Linda McCartney was a proper punk. Lots of people have not paid attention and missed this, instead considering her a lightweight or embarrassment or interloper. In the past she was publicly described as a 'dog with wings', a smug clueless mean misogynist euphemism for ‘funny looking woman who cannot not sing or play an instrument who has pussy-whipped and seduced her way into her husband's band Wings and in doing this generally wrecks the group's musicality and credibility’. My sense is that even now she’s considered lame and fair game for mocking albeit less harshly
But no no no! And fuck off anyone who believes any of this. Linda McCartney was a most real and magnificent punk and I am going to explain why.
First here’s my definition of proper punk (taken from a previous post):
Contrary to what some may think, punk is not about having a two-foot-high orange mohawk, tattoos or a love for the Sex Pistols (although it doesn’t exclude these things). Punk is about liking what you like, being yourself and not giving a whole lot of fucks about other's opinions of you. It is about consciously learning and making things for the sake of making things, listening to others but saying what you think and calling out racism, sexism, capitalist greed etc. It's also about socialism, community, caring and supporting others their own punkness. Punk is an ethos that transcends all forms of living, expression and art.
This is fully a description of Linda McCartney. Let’s drill down.
‘…liking what you like, being yourself and not giving a whole lot of fucks about other's opinions of you…’
She did this in a quiet, staunch, consistent kind of way. For example Linda met Paul McCartney at one of those swinging London clubs. He was ‘rock aristocracy’ and it was all glamour and drugs and designer scraggly fur coats. After they got married they moved to a farm in Scotland and although Paul had to regularly return to the industry schmooze, Linda blew it off. She didn’t go to the chichi parties but stayed home in her gumboots. The media bollocksed her for this, describing her as a country yokel and unsupportive wife. Linda didn’t engage or change but just went about her business.
Her dress sense was also savaged. She wore odd socks, op-shop jerseys and cut her own hair. Pundits were outwardly incredulous, mocking and patronizing, putting it down to a lack of fashion-nouce and helpfully pointing out all that was wrong. But DUH, her aesthetic was a choice and she stuck to it. I mean do you REALLY think a woman doesn’t know when she’s put on odd socks?!
“…It is about consciously learning…”
One of the things Linda got the most brutal flack for was being in Wings as a beginner musician. Personally I reckon the best way to learn to play is by being in a band. It’s fun, you have the support and knowledge of others, you hang out with your friends (or husband), feel needed as part of a team, and when you play gigs it’s a big adventure. I completely understand why she went for this option.
Learning to play is cool but it is also fumbly and frustrating and really scary when you initially perform for others. And she did this alongside an ex-Beatle on a massive stage with massive audiences!! In the most exposed and public way possible!! And whatever you think of her music this is a tough-as-fuck thing to do.
I am a fan of her keyboard playing especially in the early days of Wings, like in the song Wild Wild Life. On this I like the lack of soulless technical flash and how she is about contributing to the track not surrounding herself with it via any kind of ego or solo. I also like the simplicity, repetition, subversion and singularity of her playing. It all feels pretty punk rock to me.
“…making things for the sake of making things…”
When Linda met Paul she was an acclaimed artist. In 1967 she was named the US Female Photographer of the Year and in 1968 became the first female photographer to shoot the cover of Rolling Stone. She made images and was famous for doing so. However when she stopped being famous she did not stop making images.
Making things for the sake of making things does not preclude recognition (in whatever form). It just means that if you don’t have it you still create. You do this because it is joyful, challenging and satisfying and/or you want to capture, reflect and process stuff and/or yours is an unusual non-commercial aesthetic and you want to see it reflected in the world and/or you believe in DIY as a means to dilute capitalism and/or likely some other things I don’t know about.
I’m not sure what Linda’s motivation for taking photos was but it wasn’t stardom. During her life she took about half-a-million pictures, most after she got married and chose to stop working professionally. These were largely unseen and never exhibited (although they have been posthumously) so clearly she was driven by some other need or desire to make things. (Her photos are interesting and beautiful and you can see some here).
“…saying what you think and calling out racism, sexism, capitalist greed etc…”
Linda McCartney was an ethical vegetarian way before it was cool and she called the world out on its meat eating. Linda did this at a personal level by loving and caring for the multitude of animals she surrounded herself with and as an activist by developing a range of vegetarian meals. These were deliberately affordable, accessible (i.e. in the supermarket) and offered a practical solution to a cause she believed in. Her brand was also the first of this kind of commercial non-meat food offer thing (as far as everyone knows).
Linda McCartney was not lame but was as proper punk as anyone else you can think of. Because of this she is one of my heros and I give no fucks for any opinion you may otherwise have.