Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s

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by Tom Doyle

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The most famous living rock musician on the planet, Paul McCartney is now regarded as a slightly cosy figure, an (inter)national treasure. Back in the 1970s, however, McCartney cut a very different figure. He was, literally, a man on the run. Desperately trying to escape the shadow of the Beatles, he became an outlaw hippy millionaire, hiding out on his Scottish


The most famous living rock musician on the planet, Paul McCartney is now regarded as a slightly cosy figure, an (inter)national treasure. Back in the 1970s, however, McCartney cut a very different figure. He was, literally, a man on the run. Desperately trying to escape the shadow of the Beatles, he became an outlaw hippy millionaire, hiding out on his Scottish farmhouse in Kintyre before travelling the world with makeshift bands and barefoot children. It was a time of numerous drug busts and brilliant, banned and occasionally baffling records. For McCartney, it was an edgy, liberating and sometimes frightening period of his life that has largely been forgotten. Man on the Run paints an illuminating picture: from McCartney's nervous breakdown following the Beatles' split through his apparent victimisation by the authorities to the rude awakening of his imprisonment for marijuana possession in Japan in 1980 and the shocking wake-up call of John Lennon's murder. Ultimately, it poses the question: if you were one quarter of the Beatles, could you really outrun your past?

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Veteran music journalist Doyle (editor, Q magazine) chronicles a fascinating but little-documented era in rock legend Paul McCartney's long, eclectic, and mostly successful career. Despite the title, the book actually covers the year 1968, when the splintering Beatles were on the verge of an acrimonious, litigious breakup, through 1982, with McCartney reacting to former Beatles partner John Lennon's murder by dismantling his band Wings and retreating from the spotlight. During this period, the world's most famous rock musician rebooted his career, overcoming insecurity and financial trouble and forging a new musical path with the help of wife Linda while struggling to escape the enormous shadow cast by the Beatles. A large portion of the book focuses on "Macca's" relationship with Lennon, sometimes dipping into off-putting sentimentality but mostly sticking to the facts. Doyle draws heavily from his recent interviews with a candidly reflective McCartney while incorporating new and old quotes from a wide array of the musician's friends, neighbors, bandmates, and other insiders. VERDICT This engaging, accessible, and well-written telling of rock and roll's ultimate comeback tale complements Barry Miles's Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now (1997), whose story ends where Doyle's begins, and is recommended to both casual and devoted fans.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Publishers Weekly
The 1970s were not kind to Sir Paul McCartney. Blamed for the breakup of The Beatles, critically savaged by rock critics for seemingly inconsequential LPs and silly love songs such as "Silly Love Songs," McCartney seemed as lost and obsolete as his fellow ex-Beatles by the decade's end. But accomplished rock journalist Doyle (The Glamour Chase) presents a solid, detailed, and, above all, honest reappraisal of McCartney's work that tells a compulsively readable tale "of a man living outside normal society and, for better or for worse, acting on his own tangential whims, during a chaotic and fascinating period of his life." Using material from numerous interviews with McCartney, as well as the major players in his career, Doyle is not afraid to be critical, such as his opinion for the sometimes mediocre work of Sir Paul's so-called "band" Wings: "McCartney was flanked by yes-men and, as a result, was isolated." But Doyle also makes a strong argument for the validity of much of McCartney's most maligned works, such as "Ram," which he sees as "something of a marvel…the true successor to ‘Abbey Road,' in its baroque detail and flights of imagination, it was variously funny, daft, touching, and knowing." (June)
From the Publisher
“Tom Doyle’s detailed chronicle, which includes rare interviews with McCartney and former Wings members, portrays a band that was far more contentious than eager-to-please hits like 1976’s ‘Let ’Em In’ had us believe, fronted by a legend who wanted to be both boss and buddy. The book is larded with tales of Seventies rock-star excess, Paul and Linda’s love of weed, docked paychecks, and grousing musicians.”Rolling Stone
“Well-researched but still breezy and engaging, the book offers a comprehensive tour of the shaggy, bleary-eyed decade when the hardest-working ex-Beatle reached the zenith of his creative and commercial success. . . . Man on the Run makes an excellent contribution to the burgeoning literature devoted to McCartney’s post-Beatles career.”The Boston Globe
“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.”Billboard
Man on the Run is a must for any rock fan. Doyle strips away the larger-than-life figure and examines the real McCartney: the musician, the father, the husband, fighting off a nervous breakdown, trying to navigate his way through a tumultuous decade.”The Boston Herald
“Doyle has added a valuable entry into the Beatles Bookshelf.”Houston Press
“Doyle digs deeply into Mr. McCartney’s life and career, doing fans a great service as he unearths details even the most obsessive among them likely did not know.”The East Hampton Star
“A compelling read for both casual and well-versed fans.”The Morton Report
“[An] engaging, accessible, and well-written telling of rock and roll's ultimate comeback tale.”Library Journal
“Compulsively readable . . . Accomplished rock journalist Doyle presents a solid, detailed, and, above all, honest reappraisal of McCartney’s work.”Publishers Weekly

