Paul McCartney: A Life, by Peter Ames Carlin
Paul McCartney is an interesting figure and this book does a good job at looking at his life in such a way that the reader who has an interest in the history of the Beatles as individuals can find a lot here to enjoy and reflect on. As a reader, this particular author’s approach strikes me as a balanced one, in that it addresses his life history and personality and approach in a way that points out some of his flaws as well as his talent and seriousness. Those who want to see Paul McCartney as more than simply the songwriter of pop tunes but as someone who had serious artistic ambitions and a somewhat ambivalent attitude when it came to money, there is a lot here to digest. There are certain consistent character flaws that the author points out, including an inability to successfully handle conflict and the moral courage to communicate unpleasant matters, and certain proclivities like saying the wrong thing in moments of stress and difficulty. All that aside, though, the author does a good job t bringing out enough of McCartney’s character that the reader is able to appreciate it for what it is, even if they might think more highly of McCartney’s pop-oriented songs than is the case by the author.
This book is almost 350 pages long and it is a bit on the short side at the beginning and end, focusing most of its attention on the time when McCartney was mot in the public eye. So, for example, we get some information on McCartney’s family and their ancestry as well as the loss that McCartney faced of his mother at the age of fourteen and how his response to this loss mirrored his response to the death of Lennon in 1980. There is a lot of discussion about how Lennon and McCartney started out, the early drama about finding a consistent drummer and to a lesser extent a bass player, their time in Hamburg and Liverpool, and then how they dealt with fame. The author, throughout, does his best to be fair to McCartney even as he points out McCartney’s dictatorial tendencies, his struggle to be faithful in his early relationships, and his miserly tendencies when it came to paying his stepmother or his bandmates in Wings, where it became a serious issue, even to the point of his divorce with Heather Mills and the financial dustup that it caused. The book ends in 2009 with the author more or less ending the biography in media res, not knowing how thing will end but assuming they will go on more or less as they have been for the last couple of decades.
If you are going to appreciate this book and enjoy it, you are likely going to care something about the subject. If you are a fan of the Beatles or of Wings or of Paul’s solo work, or of more than one of the above, it is likely that this book will provide something of interest. As someone who has read a fair amount of the Beatles and their history as a group, there is not a huge amount in this book that is entirely new, but most of it simply reinforced or at least provided a different perspective on what I had heard from others. One of the more interesting aspects of McCartney’s career, for example, is the way that he seemed to be a bit complacent in his solo career unless he had some kind of producer or some kind of external circumstances that pushed him to excel, but this is a common issue where members of groups strike out in solo work and realize that they don’t have as many people holding them accountable to do their best work all the time, as was certainly the case with the Beatles, for example. That aside, one gets the sense that McCartney’s generally stable adult life, by rock & roll standards, was at least partially dependent on a work ethic that was not harmed (thankfully) by his fondness for marijuana.