One of the striking aspects of Peter Doggett’s excellent You Never Give me Your Money is how his examination of the decades-long inter-Beatles relationships demonstrates how Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono are irrevocably, if reluctantly, linked. The core connection between them, John Lennon, died in 1980. However, his pointed and repeated comments equating the two, which range from 1970’s Lennon Remembers, in which he praises and notes his reliance first on McCartney and now Ono’s “good minds,” to one of his last ever interviews – “I only ever worked with two people” – perpetuate endless comparisons between and analysis of Lennon’s two artistic partners, their relationships with him, and their relationship with and views of each other.
This, coupled with their financial and legal disputes, as well as the struggle between McCartney and Ono regarding their particular (and primarily conflicting) versions of Beatles history, means that McCartney’s business, artistic, and personal relationship with Ono, and vice versa, has received considerable attention from various authors. McCartney’s at times less complimentary statements regarding Ono, and hers on him, have provoked authorial and fan interpretation and speculation on how they regard one another.
Far less attention – almost none – has been devoted to Lennon’s view of and/or relationship with McCartney’s spouse, Linda Eastman, and her view of him. Doggett’s sole analysis of the Lennon/Eastman relationship is his wry observation that Lennon, despite his breakup-era credo that everyone was/could be an artist, demonstrated little respect for Linda McCartney’s intellect or artistic abilities. Despite a number of quotes and sources of varying degrees of credibility dealing with Lennon’s views on Linda McCartney, virtually no other authors have even skimmed the issue. This lack of analysis consequently ignores revealing and thought provoking sources regarding Lennon’s views on Eastman and her family, on the band’s split, on the McCartney/Eastman marriage, and Lennon’s own personal life.
Any analysis must acknowledge that, in contrast to the still living McCartney and Ono, Lennon’s murder in 1980 and Eastman’s death in 1998 means the two were given considerably less time to comment on and interact with each other. The Let it Be tapes do record some amiable conversations between Eastman and Lennon, and easy interaction between Lennon and Eastman’s daughter, Heather. The lunchroom tapes also capture a serious conversation between Eastman and Lennon in which Eastman notes the necessity of investing effort in a working relationship and asks Lennon whether he is still willing to put forth that effort into the Beatles, and Lennon responds positively.
The tapes also include Eastman, along with Michael Lindsay Hogg and Neil Aspinall, among others, complaining to McCartney about Ono’s participation in the sessions and her role in speaking for Lennon during Beatles’ meetings, indicating that Eastman’s view of Ono was not particularly positive in that time period. In December 1970, Lennon and Ono sent the McCartney family a postcard with professions of friendship. However, relations from there appear to have soured. In 1971, Eastman evidently sent Lennon a letter requesting that he stop criticizing McCartney to the press. Unfortunately, the text of Eastman’s letter is unavailable, meaning that Lennon’s contemptuous response cannot be properly analyzed without knowing what, if any, provocation existed in Eastman’s letter.
Interactions between Lennon and the McCartney family improved during the Lost Weekend, but, in part because most sources focus on the interaction between McCartney and Lennon, few observations exist regarding Lennon’s interaction with Eastman, or hers with him. (Linda’s role in this time period appears to have been watching over the McCartney children while John and Paul engage in small talk). In his biography of Linda, her New York friend Danny Fields declares that, while Lennon and McCartney were friends and loved each other, neither man cared for the others wife; this reality discouraged improved relations between the two.
Eastman’s public comments on Lennon, particularly those prior to his death, are minimal. Her most extensive comments came in her 1984 joint interview with McCartney for Playboy. (As noted in The Beatles and the Historians, Joan Goodman and Chris Salewicz managed to prompt thoughtful, revealing answers from McCartney in this time period). Eastman disputes the “house-husband” version of Lennon’s final years by arguing that Lennon suffered from writer’s block and would have greatly benefited from writing with McCartney again. “No. I know that Paul was desperate to write with John again. And I know John was desperate to write. Desperate. People thought, Well, he’s taking care of Sean, he’s a househusband and all that, but he wasn’t happy. He couldn’t write and it drove him crazy. And Paul could have helped him… easily.” (It should be noted that Eastman does not identify her source regarding Lennon’s writer’s block, and that her comment was made pre-Goldman).
In Many Years from Now, she also argued that, both leading up to and during the breakup, Allen Klein and Ono deliberately fostered Lennon’s jealousy and insecurity regarding McCartney, encouraging negative relations between the two partners. “They (Klein and Ono) had John so spinning about Paul it was heartbreaking.” She declares that Lennon had “made it clear” that he wanted to announce the band’s end, explaining why the other musician was so furious when McCartney pre-empted him with the McCartney press release. Like McCartney, she also contests Lennon and Ono’s perception that the entire Ram album was a dig at the other couple.
There are even fewer private sources than public ones during the breakup period regarding Linda’s comments on Lennon and the band’s split. McCartney notes how Eastman rejected Lennon’s comments which criticized him, but we have no record of her own response to other breakup-era comments Lennon made regarding her, her family, and her marriage to McCartney. Whatever comments she made evidently occurred among the privacy of the McCartney and Eastman families and remain unknown. Her Playboy interview claim that her response to harsh breakup era criticism — “But God knows, people got on my back, and for things I wasn’t really doing. But I’m just not the type who’ll get up and explain herself” — was public silence could be viewed as obliquely identifying Lennon as one of her critics, but could equally apply to any other number of journalists or Beatles insiders. However, it is reasonable to assume Eastman was less than pleased with either the repeated insults to her father and brother or Lennon, Ono and Klein’s predictions to journalist Peter McCabe that, once her marriage to McCartney inevitably failed, he would be welcomed back into the fold under Klein’s management.
