When Linda McCartney died April 17 after battling breast cancer for two years, she left behind a musical self-portrait and a mourning widower.
For Paul McCartney, Linda's posthumous solo album has been a lifeline. Completing it was bittersweet labor, and bringing her legacy to the public gave him new purpose.
Wide Prairie, released Oct. 27, captures Linda's personality in 16 simple and charming tunes quietly recorded over the past 25 years. It was incomplete when she died, but her husband felt a duty to finish it.
"I had to wait a couple of months before I could face it," McCartney, 56, says from his London office. "Then I got together with my engineer for what we called 'the tears and laughter sessions.'
"It was hard hearing her voice at first, but when you listen to what she sang, it was so crazy and upbeat that you had to laugh. Her spirit shone through even in the darkest times."
Linda wrote five songs, co-wrote seven (including six with her husband) and covered oldies "Poison Ivy," "Mr. Sandman" and "Sugartime." Her love for animals shines in "Cow," which traces an animal's death march to the slaughterhouse, and "White Coated Man," about a puppy in a vivisection lab. "I Got Up" reveals her resilience. "Love's Full Glory" spotlights her relationship with Paul.
"It's very uplifting," McCartney says. "Obviously, for those of us close to her, there's always a little tear or two when we first hear her voice."
McCartney ducked the public eye for months to grieve privately with his children, Heather, Mary, Stella and James, in Sussex, England. He shelved professional commitments and has no recording or performing plans, though he says he hopes to attend his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame March 15 in New York.
Intent on promoting Wide Prairie, which has sold just under 6,000 copies to date, he recently emerged to chat about the life and work of a woman affectionately known as Mac the Wife.
McCartney spoke candidly about his life with Linda and his labor of love on the album:
Linda's death seemed to rattle the public because everyone assumed such an epic love story could never end. Was it a fairytale marriage?
That is the beautiful thing. We were so bloody tight with each other. I lost my parents, and I loved them dearly, but losing both wasn't as difficult as losing Linda. I was unloading to a friend this morning about how difficult it was. This friend said, "Yeah, but it was so beautiful. You've got to remember that." It's true. Shoot, we didn't screw up in a major fashion, and we did love each other immensely.
Is it hard promoting this album without Linda?
We had planned to promote it together. Sadly, it wasn't to be. It is a labor of love. Linda didn't want to be the world's greatest musician, but she loved her music so dearly. This is a sum of everything she did in a musical direction since we met.
The McCartneys take a ride on a farm near Nashville. Paul McCartney has just released a posthumous album of Linda's work.
The pop-reggae tune "Seaside Woman," Linda's first song, was released. Why did no other songs surface over the years?
When Linda hooked up with me, she came in for a lot of criticism from people saying, "What's he got her up on stage for?" Our reasoning was that we loved being together. There have been stranger reasons for people being in bands together. I was happy to have her on stage to share the experience. But she was obviously in my shadow, and both of us were in the Beatles' shadow, so she took the easier option of recording stuff just for her own fun. She was not that keen to release it. She thought, "Why invite the criticism?"
What changed her mind?
In later years, people started looking at what she'd achieved and how cool she was, and it gave her a little more courage. It was also a question of her thinking, "Who cares what people think?"
Are there more of Linda's songs hidden away?
There's only one other, a little tune we didn't get around to recording. But I know the melody in my head, and I've got the lyric sheet. So I must actually demo it soon.
In "The Light Comes From Within," Linda slams her critics: You say I'm simple/You say I'm a hick/You're f------ no one/You stupid d----. That vitriol seems out of character.
It was out of her public character. Let's face it, unless you go on Jerry Springer's show, most people are quite private and you see only the public face. In Linda's case, she could let fly, but you can't go around doing that all the time. The perception of her was a wife, mom and photographer. She had millions of sides to her personality and had very strong opinions. If she felt someone was mean-spirited, she might not attack that person in public, but you better believe she did in private.
Did her views shape yours?
Very much so. I used to worry what people thought of me. Going through the whole Beatle breakup, there were and still are a lot of strange perceptions. I used to say, "Oh gosh, maybe I should do this so people won't think that." And her view was, to put it bluntly, "Screw 'em. Who cares what they think? This is our life." It was great to have that kind of tough cookie around.
