Re-Writing History: A Review of Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life

You had a reputation as a McCartney basher.” Robert Rodriguez

“I did. And I was wrong. I was in the wrong. As I say in this book, I was not fair to him in Shout! … They (John and Paul) are inseparable in their importance to the Beatles.” Philip Norman, interview with Robert Rodriguez, Something About the Beatles, 2016

In the wake of John Lennon’s murder, an English journalist published a book which widened Beatles historiography’s Lennon/McCartney schism by providing an unfailingly complimentary view of John Lennon and Yoko Ono while criticizing Lennon’s songwriting and musical partner, Paul McCartney, as a superficial lightweight whose manipulative and conservative personality, obsession with sentiment and commerciality, and refusal to accede to Lennon and Ono’s experimental genius led to the Beatles breakup. Responsibility for the band’s split was placed solely on McCartney’s shoulders, and his inferiority to Lennon in virtually every way was implicitly or explicitly proclaimed by the author.

Portrayals of the other Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, in the book were poor to non-existent: Contradictory accounts and opposing primary evidence were dismissed or ignored. While it attracted some criticism for its hagiographic interpretation of Lennon and Ono, its reputation granted it considerable influence on fans and other Beatles authorities of the time period, many of whom cited the work in their own books.

Over a decade later the work’s author, Ray Coleman, decided to write a biography of McCartney, the figure he had unremittingly maligned in his aforementioned Lennon: The Definitive Life. In the introduction to his 1995 work McCartney: Yesterday and Today, Coleman explicitly denounced those critics who questioned McCartney’s musical genius, regarded the musician as superficial, or failed to acknowledge his basic decency, generosity, and good sense. The astonishment surrounding the totality of Coleman’s about-face (and his audacity in calling out other authors for committing errors he himself had made) is only surpassed by the equal astonishment that no one highlighted Coleman’s hypocrisy, or the seismic changes in his view of Beatles history. Coleman’s death a few years later ensured that the reason behind his self-revisionism was never addressed; the author was never forced to explain the motivation behind his profound reversal on McCartney or apologize for his earlier, errant interpretation.

Philip Norman, author of numerous Beatles books, including Shout!, John Lennon: The Life, and the new Paul McCartney: The Life, may very well be envying Coleman’s method of posthumous escape right now.

When regarded purely as a biography, Paul McCartney: The Life proves the best of the small but sub-par selection of biographies available on the still-living McCartney. The work offers the most comprehensive look at McCartney’s post-Beatles life – if not his music – and notes the man’s determined post-Beatles efforts to retain his family, sanity and normality while living a life of incomprehensible fame. The work’s greater significance, however, lies in its demonstration of the extent to which its author, Philip Norman, and Beatles historiography as a whole has shifted on the pivotal subject of McCartney over the past forty years.

One of the most important questions involving his 2016 biography of the Beatle (not named George) whose talents and character he unfailingly derided, criticized, mocked, judged and condemned for over forty years involves not the book’s subject, but its author. How much of Norman’s professed conversion on McCartney was prompted by a genuine reassessment? And how much was inspired by his own realization, in the mid-2000’s, that his decades-long advocacy of the Shout! narrative –  integral aspects of which includes diminishing the Lennon/McCartney friendship, McCartney’s musical contributions to the Beatles, and portraying McCartney as Lennon’s inferior in almost every conceivable way — had left Norman stranded on the wrong shore of Beatles history?

“No two temperaments could have been more unalike.” Shout!, 1981

Paul wanted Stu’s job as bass guitarist.” Shout!, 1981, 2002, 2005

“’Macca’ suggested something altogether tougher and more synthetic; perhaps a not too distant cousin of Formica.” Shout!, 2005

In the introduction to Paul McCartney: The Life, Norman issues a mea culpa, acknowledging his bias and explaining its origins in his own feelings of envy, projection and betrayal.  “If I’m honest, all those years I’d spent wanting to be him had left me feeling in some obscure way that I needed to get my own back.” However, it is worth noting that this reasoning differs, dramatically, from Norman’s previous explanations: in the 2005 edition of Shout!, the author acknowledged but excused it by declaring that he was a “John-person” rather than a “Paul-person”; in the afterword of his 2008 biography of Lennon, he denied being “anti-Paul.” In previous interviews with The Guardian’s John Harris, Norman had explained that his personal dislike of McCartney’s late 1970’s music and personae inspired his disdain and, consequently, his contemptuous portrayal, but argued he attempted to make amends for Shout by providing a more generous portrait of McCartney in his 2008 biography of Lennon.

