ruled out by EMI.
The pictures were assembled in Michael Cooper’s photographic studio in Chelsea, the Beatles themselves dressing up in pseudo-military uniform, made from shiny fabrics in Day-Glo colours. Paul wore his MBE. To the band’s right were arranged Madame Tussaud’s waxworks of themselves at the time of Beatlemania, while in front of the band was a bass drum upon which the album title had been painted in fairground lettering. Paul later hung the drum skin on his drawing room wall. Finally, the assemblage was photographed by Michael Cooper. Produced in a full-colour gatefold sleeve with, for the first time in pop, the album lyrics printed on the reverse, and a cardboard insert of souvenirs designed by Peter and Jann, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a complete artwork, ambitious and stylishly realised. If one has a criticism of the music, Pepper can seem over-rich, like an over-egged cake. Individually the elements are brilliant, but other Beatles albums are, to these ears at least, more enjoyable.
Four days later Paul flew to the USA to visit Jane Asher, taking with him a tape of rough mixes of the new songs. Accompanied by Mal Evans, he stopped off in San Francisco first, where he decided to check out the local music scene. Jefferson Airplane were working on songs for their new LP Surrealistic Pillow at the Fillmore theatre when Mal announced that Paul wanted to say hello. ‘We were sitting there playing at the old Fillmore, in comes this guy Mal, suit and tie, and we’re all hippied out,’ recalls Marty Balin, who’d last seen the Beatles as a member of the audience at Candlestick Park, subsequently becoming one of the leading lights of the San Francisco music scene. ‘“Master Paul McCartney would like to meet with you.” Just like that. “Oh well, send him in!” We didn’t know if this guy was real or a joke. So he went out and in comes Paul.’ Part of Paul’s reason for visiting San Francisco was to check out the psychedelic scene, which had started here, spreading across the States to England. It was in the Bay Area that bands such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead first used LSD, and other mind-altering substances, the drugs cooked up by their friends and dispensed freely at concerts. Wild new music, fashions and art resulted. To Balin’s eyes, the visiting Paul McCartney looked very square. The musicians showed Paul around the trippy Haight-Ashbury district - he took pictures - then invited him back to their house. ‘Well, what’s new with the Beatles?’ Balin asked. In reply, Paul took a tape from his pocket and played ‘A Day in the Life’. Not so square. ‘Holy Christ! This is amazing. I totally, literally did not know what to say, except “Fuckin’ great!” I just couldn’t believe it …’ Having reduced his American friend to a jibbering wreck, Paul replaced the tape nonchalantly in his pocket and sauntered on his way.
Paul and Jane were reunited in Denver, where the Bristol Old Vic company was currently on tour, Paul arriving in time to help Jane celebrate her 21st birthday. They spent the next few days together in the Rockies, walking in countryside thick with snow. Paul then left, allowing Jane to complete her tour, travelling with Mal in Frank Sinatra’s private jet to LA where he met Brian Wilson, who was so overwhelmed by the Sgt. Pepper tape that he abandoned the new Beach Boys album Smile. Paul then flew home, coming up with a new movie idea as he travelled back across the Atlantic. Having looked for a suitable film for the band for months, Paul had the idea of getting the boys into a charabanc-of the type that traditionally took working-class Liverpudlians on day-trip holidays to the seaside, little jaunts described in advance as ‘mystery tours’, but which almost invariably turned out to be a run up to Blackpool - and make a film of the Beatles’ own Magical Mystery Tour, ‘a crazy roly-poly Sixties’ film’ as Paul would describe it. He jotted the concept down in the form of a pie chart on the plane.
Paul returned to England at a time when the forces of law and order were starting to crack down on the drug culture, with one officer in particular, Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher of Scotland Yard, targeting pop stars and their associates. In February 1967, police raided Keith Richards’s country home, Redlands, in Sussex, where the Rolling Stone was hosting a weekend LSD party. Detectives found Marianne Faithfull, who’d left John Dunbar for Mick Jagger, naked and wrapped in a fur rug. She’d just taken a bath, having come down from an Acid trip, and didn’t have a change of clothes. Jagger was charged with possession of speed (having said Marianne’s pills were his), Richards with allowing his home to be used for the smoking of marijuana, and Fraser with possession of heroin. Marianne wasn’t charged.
While the Redlands trio awaited trial, DS Pilcher raided Brian Jones’s London flat, busting him and his friend Prince Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, the extravagantly named son of the French painter Balthus. Brian and Prince Stash, as he was known for short, were taken down to Kensington Police Station in a blaze of publicity and charged with possession of cocaine and cannabis, Jones charged additionally with possession of cocaine and methedrine.26They went from the police station to the new high-rise Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, where the Stones’ new American manager Allen Klein was staying, but the hotel management made it clear that Jones and de Rola were not welcome, which is when Prince Stash took a call from Paul McCartney, whom he knew slightly.
