Tribute to Linda McCartney

by Earl Okin
First published as an open letter to the SongTalk mailing list. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Earl Okin ,the only opening act ever to be featured on a full tour of Paul McCartney & Wings gives a warm. insightful glimpse into the life of an exceptionally inspirational woman few ever came to know or appreciate until now...

I was the opening act for Wings back in November 1979 on the British 'Back To The Egg' tour, and so got to know the McCartneys. I believe I was the ONLY opening act that Wings ever used. How I managed to get on the tour I still don't quite know, but I think it was something to do with Paul looking for a SOLO act to open the show that wouldn't be intimidated by audiences of up to 10,000, so that the show could continue without the interval to reset the stage that a band would have required. Wings drummer Steve Holley, seeing me perform at a vast open-air festival that summer, thought I'd be suitable.

Strangely, it was only last December that I bumped into Mary, their younger daughter, now a photographer like her mother, who works for the McCartney Music company.

Naturally, I got to know Linda quite well at the time. In public, I remember previously seeing pictures in newspapers and magazines of her looking rather sour-faced. I soon discovered that pulling faces was her way of poking fun at the other photographers who incessantly demanded poses from the band. She was anything but sour.

As I've told people who complained about her being in the band ever since that time, she would have been the last to suggest that she was much of a singer, let alone a keyboard-player. She was in Wings only because Paul wanted her there. It seemed to me at the time that she'd have been quite as happy just being 'Mum'. Indeed, the 'roadies' who work with celebrities ALL the time and are thus not impressed by them had a nickname for the McCartneys, which was 'Mum and Dad', which tells you a lot about the atmosphere of the tour. The kids were with us all the time, and everything was very relaxed.

There was NOT a lot of drugs around. However, although I didn't see either of them smoke grass, Paul was always smoking Senior Service cigarettes, a very strong brand of tobacco, and it's tragically ironic that it is now Linda who has succumbed to Cancer.

We had vegetarian catering on the tour, of-course, and it was already an established tradition that, when we reached Liverpool, we had to go to one of their may well have been Paul's original home, I don't know, to drink some of Linda's celebrated pea soup, which was GREAT, by the way...

Nobody treated her like a star; she mucked in with everyone and was often ignored in favour of somebody else in the pecking order. She never pulled rank! Indeed, she was often funny, with a very self-deprecatory sense of humour.

Certainly, she always made me feel both part of the tour and indeed very welcome on it, which, from my own experience on other tours, is certainly not always the norm for 'opening acts'. The whole touring-circus became a big family, musicians and roadies alike.

Years later, I happened to have a gig in the area where they lived, near Hastings. It was a Sunday afternoon in Summer and I took the liberty of dropping by unannounced. Just like any ordinary family, they were sitting in the garden of a little circular house they used to live in. There WAS a swimming pool, but not a grand Hollywood one; just a little one for the kids. As before, I was made to feel welcome. It happened to be JUST before Paul was doing a World tour. Of-course, I knew nothing about this at the time, but they made jokes about my only coming to see them because I wanted to be on the tour again.

They invited me to the pre-tour try-out show in London's West End, where I saw many of the same people working for them backstage as I'd known in 1979, over a decade later. By now, the two daughters, Stella and Mary, who had been 9 and 11, one blonde and one brunette, and dangerous as kids , were now grown-up and really quite gorgeous!

Nevertheless, their demeanour was somewhat shy and certainly NOTHING like the archetypical image of a celebrity's offspring as seen in Hollywood. They'd been brought up like any other childreen and had never been spoilt with lots of money. Paul and Linda lavished TIME on them instead.

Celebrity can be a barrier. You are always scared of intruding, so I never became close friends with the McCartneys, but I always sent a Xmas card, never expecting one in return. However, 3 or 4 years ago, on Xmas day, I received a 'phone call. It was Linda. She was going through the cards and thought she would give me a ring and see how I was. I chatted to her and Paul, little knowing I'd never speak to her again.

By 1997, I'd heard about the cancer, but her daughter Mary seemed to think, last December, that it had been beaten. Sadly, she was wrong. The whole family must be together at home now, trying to come to terms with their grief, but I'll be writing to them soon...if I can think of somerthing to say...

When you really stop to think about it, The Beatles were not only famous, they were more famous ANYWHERE around the world than just about ANYONE since..I don't know..Charles Chaplin. Moreover, they somehow DEFINED a whole decade. It's difficult enough to achieve a good lasting marriage anyhow, but to walk into that sort of lunacy and fall in love as if everything were normal AND make it all last for over 25 years, is quite remarkable!

Remember, in England, back in the late 60s, the appearance of Linda Eastman on the scene was not exactly welcomed. I mean, she wasn't even British! Paul, after all, HAD a girl-friend, Jane Asher. However, whatever the fans might have thought at the time, Linda DID turn out to be 'Miss Right', as time has proven.

Linda and Paul enjoyed over 25 years of happy marriage and parenthood, somehow creating a private life we would all envy and one almost unknown in the world of showbiz. The pain for the family must seem unbearable at the moment and 56 is an obscenely young age to die, but, I suspect that many of us would settle for 25 years of marital bliss like that. Thank goodness, she didn't know the end was coming, or didn't seem to. Happily, the suffering must have been short.

Linda McCartney was a woman with strength, humour, love, commitment to important causes and impressive courage, as her last months have demonstrated. Most of all though, she was a GOOD person! Doesn't that sound very 'exciting'? Well, maybe not, but while there are lots and lots of people lauded with and maybe deserving superlatives, how many of them deserve also to be called plain GOOD, I'm not so sure! Linda McCartney was certainly one of them.

I'm honoured to have known her.

Earl Okin

Below is a picture of Earl (the guy on the top left in the bowler hat). Be sure to visit his website