Beatles historiography in the 1970s was an uneven playing field which favored John, who, for a number of reasons, dominated and won the breakup-era narrative. As Beatles author Robert Rodriguez admitted: “I was a teenager when I read Lennon Remembers, and I bought every word of it. Uncritically.” Following John’s 1980 murder and subsequent mythologization, this favoritism became even more pronounced, and Beatles authors demonstrated unapologetic partisanship which, in turn, trickled down to fans and other Beatles authorities.  If Norman’s earlier justification for his pro-Lennon, anti-McCartney slant – “I cannot claim to be anything other than a John-person” – is, in fact, the primary reason for his bias, he wasn’t alone; he was riding the wave of and contributing to the popular perception of Beatles history that authors such as Coleman and journalists such as Jann Wenner also pushed.

What has not been addressed is the simple but powerful issue that, whether the bias was inspired by Norman’s personal feelings of jealousy and betrayal over Paul or his avid pro-Lennon partisanship, neither should have been allowed to direct and influence Shout! to the extent that it was more a book about Norman’s authorial self-insertion into the band’s history than a biography of the band itself. As John Lewis Gaddis notes in The Landscape of History, “Personal preferences need not represent gross bigotry.” And, while Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life reasoning explains his virulently anti-Paul tilt, it does not cover his similarly destructive and misleading, if less acknowledged, anti-George portrayal.

George, on Abbey Road, “had found an identity by forgetting to be himself.” Shout! 1981

George was not great; just an average guitarist who got incredibly lucky.” Shout! 2005

In The Beatles and the Historians, I identified three fundamental weaknesses with Shout! First was its lack of historical distance. Second was the absence of documentation, and third was the book’s pervasive and corrosive pro-Lennon and anti-Harrison/anti-McCartney bias.

Historical distance is not as glaring an issue for Paul McCartney: The Life, although the old rule of thumb – waiting approximately fifty years after the historical subject has been deceased to attempt a biography – obviously does not apply to the still living and performing McCartney. Likewise, Norman’s virulent anti-McCartney bias has seemingly wholly vanished, as Norman attempts, for the first time, to view Beatles history, the Lennon/McCartney partnership, and McCartney’s life and music with any semblance of sympathy, objectivity, or balance.

An outspoken critic of Beatles authors who laden their paragraphs with “show-offy facts,” rather than concentrating on character, description or compelling narrative, Norman rejects the current trend of many current Beatles authors regarding documentation. Paul McCartney: The Life contains neither citations nor a bibliography. This decision perpetuates one of the greatest weaknesses involving the entirety of Norman’s Beatles work; failure to distinguish between evidence and authorial interpretation. Sweeping generalizations are made and readers are informed multiple times what specific historic figures were thinking/feeling at any given moment, but whether these accounts are supported by evidence or wholly the result of personal, authorial speculation is not clear.

In Paul McCartney: The Life, these interpretations reverse Norman’s previous versions on any number of subjects – from the impact of Mary McCartney’s death on her oldest son, to the recording  of “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” to McCartney’s role in the breakup. This new analysis demonstrates a seismic shift, although not in Beatles historiography – aspects of this new narrative first began to emerge in force over twenty years ago, in 1995, with Mark Hertsgaard’s A Day in the Life and Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head – but in authorial conclusions. McCartney’s version of many events, (many of which were first recounted in his 1997 semi-autobiography Many Years From Now) is now widely accepted by Norman – who, in virtually all his previous work, failed to even acknowledge McCartney’s perspective existed. Source analysis, however, is sparse. As in his previous biography of Lennon, Norman is too willing to take the testimony of numerous sources at face-value and/or fails to equally weigh evidence by acknowledging contradictory accounts. Both books favor the version of events provided by their primary subject and omit the contradictory version: Ultimately, because of this, John Lennon: The Life and Paul McCartney: The Life provide each other with the balance that each biography, in itself, lacks.

