Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Paul McCartney-The Life (By Phillip Norman) - a Book review

Phillip Norman has never been known for being a big fan of Paul McCartney.   The author of Shout! and John Lennon- the Life  has always been vocal about how much he loves John and dislikes Paul.  However, he decided to" bury the hatchet" and with Paul's approval wrote this biography of Paul McCartney's life.

This 816 page biography took me two solid weeks to read.   The author uses a lot of strange comparisons and flowery words in writing.   The strangest thing I think I have ever read in my life was in this book.   He compared fans getting the White album and rushing home to listen to it on their turntables to someone that has diarrhea rushing to get to the toilet.     He just seems to use a lot of words to make a simple point.  

Norman is the author of the Beatles biography, Shout  and really did not need to write the first part of the book.   The part that covers Paul's childhood through the Beatles years did not have any new information.   Sure he did interview Paul's step-mother and step-sister, but nothing they added hadn't been told before.    I found the first half of the book to be very boring.

However, the book picked up after the Beatles' broke up.    Very little has been writing over the years about Wings or Paul as a solo artist.    I enjoyed reading about the formation of Wings and how they worked their way up from unplanned university concerts to a world wide-stadium tour.    The information about why various members joined and left the group was very interesting.    It was also neat to see Linda transform from a Rock n Roll photographer to a musician and then to a cookbook author and animal rights activist.     Actually I enjoyed reading more about Linda in this book than reading about Paul.   Linda came across as independent, loving, funky and passionate.    I actually had a lump in my throat when it got to the part where Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer.    I really found it refreshing when it discussed some of Paul and Linda's arguments.   There has always been this myth that Paul and Linda had the perfect relationship and to read about them fighting like a normal couple was good to read!

The book goes into Paul and Heather Mills relationship and divorce.   I am sure many won't like this part of the book, but I liked it.   It helped me put into perspective what Paul was going through and why he began the relationship with Heather.    It reminded me of something I had said a long time ago---that Heather was a good girlfriend for Paul, but he should have broken up with her and not married her.      The book takes you quickly through the marriage of Paul and Nancy (no mention of the Route 66 trip) and ends with the author meeting Paul backstage in Liverpool last year.

In reading the book, I realized just how much of an open book John Lennon's life was.     Much of John's life was recorded and John was pretty open about any and all topics.    Paul is very different.   Norman didn't have as much to work with when it comes to Paul, even though Paul has outlived John by over 30 years.    Paul is private and those who were close to him in the past have remained silent about Paul as well.   If Norman didn't interview someone, he had to use what materials were available.   Television interviews, tabloid newspaper reports and audio interviews were used as his main sources.     He took almost 3 pages talking about the James Paul McCartney tv special, but skimmed over more personal things---and this would be because he had access to the TV special.   However--so do I and I didn't need 3 pages to read what I could see by just watching it myself.

There were several things that just plain annoyed me in the book.   One of which is the mistakes.   I expect a big book such as this to have errors.   Heck, I expect my own book to have errors.   He misspelled Freda Kelly's name throughout the entire book (spelling it Fredia).  He also made mistakes that would make me say---almost but not really.   One example that is near and dear to all of us is when Lizzie and Gayleen sang on "Across the Universe."   Norman doesn't use their names, but says that Paul went out and picked a few girls to sing on the song.    Well---not exactly---it was Mal.

It also bothered me how many times he mentioned that Jim McCartney adopted Ruth.   And likewise that Paul adopted Heather.    It almost could be a new drinking game---it was in there so much!

Paul McCartney--the Life isn't a bad book.     If you are a Paul fan, there aren't a whole lot of choices of good Paul books.   Many Years From Now by Barry Miles is excellent, but it ends before the solo years.    This is one of the few books that tells the full story of Paul's life and therefore is worth reading at least once.

I wonder if George Harrison--The Life and Ringo Starr-- The Life is going to ever hit the shelves?  If you thought Phillip Norman disliked Paul, then you should read what he thought of George!

You can find this book at any big bookstore , through the Fest or Amazon.


  1. I HATE Philip Norman, he's a dickhead. Mark Lewisohn is all we need.

  2. I never read any of his books, nor wish to. I am supposed to be working, so I just looked through your review, Sara. One thing: Paul came out of the studios and said "Can any of you girls hold a hight note?", I said I could, he went back inside and that's where Gayleen and myself can't be sure: we think it was Mal who came for us, not Paul. There's another thing we can't agree on: I wrote on my diary and in a letter I sent to my mother that I went inside and asked if Gayleen could come too. She thinks she also said she could sing. But we've never had a problem with that. We've remained friends even if our memories are a bit different.

  3. Sara, thank you for the outstanding review, everything I need to know is in that review. Also...very funny!

  4. I'm almost at the end now. I agree with all your points and I even wonder if Norman is suffering from some sort of dementia so inaccurate and repetitive is his writing. Shout was a decent book for the time because it was the first to offer an overall narrative, but it still suffered from inaccuracy and too much opinion. His book on Lennon had an obsession with John's sexual fantasy with his mother (mentioned at least three times). In this the obsession is the Japan bust which is anticipated at least 4 times before he reaches the account. It is, at best, a cut and paste job with far too much opinion. Who cares what he thinks about George? Even the interviews with Angie and Ruth (who have shamelessly slagged Paul off while living off his name) also rely on press cuttings. As Winston states: all we need is Lewishon!
    I wish I'd started a list of errors / myths since I shall never read it again.
    Finally, agree the second part is much more interesting, but he is not the first to cover this period (Sounes, Salewicz and Flippo have covered it - not forgetting an even more egregious writer - Giulliano).

    1. It isn't a book I ever plan on ready again. I think the white album comparison to diarrhea still wins for the strangest thing in a Beatles book.