THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
In 1969 Paul McCartney was dead. He had been dead for three years, killed in a car crash in 1966. The tragic news had been hushed up by Brian Epstein who, according to at least one American underground paper, had recruited a McCartney look-alike. He was called Billy Shears and had been cryptically introduced to the public on the first track of Sgt. Pepper. Shears - a London musician in small-time bands who had known the Beatles since 1962 - needed only minor cosmetic surgery to his "somewhat over-sized, beak-shaped nose" to become Paul's doppelganger.
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So great a secret could not remain hidden forever, of course. In 1969 the rumors about Paul's death reached a peak. They were widely broadcast in the States - particularly by a DJ called Russ Gibbs on WKNR Radio in Detroit - were picked up by the other media and were supported by a body of evidence that 'proved' the truth. Proponents of the 'Paul Is Dead' theory claimed that the other three Beatles had leaked hints of the death and Shears's substitution on Sgt. Pepper and other records and their covers. Apart from telling us about Billy Shears on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band track, they also described Paul's fatal accident on the last cut - A Day In The Life. The man who is described as blowing his mind out in the car is Paul. (Although the most commonly held theory about the identity of the "lucky man who made the grade" is that it referred to Tara Browne, heir to the Guinness brewery fortune.)
A further 'clue' is contained on the back of the Pepper cover. A photo shows George, John and Ringo facing the camera but 'Paul' (i.e. Billy Shears) with his back firmly turned against it. Another cover furnished more 'evidence'. The booklet stapled into the British EP sleeve of Magical Mystery Tour contains a still on page 23 showing the Beatles in white tails dancing the Your Mother Should Know routine. Three of the Beatles wear red flowers in their lapels-significantly, 'Paul's' is black. (More likely the result of bad printing.)
On The Beatles (White) album Revolution 9 supposedly contains the words "I buried Paul" when played backwards. McCartney later refuted this by saying that the words are in fact John saying "cranberry sauce" and that they were on Strawberry Fields Forever! The clinching, most conclusive 'proof' of Paul's decease came on the front cover of Abbey Road. It shows the four Beatles walking over a zebra crossing in a single file. John leads dressed in a white suit and shoes, Ringo follows in a black suit with a drape jacket, similar in style to a frock-coat. These were said to be "mourning clothes" by the promulgators of the theory. Next comes 'Paul' who is "barefoot and dressed as for burial" (although most corpses are surely not dressed for burial with the double-breasted jacket unbuttoned, tie-less and with a cigarette in one hand).
The unshod feet were felt to be particularly significant. Paul had never appeared shoeless before and everyone knows that this signifies a corpse in Eastern religion. Or is it a Mafia sign of death? Either way, it is most revealing. Of course, Billy Shears - in his 'Paul McCartney' persona which he is at pains to preserve - later dismissed the whole thing as bunk and offered the unsatisfactory explanation that it was a very hot day and he didn't feel like wearing shoes. Abbey Road, where the session was shot, is just round the corner from his home in Cavendish Avenue, St John's Wood; it's a short walk and no hardship without shoes on warm London pavements.
The last in this funeral procession was George Harrison who is garbed, so the report has it, in "the work clothes of an English gravedigger." It's difficult to say precisely what uniform is most favored by British sextons; perhaps they do incline towards soft shoes, modish blue jeans and denim shirts cut in the cowboy style!
This nonsense continued for several weeks during 1969, despite regular denials from hard-pressed Apple spokesmen. Paul's attitude was to let it run its course until it faded due to everyone's boredom. The rumors were very virulent, however, and grew more insistent. While they were palpably silly and without foundation, they did find their root in the fact that for the past year or so Paul had all but dropped out of sight. He had not allowed any interviews for almost 12 months; this was in itself unusual because he had always been the most publicity-conscious and accessible of the Beatles. He had withdrawn from the press and public alike and, perhaps in petulance, the more fanatical (and ghoulish) of his admirers seem to have started the scare stories to chase him out into the open.
Paul McCartney was actually in retreat from the Beatles and a partnership that was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and restricting. As he later told Rolling Stone, "I was playing down a lot of the old Beatles image and getting a bit more to what I felt was me, letting me beard grow and not being so hung upon keeping fresh and clean. I looked different, more laid back..."
This new relaxation was the other reason for his retirement. He wasn't simply running away from the Beatles, he was also running towards a new and deeply satisfying phase in his life. He had spent a great deal of time at his farm in Scotland (it was from there, in April, that he assured journalists of his continued existence) since his marriage to Linda Eastman on March 12,1969.
On his marriage he immediately gained a family in Heather, Linda's 'daughter by a former marriage. He found the role of farmer/family man/husband much to his liking and was delighted when on August 28, he became a father for the first time with the birth of a daughter, Mary. He was beginning to relish his new freedom and the close ties of marriage and fatherhood. He naturally wished to be with his family as much as possible. Linda, Heather and Mary provided him with bonds and warmth that he had previously found within the framework of the group,
John was also experiencing this with Yoko whom he married eight days after the McCartneys' wedding. The two 'inseparable' Beatles had now found others to whom they wanted to devote their time and with whom they started to work. Cynthia Lennon looking back on her marriage to John said that in the early days "the Beatles were married to each other, and in many ways the girls were superfluous." That had now changed.
