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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

She Led a Good Life, So Let It Be

April 24, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

On her deathbed, my sister wanted to clear up a misunderstanding about which of the Beatles she had hoped to marry. "Everybody thinks I was in love with Paul," she confided, in a whisper I could barely hear. "But it was actually George."

We had already discussed more important subjects.

"Of course, if Paul had asked me . . . " she said.

I laughed. She smiled. She was too weak to laugh.

As a girl, my sister wallpapered every inch of her bedroom with Beatle memorabilia. I recall little else that adorned her walls, except a brass crucifix.

Paul's face was everyplace.

In a dresser drawer, she kept a cellophane bag of grass . . . not the kind that once got McCartney jailed in Japan, but green grass, from a stadium's field where she had seen the Beatles in concert.

She owned all their records. But she wouldn't buy their Capitol records.

No, instead she sent away to England for albums on the Parlophone label. Why? Because over there, each new Beatles album was manufactured to include two extra songs.

My sister suffered from Beatlemania back when I thought that was a terrible disease. I remember how she resented Paul's girlfriend of that time. "That Jane Asher," she always called her, not fondly.

By her 20s, she was over it.

Funny what you think about when you're dying. Ravaged by cancer for more than a year, cancer that began in one place and spread to another, my sister's mind wandered near the end. She regretted not having married.

"That's because Linda McCartney got your guy," I said.

She explained why I was wrong.

*

For a few days now, I have been following this strange little saga of the death of Linda Eastman McCartney, photographer, animal rights activist, mother, musician's wife.

She died in Santa Barbara. No, she died in Tucson.

She was cremated in Arizona. No, she was cremated in England. No, both.

Day after day, a new development.

Truth is, there is no story here. Paul McCartney's wife died, period. There was no crime. She was a public figure, but not a major one. It doesn't matter where she died, or how.

The musician's spokesman admits he "misled" everyone into believing that Santa Barbara is where it occurred. (We have another word for "misled" here in America. We call it "lied.")

Linda evidently died at a Tucson family ranch.

I respect Paul's plea for privacy. I was just curious, like a lot of people, why someone's place of death would be a secret, after the fact. Or how a terminally ill woman, cancer-riddled for years, could go horseback riding two days before her death.

But it's nobody's business.

I do find myself thinking about Linda McCartney, though, more than I ever imagined possible. I nearly drove to Santa Barbara for a memorial service there Tuesday night, after I heard Eric Burdon would sing. (I wonder if he did "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." I bet the McCartneys would have liked that.)

I feel a little guilty for how I laughed at Linda. A bootlegged tape, years ago, caught Linda singing and playing a keyboard by herself, without the rest of Paul's band. It was so awful. She made Yoko Ono sound like Julie Andrews.

In retrospect, what mattered was that Linda led a good life. Her fight for animals by itself certified her as a splendid human being.

Where she died doesn't matter.

Let it be.

*

Not many artists affect us so much that we devote this much attention to the loss of their spouses.

I suddenly have Beatle lyrics dancing around inside my head, particularly one in which someone "left his home in Tucson, Ariz., far from California grass."

Perhaps it's because when I was a boy, my house was filled with the sound of Paul McCartney's music, day and night. I listened to it the way other generations must have listened to Benny Goodman's, or Enrico Caruso's, or Scott Joplin's.

If only my sister could go with me to the Hollywood Bowl this summer, where some of McCartney's more recent music will be performed. I buried her a year ago, the day after Easter.

I have her albums now.

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