Perhaps the most dramatic change in the portrayal of an individual (excepting Norman’s complete reversal on McCartney as a whole) is the author’s newfound appreciation for the great love of the man’s life, Linda Eastman. In Shout!, the author’s disdain for Eastman was barely veiled; he regarded her as a deeply inferior choice to McCartney’s previous romantic partner, Jane Asher, and accused her of worshipping McCartney’s ego while negatively affecting his music, appearance and relations with the other Beatles. His portrayal of Eastman was as negative as his one of Ono was uncritical. (As noted in The Beatles and the Historians, Norman was among numerous Beatles authors who sought to elevate Eastman or Ono at the expense of the other). In 2005, he argued that the public mourning for Eastman following her 1998 death from breast cancer was merely an echo of the grief which had followed the death of Princess Diana a short time earlier and had nothing to do with appreciation for Linda herself. In Paul McCartney: The Life, Norman again admits his own interpretive failure, acknowledging that, by any standards, the McCartney marriage “became by far the happiest and most durable in pop.” Far from the fame-seeking, smug groupie she has been depicted as, Linda was a liberated, warm, casual and usually friendly woman who endured an outsize amount of press and public abuse.

“Examples of total collaboration (in the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership) were rare.” 1981

“Paul developed musically by following rules; a notion altogether repugnant to John Lennon … John’s music was … as honest and powerful and Paul’s ever dared to be.” 1981

The Ballad of John and Yoko” was “recorded by John, virtually singlehandedly.” Shout!, 1981

“’Can’t Buy Me Love’” was “perhaps the least memorable of all Lennon/McCartney songs.” Shout!, 1981

On “Revolver,” there was Paul’s pretty, self-pitying, ‘For No One.’” Shout!, 1981

Lack of informed musical analysis has always been acknowledged as one of Shout!’s, and Norman’s, greatest weaknesses. Authorial disinterest in Beatles music as a whole was so striking that The Beatles Bibliography complained that Shout! could equally have been a biography about four plumbers who happened to become famous.

In the great debate regarding Lennon and McCartney’s respective musical contributions to the Beatles, the author’s bias again fed his judgment, advocating a view of the music in which Lennon was “three-quarters of the Beatles.” The major elements of the Lennon Remembers narrative, including the depiction of Lennon as “authentic” and McCartney as “commercial,” Lennon as “experimental” and McCartney as “conventional,” and the widespread dismissal of the existence of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, were all reiterated, unquestioningly, in Norman’s work. Contradictory testimony from credible primary sources, such as George Martin, was ignored.

With Paul McCartney: The Life, Norman again explicitly denounces his previous interpretations, praising McCartney’s musical genius while championing the equal components each man brought to the essential Lennon/McCartney partnership and the Beatles as a whole. Songs which the author had previously criticized or found wanting, such as “Lady Madonna” and “For No One,” now receive his praise, while McCartney’s radical, avant-garde experimentation – which, as McCartney has repeatedly argued for almost thirty years now, pre-dated Lennon’s – is acknowledged and explored.

In combination with Norman’s revised view on the causes of the band’s breakup, this reinterpretation signifies a complete reversal, by the author, on the two most contentious debates in Beatles historiography. In acknowledging McCartney’s genius but championing the whole, rather than part, of the Lennon/McCartney partnership, Norman’s work is now better aligned with other major authors under the Lewisohn narrative, such as Hertsgaard, MacDonald, Jonathan Gould, or Lewisohn himself. By redistributing the weight of the breakup’s blame on many shoulders, and primarily on Allen Klein’s, rather than McCartney’s, Norman’s new version heavily resembles the current breakup-account Orthodoxy, as detailed in Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money. The significance of these revisions are notable: One of Beatles historiography’s most influential and enduring voices, who, for forty years, used these debates to promote and widen the corrosive Lennon vs. McCartney schism, no longer advocates any of the major aspects of either the “Lennon Remembers” or “Shout!” narratives.

What does the significance of this shift mean to the future of Beatles historiography – how their story has been and continues to be told? Undoubtedly, it demonstrates the crushing weight of Lewisohn’s research, which began the erosion of more biased versions. Now that the Shout! narrative’s founder has unequivocally rejected it, which major voices, among Beatles authorities, will insist on picking sides in the Lennon vs. McCartney schism? Will authors such as Larry Kane and Mikal Gilmore, who still advocate certain elements of the Shout! narrative, continue to argue its primary components? Or will they follow Coleman and Norman’s example by implicitly or explicitly distancing themselves from their previous interpretations in an attempt to place themselves on the right side of history?