As John and Yoko launched themselves into the campaign of bed-ins and other events for peace, grabbing headlines the world over with their words and, sometimes bizarre, actions, Paul and Linda settled into a period of comfortable domesticity. Paul was no longer working with the Beatles - The Ballad Of John And Yoko released in May'69 in the UK and June in the Stales, was the last recording John and Paul worked on together - but that did not mean he wasn't creating music.
It is impossible to separate McCartney from writing, playing or recording music and now he started directing his activities towards his own projects. He was experimenting with his own equipment in his studio at home and gradually pulled Linda into the sessions. The feel of the new songs was, as he said in that Apple 'interview', "Home, Family, Love."
He was gradually working towards an album of solo work. It was reasonable to expect him to do this as the other Beatles had set the precedent by embarking on individual recordings. As far back as November 1968 George had released the soundtrack album Wonderwall Music which he had written and recorded. The same month John and Yoko had put out Unfinished Music No. 1- Two Virgins (followed in May '69 by Unfinished Music No. 2-Life With The Lions) which heralded a series of independent releases under a variety of headings. First came the Plastic Ono Band with Give Peace A Chance in July '69, followed by Cold Turkey and the Live Peace in Toronto LP. Later there was the Wedding Album under the credit of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and later still (in February, 1970 shortly before the release of McCartney) Instant Karma by John Ono Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band.
Meanwhile, Ringo had been working through November and December 1969 on his own album, Sentimental Journey, which was scheduled for release in spring 1970. This, like the others, was intended as a solo venture within the framework of the Beatles and it had never been admitted or even officially hinted at that the Beatles would not eventually come back together to record. Indeed, there was a Beatles album due for release in 1970. It was the Let It Be soundtrack and its launch was planned to coincide with the premiere of the movie.
By Christmas/New Year 1970, Paul was almost ready to release McCartney but the timing of its launch led to a bitter feud that aggravated the ill-feeling within the Beatles. Ringo's album was originally planned to appear in mid-April with Let It Be (premiered in May) to follow shortly after. McCartney wanted his record to come out at about the same time. The other three Beatles were opposed to this. It is a measure of their respect for Paul's music and popularity that they acknowledged his first album would be an important event. Consequently, they were afraid that if it coincided with the issue of Let It Be it would harm the latter's sales. They wanted him to hold back McCartney until Let It Be had achieved its maximum sales potential.
McCartney was adamant that his album should come out close to Let It Be's release date. It's difficult to see why he was so intractable on this point - possibly he wanted to underline his independence by going in against an 'official' Beatles recording - and John later said, rather heatedly, to Rolling Stone, "Paul's was just an ego game - it would have killed Let It Be."
Ringo was selected as emissary between the warring factions. John and Paul were already at loggerheads regarding the Klein management and it was felt that Ringo could be an ambassador and take the heat out of the situation. Unfortunately, things had already gone too far and when Ringo went to see Paul a furious row broke out. John later claimed that McCartney "attacked Ringo and started threatening him." In an affidavit read out in court during the 1971 hearings to end the Beatles partnership, Ringo said of that occasion: "I went to see Paul. To my dismay, he went completely out of control, shouting at me, prodding his fingers towards my face, saying: 'I'll finish you now' and 'You'll pay.' He told me to put my coat on and get out. I did so."
Ringo went on to say that bethought Paul had acted "like a spoiled child" but realized that the release date he had set his heart on for McCartney had a "gigantic emotional significance" for him. As a gesture of friendship, Ringo persuaded the others to reschedule the launch of Sentimental Journey, which was pulled forward by a fortnight and Let It Be, which was put back. It was evident that a crisis was imminent.
Shortly after McCartney appeared in April '70, Paul told a reporter: "We all have to ask each other's permission before any of us does anything without the other three." This was an intolerable restriction for him. McCartney was out and causing a lot of talk, partly because of its 'home-made', fragmented nature, and partly because of Linda's debut as a partner; perhaps a replacement for John?
He had publicly stated-via the Apple 'interview' - that "Linda's on it too, so it's really a double act." And that he expected her to contribute to further recordings because "we love singing together and have plenty of opportunity for practice." Furthermore, he revealed that he had set up his own company - McCartney Productions - which indicated a further break from the Beatles.
He now wanted complete independence to pursue his own musical policies. He felt, he declared, that the album nearly didn't come out "because Klein and some of the others thought it would be too near the date of the next album." He was embittered by the fact that he had to go to one of the other Beatles - in this case George - for him to authorize its release on Apple. The fact that they were all directors of Apple meant that one faction could conspire to block the release of another's work.
Paul could now see only one course open to him. He quit the Beatles. At least, he quit them physically in that he communicated with them only through lawyers. He quit them creatively, but he could not yet quit them legally. That had to be accomplished in the courts and it resulted in one of the saddest, most acrimonious disputes ever to be publicly paraded in the history of rock music.