“Tom Doyle’s Man on the Run is a riveting dispatch from the seventies. Paul McCartney’s story is told with clever pacing, unflinching honesty, and a gripping narrative drive that benefits from his intimate participation via interviews and support. This is simply one of the best rock biographies anyone has written.”—Stephen Davis, bestselling author of Hammer of the Gods and Watch You Bleed
“Having attended the historic Wings over America concert at the Kingdome in Seattle back in 1976, I’ve been a major Paul McCartney fan seemingly forever and a day. And by virtue of that, I figured I had pretty much learned all there was to know about Sir Paul and his colossal career. Oh, how wrong I was! Man on the Run is simply brimming with enough fascinating facts and expertly rendered anecdotes to make even the most ardent McCartney follower do an abrupt about-face. Maybe I’m amazed? You better believe it.”—Kent Hartman, music industry executive and bestselling author of The Wrecking Crew
“[Man On The Run] answers the question: What happens when you can do anything you like but nothing will ever be good enough? Doyle makes sense of a stoned shaggy dog story that has none of the narrative neatness of the Beatles’ rise and fall.”The Guardian (U.K.), “Music Books of the Year”
“[Doyle] offers a level-headed and admirably nonjudgmental portrait of a turbulent ten years, punctuated by great music, creative misfires and frequent run-ins with the law.”Sunday Express (U.K.)
“Starting with the painful disintegration of the Beatles, Doyle examines the next decade in McCartney’s unimaginably odd existence. . . . Most compelling is the book’s portrait of a man in a position that doesn’t come with a guidebook, playing it by ear.”Q Magazine (U.K.)
“The go-to guy if you want to coax confessions from a superstar, Doyle writes without agenda.”Mojo (U.K.)

Kirkus Reviews
A close-up study of Paul McCartney's first post-Beatles decade.It's one measure of how messed-up the music business is and of how competitive the former band mates were that John Lennon lamented, in the 1970s, that McCartney had amassed a $25 million fortune, much more than Lennon had. Lennon's pile would quickly grow, though he would not live long enough to enjoy it all, thanks in part to the battery of lawsuits that McCartney fired off to get out of bad deals that the Beatles had signed over the years. By Q magazine contributing editor Doyle's (The Glamour Chase: Maverick Life of Billy MacKenzie, 1998) account, McCartney left the Beatles bruised and bleeding—and with a penchant not just for a little of the grass he wrote of in "Get Back," but also for countless bottles of whiskey. His depression cleared and his spirits improved when, holed up on his Scottish farm, he hatched the band that would become Wings, complete with wife Linda as keyboardist and vocalist—even though, as observers were quick to note, she couldn't quite sing or play. Finding plenty of good to write about Linda all the same, Doyle looks behind the chipper, thumbs-up McCartney to find the complex personality beneath the image: He was an extraordinary musician beset by self-doubt, a countercultural hippie who also had a gift for square-jawed business. (His net worth is estimated at more than $1 billion.) Doyle's asides are puzzling at times—the McCartneys were famously vegetarian, but he has them enjoying "hot biscuits and country ham"—but he manages to say something new about a public figure about whom countless thousands of books and articles have been written, and he says it well.McCartney emerges as more admirable than many readers might have imagined—and more human, too. They'll want to give his albums of the '70s a fresh spin as well.

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Read an Excerpt


On the Run

Your first solo album, McCartney. You recorded that at home, in secret, in the midst of all of your wrangles with the Beatles.

Yeah. It was really . . . kind of . . . therapy through hell. It was one of the worst times of my life.