17 thoughts on “Re-Writing History: A Review of Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life

  1. Karen Hooper says:

    Great review, Erin.

    What do we make of Norman’s about-face, indeed. Far from having some kind of psychological epiphany, I think Norman’s about-face was inspired by self-interest. After all, Lewisohn is effectively dethroning Norman as Beatle laureate, and that has to pinch a little. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

    Which major voices, among Beatles authorities, will insist on picking sides in the Lennon vs. McCartney schism…or will they follow Coleman and Norman’s example by implicitly or explicitly distancing themselves from their previous interpretations in an attempt to place themselves on the right side of history?

    Maybe that depends upon their level of professional investment in the old narrative and to what extent their adherence to it would affect their credibility. Norman had much farther to fall; others not so far at all.


  2. Erin says:

    Here’s one of the issues I find interesting regarding Norman’s about-face: he declares in the intro to the Paul bio that he got approval from Yoko for the John bio in 2003, sent a message to Geoff Baker, Paul’s P.R. guy, and asked for (but didn’t expect) any cooperation. (Paul eventually, of course, agreed to answer some of Norman’s questions via e-mail).

    I believe (but I’m not positive) that 2003 also happens to be the same year Norman published that reprehensible “What’s Eating You, Macca” article in that bastion of legitimate journalism, the “Daily Mail.” So either A. Norman published that article and then had the audacity to ask Paul for help with the John bio soon afterwards, or he B. Asked Paul for help with the John bio and then published that anti-Paul screed. (Large chunks of which are identical to the 2005 afterword to Shout!). Norman’s intro to the Paul bio makes it clear that he knew his position on Paul was “Shout!’s” Achilles heel, and the biggest gaping hole in his own credibility, but he was still pushing that position as late as 2005.

    The reality is, there is no great unearthing of sources from 2005 to 2012 (when Norman decided to do the Paul bio) that would promote such a radical change in Norman’s interpretations on Paul. Such a conversion from the 1981 edition of the Shout! to the 2002 edition would make perfect sense; in that interval, you have the publication of “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” and “Many Years From Now” and Anthology, to just scratch the surface. But there were no such seismic sources published between 2005 and 2012. Nor were there any real-life events to prompt such a reappraisal on Norman’s part, with the exception of Paul’s willingness to allow Norman to sort-of interview him for the John bio and Paul’s personal response to Norman’s request regarding the Paul bio. (Yes, the John bio is more fair to Paul, but it still labors to ensure that Paul is perceived as lesser than John).

    So either a single phone call with Paul was enough to utterly convert Norman’s disdain (in which case we should send Paul to negotiate peace in the Middle East) or Norman fully began to realize the damage his bias had done to his own reputation — and the reputation of his work — and decided that now was a good time to convert.

    “Maybe that depends upon their level of professional investment in the old narrative and to what extent their adherence to it would affect their credibility.”

    True. Gilmore, as I discussed in my book, advocates some aspects of the Shout! narrative, but not others. (Also, his book is now four or five years overdue for publication). What I have read from him has left me primarily unimpressed; I fail to see how his “Rolling Stone” article adds anything new to the conversation that Doggett’s book did not, beyond primarily identifying John as the deliberate instigator of the breakup, and I am too much of an academic to swallow any statement (particularly one concerning the subjectivity of music and artistry) which the author declares is “inarguable.” Spare me your authorial arrogance, please. (I will always find it interesting that, after the backlash that declaration caused in the reader comment section, the comment section was taken down). Perhaps the reason for Gilmore’s delay is a re-assessment of such statements: Lewisohn’s declaration of Lennon and McCartney as equals in “Tune In” is a shot over the bow to other Beatles writers, and the other Beatles writers have to know that. I don’t know about Gilmore’s personal investment in that narrative but he, like Norman, must surely have realized by now which way the wind is blowing.