Prince Stash explained to Paul that he and Brian couldn’t stay at the Hilton, and couldn’t go back to Brian’s flat because of the press. Brian had other places he could go, but Stash, a foreigner, didn’t know what to do. ‘I’m sending my car and driver right now. You’re packing your bags and moving into my house, and if they want to bust you again they’ll have to bust me as well,’ Paul said. So Prince Stash joined Paul and Dudley at Cavendish Avenue, running movies on Paul’s 16mm projector, taking drugs and entertaining what Stash describes as harems of girls, including an Eskimo named Iggy, while Beatles fans camped outside, periodically bursting in through the gates ‘like sort of cattle breaking through a fence’. They’d steal Paul’s laundry and empty his ashtrays - ‘Did he smoke this?’ - before being ejected.
One night in May 1967 Paul, Dudley and Stash got into Paul’s Radford Mini and drove to the Bag o’ Nails, a trendy club behind Liberty’s department store. In years gone by the club had a seedy reputation, a place to meet working girls in an area frequented by prostitutes, but it was now a premier hangout. The Beatles patronised the Bag o’ Nails partly because it stayed open late, going there after recording in the studio to get a drink and a steak sandwich, chat to friends and listen to live music. Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were on stage when Paul, Dudley and Prince Stash walked in that spring evening. The club was already full of people Paul knew, including Tony Bramwell and Peter Brown from NEMS. Peter introduced Paul to an attractive young American photographer named Linda Eastman, who was in town shooting pictures of musicians for a book. When Dudley came back from the bar, he found Paul and Linda engrossed in conversation.
Paul suggested they all go round to the Speakeasy where Procol Harum were performing their trippy new song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, Paul hearing it there for the first time. Dudley paired up with the singer Lulu and Paul asked everybody back to his place. Half an hour later Linda found herself inside the mansion home of one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. Cavendish was not the biggest house in London, but it was a handsome residence with exquisite details that attracted the sharp eye. As Linda remarked: ‘I was impressed to see his Magrittes.’ Memories are hazy as to whether Linda stayed that night. Prince Stash and Dudley can’t recall. It didn’t seem important at the time. ‘You just think, it’s yet another girl, and yet another night. I didn’t know if it was going to be just another one night stand,’ says Dudley, ‘although he did seem to like her a lot.’
Linda, who becomes one of the most important characters in our story, was born on 24 September 1941 in New York City, the second child of the wealthy Lee and Louise Eastman. She had an older brother, John, and two younger sisters, Laura and Louise. Dad had worked his way up from a poor immigrant background in the Bronx - where he was born Leopold Epstein in 1910, son of Russian-Jewish parents - via Harvard Law School, to establishing his own law firm. He married well, to Louise Lindner, daughter of a prominent Jewish family from Cleveland. Louise attended synagogue and was proud of being Jewish, but Lee decided it would be better for the children if they adopted gentile ways. Shortly before their first child was born, the Epsteins changed their surname to Eastman; there was no connection with the photographic firm Eastman Kodak, as is often suggested, the name being chosen simply to seem less Jewish. ‘Lee’s famous expression was, “Think Yiddish, look British,”’ says his stepson Philip Sprayregen. ‘If someone asked him flat out if he was Jewish, he would admit that he was, but he would never volunteer that information, and I would say that he was probably glad when people thought otherwise.’ Judaism played little part in Linda’s young life and she grew to be a tall strawberry blonde, as if inhabiting the WASP name Daddy had chosen. She was never a true beauty. Hers was a long face that could appear handsome or plain, but Linda possessed a good, full figure, and a flirtatious manner that attracted men.
Daddy grew rich by shrewd representation of high-earning show business clients including bandleader Tommy Dorsey, songwriters such as Harold ‘Over the Rainbow’ Arlen, as well as a who’s who of abstract expressionist painters from Willem de Kooning to Mark Rothko. The Eastmans collected museum-quality modern art, which they hung in their mansion home in Scarsdale, Westchester, within commuting distance of Manhattan, later acquiring a duplex on Park Avenue. They also owned a beach house on Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton, a favourite place for the New York rich to take summer vacations. When Linda was four, one of Daddy’s songwriter clients, Jack Lawrence, wrote a song for her entitled ‘Linda’. It went to number one. Jan & Dean brought the song back to the charts in 1963, just before Beatlemania swept the States.
