A Drug Rap in Tokyo Brings Down Wings and Paul McCartney

updated 02/04/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

Even before the courts of Japan had decided what to do about their rock star prisoner Paul McCartney, the verdict of the Tokyo press was in: He should have known better. McCartney, 37, had two prior marijuana convictions—for smuggling six ounces into Sweden in 1972 and, a year later, for cultivating five plants at his estate in the Highlands of Scotland. He was, moreover, served notice of Japan's particular weed-sensitivity five years ago, when he was refused a visa because of that police record and forced to cancel a tour by his Wings group on just nine days' notice. This time he made it only as far as the Tokyo airport, where customs agents found nearly half a pound of grass packed with one of his suit jackets.

The repercussions were terrible. Some 100,000 fans had paid up to $40 apiece for 11 sold-out concerts. A Wings advance force of 50 or so people was suddenly unemployed, and the other McCartneys—wife Linda and the four children, 3 to 16—could only brace for the worst: formal indictment on charges carrying a maximum sentence of five years' penal servitude. "It's really very silly," Linda complained at one point. "People certainly are different out here."

Few thought McCartney would ever serve a jail sentence, or even face indictment, but his treatment was otherwise strict. Confined to a 10-by-14-foot cell with a mattress on the floor, he was awakened at 6 every morning for some exercise and a breakfast of toast, soybean paste soup and cheese (he and Linda are vegetarians). Paul was provided books, but requests for his guitar were rebuffed. Twice he was taken to police headquarters in handcuffs for all-day interrogations. Police reported little of what transpired there except that McCartney said the grass came from "some friends" in the U.S. But word of his movements was apparently leaked to fans, who mobilized to buoy him with chants of "Free Paul" each time he left jail and returned. Indeed, did all the adulation make him feel above the law? "I felt shocked and betrayed on hearing about his arrest," moaned Japanese coed Minako Shigeta, 19, as she kept a jailside vigil for McCartney last week. "He's the greatest fellow ever to live on earth." But, awaiting official justice, Paul had a harsher self-judgment. "It was a mistake," he said. "A serious mistake."

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