In the 1970s, a depressed, heavy-drinking Paul McCartney walked away from The Beatles and reinvented himself as the leader of another hitmaking rock'n'roll band. A new book by longtime Q magazine contributing editor Tom Doyle about that turbulent period in the legendary rock star's life, "Man on the Run," catches him in mid-flight.
|From "Man on the Run" by Tom Doyle, copyright 2014 by Tom Doyle. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.|
Paul McCartney knew he was in trouble the morning he couldn't lift his head off the pillow. He awoke facedown, his skull feeling like a useless dead weight. Day by day, his condition had been worsening. His sleepless nights were spent shaking with anxiety; his days were characterized by heavy drinking and self-sedation with marijuana.
For the first time in his life, he felt utterly worthless. Everything he had been since the age of 15 had been wrapped up in the band. Now, he was 27, and even though he couldn't tell the world, that period of his life was almost certainly over. This was an identity crisis in extremis: Who exactly was he if he wasn't Beatle Paul McCartney?
If any word sums up McCartney in the 1970s, it is struggle. Another is escape. He spent the decade struggling to escape the shadow of The Beatles, effectively becoming an outlaw hippie millionaire. It was a time of brilliant, banned and sometimes baffling records. For McCartney, it was an edgy, liberating, sometimes frightening period of his life that has largely been forgotten by those who were not along for the ride.
In the autumn of 1969, the McCartney family was in Argyll, Scotland, "hiding away in the mists," as Paul puts it. McCartney, his wife Linda, the newborn Mary and Linda's child from her first marriage, shy Heather, only 6, had escaped to High Park Farm, far from London and the heavy weather of intra-Beatle feuding. But High Park was no rock-star country pile.
McCartney had bought the run-down farmhouse, set amid 183 acres of rough, windswept Scottish landscape, in June 1966, the year he became a millionaire.
Revving up a generator, he put together an ad hoc four-track recording facility in High Park's rickety lean-to, which he named Rude Studio. It was there, gently encouraged by Linda, that his songwriting slowly began to return to him, as he effectively used music as therapy to alleviate his depression. "She eased me out of it," he remembers, "and just said, ‘Hey, you know, you don't want to get too crazy.' "
Still, despite increasingly frequent spells of happiness, McCartney was still plagued with unease, knowing that a storm was brewing back in London.
In private, The Beatles had fallen out and apart, prompting McCartney's state of panic and depression. The critical episode had come at a meeting at the label they had founded, Apple Records, on Sept. 20, 1969. Three of the band members (George Harrison was away, his mother having just been diagnosed with cancer) had convened at the office to ink their names on a new distribution deal with Capitol Records, their label in the United States. On that day, McCartney had attempted to rah-rah-rah his downbeat colleagues into recapturing their fire. He suggested they tour small clubs, where the band — which had last performed for a paying audience more than three years before — could turn up unannounced or billed under a pseudonym.
He argued that this might help them get back in touch with who they were.
"I think you're daft," a scowling John Lennon responded, before announcing, "I'm leaving the group. I want a divorce."
Following this jaw-dropping declaration, the three signed the contract "in a bit of a daze," according to McCartney. All involved would look back on this as the moment when the illness affecting The Beatles finally became terminal.