Book Review: Paul McCartney, The Biography by Philip Norman

Having read numerous books on John Lennon and the Beatles, I was intrigued to see what Paul’s nemesis biographer, Philip Norman, could add to the vast library of existing Beatles information. Norman sets out a three-fold premise during the introduction; firstly, until now nobody has extensively documented McCartney’s post-Beatles life; secondly, (in contrast to Lennon) the “real” McCartney behind the thumbs and the V-Sign continues to remain a mystery and thirdly, to Norman’s great surprise, McCartney gave him”tacit approval” to talk to those close to him during the development of the book.

Eight hundred pages on, does he succeed? With minor quibbles, the answer is a resounding yes.

The Author, clearly on home-turf, writes a cohesive narrative (not easy given the spread of characters/ subjects) using recurring imagery and sophisticated language. Intermittently throughout are sounds and images of dogs and horses from the police training ground at the back of Paul’s childhood home, the sayings and philosophy of father Jim McCartney, and references and influence of American artist Willem De Kooning. Likewise, the illness and passing of Linda McCartney are movingly portrayed.

Which McCartney shows up? On this one the jury’s still out. Obviously, there’s the souffle-speaking PR man/ Beatle we all know; there’s DIY Paul – fixing a leaking roof in his Scottish Campbeltown/ Kintyre estate and well as micro-managing guitar collaborators, Harrison, McCullough and Eric Stewart; there’s pot-smoking and Japanese-imprisoned Paul, oblivious to the social norms and laws of the time; there’s Paul the Conqueror, overcoming the two major legal battles of his life against Allen Klein and fellow Beatles and his second-wife, Heather Mills McCartney; and finally, there’s Paul the multi-tasking, multi-talented Artist and performer, morphing from pop icon, to artist/ poet, to rave experimentalist, to classical composer to supreme ballad-writer.

The minor quibbles – personal interviews with one of the Beatles’ off-spring or a few more of the ex-Wings members would have been nice. That being said there’s lots to enjoy including new interview material with John Eastman and ex-girlfriend, Maggie McGivern. And cleverly, the life-story is book-ended with Norman’s meetings with Paul, incidents and information pertaining to his original Liverpool Cavern violin bass, and live performance details.

The verdict? Is it Lennon and McCartney or McCartney-Lennon? This one “Phil”, is Pure McCartney.

PS – those interested in a first-hand account by the wedding video cameraman of the Heather Mills wedding in Ireland, might also read the excellent “Beatles and Ireland” book by Michael Lynch and Damian Smyth.

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