At the very end of December 1970, McCartney started proceedings in the High Court to terminate the Beatles' partnership. A writ was issued in his name asking that the partnership be dissolved, its affairs wound up and a Receiver - an officer nominated by the courts to operate a company under litigation - be appointed to run their affairs. In a preliminary hearing held on January 19, 1971, McCartney's lawyer told the court that he was seeking the dissolution for three main reasons: 1 ) The Beatles had ceased performing as a group and therefore the purpose of the partnership had gone. 2) the other three Beatles had appointed Klein and Abkco in breach of the original partnership deed, and 3) Paul had never received audited accounts of the partnership's financial position.
When the main hearing took place a month later, these points were reiterated but the main thrust of McCartney's application was for the appointment of a Receiver. He felt this to be necessary because he believed Alien Klein unsuitable to run the company.
It was a long drawn-out battle, lasting from mid-February to March 12. In the course of it many claims were made, many accusations hurled. Hurtful things were said as the Beatles tore themselves apart while all the world looked on. The majority of Paul's complaints were levelled against Alien Klein. Among other things brought out in court, McCartney's lawyer cited a recent conviction in New York for "unlawfully failing to make and file returns of Federal income taxes."
In defence of Mr Klein, it was stated that he had more than doubled the Beatles' income in the first nine months of his managership and then boosted it by five times the original figure. Claim and counter-claim, allegation and counter-allegation were made throughout the weeks of the hearings. The lawyer appearing on behalf of John, George and Ringo (and who therefore strenuously defended Alien Klein) accused Paul of unreality, of seeing everything in terms of black and white, rather than shades of grey. "Mr McCartney... seems to live in a world where everyone is either a seraphim or [devil] . . . where there is precious little room for the intermediate atmosphere in which most people live."
The daily press reports of the proceedings made sorry reading for any Beatles fan. Each new session seemed to bring more anger and frustration, resentment and abuse welling to the surface. How could something that had started so happily and light-heartedly, in friendship and love, end in animosity and disgust, emnity and distrust?
After all the affidavits and statements, the arguments and legal wranglings, the judge made his decision. Alien Klein was temporarily removed as manager; the judge said that there was no evidence at all that he had pocketed any of the Beatles money. But, he asserted, Paul had solid grounds for mistrusting him and Abkco (Klein's company) as they "had received commission grossly in excess of that specified." In Klein's place a Receiver was appointed "not merely to secure the Beatles' assets but to manage the business fairly as between partners, and produce order."
This was not quite the final throw, though. About five weeks after judgment, the parties were back in court again. This time three appeal judges heard that John, George and Ringo were dropping their appeal against the appointment of a Receiver and that they "were willing to let McCartney go if terms over the partnership could be agreed among them." It was hoped that this could be done without resorting to a full trial for the dissolution. Lord Justice Russell commented: "I can only express the court's hope that the parties will come to some amicable and sensible arrangement."
Throughout these convoluted legalities it seemed to the ordinary fan, reading edited reports in the popular press, that Paul McCartney was the villain of the piece. It looked as if he had broken the Beatles up, turned against his old friends and colleagues and caused all these bitter words to flow. During the hearing Ringo had said, in an affidavit read out by his lawyer, that he was "shocked and dismayed" by Paul's actions, especially as he had agreed to a meeting with the others in January 1971 to talk out their differences. But in December 1970 they had received notice of Paul's intention to go to court. "I trust Paul and I know he would not lightly disregard his promise," he added.
Such evidence served all the more to make Paul look like the man who murdered the Beatles and caused greater resentment among many Beatles fans. What they could not know is the anguish such a step caused Paul or how he felt that he really had no alternative but to set these events in motion.
A few years after the event, Paul McCartney tried to put his role in the break up of the Beatles into perspective. It had never been his intention to hurt or destroy the Beatles. His actions weren't a personal vendetta against his three closest friends. He just did not want Alien Klein to be his manager under any circumstances. He was advised that he could sue Klein; this he was perfectly willing to do. Unfortunately to achieve this end he had to sue Apple and that meant, in effect, suing John, George and Ringo, "For two months I sat around thinking. 'I can't do this.' " he said. In the end, however, his desire to free himself from the Klein-connection overcame any other consideration and he took the only course open to him.
In January, 1975 a news item appeared in some newspapers. It wasn't considered to be startling and consequently usually made about one paragraph. This one appeared in the London Times on January 10: "The partnership of the Beatles and Co was finally dissolved at a private hearing before a High Court master yesterday, five years after the famous pop group split up. A writ dissolving the partnership has been sought by Paul McCartney since 1971.
"Solicitors said all matters in dispute between Mr McCartney and John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had been fully settled. "
The last coil in the complex bonds tying the four Beatles together had finally been thrown off. This was the legal rubber stamp that tidied up the mess. But, in fact and practice, the end had come years before. In a London courtroom in 1971 the Beatles had reached the end of their long and winding road. And, at last, Wings were cleared for take-off.