April 21, 1975 12:00 PM

When the Beatles began to wing off in their centrifugal ways in the late 1960s, the rumor reverberated that Paul McCartney was dead. Those reports were, of course, greatly exaggerated, but to ideologues of the rock culture, Paul since then has possibly suffered a fate even worse. He and his American-born wife Linda Eastman have, at 32 and 33, become a paragon, if not parody, of bourgeois domesticity. And after all, wasn’t the whole point of the Beatles’ New Music that there would never again be another Steve and Eydie?

Besides, if some Beatle had to let down the side, few would have figured on Paul. When his three colleagues were all seemingly well married and for the duration (that was long before their current problems), McCartney was still relieving the pressures of the touring life with groupie therapy. “I had my wild life,” he now confesses. “I really had a wild time, especially when we toured America in 1964—or was it 1963? But I told Linda everything. We have no secrets. I had my time in my time, but I am happier now. This life means much more to me.”

“This life” refers to a home-cooked pastoral existence with Linda and their three daughters. Two of them—Mary, 5, and Stella, 3—are their own; the third, Heather, 12, by Linda’s short-lived previous marriage, has been adopted by McCartney. And though they frequently travel between their various homes and in-laws—outside of Liverpool and on Long Island—it is almost invariably en famille. The McCartneys are setting down their own roots these days in Argyllshire, Scotland, with a stable of horses, several dogs, a flock of sheep and a backdrop which Paul describes as “so peaceful, the hillsides encourage music.”

If that echoes like a lyric from The Sound of Music and if some purist rock critics are accusing Paul of composing mostly clap Trapp of late, well, so be it. “My family’s my life,” sums up Paul, “and then it’s my music.” To be sure, one reviewer recently wrote, “Without Lennon’s toughening influence, McCartney is a marshmallow.” But of course, what has John created without Paul? By way of discussion-squelcher, McCartney declares simply, “I’m really lucky to have found Linda—to be happy inside myself and start again with a clear head.”

A case could be made that of all the Beatles, Paul’s head is today the clearest and that Linda is responsible. But “lucky”—Paul’s word—understates the implausible circumstances that brought them together. McCartney was the son of a cotton salesman and a midwife; a lapsed Catholic; the only Beatle who was a Boy Scout; and the only one except Lennon who had the academic record to go to university before chucking it all to form the group which radically changed the history of pop music.

Eastman was the daughter of a rich, socially prominent Jewish lawyer (the family’s name was originally Epstein); a junior college student in New England who, after her mother died in a plane crash and her father remarried, herself impulsively up and wed a Princeton man. She followed him to the University of Arizona, where he did graduate research, but she then lit out with their daughter. Linda made the San Francisco music scene, then returned to Manhattan and cajoled her way into a $65-a-week editorial assistantship at Town and Country. She ultimately became house photographer at the Fillmore East rock palace.

Along the way, Linda sipped Southern Comfort with Janis Joplin, spent an evening with Mick Jagger (phoning deejays, she says) and became known as the “Park Avenue groupie.” On a tip from the late rock authority, Lillian Roxon, Linda slipped touring Beatle McCartney a handwritten note with her telephone number. He called and they stayed the night together. When Paul returned later that year (1968), he rang her up from L.A. She flew to him and recounts that they “hardly left the bungalow at all for five days” at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She left daughter Heather with family, followed him to England and shocked the rock world by winding up Mrs. McCartney.

Linda was not exactly welcomed into the fold. John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, not to mention a quasi-factual London musical (soon perhaps to be a movie) made Eastman the villain of the Beatles’ bust-up. While the other three wanted to stick with their manager, Allen Klein, Paul opted for the law firm of his Eastman father-and brother-in-law. Linda took further heat when Paul asked her to join his post-Beatles group, Wings, on vocals, tambourine and keyboard. Sure, she couldn’t read a note, but, Paul said, “why don’t you learn?” Linda concedes she isn’t up to the rest of Wings, but observes, “I never said, ‘Hell, I’m great. I’m Carole King, man!’ I’m like a beginner still. But I feel now I can really develop myself. Dancing, even. I never danced but now I really love it. Marriage to Paul is just bringing out things in me I didn’t know were there.”

All that notwithstanding, Linda says, “I think of myself as a mother first. I run the house very much as if I were an ordinary person.” There is a housekeeper and an occasional babysitter but no nanny, au pair or cook. When her parents took over the kids recently so she and Paul could spend two days alone in New York, Linda said she felt it was “like a dirty weekend.” Paul tells her, “Git my lunch, git my old ham and eggs on.” Into vegetarianism for awhile when he made his pilgrimage to the Maharishi with the rest of the Beatles, McCartney has now backslid. “I can’t resist that smell,” he says. “Reminds me of home.” Two years ago Paul was fined $250 for his inability to resist another sniff—marijuana, which was found growing in the family greenhouse in Scotland. And just last month Linda was caught with a smoldering joint on the floor of the car. The case is still pending, but she has offered to take a court-approved class on the evils of drug abuse in lieu of other punishment.

Yet there is a self-sufficiency about McCartney now that emboldens him to lecture his former colleagues. “I really ought to talk to those boys, tell ’em the facts of life,” he says. “I thought we were finished with all those immature things—religious kicks, drug kicks, chasing birds…that was good when we were kids, but it’s no good now.” Linda, too, seems to have become ever more her own person, though she has given up her horsey eastern accent for a slightly cockneyfied English compatible with Paul’s. She wears no makeup—she has complexion problems—and doesn’t always shave her legs.

Setting the family priorities, Paul says, “our children will always be our primary concern. It’s a great pleasure—and a tough job—to raise children. With female children, you want to try to teach them early to understand men. Men and women are so totally different, they spend a good part of their life trying to get closer to each other. That’s the problem. They should start early. I don’t mean sex. I mean understanding, communicating,” Paul says, breaking off to cuddle Linda, before concluding, “like the beautiful thing I have with this blond lady.” After that tribute, there’s nothing left but to break into a chorus of Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?

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