  3. Charlotte says:

    Karen, Erin, I hate to sound like “The Mutual Admiration Society” but I agree with what you both have said.
    I’ve said this before elsewhere, but I think Phillip Norman is trying to rescue his reputation for history.
    He just may be sincere in his “newly discovered” appreciation for Paul McCartney. I think he had a boyish crush on Paul decades ago, which never quite vanish, but was buried deep in his heart, soul, or psyche (somewhere) but he bitterly and viciously turned on Paul, who knows why, for some “slight” real or imagined he felt Paul callously inflicted on him, and didn’t acknowledge or apologize for, (how could Paul apologize or acknowledge a “slight” he didn’t intend, wasn’t aware of or had forgotten he caused, if that’s the case?) I haven’t read anything suggesting that Paul was the type who went about deliberately humiliating people cruelly without a second thought.
    Norman, enraged, got his revenge through poison pen. To me, Norman’s explanation that he wanted to be Paul, live his life etc just doesn’t explain why he got so anti Paul. Because Paul married American Linda Eastman, instead of English Jane Asher? Because he mistakenly believed Paul “broke up” The Beatles? Because to “John-guy” Norman, Paul was the “square, rule obeying, commercially conventional, non artistic craftsman sneak-in-sincerity-clothes? Even if so, (it ain’t and wasn’t) why would Norman care so much?
    I re-read a passage in Norman’s Paul biography which began on page 3, into page 4, where he describes how everyone is dressed (just painting a picture for the reader) and he, “recalled staring at Paul’s jeans and wondering if they were the everyday kind they seemed, or, custom-made with specifically reinforced seams and rivets to prevent them from being torn to sheds.” That observation was ordinary enough, but somehow stood out to me. Maybe it’s my own mindset on Norman.
    Norman says he wanted to BE Paul, live his life, which makes no sense to me, unless Norman was self loathing and wanted to sabotage HIS OWN life as he appeared to want to publically diminish Paul’s. To me, and I may be way off base, to me, Norman was (perhaps still is on some level) boyishly in love with the year older than he, Paul McCartney, and his feelings were not returned. Embarrassed, he flew into a raging snit which lasted decades. Which if true, would reveal an immaturity of epic proportions. That in my mind explains his decades long hostile behavior towards Paul more than any suggested so far. Now, after all this time, after all his mean spirited digs at Paul over the years, he’s calmed down, seen the error of his ways, admires and respects Paul, and wants to set the record straight……and rescue his reputation for history.


    • Erin says:

      Loved the post, Charlotte. Especially this, on the degree of Norman’s anti-McCartney stance: “Even if so, (it ain’t and wasn’t) why would Norman care so much?”

      Here’s what I simply can’t get past, as a writer and an historian: Norman’s personal feelings regarding the various members of the Beatles should not have mattered one whit, either then or now. The moment he sat down to do research on the band — the instant he started interviewing people, compiling sources, comparing evidence — and absolutely the first moment he put pen to paper, he should have suppressed that bias, and pursued and written about their story with as much objectivity as possible. He. Did. Not. Even. Bother. To. Try.

      If Paul really was his first favorite, and then Norman switched to John, that’s just fine. What’s not fine is, as a biographer, inserting your own biased opinion so extensively and inextricably into the narrative of your book that it is impossible to separate from evidence. And then defending that book for approximately the next forty years.

      Paul does seem to be/have been genuinely baffled with Norman’s pronounced contempt for him, at least according to Norman himself; Paul talked to Norman for the first time in decades basically because he wanted to know why Norman hated him so much. Personally, I’ve never self-identified with a celebrity to any extent, so I don’t know how powerful a motivating factor it could be for Norman.

      “Embarrassed, he flew into a raging snit which lasted decades. Which if true, would reveal an immaturity of epic proportions.”

      I think however you slice it, Norman comes out of this looking immature and unprofessional. Whether it was an unrequited/unacknowledged crush on Paul, pro-John bias, salvaging his own reputation, wanting to be Paul, or any/all of those things, that he allowed his own personal feelings to determine his interpretations and conclusions was wrong.


  4. Karen Hooper says:

    Erin can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Norman did in fact state that he was hugely dissatisfied with his life and, in essence, wanted McCartney’s. That level of jealousy is pretty unusual, and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Norman had harboured a kind of crush on Paul, or had unresolved sexual conflicts which were projected on to a celeb like Paul.