He 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. A dark thought flashed through his mind: if he couldn’t make the effort to pull himself up, he’d suffocate right there and then.

Somehow, as if it was the hardest thing he’d ever done, he summoned the energy to move. He flipped over onto his back and thought, Jesus . . . that was a bit near.

Day by day, week by week, his condition had been steadily worsening. His often sleepless nights were spent shaking with anxiety, while his days, which he was finding harder and harder to make it through, were characterized by heavy drinking and self-sedation with marijuana. He found himself chain-smoking his unfiltered, lung-blackening Senior Service cigarettes one after another after another.

Later, he would look back on this period and tell everyone that he’d almost had a nervous breakdown. From the outside, there appeared to be no “almost” about it.

For the first time in his life, he felt utterly worthless. Everything he had been since the age of fifteen had been wrapped up in the band. Now, even though he couldn’t tell the world, that period of his life was almost certainly over.

It was as if he’d suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job, been made entirely redundant. He was twenty-seven and of no use to anyone anymore. Even the money he’d earned up to this point was no comfort, made no real difference. This was an identity crisis in extremis: who exactly was he if he wasn’t Beatle Paul McCartney?

On the mornings when he forced himself to rise, he’d sit on the edge of his bed for a while before defeatedly crawling back under the covers. When he did get out of bed he’d reach straight for the whiskey, his drinking creeping earlier and earlier into the day. By three in the afternoon, he was usually out of it.

“I hit the bottle,” he admits. “I hit the substances.”

He was eaten up with anger—at himself, at the outside world. He could describe it only as a barreling, empty feeling rolling across his soul.

Out of work and with nothing to distract him, he was tormented by ghosts from his past; they would rise up, whispering in his head, telling him that, in spite of everything he’d achieved, they knew he’d never really amount to anything. That he should have found a proper job in the first place, just as they’d always said.

He realized that up until this point he’d been a “cocky sod.” And now there was this: the first serious blow to his confidence he’d ever experienced. Even when he was fourteen and the complications from a mastectomy had suddenly taken his mother’s life, he had understood that this horrific event had been beyond his control. Somehow, now, in the depths of his muddied thinking, he was starting to believe that everything that was happening was nobody’s fault but his own.

His wife of less than a year later said she had felt the situation was “frightening beyond belief.” Within a matter of months, her new partner had gone from being a sparky, driven, world-famous rock star to a broken man who didn’t want to set foot out of their bedroom. But even if Linda was scared, she knew she couldn’t give up on Paul. She recognized that her husband was sinking into emotional quicksand, and she knew that it was down to her alone to pull him out before he went under for good.

“Linda saved me,” he says. “And it was all done in a sort of domestic setting.”

It had been two years since they’d first met, at the Bag O’ Nails nightclub in Soho, four days later being seen deep in conversation at the press launch for Sgt. Pepper. It was only a year since they’d managed to float unnoticed together through the streets of New York (where, in Chinatown, he had comically tried to pull her into a temple offering Buddhist weddings) before flying from coast to coast, landing in Los Angeles and disappearing for days into a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was still only six months since they’d giggled their way through their wedding ceremony at Marylebone registry office in London, amid a fog of seething female jealousy that seemed to spread across the world.

He had been the last single Beatle, the one seen about town, haunting the clubs and hanging with the artsy crowd. She was the American single-mother divorcée who had earned some renown as a rock photographer and who had apparently had flings with Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. To Paul, Linda appeared deeper than the frothy, starry-eyed girls who tended to flock around him, less buttoned-up than his then paramour, the actress Jane Asher.

Linda would take Paul out on long drives, saying, “Let’s get lost” in her drawly, spacey way, showing him a new kind of freedom. She had surprised him by telling him, “I could make you a nice home.”

Now it was the autumn of 1969, and the McCartneys were in Scotland, “hiding away in the mists,” as Paul puts it. They had escaped here, far from London and the heavy weather of intra-Beatle feuding that refused to lift.

But High Park Farm was no rock-star country pile. Paul had bought the run-down farmhouse, set on a hill overlooking Skeroblin Loch amid 183 acres of rough Scottish landscape, back in June 1966, the year he became a millionaire. His accountant had suggested that McCartney invest in property to wrestle some of his earnings away from the clutches of Harold Wilson and his Labour government’s painful 95 percent taxing of high earners.

