In its December 1980 coverage of the musician’s death, Time magazine noted John Lennon’s recent efforts to distance himself from his earlier breakup-era denunciations, particularly those regarding his former songwriting partner, Paul McCartney. McCartney, the magazine declared, was someone Lennon clearly loved and clearly hated” and described him as “the brother [Lennon] never had.”
Any thorough examination of Beatles historiography and Lennon’s public and private statements regarding McCartney provide evidence to reinforce this assessment. Lennon’s statements on McCartney over the decades run the gamut; expressing love, contempt, admiration, envy, scorn, and insecurity, (among many other emotions), but never indifference.
This relative balance between negative and positive statements is lacking in Lennon’s comments regarding McCartney’s spouse, Linda Eastman. While Lennon’s negative comments on McCartney can be/should be assessed alongside his words of praise, the reality is that, while Lennon expressed multiple negative views of Eastman and/or her family, almost no positive comments exist as a counterbalance. Rather, Lennon’s private and public comments regarding Linda McCartney primarily range from dismissive to contemptuous. His 1980 Playboy interview, when he equates Eastman and Ono and expresses outrage regarding the press abuse both women had endured, contains seemingly his most complimentary comments on his former songwriting partner’s wife.
Unlike the relative lack of evidence regarding Eastman’s views on Lennon, a significant amount of sources, of varying degrees of credibility, provide information regarding Lennon’s views on Eastman. These sources range from private letters to interview transcripts to hearsay. The significant majority of these sources indicate Lennon viewed Eastman negatively; however, these criticisms must be put into context.
First, just as the majority of his harshest criticisms of McCartney occurred in the midst of the band’s breakup, so too do his most negative comments regarding Eastman. In fact, the majority of Lennon’s overall public comments on Eastman occurred in the emotionally, politically fraught and legally contentious breakup period, presumably coloring his view of and statements on her. Second, Eastman was not the first, or only, woman in McCartney’s life whom Lennon evidently disliked: the musician also apparently had a strained relationship with Eastman’s predecessor, Jane Asher. With the seeming exceptions of Dot Rhone and Maggie McGivern, Lennon’s behavior towards and reactions to many of McCartney’s girlfriends could be described as unwelcoming. Joshua Wolf Shenk notes “the weirdness” between John and Paul over the women in their lives in Powers of Two, his examination of the Lennon/McCartney dyad. So does Chris Salewicz, in his mid-80s interview with McCartney, when he mentions how Lennon’s 1969 marriage to Ono followed so quickly, almost as a counterpunch, on the heels of McCartney’s earlier marriage to Eastman.
Lennon’s prevailing view of Linda McCartney appears to have consisted of three major elements: First, during the breakup period, he tended to equate her with her father and brother, with all the legal, political and financial disputes that entailed. Part of this included blaming Linda, and the Eastman family, for at least some of McCartney’s actions; particularly his rejection of Allen Klein. Second, he repeatedly expressed surprise at not only McCartney’s choice of Eastman, but also at the couple’s ability to stay together: on at least three separate documented occasions, Lennon implicitly or explicitly predicted the early demise of the Eastman/McCartney marriage. Third, despite his repeated surprise at McCartney’s choice of Eastman, and his predictions that the marriage would not last, Lennon cannily pinpointed, (in the same interview where he declared the marriage would dissolve after five years), part of her appeal for McCartney; her ability to provide the other musician with a stable, domestic home and family life similar to what McCartney had experienced and enjoyed growing up.
Unfortunately, Linda McCartney’s role, significant or otherwise, in the business and legal conflicts which characterized the band’s breakup (and particularly in McCartney’s refusal to accept Klein) has been relatively unexplored. At the time, Lennon and Ono largely failed to publicly separate Linda (who, throughout her life, professed repeated disinterest in business and finance; how accurate those disavowals were are up for debate) from their harsh criticisms of the unwelcome interference of the larger Eastman family. While, in his 1971 interviews with Peter McCabe, (which contain his most extensive comments on Eastman) Lennon attempted to distinguish Linda as a separate entity from his criticisms of her father Lee and brother John, in other interviews no such effort was made. This implicitly included (whether it was Lennon’s intention or not) Linda in his at-times vitriolic comments on the Eastman family.
How much blame Lennon actually leveled at Linda Eastman for McCartney’s refusal to accept Klein is impossible to quantify, but various breakup-era statements indicate that Lennon regarded it as a factor in McCartney’s decision. 1971’s “How do you Sleep” contains lyrics, (evidently penned and performed with an utter lack of irony) accusing McCartney of being in thrall to his wife’s edicts. In one of Lennon’s predictions regarding the anticipated dissolution of the McCartney/Eastman marriage, the musician implies that, once McCartney’s marriage has dissolved, the other man will return to his former bandmates: “God help you out, Paul. See you in two years. I reckon you’ll be out by then.” In another of his predictions, to McCabe, Lennon makes the argument that, once McCartney’s marriage inevitably fails, he will come around on the Klein issue. “I give him five years. I’ve said that. In five years he’ll wake up.” Both these statements indicate that Lennon believed that, with Eastman out of the picture, McCartney could and would accept Klein.
In their 1971 interview with McCabe, Ono, with Lennon, professed initial respect for Eastman, which she argues then eroded upon the other woman’s obvious dislike of Klein. (Context: In the breakup period, Lennon and Ono seemed to regard distrust of Klein as a moral failing, with both emphasizing in Lennon Remembers how anyone should automatically know that Klein was the undisputed right choice). How long this initial respect endured is debatable. According to Doggett, in the 1971 Beatles booklet on which Lennon scrawled various comments, the musician captioned a picture of McCartney and Eastman’s wedding by crossing out the word ‘wedding’ and replacing it with ‘funeral.’ (McCartney mentioned this as a particularly hurtful incident in an interview decades later with Anthony DeCurtis). We have no evidence that Lennon ever explicitly declared that, had Linda Eastman never entered McCartney’s life, the other man would have accepted Klein as manager; however, it is an implication that can be drawn. (2).
- Lennon and Klein’s public comments indicating that, with Linda and the Eastman’s out of the way, McCartney would reunite with the other three Beatles need to be assessed in the legal and P.R. context of the time. A major part of Lennon and Klein’s initial version of the Beatles’ split (including their trial testimony) maintained that Lennon, Harrison and Starr did not want to dissolve the Beatles. Klein’s 1971 interviews with McCabe and David Vetter of Playboy ultimately portray the Eastman’s as the primary impediment to any Beatles reunion, with Klein offering an open invitation to bring McCartney back into the fold once he “learns to think for himself.” Dangling promises of a Beatles reunion therefore reinforced Klein’s desire to blame the Eastman’s and McCartney, rather than himself, for the band’s split.
This post was split in half: the next part, discussing the latter two points regarding John’s views on Linda, will be up within a week. Combined, the post was simply too long, and there were simply too many elements and points of discussion to post everything at once. Comments and questions are welcomed.