Although hers was a privileged upbringing, Linda had a difficult relationship with her father, a severe man who was quick to criticise. Lee had ambitions for his kids, especially John, who eventually took over the family firm, Eastman & Eastman, marrying a woman whose grandfather was a co-founder of Merrill Lynch. Sister Louise married a man whose family came over with the founding fathers. Thus the Eastmans assimilated into the WASP Establishment. Linda didn’t fit the pattern. ‘She was considered the black sheep of the family, the embarrassment of the family for a long time, because she wasn’t scholarly like her siblings,’ says stepbrother Philip. Linda was not academic, or intellectual. Rather, she had a dreamy interest in nature and animals, especially dogs and horses. As Paul later observed, Linda seemed to regard all animals as Disney creatures. As a girl she would collect injured birds and small animals and try to nurse them in her bedroom. Linda’s school grades were low. Lee mocked and patronised his daughter, making a girl who was not academically inclined feel awkward and stupid. As she became a teenager, she added rock ’n’ roll to her unsuitable interests, and started chasing pop stars, zeroing in first on the Young Rascals. Small world that it is, the Rascals were managed by Beatles promoter Sid Bernstein, who recalls the teenaged Linda trailing his band around New York. ‘She became one of my favourite kids that followed the Rascals. I let her come up to a recording session.’
One of Linda’s beaus was Melville See Jr, known as Mel. Born in Albany, New York, in 1938, making him three years older than Linda, Mel’s parents were living in Scarsdale when they met. A stocky, sandy-haired man with a thick beard-he modelled himself on Ernest Hemingway - Mel was a geology student. After graduating from Princeton, he moved to Tucson to take a masters degree at the University of Arizona (UAZ), where he developed a passion for anthropology. After dropping out of Sarah Lawrence College, Linda followed Mel to Tucson, enrolling at UAZ to major in Art History. She was living here in March 1962 when her mother died in a plane crash en route to visit brother John in California. Three months later Linda married Mel, and six months after that, on 30 December 1962, their only child, Heather Louise, was born.
Linda loved Arizona. She was never happier than when horse-riding among the saguaro cacti that give the desert landscape around Tucson the look of a cowboy film. She also started to take photographs, which became a lifelong interest. Marriage was not a success, though. Mel was an academic with corresponding intellectual interests. Linda hardly ever opened a book. She felt she’d been hasty to have a child with a man who now bored her. ‘It wasn’t that she didn’t have a tremendous amount of affection for her daughter, but I heard her remark more than once, “Why did this happen to me?”’ recalls Arizona friend Jonathan Kress. In 1964 Mel was offered a job in Africa. Linda refused to go with him, so he went alone. Linda took Heather back to New York, divorcing Mel the following year.
When her mother died, Linda came into a little money, as well as inheriting valuable artwork and stock, and was able to rent a nice apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, at East 83rd and Lexington, getting a job as an editorial assistant at Town & Country magazine. Her work involved opening the post. One day an invitation came in for a press reception for the Rolling Stones. The function was to be on a boat, the Sea Panther, which was going to cruise the Hudson River. Linda grabbed the invite and her camera. ‘I was the only photographer they allowed on the yacht. I just kept clicking away with the camera, and they enjoyed it and I enjoyed it, and suddenly I found that taking pictures was a great way to live and a great way to work.’
Lee Eastman was unimpressed by his daughter’s new avocation, taking pictures of ‘longhairs’. Linda seemed to bounce from one dumb thing to another. ‘My father used to say, “If you want to be a photographer, go and work for a professional. Get trained.” Well, I never had the patience for that. I had to trust my feelings. Besides I’m too lazy.’ Photographing celebrities requires access, above all, and Linda’s talent was her ability to flirt and make friends. One of her first contacts was Danny Fields, editor of the teen magazine Datebook. It was he who caused the ‘bigger than Jesus’ fuss in 1966 by reprinting John Lennon’s interview with Maureen Cleave. Danny met Linda at the dockside after the Rolling Stones’ cruise, having literally missed the boat, and asked Linda if he could buy some of her pictures for his magazine. ‘She sent me [pictures] of Brian Jones sitting there with his legs open - these were the sexiest pictures I’d ever seen! ’ exclaims Fields, who became Linda’s lifelong friend and ultimately her biographer. ‘I never saw anyone get pictures of boys with their legs spread open … that’s what happens when she’s on the other side of the camera. Boys do that for her. They do peacock dances.’ Linda also got a date with Mick Jagger off the back of the boat trip.