    • Erin says:

      I don’t recall Norman outright declaring dissatisfaction with his own life — although I do remember a few disgruntled asides about his girlfriends always cooing over Paul. More of an overall envy — Paul had an Aston Martin, Paul had a gorgeous girlfriend, Paul was a millionaire, Paul was one of the great 60’s male sex objects (have you ever seen that great picture on Amoralto’s tumblr, which shows Paul’s David Bailey photo on the dressing room wall of a strip club, with these exotic dancers using Paul as their pinup?). But the sentiment that he, Norman, wanted/fantasized about living Paul’s life is there.

      Which leads me to an interesting aside — at least, I consider it interesting — regarding Linda. Norman discusses how countless female fans felt betrayed when Paul married Linda because, well, he was supposed to marry them. Obviously. But Norman also argues that countless male fans were also “betrayed” when Paul married Linda, because she was not what they themselves would have chosen. (This is the part of the intro where Norman argues that being a fan of Paul involves some sense of proprietorship).

      And that male feeling of betrayal regarding 1. Paul getting married and 2. Paul marrying not a beauty queen or supermodel or Liz Taylor or Jane Asher and then having hundreds of affairs on tour but marrying and staying faithful to an American divorcee with a kid and WASP fashion sense … that fascinates me. There was another male R&R journalist — Rob Sheffield — whose work “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran” I read for TBATH who also reiterates this same POV in his book. It’s presented humorously, and with a frank admittance that Paul was evidently very happy in his choice of spouse and marriage/fatherhood, but there’s a tone of disbelief, and almost a male sense of betrayal at Paul’s choice. Paul was, according to certain sources, the most desired bachelor of the decade, “the fantasy of millions of women,” according to Time. But he ended all that, according to Sheffield, to putter away on a farm with Linda, eating wheatgrass casseroles, having kids and mucking around with nature.

      That’s not what millions of males — including, evidently, Norman and Sheffield — wanted Paul to do, because its not the choice they wanted Paul to make; they wanted to live out their male fantasies through Paul’s life. Supermodels! Sportscars! Beauty Queens! More supermodels! And when he stopped fulfilling those fantasies for them, they felt betrayed. If there are any male lurkers out there reading this, I’d love to hear your perspective on this issue. And we’d love to hear from female posters on it as well, of course. I just think its a very interesting perspective, because we know that a lot of female fans initially hated Linda for having the audacity to marry Paul, but what receives far less coverage is the male reaction.


  5. charlotte says:

    Wheatgrass casseroles! LMAO!
    That sounds as exciting as cold oatmeal!

    The hilarious vision of millions of frustrated males everywhere registering their collective “WTF man!” shock, with needle scratches record sound effect, and their “masturbatory” vicarious living wilts and limps to a dissatisfied halt!

    Now that I got that laugh out of my system, I really hope any male lurkers will weigh in on this. I need to understand, what gives?


  6. Erin says:

    We haven’t had any other lurkers bite on this topic, Charlotte, but here are some of my notes from Sheffield’s book, exploring the issue in more detail:

    “Paul’s girl worship will always be the most disturbing and mysterious thing about him. It is strange, not matter how you look at it, that he likes them so much, considering the time and place when he became a rock star. He waltzed into a life where, by the time he was 22, he knew for a fact that no whim would ever be refused him. Paul chose to be a husband. The Stones suggested that if you dabbled in decadence, you could turn into a devil-worshiping, junkie. Paul McCartney suggested that if you mess with girl worship, you could turn into a husband. So Paul was a lot scarier.”

    “Paul has been called many things … but never a misogynist, which definitely makes him stand out from the other rock stars of his generation.” (Point of clarification: Paul has acknowledged that his views were chauvinist, for a long time, and while Sheffield is right that no one has ever described Paul or his lyrics as misogynist, The Yoko sponsored Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “John Lennon: His Life and Work” emphasized Paul’s chauvinistic attitudes regarding Jane’s choice to keep her job — while, of course, labeling the blatantly misogynistic lyrics of John’s “Run For Your Life” as ‘inauthentic,’ and implicitly absolving John for writing them.) “In his music, Paul liked girls so much he sounded phony when he tried to be mean.”

    “You have to admit, there aren’t many stories like Paul McCartney’s in the annals of rock and roll, or showbiz in general. This was the most ardently desired male on earth, not to mention one of Britain’s top earners. Most of us would not have made the sexual choices he made, given his options.”

