The moptop lad dubbed the “cute Beatle” has been rocking our world for 40 years now. Even though he’s one of the world’s richest men, as well as one of the most famous people on the planet, it’s his air of normality that makes him seem more accessible than, undoubtedly, he really is. Maybe what we relate to is that he’s never lost the urge to put together a band and take it on the road-most recently, to the halftime show of this year’s Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl producers were looking for someone family-oriented and relentlessly upbeat. Paul’s not the Pat Boone of our generation, but he does seem to be the cheerful sort, the “Good Day, Sunshine” boy. Yet he says it was wife Linda, fighting her losing battle with breast cancer, who taught him to accentuate the positive. In their 30-year marriage, they only spent 10 nights apart-one of the many things that makes the quintessential pop star anything but typical. And it’s one of the many reasons that keeps us fans. Here are our top ten:
1. Meet the Beatles. For boomers everywhere, all it takes is a Beatles song-or, if you’re a little younger, a Wings song-to bring back every good memory and every nostalgic moment. No need to list the songs; we can name them by heart. There had never been anything like the Beatles- and as a generation it made us realize that there’d never been anything like us, either.
2. He still rocks. While those ‘Sixties revival nostalgia shows make us feel, well, old, the way McCartney keeps on going makes us feel all right about dancing in the aisles and playing air guitar (even if our kids wish we would be more mature). Being able to go see Paul McCartney in concert brings back all the sense of limitless possibility that we had the first time around. In the 2004 book documenting his recent world tour, Each One Believing (co-authored with our cover photographer Bill Bernstein), McCartney remembers saying “Just put a feeler out there, will you? Like, is there any, what do you call it, demand [for me to tour] out there?” He doesn’t take it for granted: “I don’t get blasé, you know.”
3. The family man. Paul married Linda Eastman in 1969, but for the most part they avoided the trappings of celebrity, raising their four children (including her daughter, Heather, from a previous marriage) mostly on a farm in West Sussex,England, wihout servants. In a radio interview recently, daughter Mary McCartney said, “Our parents didn’t push their beliefs down our throats. It was just natural to be around animals and not to eat meat or wear leather. Plus, Mom was a great cook-we were never tempted to go out and eat a burger or whatever.” Paul and Linda both said they strived to give the children the most normal lifstyle possible.
4. Women of substance. Even if it makes us jealous, we have to admire Paul’s taste in women. Linda was already a well-known rock photographer when she and Paul met, later becoming an accomplished still-life photographer as well as a reluctant musician (Paul insisted that she join his new band Wings so that they wouldn’t have to be apart). Linda once said, “My outlook is that little things are the trip. I’m very happy with very little. Maybe that’s why I have so much.”
She was a force to be reckoned with in the vegetarian and animal-rights movements. A heartbroken Paul was at her side when she lost her battle with breast cancer in 1998, and at her death suggested that instead of flowers fans donate to her charities or “the tribute Linda would like best: go veggie.” After several years of being clearly bereft, Paul met Heather Mills, a former model with a prosthetic leg who is active in the movement to abolish land mines. They wed in 2002 and had a daughter, Beatrice Milly, in 2003.
5. Children who care. Involved parenting shows; all three of Paul’s grown children are solid human beings, not spoiled socialites. Oldest daughter Mary has followed in her mother’s footsteps as a photographer, and often donates her services to charitable causes. Son James, 27, is a musician who has worked on his father’s two most recent studio albums.
And Stella McCartney is a well-known fashion designer. Mary has said, “I really admire my sister for refusing to use any animal products in her collections, and I have to say she has never once wavered. My children are still too young to make up their own minds, but I hope they will grow up to love animals as we do.” Of herself she said, “I refuse to photograph leather and fur, so of course I am limiting my options when it comes to getting work, but it’s not impossible. I see it as a challenge.”
