Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"paul mccartney: a life," by peter ames carlin: book review

peter ames carlin's "paul mccartney: a life" is the latest addition to the canon on mccartney biographies. it's a fresh take on the 67 year old rock legend, but doesn't break new ground on the well-told "good" beatle story. carlin was unable to secure an interviews with paul mccartney during the two years he spent writing the book. most of the material is taken from familiar secondary sources, but carlin did interview many acquaintances who knew mccartney throughout the arc of his career. carlin succeeds in putting together a more complex and earthier view of the man (this book is certainly not haliographic).

for someone who comes to the beatle saga via phillip norman's "shout" - a decidedly john lennon centric view of all things beatle - carlin's book may seem like another effort a mccartney revisionism. but carlin does an excellent job of drawing the significant distinction between the beatles as john's "band" and the beatles's creative output strongly indebted to paul and his work ethic. it's tragic to read of paul's futile efforts in late 1969 to get the other beatles to consider going back on tour - performing live before their fans again - while the group was imploding.

one thing carlin does is lay blame not at the classic villian, yoko, for the beatles' breakup and long running litigation. instead he pointedly focused on the insidous and divisive impact allen klein, the beatles' manager after brian epstein died, had on the group. klein's relationship with mccartney was strained at best - and non-existant for the most part. paul was increasingly ostracized and outvoted as a result of klein's cozy relations with the other three beatles (and, significantly, yoko).

but the real highlight of the book was the post-beatles material (and in some respects, is far from flattering to paul mccartney). carlin does a great job of discussing the music - album by album, almost song by song, breakdowns of mccartney's output (solo, wings, post-wings). it's good stuff - and eye-opening. paul won't stand for any criticism from anyone! he barely tolerated hearing negative comments from none other the george martin when the two reunited in the early 1980's for martin to produce "tug of war."

carlin also paints a great portrait of paul and linda's relationship. paul went to great lengths to raise his children as "ordinary" kids - far from the trappings of a lavish lifestyle. linda's death and paul's reaction to it is probably the most poignant part of the book. but, afterwards, carlin seems to sour on the older paul - taking a harder line on his increasingly autocratic view of the world around him. but that certainly dovetailed with the complex character study carlin sought to evidence in his telling of the mccartney life.

"paul mccartney: a life" is a not a definitive biography, nor an exhaustive one. but it is a solid one that paints a more accessible, earthy paul mccartney - rather than the rock legend image that has surrounded him for decades.

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