Paul McCartney – The Biography
By Philip Norman
Weidenfeld & Nicolson – £25.00
Having attended the premiere of The Beatles’ Eight Days A Week last Thursday, I couldn’t help but come away with a feeling of re-invigorated, inspired awe.
First off, there’s the relentless number of terrific songs, closely followed by the contagious sense of the fun and all encompassing, teenage induced mayhem. Then there’s the unavoidable sense of energy with which the four members of The Beatles performed – who, need we remind ourselves, were the same age as the all but manufactured, One Direction, during Beatlemania.
Indeed, there really is so much one could continue to write about Ron Howard’s documentation of the band’s period of live performance(s); most notably, the unquestionable abundance of high-octane, astonishing material.
But then there are the four individual Beatles themselves, each one of whom, to varying degrees admittedly, was responsible for making the Fab Four who and what they essentially were: the greatest band in the history of popular music. Period.
What also came across loud and exceedingly clear throughout the film, was the devastating song-writing prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were the ones who were fundamentally responsible for separating The Beatles from the nine-hundred-thousand-million other (mighty average) bands of the day; which is just one of many, many reasons why Paul McCartney – The Biography, is as idiosyncratically important as it is.
Important for a number of very qualified and varied reasons, one of the most pertinent of which is how the book substantiates the fact that The Beatles were not an overnight success. This is something Sir Paul McCartney made very clear before Thursday’s screening of Eight Days A Week, when interviewed by fellow Liverpudlian, John Bishop.
To be sure, The Beatles honed their craft by having played every superfluous, stinking dive and toilet in Liverpool and Hamburg; before their eventual manager, Brain Epstein, even set eyes on them. A fact which partially accounts for their brilliance, but most definitely accounts for most of today’s artists being pointless and puerile, lacklustre and in truth, fucking awful in comparison.
Then of course, there’s the book’s actual writing itself.
With this being the first actual biography written with McCartney’s approval, and with access to family members and friends closest to him, it ought hardly be surprising that it is as good and quintessentially un-put-downable as it is. There again, it was written by Philip Norman, who, along with having written Fiction and a number of Plays and Musicals, previous books include Shout! The True Story of The Beatles, The Stones, Elton, Days in the Life: John Lennon Remembered, The Age of Parody, Buddy: the Biography, John Lennon: The Life and Mick Jagger.
So, a fine pedigree of a writer, but perhaps of more substantiation, one to be clearly be trusted.
Might it be said that at 816 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, Picture Credits and Index – trust and truth will endeavour to go a very long way; especially given all four Beatles’ penchant for having never held back and for having always told it as it truly was.
So as one can probably imagine, the five parts of this veritable tomb of information (‘Stairway to Paradise,’ ‘The Barnum & Bailey Beatle,’ ‘Home, Family, Love,’ ‘Carrying That Wait’ and ‘Back in the World’), covers nigh every aspect and period of McCartney’s rich and varied life. This also includes the good, the bad and the ugly. The latter of which is traversed amid chapter 53, ‘Even by British tabloid standards, the nastiness has been extraordinary’ – which is an overview of the degree to which the British tabloids had sunk whilst covering McCartney’s divorce from the vile Heather Mills.
But for me, and, I suspect many others, it’s the earlier sections of the book that covers and somewhat analyses the heady days of The Beatles, that invariably makes for the most compelling reading.
For instance, in chapter twelve (‘Did you know he sleeps with his eyes open?’), Norman writes: ”[…] Their innovative presentation, not as lead vocalist and sidemen but four (almost) equals, gave them a wholly unforeseen extra power. On top of their collective charm, each had a distinct character appealing to different sections of their audience: there was the ‘clever’ one, the ‘cute’ one, the ‘quiet’ one and what film producer Walter Shenson called ‘the adorable runt of the litter.’
Together they were more articulate, charming and intelligent – above all funnier – than any pop artistes before, but this alone doesn’t explain the British media’s fixation on them during that rainy summer of 1963. It was a season of unremitting hard news, including the Profumo scandal, the biggest train robbery in history, the thwarting of Britain’s attempt to join the European Economic Community, the resignation of Prime minister Harold Macmillan and the resulting turmoil within the Tory government. Fleet Street initially turned to ‘Beatlemania’ (a term coined by The Daily Mirror) for a bit of light relief, thereby discovering to its surprise that pop-obsessed teenagers read newspapers, too. From then on, there was no surer way to shift copies.
Today, the ‘-mania’ tag is attached to any pop star, or other sort of star, who draws an ardent crowd: ‘Justin Bieber-mania,’ Leonardo DiCaprio-mania,’ One Direction-mania,’ Prince Harry-mania,’ etc., etc. But in the sleepy, orderly Britain of the mid-twentieth century, Beatlemania truly did seem to verge on the psychotic. And it wasn’t just the Mach-speed rise of the band’s records in the charts, the multitudes who queued for their shows, the incessant shrieks that drowned out every song they played, the volleys of jelly babies that were flung at the stage or the rows of seats left drenched in female urine.”
A sanctified, pop-induced image of a bygone era, does the above most accurately depict – just like that of Ron Howard’s just released docu-epic, Eight Days A Week. But where Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney – The Biography differs, apart from the fact that it’s a book, is its overall appreciation and analysis of the Beatles, followed by a more than considered continuation of McCartney’s life since.
Other than being a read that is cool and commendable, analytical and ambitious, it’s simply breath-taking on scope.
Fantabulous. Yeah Yeah Yeah.