Review

Paul Mccartney: A Life

by Peter Ames Carlin

Despite his classification by female fans as “the cute
Beatle,” Paul McCartney was more than just a pretty face.
According to author Peter Ames Carlin, he was a studious artist,
serious about his craft, an ambitious businessman, and not above a
little self-promotion. The Beatles’ bassist has gone through
a metamorphosis over the years --- as insects are wont to do.

The bulk of this new biography concerns McCartney’s life
as a member of what is arguably the most important and popular band
in rock history. But it wasn’t all strawberries and cream:
mixed in with the fun and the adulation was a surprisingly intense
intra-group rivalry as each of the Fab Four struggled to put forth
his own talent and identity. The bulk of this Sturm und
Drang
was, of course, between McCartney and John Lennon, and
Carlin portrays their relationship as a mix between sibling rivalry
and an ongoing lovers’ quarrel, as reflected in this passage:
“John was, indeed, impressed with his pal. But also dismayed.
For as he watched his boyhood friend and creative partner rising,
John could only feel himself tumbling into an emotional
abyss.”

A later section just adds to this theme of advanced adolescence,
when McCartney meets with Yoko Ono while she and Lennon were going
through a separation. “‘I said, “Well, look, do
you still love him?”’ Paul said. ‘So I said,
“Well, would you think it was intrusion if I said to him,
“Look, man, she loves you and there’s a way to get
back”?’ She said she wouldn’t mind.”’
Straight out of “High School Confidential,” but
that’s part of the charm.

Carlin --- author of the bestselling CATCH A WAVE: The Rise,
Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson --- also
analyzes the “hidden meanings” behind many of the
Beatles’ tunes, which seems slightly out of place at times
unless they are connected with a specific incident in the
songwriters’ experiences. (One day, someone will hopefully
come up with an annotated deconstruction of their entire
songbook/group biography.)

If there are any fans left who have visions of the Beatles as
dreamy idealists, they should check their naiveté at the door.
No one comes out as a role model, least of all McCartney. All the
Beatles and their entourage drank, doped and debauched. Even his
beloved Linda is portrayed as a party girl (almost a stereotypical
groupie), not adverse to running around and shacking up on a
moment’s notice. Of course, she could just have been
following the tenors of the times in the late ’60s/early
’70s. The author does not pass judgment but simply reports.
That he and Linda fell comfortably into middle-aged domesticity is
touching and quite sad as illness takes her. His subsequent romance
with Heather Mills is similarly shocking and sad but for different
reasons.

One of the strengths of the book is the detail to the business
side of the band. Life was more than what appeared on the finished
albums. There were days, weeks in the studio, with McCartney the
personification of perfectionism, much to the dismay of his less
ambitious mates: “Paul tormented John further with even more
run-throughs of “Maxwell’s Silver
Hammer”…long-suffering producer George Martin watched
it all unfold with a kind of stoic distance on his smooth,
patrician features, usually shielding himself with one of the
day’s newspapers.”

Such a personal philosophy continued long after the Beatles had
dissolved and his new band, Wings, took flight. Here he is depicted
as a stern and somewhat penurious taskmaster, paying low wages and
demanding his musicians be ready to drop everything and work at a
moment’s notice.

McCartney has long been an innovator, willing to take chances,
even if failure is a result, as it was with a few of his video
projects (a made-for-television version of Magical Mystery
Tour
with the Beatles and Give My Regards to Broad
Street
, a poorly conceived and executed feature film). But for
all the starts and stops, no one would begrudge McCartney or Carlin
if they had used the name of another, more popular film for a
subtitle, and one appropriate for the holiday season:
It’s a Wonderful Life.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 14, 2011

Paul Mccartney: A Life
by Peter Ames Carlin

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2010
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1416562109
  • ISBN-13: 9781416562108