6. Making a difference. Lending his name to worthy causes has never been enough for Paul, who actively espoused Linda’s vegan and animal rights causes and is now active in Heather’s land mines campaigns. He rarely stages an event that doesn’t have an eye to fundraising for a worthy cause. He founded “A Garland for Linda” to raise awareness of the importance of early breast cancer detection, and in 2001 organized the Concert forNew York Cityto raise money for the families of the victims of 9/11 and honor the rescue workers, raising $30 million.
7. Knight in shining armor. It’s the good works that give it the shine, but Paul became Sir James Paul McCartney (his real name) in 1977. He dedicated his knighthood to his fellow Beatles and prefers not to be called “Sir Paul” to his face.
8. Defends fair maidens. Paul was well aware that fans were less than kind to Linda, not only for her early lack of demonstrable musical talent when she first appeared with Wings but simply for taking him “off the market.” He routinely went out of his way to praise her and to launch a counterattack whenever she was criticized in the press.
These days, not much has changed; in response to recent nasty press comments about Heather, he said, “It hurts me to see her wounded by these scurrilous reports, and not having anyone set the record straight.” One of the many rumors was that his children dislike Heather (not unusual for any new stepmother), but he says “We get on great and anyone who knows our family can see this for themselves.”
9. Takes himself lightly. From the earliest Beatle days and the film “A Hard Day’s Night,” Paul has always seemed more comfortable being silly than serious. Criticized for being shallow musically, he responded with the hit “Silly Love Songs.” He and Linda played themselves on a 1995 episode of The Simpsons.
10. Keeps expanding his horizons. In addition to writing orchestral and choral music, Paul has written a children’s book and animated video. Animation “is a lot of fun to do,” he says; “you can tap into your childlike qualities, which I try not to lose.” He’s also taken up painting, and became the first pop star to design a stamp when he drew a series for the Isle of Man. When asked what he prefers these days, he said in an MSN web chat, “I love it all and every aspect of what I do involves its own challenges, and the fact that there’s a big variety of work between recording, animation, touring live, painting, etc. keeps it fresh.”
Not a bad role model, Sir Paul, not bad at all.
GRANDS AT THE GRAMMYS
Paul McCartney was far from the only grandparent nominated for a Grammy award this year. His collaboration with Eric Clapton on a new version of “Something” from The Concert For George didn’t win (though the concert itself won, for best Long-Form Music Video), but grandparents more than held their own throughout the competition.
Loretta Lynn-grandmother of 21-won twice, once for Best Country Album and once for Best Country Collaboration for the gritty “Portland Rose,” sung with indie rocker Jack White of the White Stripes.
Gladys Knight, sans Pips, won for Best Gospel Performance in a duo with Ray Charles (Gladys has 11 grandchildren).
Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, whose third grandchild is on the way, won for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Etta James, grandmother of four, was awarded Best Traditional Blues Album for Blues To The Bone.
Grandfather Randy Travis won the award for Best Southern, Counry or Bluegrass Gospel Album.
And the Rolling Stones, headed by grandfather Mick Jagger, placed an album in the Hall of Fame for the fourth time (the Beatles hold the record, pardon the pun).
Other grandfolks nominated included Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Ronnie Milsap and Al Green, plus great-grandpa Willie Nelson.
Even when they weren’t winning, grandparents were a dominant force at the music industry ceremonies. Singer-songwriter John Mayer, who won Song of the Year for “Daughters,” said his award was “Dedicated to my grandmother, who had an awesome daughter named my mom.” The special concert segment of the program-made available for download to raise money for tsunami victims relief-featured an all-star cast singing Lennon and McCartney’s “Across The Universe,” with Wonder, Wilson and fellow grandfather Steven Tyler of Aerosmith joined by David Bowie, Norah Jones, Bono, Tim McGraw and others. In another segment, James Brown pronounced Usher the “godson of soul.”
Unlike the movie industry, where youth is idolized, the icons of the music industry routinely have careers of 30, 40 years or more. Children of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are still in the mainstream even now that in their homes, like ours, “grammy” isn’t just short for gramophone.
Originally published in GRAND Magazine April/May 2005