Paul McCartney, the Life
By Phillip Norman
A review, part two
Read part one here
Some time is spent on Paul (and the other Beatles’) reaction to John Lennon’s murder. Paul’s reaction (“it’s a drag”) has haunted Paul to this day, but Norman goes into detail explaining why Paul said it. He was obviously shell-shocked and it was the only way NOT to lower the careful shield with which Paul surrounds himself.
At this point the book spends less time reviewing his albums and their tracks – focusing on only a few select tracks that have more meaning to Paul’s life at the time (“Get It” was called a weak track for what would be a starring vehicle for Carl Perkins; “Little Willow” written for Ringo’s children after the death of their mother.
Finally, a complaint about the book: pages were spent on the album Off the Ground while the superior prior album Flowers in the Dirt was only given a brief mention and then only connected to his return to touring. There was no analysis of Paul’s writing with Elvis Costello (only his third credited writing partner after Linda and you-know-who). The album contained the song “Put It There” with the lyric “Put it there if it weighs a ton…” one of his father’s favorite phrases repeated throughout the first half of the book. I find that omission strange.
The last quarter of the book focuses on Paul’s interest in the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts and his entry into the classical music oeuvre (a word used, if not frequently, then more than usual in a biography).
The Beatles Anthology, his later albums, his on-and-off relations with George Harrison and Yoko Ono, and Linda’s cookbook and line of commercial vegetarian dishes were also given their due.
Paul’s (and Linda’s) vegetarianism were detailed many times through the book.
The last quarter also focuses on death; on the end of things.
The chapters on Linda’s fight with cancer were moving. Her concern over her children was similar to that of Paul’s mother for him and his brother. The author made a point of showing that echo. Paul’s statement on her last moments brings tears.
Paul’s childhood friend, Ivan Vaughn (who shared a birthday with Paul) was almost more so. The author reprints a poem Paul wrote that also brings a tear.
And then George Harrison died.
Odd that Paul’s father’s death in the mid-1970s did not bring on such emotion from Paul or the author. So much of Jim McCartney’s life filled the book – his remarriage, his adopted step-daughter (who provided a lot of commentary through the book), the racehorse Paul bought for him, his various homes, etc. This may be intentional and not an implication of coldness on Paul’s part.
His marriage and divorce from Heather Mills is treated fairly – the author quotes directly from the court documents. Being a book on Paul – and by now the reader can tell where the author’s sympathies lie – Heather comes out of these Chapters as the villain of the story. Here we see a more “tell-all” style than anywhere else in the book by the author including Mills’ quotes about Paul and his children and their retorts.
Paul’s flings and affairs are spoken of frequently during the Beatle years. But after marrying Linda, though, there is no infidelity! None. Not even Heather Mills accuses him of fooling around with other women. For Paul to so strongly adhere to his marriage vows is very much in his character.
Here we read about Macca – the nickname the author uses to describe Paul in his darker moments: his few bouts with public intoxication, his row with a photographer and a fan, his firing employees that were with him for over a decade.
The book ends with Paul’s happier third marriage to Nancy Shevell, a friend of his and Linda’s for many years.
In the last chapters Norman gushes over Paul’s children. The reader is unsure if the concern for Heather and James is Paul’s or the author’s. Regardless, we are relieved to learn of their success.
By the way, James’ album Me is good stuff!
Likewise, the readers are also left unsure if the proud boasting of Mary’s and, especially, Stella’s successful careers outside of their famous parents’ shadows are Paul’s or the author’s. (Heather and James also have successful careers, but the author intimates their success came with more struggles).
That’s what good writing does.
Beatrice is not ignored, but is barely mentioned, but that is because she (and the grandchildren) is not yet an adult and is none of our business.
The book shows us Paul’s generosity as a lovable public figure and his coldness as a businessman. He becomes the most irate when something opens a crack in his carefully and sternly-controlled public image or when his equally-protected family privacy is revealed even slightly (the very public divorce with Heather Mills certainly revealed cracks he would rather we not see).
An excellent book. After the introduction, I feared the book would be a simple recitation of Paul’s deeds and accomplishments.
Although not a reference book, it DOES list in detail the events in Paul’s life with an eye to the man who lost his mother at 14 while striving to find and maintain his lost family while living in the glass bubble of Beatlemania and its subsequent fame, from the the Ashers to the Eastmans.
I listened to the audio CD performed by Johnathan Keeble. It was an excellent series of CDs. The narrator performed the voices instead of doing a strict read-through, but it enhanced the story rather than distracted (as such performances can do). His imitation of Paul was quite good (the other Beatles not so much). Keeble does a wonderful northern/scouse accent. As is usual with narrators that perform a book rather than just READ it, his female impersonations can be distracting with two exceptions. His near-whisper of speaking as Linda captured her shyness and likeability. His Heather Mills was crass and pointed.
Paul McCartney the Life is a long read but worth it. Put it on your shelf with the best of the Beatle-related books. It’s a keeper. One hopes that when … the end … finally comes Norman will be around to give a final update.
Many years from now.
Paul McCartney the Life by Philip Norman, 978016327961, 818 pages by Little, Brown & Company, published May 3, 2016.
Original material copyright 2016 Michael Curry
Michael Curry is a life-long Beatles fan and has written the short story “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles”, available here on Amazon Kindle.