As the second semester of senior thesis looms on the horizon, a stack of day-glo drawings grows taller while work hours stretch well into the early morning. Emails to press agents go unanswered, story points fail to click and frustration mounts. Sometimes, when ink runs low and my morale follows suit, I ask myself, why Wings?
For context, Wings is the second-most popular band that Paul McCartney ever fronted (number one happens to be the most successful and wildly famous band of the twentieth century, the Beatles.) A question in this musical discourse tends to be, “Who cares about number two?” The history, discography and iconography (or lack thereof) of Wings tends to be revered only by the most die-hard McCartney fans; even Sir Paul himself glosses over large swaths of their music. Naturally, this is the band I chose as the topic for my thesis: a 64-page graphic novel exploring the visual history of Paul’s number two band.
Wings soundtracked my teenage years and became a model for finding success on a secondary track; through changes in my major, developments in my creative practice and ever-changing interpersonal relationships, Paul’s ability to adapt to working with new musicians cast him as my creative paragon. Linda McCartney similarly serves as a personal icon, as she halted her career in photography to learn how to sing and play keyboards literally on stage, maintained a “fuck-you” attitude in the face of sexism and took candid shots of the band that directly inspire my drawings. I only hope to capture some of that spirit, as well as my love for the tunes themselves.
Admittedly, it’s been difficult to remain the chief Wings cheerleader throughout this process. McCartney’s gift for melody and his willingness to venture into oddball territory in his solo career has ensured Wings a spot in my heart and on my playlists for half a decade, but I can’t always say the same for my classmates. Sometimes, there are blank expressions from my twenty-something illustration peers when I discuss the band during a class, and even my parents, who are children of the seventies, are dumbfounded by my fascination with this obscure middle-of-the-road music. Wings wore gaudy outfits that lack the retrospective chic of the Beatles’ hippie wear, had horribly dated mullets and recorded a borderline unforgivable cover of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Somehow, it’s the passion of a select few who have kept the spark for this project going. People like 65-year-old Dan Ealey come to mind, who, as a long-haired nineteen-year-old, snuck onto the Nashville farm that Wings used as a rehearsal space and befriended the band. He lent his bass to Paul for a jam session, sold it for a newer model then spent his entire adult life searching for the long-lost bass before recovering it 42 years later. Dan was slated to talk to me on the phone for an hour and proceeded to spend nearly four more gushing about his almost 50-year-old adventure. Even the ex-members of the band have buoyed my interest in the project as I try to collect photos and interviews; guitar player Denny Laine was taken by a jacket I hand-crafted to replicate Wings stagewear (lots of paint and rhinestones), and lead guitarist Laurence Juber spoke on how the band influenced the next generation of songwriters when his daughter wrote a Wings-esque piece for Harry Styles’ latest album.
Sometimes my project feels like an anachronism; the band’s story, however, contains similar gold nuggets of genre-bending and cross-cultural innovations. Many people (including John Lennon) wrote McCartney and Wings off as “granny music;” silly, substanceless love songs for teeny boppers. Without those silly love songs, though, I’d never have had the impetus to pick up a keyboard and start playing small, local gigs. I’d never have met a thriving community of fans ranging from young adults to senior citizens who share a love and appreciation for these records that would otherwise be gathering dust. Wings brought me great joy when no other music rang true. So, when people knock their music and mullets, I paraphrase Sir Paul himself: “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.”
Art by Aidan Moyer