Over the following two years Linda notched up approximately twenty lovers, most of whom were famous, including singers Tim Buckley and Jim Morrison. One time, Danny and Linda went to interview Warren Beatty. ‘She was taking pictures like a little kitty-cat, on the rug or on the sofa. All you could hear was the click of the shutter and the next day she said, “Guess who I spent the night with? ”’ It is because of this period in her life that Linda came to be tagged a groupie - a pejorative and one might think sexist term. After all, why shouldn’t a single woman sleep with the handsome and famous men she met? Yet Linda didn’t seem to date any ordinary boyfriends in New York in 1966-8. It became apparent that, apart from having fun, she was looking for a rich, groovy guy who could look after her and Heather. One of the people Linda knew in New York at this time was Brian Epstein’s partner Nat Weiss, who remembers Linda telling him, even before she met Paul, that she had her sights set ultimately on McCartney. ‘She said she was going to marry him.’
A couple of months after photographing the Stones in New York, Linda was commissioned to come to England to take pictures for a book, Rock and Other Four Letter Words. She photographed a number of bands, including Traffic and the Animals, and naturally wanted to photograph the Beatles. Linda’s entrée was Brian’s assistant Peter Brown. ‘I used to go to New York, and hang out with a bunch of gay guys that I knew, and she was in that circle,’ recalls Brown. ‘When she came to London she called me up with her portfolio.’ Now here she was at the Bag o’ Nails. ‘She was with a girlfriend, and I introduced [her to Paul].’ Before she knew what was happening Linda was inside Cavendish looking at Paul’s Magrittes. Art was something she knew about. That and the fact she had lost her mother early helped create a connection with Paul, who, importantly, also fancied Linda. He liked blondes. That Linda came from money was also attractive, as was the fact she was a motherly woman, actually a single mother.
The next day Linda showed up at the NEMS office. Peter Brown recalls owning up to having taken one of the pictures from her portfolio for himself.
I said, ‘I have to confess I’ve stolen one from the portfolio. I assume you have lots of copies.’ And she said, ‘The one of Brian [Jones]?’ And I said, ‘How would you know which one I would go for? ’ She said, ‘Oh I guessed’ … that was why I let her come to the Sgt. Pepper photo session, which was a great professional breach on my part.
Brian Epstein was hosting a function at his new home in Belgravia to launch Sgt. Pepper. The Beatles would be there, together with journalists and photographers and a few select disc jockeys, including Jimmy Savile. Linda, normally no clothes-horse, dressed very carefully for the occasion, wearing a skirt and a trendy striped blazer. Her hair was immaculate. Indeed, she seems to have taken more care with her appearance than her equipment, forgetting to put any colour film in her camera bag (she had to borrow some from another photographer). Here was Paul again, this time with the other Beatles. All four together in a room was overpowering, like encountering the entire Royal Family. Linda joined in the photo shoot, getting one good shot of John shaking Paul’s hand in an exaggeratedly congratulatory way, throwing his head back in sarcastic laughter. In the few minutes she had before the photographers were ejected, Linda made a beeline for Paul, crouching at his feet by the fireplace, looking up into his face. He regarded her in return with mild interest, chin on hand, as if not sure what to make of her, a moment captured for posterity by one of the other photographers.
That weekend Paul went home to Liverpool. Linda phoned Cavendish while he was away and spoke to Paul’s houseguest Prince Stash. ‘I said, “Paul’s in Liverpool.” She said, “But what are you doing?” I said, “I’m watching a movie,” and she said, “I want to come over.”’ So Linda came to Cavendish Avenue and fell into bed with Stash, who didn’t think he was betraying Paul, because he didn’t see Paul and Linda as serious. ‘He didn’t take her to Liverpool, for instance.’ Still, there was a strange vibe at the house that weekend. While Prince Stash and Linda were rolling around together, Paul telephoned and asked Stash to move out until he got back, not because of Linda, says Stash, but because Paul had heard people were coming over and helping themselves to his drugs. In particular, Stash’s friend Brian Jones, now a hopeless junkie, was dipping into Paul’s supply of legal pharmaceutical cocaine, which, according to Prince Stash, the Beatle kept at the time in a jar on the mantelpiece, as several of their friends did. Brian had promised but failed to replace what he had taken from the coke jar, and now Paul wanted everybody out. So Stash and Linda went to stay with the musician Graham Nash.
Stash’s affair with Linda became common knowledge in London’s rock community. ‘I was teased extensively by Roger Daltrey and Hendrix and so on, because, you know, Linda had gone around,’ says Stash, ungallantly.
She was not a groupie, she was somebody who loved love … In modern days, people say, “Oh, what an ungrateful bastard, he sleeps with his friend’s girlfriend!” But that’s not at all the way it was. You’ve got to put these things in context - everybody had very open relationships, and it wasn’t cool to be jealous.
Yet when Linda flew back to New York her conversation was not about Prince Stash, but Paul McCartney. She returned home on the same flight as Nat Weiss, who recalls that she told him again that she was going to marry the Beatle. She seemed so determined he didn’t doubt her.