    “It’s his virtues that seem profoundly fucked up. He was a man deranged by love, driven to madness by a happy love affair; a deeper madness than the other rock stars got from their unhappy ones. By the late 1970’s, most of his peers were making their divorce albums, but McCartney was knocking out increasingly crazed non-divorce albums, and nobody ever enjoyed being a husband more than this man. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is a far freakier song than “Revolution number 9. Linda seemed like no one’s idea of an obsession worthy muse, just some random hippie chick that Paul liked.”


  7. Charlotte says:

    My, my, my. I don’t know how in the world I missed this last entry Erin. I’m just now reading this comment today and it blows my mind that not only did I missed it when you posted it, the content of just how ‘against the grain’ Paul was during the 70s when he was the real McCoy as it were, in “happy pappy house husbandry” and was getting knock for it because he didn’t fit the stereotypical ‘raging rocker’ who still continued to “slam bam thank you ma’am” through females even after marriage. I suppose he got all that “wild oats sowing” out of his system by the time he married Linda. And perhaps she was not one that was going to “put up with” serial infidelity. I imagine her decision to go on tour with him, bring along the family even when she didn’t really want to…but chose to, had a lot to do with keeping her family intact and her husband from straying. Plus I suspect that Paul took his vows seriously and if he had of married Dot, Jane, or Maggie, they too would have gotten a husband who would at least tried to be as faithful to them as he was to Linda. I know he cheated constantly on Jane but I suspect in his mind the difference was they were not married, he had not taken those vows. For the record, she was so young when they got together and he was her first serious boyfriend. She lost her virginity to him. I think she needed other experiences besides him so it actually turned out better for her in the end. And she was right not to give up career or her young life for him. Her refusal to kiss and tell about their relationship speaks volumes about her character (I’d be the first in line to buy her book if she did).
    Paul usually did pick well, but not always (ahem…Francie and Heather).

    Ive been reading a paperback, Hammer Of The Gods about Led Zeppelin (whose music I love) but even after marriage, their “on tour” behavior with young groupies is absolutely disturbing to say the least. Especially Jimmy Page with a young girl, Lori Maddox, barely in her teens…despicable. As a mother (grandmother) my thought was “Where was this girls parents? Didn’t they care? According to the Lori, they were okay with it since Jimmy met them and behaved politely and like a gentleman. (Shades of Elvis and Priscilla’s parents when they turned her over to live with him at age 16, I bet younger than that). And now Lori, a couple of years younger than myself, so she ain’t no spring chicken, describes her time with the married father Page as “We were in love”, meaning she is still as clueless as she was when her parents were not looking out for her best interest and let her run the streets and cross state lines with famous strangers (smh). Hate to sound so judgemental but good grief already. And I bet none of the guys in the band would want “the likes of them” anywhere near THEIR daughters when they became young teens and twenty-somethings. John Paul Jones was the closest in behavior to Paul and seemed not to indulge so much in the ‘devouring of females’ as his band mates did.
    Anyway, the household in which Paul and Mike were brought up with Jim and Mary McCartney and their extended family really instilled in them the type of character that seems to make good husband and father material.


  8. madam emma nevada says:

    i read phil normans lennon biography and did not find it hateful towards paul. i remember he described paul as a ‘historical revisionist’, which is mildly unflattering but far from hatred, and i believe he may have been perfectly right. i would think that the reason he had a turn around about paul was because he was writing a book about him and wanted it to sell. pure finances.


    • Erin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Madam.

      You are right that his portrayal of Paul in the Lennon bio is not hateful: in fact, prior to his bio of Paul, its certainly his most objective work on McCartney to date. Most of the quotes I use in this post are taken from the various editions of Shout!, which is contemptuous, to say the least, in its depiction of not only Paul, but also George, Ringo, Linda, Maureen Starkey, etc. I think you’re right that finances played a role in Norman’s about-face, but I also think his reputation was also on his mind. The fact is that his anti-McCartney bias had already been widely acknowledged and criticized, and it was damaging his status as an important Beatles authority.,


  9. madam emma nevada says:

    linda was perfectly beautiful. i believe the reason he settled down when he did, when he could have continued to lead a rock star life and changed super model women everyday if he chose, was because he was traumatized by the ending of the beatles and traumatized by being isolated and resented by the other bandmembers when the band started to not get along and then broke up. partially the blame was on him for trying to be the boss too much which led john to quit the band. when he went into the marriage with linda, he needed that person in his corner, his loyal teammate and advocate, the person you can share everything with, all your hopes and fears, the person you have continuity with, the person who does not resent you for trying to be boss and forgives you all your tresspasses, and you won’t get that if you change your woman everyday. he needed a place to call home and linda was it. paul was and is a great family man, devoted to his wife, children, the dog and all the other animals.