Which of her songs impress you most?
"Love's Full Glory" has a very lovely, very romantic melody. That and "Endless Days" are quite sentimental, but I like that. People will be surprised to find she could write tunes like that. It's not easy.
I'm sure skeptics will assume you had a hand in those.
That's a good point. There are a few co-written pieces I had a hand in, but a lot of this stuff is just Linda's ability. She wrote it; she sang it.
Do you think Wide Prairie will upgrade opinions of her musical abilities?
Yeah. When she played a mini-Moog, people laughed and said, "Look at the one-fingered pianist." They were actually the fools. You can only play that instrument with one finger. The perception stuck. People were annoyed that she was a novice. Anyone on the Wings '76 tour, where she'd had the proper amount of time to learn, realized how much she'd flowered. She was playing all the keyboards. That involved quite complex parts, like orchestral parts in "Live or Let Die." Neil Sedaka and Carole King came backstage and said, "I don't believe what they're saying. You were perfectly in tune, darling. Your playing was beautiful."
The most bitter attacks focused on her voice.
You listen to records now, it's not like people are singing in tune. We're not talking opera here. There's a lot of what you'd called personality voices arising out of the punk scene. It has more to do with feel. She had feel. She was original.
Paul and Linda McCartney, at a premiere in Lille, France, with Princess Diana.|
Did she do "Cow" and "White Coated Man" to further the animal-rights cause?
It's unusual to have songs with animal-welfare sentiments, but she figured if someone put together an album for an animal charity, she could contribute. She didn't look down on any species, except perhaps a mosquito that had just bitten her. OK, then she'd swat him. "He attacks me; I attack him."
There's a childlike sense of humor in her exaggerated twang on the title track.
She loved a joke and loved laughter. She surprised us the last couple of years by how upbeat she was. She kept our spirits up, and it was supposed to be the other way around. She'd say we were a great support team, and we'd say, "But you're doing it. You're leading this team." She had that innocent American humor formed in high school. If you inadvertently spit while you were talking, she'd say, "Say it, don't spray it."
When she was recording "Appaloosa" in March, did she know how ill she was?
Not really. We always kept hopeful that there was another treatment around the corner. While we knew things were tough, we managed to keep a positive spin on it. Even though she was a little tired, we were putting that down to the treatment (chemotherapy), which is known to be tiring.
When we last spoke a year ago, you sounded optimistic about her health. Did you think she'd beaten it?
We did toward the end of last year. It's difficult to ever say you've beaten something like cancer. It's an insidious beast, and it doesn't just go away. But we thought we were doing really well. Then we got some bad news just before we were due to come to America. We thought, maybe there's a treatment for this, too, and we just soldiered on. Right up until a couple days before she died, we were out horse riding. On our last horse ride, a whacking great rattlesnake came across our trail. It was majestic, and it was symbolic.
She didn't suffer long?
That was the blessing. The last day was just a day of being too tired to get up, basically. Then she slipped into a coma and died. Not much fun.
How have you coped since her death?
We're putting one foot in front of the other, the whole family. We're getting on, but missing her. It would be great if I could be resilient, but I've got to play it one day at a time. I've heard people use that expression, and I always wondered what they were talking about. Now I know. I play a lot of things by ear, but this year especially. If I've got to cry, I cry. If I've got to be strong, I pull myself together.
You lost your mother to breast cancer and now Linda. Do you foresee a role in promoting cancer research?
It's too difficult to see the future. (Her death) is too close to me and too painful still. I'm not making any plans to be a cheerleader or the sad clown. I'm just getting on. I'm promoting the album. I just want people to know it's out there. To do something for Linda is good therapy for
British tabloids said you may never perform again.
I suspect I will, but this year makes all those decisions very difficult. There's no pressure on me to make decisions. There's nobody standing above me with a big whip. I'll just see how I feel. I still love my music. But the main impetus now is for Linda. She has a new cookbook coming out, and a photography book next year. We're fulfilling her dreams.
Are you finding any time to devote to your own music?
I'm still writing songs. Some of them are a little sad, but not all of them. And I'm making rough plans. I'm sure I'll eventually break into a trot.