The ever frugal Paul, of course, leaped at such an opportunity, picking High Park Farm out of the reams of property documents his accountant sent him. The asking price was a not insubstantial £35,000, more than ten times the cost of the average family home in the mid-1960s. It was, says Paul, “wee,” consisting of only three rooms: a bedroom at either end separated by a combined kitchen and living area. The hole in the roof of the farmhouse was included in the deal.

But it was another eighteen months after the purchase, in December 1967, before Paul, with Jane Asher in tow, made the trip north to check out his new investment. High Park was set more than a mile up a bumpy dirt path and visitors unprepared for the terrain would moan that the drive would virtually wreck their offroad-unworthy vehicles.

The sorely neglected property was in a wild and windswept location, fourteen miles from the southern tip of the remote Kintyre Peninsula, in Argyll. Three miles west of the hill lay the six-mile sweep of beach at Machrihanish Bay. A five-mile drive southeast down the A83 sat the small fishing port of Campbeltown and the closest amenities.

At the tail-end of 1967—equally the Beatles’ annus mirabilis and their annus horribilis (the marvel of Sgt. Pepper, the paralyzing shock of Brian Epstein’s death, the trials of Magical Mystery Tour, and the sense that nothing would ever be the same again)—McCartney tried to make High Park habitable on a characteristically thrifty level.

He dispatched Beatles gofer Alistair Taylor into Campbeltown; Taylor returned with a secondhand Formica table and chairs, an electric stove, and a couple of beds. The pair fashioned a sofa out of a pile of Sharpe’s Express wooden potato boxes, with an old mattress found in the barn folded over the makeshift frame.

After his split from Asher, Paul first went back there with Linda in November 1968. The eldest daughter of the moneyed New York Eastman family had immediately fallen in love with the place and the idea of roughing it in this remoteness—no hot water, mice and rats in the walls and all—but had suggested to Paul that they do the place up a bit. It was a notion that hadn’t even occurred to the airy McCartney.

She encouraged him to pour a cement floor in the kitchen, an improvement over the wooden planks laid over the bare earth. He began making a table to replace the flimsy Formica one. He scaled a ladder and climbed onto the roof to fix its hole, Linda soundtracking his handiwork by spinning the newly released Tighten Up reggae compilation LPs.

If you had walked through the door of the farmhouse in the latter months of 1969, according to Paul, you’d have seen “nappies, bottles, musical instruments, me and Lin, like a couple of hippies. . . . It wasn’t sort of dirty, but it wasn’t clean.”

High Park wasn’t entirely cut off from civilization, though it certainly had that feel. Linda in particular romanticized this notion, imagining that the McCartneys were living in another era, as if they were pioneers in this isolated place. She loved the fact that they were, as she fancifully saw it, “at the end of nowhere.”

As the months passed, Paul and Linda grew into their rural personas. At Christmas, he bought her twelve pheasants; she bought him a tractor, which he used to plow a vegetable patch, where they grew parsnips, turnips, potatoes, green beans, runner beans, and spinach.

Their acreage was home to 150 to 200 sheep, which Paul learned to clip using hand shears, after which they sold the fleeces to the Wool Marketing Board. Already leaning toward vegetarianism, they balked at the notion of killing their lambs, although they were forced to send some off to market when the numbers grew too high. They tried to separate the ewes from the rams, but sometimes one of the male sheep would enthusiastically spring over the fence. In time, they had six horses, including the retired racer Drake’s Drum, bought for Paul’s father, Jim, and a former winner at Aintree, alongside Honor (Paul’s), Cinnamon (Linda’s), and three ponies, Sugarfoot, Cookie, and Coconut.

Revving up a generator, Paul put together an ad hoc four-track recording facility in High Park’s rickety lean-to, which he named Rude Studio. It was in here, 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, y’know, you don’t want to get too crazy.’ ”

Paul shied away from admitting that there was a strong autobiographical element to some of these new compositions, but his protestations rang hollow. The lyrics of “Man We Was Lonely” speak of how his and Linda’s self-imposed exile was not as idyllic as it outwardly seemed, that their spirits had been low, but, under the comfort blanket of domesticity, their positivity was returning.