  10. Laura says:

    I recently read and highly recommend a book by Martin Shough that includes a critique of Norman’s McCartney bio: Truant Boy: Art, Authenticity and Paul McCartney

    I haven’t read Norman’s McCartney bio, but I’m reading his Lennon bio. I agree that, for whatever reason, it’s not hateful toward McCartney, nor is it without criticism of Lennon.

    I noticed a few McCartney-related oddities though:

    He claims, “‘If I Fell’ made grannies go gooey long before anything of Paul’s.” What about ‘And I Love Her,’ which came out at the same time? (My actual granny was a Liverpudlian who loved Paul’s even earlier “All My Loving” when it came out – I was about 10 and also a fan.)

    After quoting Maureen Cleave saying John loved Ringo and often said how much he loved George, Norman says about John and Paul that “theirs was always first and foremost a professional relationship.” I have no words… or my mouth is too agape to form them.

    About Abbey Road: “As though in corroboration of his new minority status, Paul ended up with only two full tracks, the unmemorable ‘Oh! Darling’ and the uncharacteristically dark and vicious ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.’” Surely the medley is a huge part of what made the album a success and Paul’s contribution is far from minor.

    Re Wings: “Unable to defeat the UK media’s prejudice, he was reduced to touring Wings in a small van, like pre-1962 Beatles, playing surprise gigs at provincial colleges.” Is he really saying Paul McCartney couldn’t get gigs any other way?!

    Norman messes up on the Northern Songs debacle, saying the Eastmans had Paul secretly buy 100,000 shares. It was 1,000 shares, plus it’s not known when they were purchased.

    Does anyone know / recall whether Norman corrected the Northern Songs error in the McCartney bio?


    • Erin says:

      That’s interesting that you noted Norman’s ranking of John’s feelings regarding the other Beatles, Laura, because that one caught my eye the first time I read it. There are a number of issue there, the first simply being that, when you make that sort of statement, you need to either cite a source or provide evidence for it — the way Norman mentions Cleave as a source for John’s comments on George and Ringo. The ironic thing is that we do have breakup era interviews where John says just that — I was closer with George — (which, of course, John than contradicts later on) but Norman doesn’t give them to us.

      The other issue I had with that statement was the Norman is actually contradicting himself with that generalization. His introduction of Paul in the John bio (I’m going from memory here) describes Paul as John’s “More than brother; more than partner; the individual who would live in John’s head and music for over a decade.” So which is it? Is Paul John’s “more than brother/partner” or is it “first and foremost a professional relationship?” Is that Norman’s reflexive Shout! interpretation cropping up, because the “professional relationship” element was a major aspect of the Lennon/McCartney relationship in that book. Or is simply authorial inconsistency?

      An element of Norman’s writing in the John bio seems to involve sleight of hand; when there’s a point he wants to make, he makes it, and simply ignores evidence and/or conclusions that don’t fit — your example of the medley on Abbey Road being a perfect example, as if the album ended on side one, limiting Paul’s contributions to those two songs. (he does the same thing with “Eleanor Rigby,” noting how John never stopped praising the song — but failing to mention that that could very well have been because John also never stopped claiming himself as the primary author; a claim which is refuted by all other evidence.

      My recall of the Northern Songs issue is hazy. I can’t recall what Norman says about it in the Paul bio, which would have been his only real opportunity to revise his numbers.


      • Laura says:

        He’s a slippery one, is Norman. I read Shout! when it came out and still have it, but I’m not sure I want to go there… I did look up Northern Songs using the index – he didn’t say anything about those devilish extra shares.


  11. Laura says:

    I apologize if variations of my post are coming through, but until this last time when a logged into WordPress first and got a waiting for moderation note it seemed like nothing was happening. Please just kill the previous attempts if they show up!


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