The image hardly seems to fit. In the early '70s, the newly liberated ex-Beatle seemed to all the world to be "Hi Hi Hi," as one of his hits of the era put it… whether he was high on life, high on living a bucolic life in the Scottish countryside, or high on the wacky weed that occasionally landed him in legal trouble at the time. The Cute One could hardly have seemed more carefree.
But McCartney has now revealed that he had periods of feeling low, low, low in the years immediately following the breakup—enough so that he was driven to drink.
Paul McCartney in 1971In an interview promoting the deluxe reissue of his 1971 album RAM, McCartney talked about his reliance on alcohol to get through the bitter aftermath of the Beatles' breakup, and how it gave him a rare occurrence of writer's block.
On an "average day," McCartney told Drowned in Sound, he'd go for a horse ride with wife Linda and his kids in the pastoral surroundings around Mull of Kintyre, and then, "in the evening, I'd drink whiskey, of which there was a large supply in Scotland… That was kind of a feature of that time," he admitted.
What was the reason for his funk (in the non-musical sense of the word)? The Beatles, which, though defunct, continued to confound him even in death.
"The Beatles, towards the end, was very constricting," he told his interviewer, Paul Draper, of the band Mansun (and a fellow Liverpudlian). "You were in a corporate world suddenly... It's not what you get into music for, but it's there, it's a fact of life, especially when you were the label. We were doing Apple (Records), and it got very heavy, so me and Linda escaped with the kids, but the business hassles were still there. So I think I was just trying to escape in my own mind."
Although RAM was the one album billed to Paul & Linda McCartney as a duo, it really stands in most fans' minds as a solo affair. And the solitary nature of its creation enabled his problem. "I had the freedom to have just have a drink whenever I fancied it. I'd go into the studio, maybe have another drink and so on. I overdid it, basically, [and] got to a point where Linda had to say, 'Look, you should cool it.'"
Macca has rarely ever been at a loss for words, or notes. But he found the whiskey to be no aid to creativity.
"If I would have a writer's block, I look back now and can say that was the over-stimulation," McCartney told Draper. "I'd be getting like 'Heeyyyy, nice and fuzzy' and it's not a good thing to write. [At] least for me it's not. Me and John were always very straight when we wrote, and it was normally in the middle of the day when you had your wits about you."
(Lennon & McCartney? Clear-headed when they wrote all those ground-breaking hits? There goes another urban assumption, out the window.)
RAMDraper didn't press his interviewee about how difficult it was to get off the booze, but something seems to have clicked, as RAM is now regarded as one of McCartney's finest solo efforts… though it was widely panned at the time by critics who didn't think it lived up to the promise of the Beatles' latter days.
By the early '70s McCartney had long since given up meat, and an over-indulgence in whiskey was soon to follow. If there's anybody whose essential good cheer would seem to make him a poor fit for the abuse of depressive substances, it's McCartney, the very model of effusiveness.
And in the end, he found a better way to deal with his unresolved feelings at the Beatles—by cathartically working them into thinly disguised songs about his estrangement from John (not to mention a photograph in the artwork of two beetles copulating, which seemed to send a message about how he felt about the ex-Beatles' business dealings).
But one thing he didn't give up until well into the 21st century was his famous penchant for pot. That changed fairly recently. McCartney, who turns 70 in two weeks, told Rolling Stone earlier this year that he'd quit his four-and-a-half-decade cannabis habit for the sake of his 8-year-old daughter, Beatrice.
"I smoked my share," he told the magazine. (By the account of ex-wife Heather Mills during their bitter divorce proceedings, he might've smoked a lot of other people's shares, too.) He seemed unapologetic about his years of marijuana use, yet still some felt compunctions when this round of child-rearing came around. "When you're bringing up a youngster, your sense of responsibility does kick in, if you're lucky, at some point. Enough's enough—you just don't seem to think it's necessary."
"Moderation, Moderation, Moderation": It may not have the same ring to it, but it's a tune some of his sober-minded fans are happy to hear McCartney singing as he turns the big seven-oh June 18.