She relayed little, if anything, to New York friends, which included Fields and Lillian Roxon. Fields hypothesizes that this silence was due to an edict by her father and brother; given that most of Eastman’s New York friends were involved in the rock scene, he argues that John and Lee Eastman may have requested that Linda not discuss the band’s breakup for fear of information leaking out. While this hypothesis is plausible, it’s also important to note other events occurring in Eastman’s life at the time: part of the period of Linda’s silence coincides with the birth of Mary McCartney in August 1969. Given that the McCartney’s did not employ a nanny, and the incredibly time-consuming reality of caring for a newborn baby, Eastman’s lack of communication could also be due to simply being overwhelmed. This would presumably only have intensified after April 1970 when, following the McCartney press release, her husband experienced the equivalent of a nervous breakdown. “I was dreaming through the whole thing,” Eastman later recalled. During this time period, which she described in the Playboy interview as “frightening beyond belief,” Linda evidently was the primary to sole caretaker of 9 month old Mary, 7 year old Heather, and her depressed husband. It seems reasonable to assume that, at the time, Eastman had little to no time for either private conversations with old friends or public comments to the press.
Overall, Eastman’s public comments regarding Lennon, most of which followed his death, argue against Lennon and Ono’s version of the breakup. She also privately countered Lennon’s most vitriolic dismissals of McCartney’s Beatles’ contributions: According to McCartney, it was Linda’s reassurance that encouraged him not to believe Lennon’s harshest “Lennon Remembers” comments. She also later deplored, in the Playboy interview, the Beatles’ lack of communication skills, and her own lack of awareness regarding the many musical, personal, and monetary issues which were bubbling beneath the surface when she entered the band’s life. “The sad thing is that John and Paul both had problems and they loved each other and, boy, could they have helped each other! If they had only communicated! It frustrates me to no end, because I was just some chick from New York when I walked into all of that. God, if I’d known what I know now… All I could do was sit there watching them play these games.”
Due to this minimal amount of public sources and private comments, it is difficult to draw firm and unfiltered conclusions regarding Linda McCartney’s views on John Lennon. What we do have indicates that, unsurprisingly, Linda McCartney’s accounts on Lennon reinforced her husband’s version of the band’s story, dismissing accounts which blamed her husband (or herself) for the breakup, minimized McCartney’s musical contributions to the Beatles, or devalued the Lennon/McCartney relationship and partnership. She also emphasized the similarities between her husband and Lennon at a time when popular perception identified them as polar opposites: “John was biting, but he was also sentimental. Paul was sentimental, but he could be very biting. They were more similar than they were different.”
Linda Eastman apparently chose to allow her husband to take the lead in their interaction with and comments regarding Lennon and Ono. However, instances such as her 1971 letter, or her phone call to Ono regarding switching the order of the naming credit on “Yesterday,” indicate that she could also be proactive. Unfortunately, the overall lack of available sources from Eastman results in a less than candid, complete picture of her view of and relationship with Lennon. On the other side, there are numerous sources regarding Lennon’s view of Eastman and her influence on McCartney; the musician was, unsurprisingly, less circumspect, which will be discussed in the next post.
So obviously, it isn’t September, and this isn’t the promised post on the role of women (or lack thereof) in Beatles historiography. That post, while 3/4 done, needs more editing: I recently re-discovered another article I want to integrate into the post; but, given the demands on my time (new baby plus the start of the fall semester) haven’t had time to do so yet.
This post was the result of a number of factors: my thoughts on the depiction of females in Beatles historiography, and how much of that depiction is shaped by other primary sources/eyewitness; the lack of examination, in the band’s historiography, of the Eastman/Lennon relationship; and the freedom to ruminate on the subject while bottle feeding my six-week old seemingly 97 times a day. (Her nickname is Claire the insatiable. She’s over 12 lbs., now). Because much of this essay was mapped out during those aforementioned bottle-feeding sessions, there are probably some sources regarding Linda’s views on John that I missed. If anyone has any other valuable sources regarding Linda’s views on John (we’ll tackle the John view of Linda in the next post) which add to the discussion, feel free to bring them up.
Finally, the conclusions drawn here: first, that not many sources exist to offer Linda’s thoughts on John and, second, that what sources we do have unsurprisingly demonstrate Linda promoting Paul’s, and not John’s, version of Beatles history may seem elementary and glaringly obvious. However, in my defense, sometimes the conclusions we draw are that obvious. I once hesitated to hand in an extensive research paper in graduate school on the history of sports, which examined how and why certain countries play certain sports and others play different ones. (Authorial tangent: if you’re interested in sports or culture, it’s a fascinating topic). One of the conclusions — that climate plays a significant role in which sports a country adopts (there’s a reason hockey originated in Canada and not, say Ghana) — seemed to me so glaringly obvious that I expressed concern to my Professor about including it in my analysis. She countered that there’s nothing wrong with drawing self-evident conclusions, so long as its the evidence that leads to them.
Thoughts and comments are welcomed: the next post, regarding John’s comments on Linda, will include far more sources.