BOOK REVIEW: Paul McCartney – The Biography by Philip Norman
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
As storied an author Philip Norman is (with a clutch of novels, an autobiography, several plays and musicals, and a shelf full of rock biographies covering The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Elton John, Mick Jagger and more), his pedigree still wasn’t a shoe-in to gain the trust of former Beatle Paul McCartney. In fact his past work had the singer, bass player, multi-instrumentalist, vegetarian, animal rights campaigner and arguably the world’s greatest living songwriter offside from the start. Norman explains at length how it was only his assurances that previous work which damned Macca would not be repeated, that led to McCartney giving his ‘tacit approval’ to the project, opening doors to family and friends which would have otherwise remained closed.
The result is a fascinating view inside the life and work of a man whose face is amongst the world’s most recognised; but who has kept his private life behind closed doors more than most.
Pivotally, Norman does not make the mistake of devoting the majority of his book to The Beatles. McCartney’s solo work, Wings output, classical pieces, and famous family life are all referenced in detail, showing a man who – like us all – is hard to pigeon hole with the generic black-or-white labels the lazy media often like to use.
Norman shows great insight into McCartney’s relationship with his former Beatle bandmates – especially his songwriting partnership and fraught friendship with Lennon, and what practically amounted to bullying of younger guitarist George Harrison. Jovial and baby faced he may seem to most of us, McCartney’s controlling ways continued to cause ire amongst his Wings bandmates, and even some behind the closed doors of his celebrated (and faithful, by all accounts) long-term relationship with wife, Linda (nee Eastman).
If anything, Norman’s balance skews with the detail with which he delves into McCartney’s disastrous marriage to, and especially divorce from, Heather Mills. The author’s voyeurism into the financial minutiae of the settlement and the constantly implausible fantasies of Mills isn’t replicated in the rest of McCartney’s story: as shocking as it is, it is a rare mis-step into sensationalism.
With over 800 pages (and weighing in at a shade over one kilogram!) there’s a lot to get through here, but with a life as fascinating – and a career as relentlessly productive – as McCartney’s, the pages zoom by and inevitably, without his own direct involvement, some questions still remain. This, however, is as close to the definitive article as has ever been published, or likely will be.
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