Books in Review: Paul McCartney • A Life

By Peter Ames Carlin

    icon Jan 15, 2015
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I bought this book when it was published in 2009, but didn’t get around to reading it until five years later. I don’t know what got in the way. I had consumed several Beatles books from Bob Spitz’s biblical volume to the Love You Make by Derek Taylor, Phillip Norman’s Shout and Hunter Davies 2nd revised edition of The Beatles. I was decided to explore Carlin’s book to get a deeper understanding of why my favorite Beatle was becoming less intriguing to me, especially with the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison.

I began listening to their back catalog of music and was intrigued by their individual accomplishments outside the Beatles canon and began to sour on McCartney’s silly love songs, preferring Lennon’s Avant Garde edginess and Harrison’s spiritual sensuality.

Carlin begins his historical account with an overview of McCartney’s home life with loving parents and life-long friendship with Ivan Vaughn. Paul lost his mother when he was fourteen years old and he carried that loss for the rest of his life. The pain would be revisited again and again, leaving McCartney scarred, staring into the abyss, and losing his way by sheltering his emotions, unable to give a voice to his sorrow.

McCartney was the most beautiful Beatle but he was more than a pretty face. Carlin paints an honest portrait of the man and the musician, warts and all. It gives the narrative a sense of balance. He takes the reader for a ride through Beatlemania through the eyes and ears of McCartney offered through first-hand accounts from a cast of characters including lovers, musicians, managers, various thieves as well as McCartney himself.

The early stages of Beatlemania in 1963 and the later disaffection in 1969/70 are covered convincingly. The Decca Audition was unconvincing for George Martin. He felt that his young charges were not quite ready and that their songs were unprofessional, yet he saw something in the lads that was compelling, their humor and goof natured ribbing. So Martin plunged ahead and helped seal the Beatles fate.

Carlin is able to give nuance to the changes McCartney was experiencing as he became an adult. His first serious adult romance was with Jane Asher. He moved into the Asher home and learned about bourgeois values. Ultimately he proved to be an unfaithful lover and went on to a series of relationships. Women were drawn to his charm and incredible good looks. At this point of his life he was simply beautiful. He hid several long lasting affairs with a series of beautiful women including Peggy Lipton, Maggie McGivern and Francie Schwartz, while his insecurity reached mammoth proportions.

The 1967 glory of Sergeant Peppers is a powerful testament to the genius of the Lennon/McCartney collaboration. They were the principal writers of the Beatles catalog, one fed the other and the inspiration could be a nod and a wink. It was a concept album in only a loosest form and the songs were linked not by a prominent theme but on a fundamental assumption that Lennon asserted in Strawberry Fields Forever, nothing is real. It was in this mindset that John and Paul created an enduring masterpiece, A Day in the Life.

By 1968, the cracks began to appear as each member of the band was growing into adulthood. Carlin was able to untangle the layers of growth as well as the ongoing ennui resulted from their self-imposed insularity. The world was not safe for them. The Beatles fan base was massive yet there was always a threat from the silly bourgeoisie, the authorities and the deranged. They were public figures, perhaps the most endeared group of musicians since Frank Sinatra. They were seekers and they tried acid, marijuana as well as transcendental meditation but the Maharishi proved to be only too human, Lennon named him Sexy Sadie. The White album was created during the retreat and it revealed the growth of the Beatles. Paul was wild and free and desperately unhappy.

All of Paul’s affairs ended in 1968 when Linda Eastman entered his life. He finally found a balance in a love relationship. They married on March 12, and never looked back. It was a loving marriage that would teeter on the brink, often due to Paul’s demands and untoward behavior yet it sustained itself for 29 years until Linda’s death in April 1998.

Carlin writes eloquently about the losses in McCartney’s life starting with his mother Mary followed by the deaths of John Lennon, George Harrison, childhood chum Ivan Vaughn and Linda.  Her diagnosis came in the same week that Free as a  Bird was released from the Beatles anthology. It also coincided with the Anniversary of John Lennon’s death. It was December 5th 1995.  Upon Linda’s death Paul released a statement, “The world is a better place because of her, I love you Linda. Paul  XXX XXX.

Carlin reported that in June 2007 Paul helped dedicate a monument to John. Yoko accepted the honor for her late husband. She referred to Paul as a magnificent man and all the surviving Beatles and their kin as family. She concluded, “The Beatles family is a very very strong family.”

Carlin was able to give us all a glimpse of the real Paul McCartney, warts and all. He was a great songwriter, a philanthropist and an egomaniac. He was loved by many and loathed by some. He reached the zenith of a creative spark as a Beatle, though he diluted his image as a solo artist, he is only human.

Now he faces old age as a seventy-two year old man who dyes his hair brown and keeps himself manicured for the press. He is a wonder and a blustery cad. In his collaboration with The Fireman, Paul helped create Electric Arguments.

Feel the choir, feel the thunder

Everywhere a sense of childlike wonder!


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