“Every Night,” a song he’d first begun messing around with during the Let It Be sessions, was more confessional still—its singer painting a grim picture of a routine involving getting wasted and struggling to drag himself out of bed. The chorus, as was increasingly becoming a McCartney trait, pledged his devotion to Linda. As a song, it was a deceptively breezy affair. While elsewhere Lennon was screaming his pain, it was typical of McCartney to mask his with melody. Only if you listened closely would you really be able to detect the songwriter’s anguish.

As Paul seemed to stabilize, the McCartneys settled into a daily routine, riding their horses across the land or taking sheepdog Martha for long walks. They drove into Campbeltown in their Land Rover, which they’d nicknamed Helen Wheels, the Beatle becoming a regular sight wandering around in his Wellies and sheepskin-lined brown leather jacket. In the evening, he would light the fire while Linda cooked, and then Paul would step into Rude to work on songs. At night, they would cuddle up, get stoned, and watch TV. “We were not cut off from the world,” said Linda. “We were never hermits.”

In addition, to playfully distract Paul from his troubles, there were the children to look after: the newborn Mary and Linda’s child from her first marriage, shy Heather, only six. For the kids, High Park was a cross between a playground and a junkyard. As soon as she began to walk, Mary was free to toddle outside, through its abandoned gypsy encampment–like clutter of scrap wood, sheets of corrugated iron, and teetering log piles (noting incredulously as an adult that she’d effectively been brought up in a “lumber yard”).

It was a messy scene but, for McCartney, one filled with increasingly frequent spells of happiness. Nevertheless, in a corner of his mind, knowing that there was a Beatles-shaped storm brewing back down in London, Paul was still plagued with unease.

It didn’t help that everyone was arguing about whether or not he was dead.

The rumor had first circulated among the bloodshot-eyed student populace of Drake University in Iowa, around the time McCartney had first holed up in Scotland. The signs were all there if you cared to dig “deep” enough, to stop just rolling joints on the covers of Beatles albums and decipher the hidden messages in the artwork and between the grooves. The students listened to Lennon’s daft murmur of “cranberry sauce” in the fade-out of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and imagined it to be “I buried Paul.” They would spin The White Album backward with an index finger and convince themselves that a voice could be heard saying, “Turn me on, dead man.”

In many ways, the Beatles had brought this upon themselves. In their touring absence and with their increasingly cryptic music, they had laid playful clues and red herrings: with the opening lines of “Rain” played backward at the end of the song; with the garbled, wonked-out voices locked in the play-out groove of side 2 of Sgt. Pepper; with Lennon’s head-game assertion in “Glass Onion” that the walrus was Paul.

“We’d done them for fun, just for something to do,” says Paul, in admitting the Beatles’ surprise that their penchant for japery was taken so seriously. “Then everyone analyzed them and we thought, Ah. We were completely oblivious to all those other ‘hidden’ messages.”

That was until the clueheads began to air their tangential theories. September 16, 1969, saw the first piece, in the Drake University student paper, under the tantalizing headline “Is Paul McCartney Dead?” A week later, the Northern Star, the campus rag of Northern Illinois University, went one better: “Clues Hint at Possible Beatle Death.”

A student identifying himself only as Tom called Detroit DJ Russ Gibb to inform him of the rumors. Listening in, a college writer named Fred LaBour decided to turn prankster, taking it upon himself to “kill” McCartney, adding arm upon leg to the growing myth. Two days later, the Michigan Daily printed his fabricated revelations under a more contentious banner: “McCartney Dead: New Evidence Brought to Light.” The rumor spread countrywide when Roby Yonge, on his networked show from WABC in New York, discussed the theories on the air in the small hours, when the stoned were at their most receptive.

Meet the Author

Tom Doyle is an acclaimed music journalist, author, and long-standing contributing editor to Q. His work has also appeared in Mojo, The Guardian, Marie Claire, Elle, The Times, and Sound on Sound. Over the years, he has profiled Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Kate Bush, Elton John, R.E.M., and U2, among many others. He is the author of The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy MacKenzie, which has attained the status of a classic rock biography since its original publication. He lives in London, England.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
DavefromBuffalo More than 1 year ago
I've read a lot of Beatles and McCartney books, this adds really good coverage to the Wings era!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Zed1955 More than 1 year ago
Being a die hard Beatles fan, I knew the better part of the story. Still, learned a lot I didn't know. Very interesting read. A must for any Beatles and Wings fans.