"You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go out for a ride."
It was an idyllic picture of marriage in the golden years that Paul McCartney sang about in the 1967 Beatles hit "When I'm 64."
It also was an image that McCartney - now 64, as it happens - epitomized in his own life for years, showing a turbulent world that even a rock star could have what was by all appearances a loving, stable, long-lasting family life with his first wife, Linda, ending only with her death from cancer in 1998.
2Now, British tabloids are buzzing with unsavory allegations connected to the sensational divorce of McCartney and his second wife, Heather Mills McCartney, with unsubstantiated claims flying of physical abuse, callousness, an alleged assault with a broken wine glass by him, a bottle of ketchup thrown by her.
There may well not be an iota of truth among them. Yet the public airing of this nasty dispute is depressing to many who've followed McCartney - the optimistic one who wanted to "fill the world with silly love songs" - for four decades of music and life (and briefly, rumored death.)
For some of these fans, it even signals an end to an arc that began with heady innocence, then met tragedy with the murder of John Lennon, more sadness with the death of George Harrison, and now, on a smaller scale, Paul's ugly mess.
"I am amazed, and yet not really surprised, that their lives have spiraled this way," says John Pisani, a longtime fan who, at 57, is just seven years younger than Paul and part of the Baby Boomer generation that grew up with the Beatles. "It kind of mirrors the way the world has changed for all of us, the way we feel about our lives. Their early music was so innocent. And now, life is so insane."
"It just makes sense to me that Paul is going through this," said Pisani, a housepainter in Cape Cod, Mass. "But I wouldn't wish it on anybody. And I feel bad for both of them."
Many people find the mere discussion distasteful, preferring to let the sordid case speak for itself in the tabloids. "It's just sad, for all this to go so bad so quickly," said Jason Fine, deputy managing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. Like others interviewed for this story, he noted that many fans long admired McCartney for the strength of his first marriage.
"They were such a unit," Fine says. "They had made it through those times when so many people got divorced. And they worked together, too - it was a partnership."
Also unfortunate, Fine says, is that the messy divorce comes at a time when McCartney, one of two surviving Beatles along with Ringo Starr, is on a creative upswing, with a well-received album last year, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," that Fine calls "really a refreshing record."
"He seems to have come back into the creative spotlight," says Fine. "It's a shame that this is happening now."
3A shame, but will this affect McCartney's image or legacy in any lasting way? Hardly likely, says Bruce Spizer, author of six books about the Beatles.
"Most people understand that Paul, like any person, has faults, but they know him as a family man, based on the wonderful marriage he had with Linda," said Spizer. "So they would take all this with extreme skepticism." Of the Beatles fans he's heard discussing it, he says, a good 90 percent don't believe the reported allegations against Paul.
Steven Beer, an entertainment attorney in New York, falls into that camp. "I believe you can't always accept what you read or hear," says Beer, 47. "What we're seeing here is just the negative gamesmanship that divorce brings. Maybe he had bad judgment in his choice of a partner, but in my mind, Paul McCartney continues to be a rock 'n' roll icon with a positive character.
"He's a responsible dad," Beer adds. "He doted on his wife Linda. He even put her in his band! What more could you want? He deserves a medal for that."
Certainly McCartney isn't the first celebrity to have dirty laundry aired from a relationship gone sour. And yet if the celebrity is well-liked - or in the case of a Beatle, loved – these scandals tend to be mere blips on the screen, says Ken Baker, West Coast executive editor of the celebrity magazine US Weekly.
"The public will forgive a beloved celebrity for just about anything, save murder," said Baker. "It's this mesmerizing force that celebrities have. People see them as part of their extended family."
"The world loves Paul, and people are going to love Paul pretty much whatever they read," he said. And in a he-said she-said match-up, it's no contest: "People are going to believe the person they like and the person they know."
Kenyon Phillips, 31, finds it hard to believe all the messy details reported by the media, basically because McCartney, in his eyes, was maybe too nice - a wimp," actually.
"Paul was more the goody-goody," says Phillips, founder of a New Wave band called Unisex Salon. "He was never the cool one."
The cool one, he says, was Lennon, who had "that air of menace. It was sexy, and dangerous."
However the divorce plays out, fans like Pisani, the housepainter in Massachusetts, hope that one thing won't be forgotten: the Beatles' music.
"Their music came into our lives," he said. "If it hadn't, we'd be even more crazy now. It's so easy to focus on the scandal. But it's important not to forget the wonderfulness of what they did create. "It's just so important to remember what felt good about a Beatles song."