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Still On The Run

05/07/2001 4:00 PM, Yahoo! Music
Gary Graff

To the rest of the world, Paul McCartney's transition from the Beatles to the rest of his life appeared to be smooth. But according to him, it was anything but.

Sure, the "cute" Beatle's solo career got off to a flying start. His first album, McCartney, came out at the same time as Fab Four's swan song, Let It Be, and quickly made its way to the top of the charts. And a year later, his new band, Wings, took flight.

But appearances can be deceiving, McCartney says.

"I was quite broken up by the end of the Beatles," says McCartney, whose latest project is a retrospective album and TV documentary on Wings, both titled Wingspan. (The album arrives in stores May 8; the film--directed by McCartney's son-in-law, Alistair Donald--airs May 11.) "I'd been trying to hold them together, but it was something that wasn't to be. So I went into a bit of a depression after that; I'm normally optimistic, but I'd just lost the best job in the world--really the only job I'd ever had, besides being a second man on a truck when I was a kid, and a paper [route]. It was quite a shock."

McCartney credits his wife Linda, who died from breast cancer in April 1999, with pulling him out of his malaise. "She sort of encouraged me to get back on my feet, and said, 'What are you gonna do now?'" he recalls. "I said, 'Well, I've got to stay in music, 'cause there's no way I'm gonna do anything else'--even though I did think of becoming a nuclear physicist. Then I thought, 'Perhaps not.' Then I thought, 'OK, let's get a band together.'"

Launched on November 8, 1971, after the release of McCartney's second solo album Ram, Wings was indeed a successful second chapter in McCartney's musical life. Though it always hovered in the shadow of its famous forebear, the group was phenomenally successful nevertheless; during its nearly nine-year run, Wings enjoyed 17 million-selling singles--including 1977's "Mull Of Kintyre," which set a British record by selling 2.5 million copies--and five number one albums in the United States.

It was also a group that courted controversy and sensation. Its first tour during the early part of 1972 was a bus outing to Northern English university, where the group would roll into town unannounced, without bookings or hotel reservations, and charge students the equivalent of 33 cents to hear McCartney's new songs (no Beatles tunes, please) and some rock 'n' roll oldies. An early single, "Give Ireland Back To The Irish," was banned by the BBC as too controversial. (The song was also taken off the Wingspan album, after a terrorist bombing in London earlier this year killed 20 people.) Another song, "Hi Hi Hi," was also banned for what broadcasters felt were inappropriate sexual and drug references.

Wings soldiered through five different lineups, including the defections of guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell in August of 1973--on the eve of the group's departure for Lagos, Nigeria, to record the landmark Band On The Run album. Only former Moody Blues member Denny Laine was a constant throughout the group's history, and he and McCartney had a falling-out after Laine "did a kiss-and-tell story to the tabloid newspapers informing them of some really personal stuff," McCartney recalls. "I don't hold grudges, but I don't need to stay friendly with someone who would do that."

Wings itself pretty much ended on January 6, 1980, when McCartney was arrested for possession of marijuana as the group arrived in Tokyo for a Japanese tour. The shows were canceled and he spent nine days in jail--the only time he and Linda slept apart, he's noted. Looking back, McCartney calls his decision to carry the drugs into Japan "wacky," but rejects theories that it was a deliberate maneuver to bring Wings to an end.

He does, however, acknowledge that "I think I was ready to get out of Wings...but I cannot believe that I would have myself busted and put in jail for nine days just to get out of a group--and also having to pay a million pounds to the promoters in default. There are easier ways to do it than that. But I think it might have been some deep, psychological thing. It was a weird period for me."

Wings' other great drama involved Linda McCartney, who became the target of critical arrows when her husband put her in the band. This continued during McCartney's solo tours of 1984 and 1989-90. "It was terrible," McCartney remembers. "It's OK for you to go through your problems, but if you're a good guy, then it's painful to be part of the reason why these wounds are inflicted on your partner. Luckily, she was a strong woman, and she was able to overcome it."

And Wingspan, he feels, fully vindicates Linda's place in the band. "She would've been really proud of this show," says McCartney, who got the initial idea for Wingspan from a home movie Linda and son-in-law Donald put together as a surprise for one of the couple's wedding anniversaries. "Anyone watching it, I think, will have to say, 'Wow, I see why she's in the band.' She's a very strong force in the whole thing. The first time I looked at the show, it was a very emotional thing, and I said, 'I thought Wings was my band. No--it was hers."

Wingspanis, in fact, part of a heavy spate of creative activity McCartney has unleashed since Linda's passing. During the fall of 1999, he released a well-received album, Run Devil Run, which mixed rock chestnuts with three new songs. Last year he made public his paintings, while this year he published a book of poetry and held some public readings. With a new girlfriend, Heather Mills, and a new cause--landmine removal--joining his well-publicized work for animal rights, McCartney is also at work on an album of new material, which he's recording in Los Angeles with producer David Kahne and expects to have ready for a September release. "It sounds like a band playing music; beyond that, it's difficult to say," muses McCartney (who also calls recent reports of his billionaire status "not true"). "It's kind of rock 'n' roll/pop...I hate those definitions, but it's what I would call a regular studio album from me. I feel there's something special about it.

"I have quite a few passions, as you might have noticed," he continues. "It really is just when I have a minute and when a particular passion hits me...and I have quite a bit of time. You'd be surprised. The other thing is I do like what I do. I love to paint. I love to write poetry. I love to make music. So it's not really hard work for me, and if I have a strong urge for something, then I just go and do it."