Just finished Philip Norman’s 818-page Paul McCartney The Life and am starting to feel that my own life might have a serious deficiency insofar as excitement is concerned. And accomplishment, too. Yeah, and money. But there’s one thing I have that Paul McCartney doesn’t have and never will, no matter how hard he tries… and if I ever figure out what that one thing is, I promise you’ll be among the first to know.
In the meantime I’m reminded of Andrew Weil’s suggestion in The Natural Mind that one should strive to identify similarities in objects and ideas rather than differences. In employing this more positive attitude, I am confronted with the revelation that Paul McCartney and I are indeed sharing some sort of cosmic bond:
– He appears on many, many record albums. I own many, many record albums on which he appears.
– We both lost our mothers when we were quite young (although I had five more years with my mom than he had with his).
– Each of us had brothers (even though I had three and he only had one).
– As a teenager, Paul enjoyed the “ladies of the night” in Hamburg. I enjoyed the ladies in Playboy (and without getting the clap).
– Paul had an unfortunate, brief marriage to a psycho bitch. Aw, don’t get me started…
So even as the hairs on my arms continue to tingle, I realize Paul McCartney The Life is such a breezy read for a book of such heft primarily because so much of the time it was as if I were reading about myself. The fact that I even had to pay for my copy of the book sorta pisses me off. Author Philip Norman deserves a piece of my mind; my attorneys shall be consulted.
Anyway, since I pretty much lived the whole thing myself, there weren’t a heck of a lot of surprises in the book. I needed to detach myself again and again in order to appreciate them. The first was a biggie, though, and right there in the foreward: Norman does some apologizing for his unwarranted, nasty treatment of me–I mean Paul–in his authoritative Beatles saga, Shout! The Beatles in their Generation, first published in 1981. That pretty much tattoos a sizable asterisk on the legendary status of Shout! as the finest Beatles biography yet written (although I’ve always carried a torch for Hunter Davies’ The Beatles, which was among the first published and has been updated several times, in addition to the fact that it was entirely authorized from the start, and superbly written).
The “Paul is dead” fad of ’69-’70 is duly reported, but there is no mention of the competing popular fraud, which claimed that it was John, George, and Ringo who had all perished in a car crash and were replaced by some talented look-alikes around the time of Sgt. Pepper. That Norman seemingly has no knowledge of this bizarre urban legend may be attributed to the fact that I just now made it up. But just you wait.
Sure, the British public detested the Paul-directed Magical Mystery Tour when it was first presented in December 1967 on British television in black and white and later rerun in color. I didn’t catch up with it until around seven years later and was thrilled. Sure, it’s scatterbrained, silly, and amateurish, but the songs are great and by gum, it’s the Beatles! No, I’ll never say the group wasn’t immune from dropping some squishers on the sidewalk from time to time–“Revolution 9,” “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number,” “Matchbox,” and pretty much anything involving Yoko or Linda… but their track record is unmatched. Paul is adequately represented in my own scrupulously deliberated list of Five Favorite Beatles Songs (which I posed to you and about which haven’t heard diddly from you a month later–c’mon, boys and girls! Get with the program!)
(Okay, for the record and for your edification–and remember, this ain’t to start any wars, it’s just my painfully cut, five-faceted jewel–in chronological order. My choices: “Please Please Me,” “Yesterday,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need Is Love,” and “Here Comes the Sun.” I’ve gotta give Macca a special commendation for his harmony in the chorus of the fourth one–outta nowhere and it is perfection.)
Of course, Paul’s done an amazing amount of work post-Beatles. A lot of it is very good, a bit of it is fantastic (Ram, certainly), and there’s a good amount of dross that’s still miles ahead of what most artists were putting out at the same time. I consider the songs he did with Michael Jackson to be his nadir, but their popularity screams that I must be nuts. (Was there ever really any question?) The man can’t stop. He’s music mad and he’s money mad, if I’m to believe what was shouted at me between the lines in Norman’s biography.
All artists (myself excluded) are bound to fall prey to their own egos from time to time and I think the standout instance in the McCartney saga still remains his 1984 cinematic dog pile, Give My Regards to Broad Street. Norman excoriates this project in his book, making me want to revisit it so I could counter, “Oh come on, it’s not that bad!” Well, I can’t. No way. I popped in my old VHS and tortured myself for the better part of 104 minutes. I think Paul just had the need to redo many of his greatest songs, thinking he could actually improve on them without the distraction of a certain trio of musicians… so Lo! Behold new versions of masterpieces such as “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine” and lots of others–none, in their novelty, holding a patch on the originals.
With Paul McCartney, it’s easy to forgive his mistakes. Paul McCartney The Life is the wonderful result of an immense amount of research, care, and admiration, all befitting a character of undeniable genius. The man has known terrible tragedy and supreme joy and has been embraced by the love of millions. What a life he’s led and how inspiring has been his art!
Even if he’s never had his very own column in the San Diego Troubadour. Ah-ha! Hey! That’s it! My condolences, Sir Paul.
I won’t move on without wishing you all a splendid, safe Halloween before our next encounter. If you’d care to make that encounter a bit sooner and in the flesh, then I’ll suggest you head down to Ocean Beach on Friday and Saturday, October 6 and 7, for this year’s OB Oktoberfest–certainly the wildest Oktoberfest on the West Coast, year after year. It all takes place down near the pier and features live music from a lot of bands, contests with fabulous prizes, great food, and glorious grog for grownups. It’s bratwurst and beer, bands and bikini’d babes at the beach, and I’ll be the MC and games host once again (and believe me, an honor like that shouldn’t be so much damn fun, but it always is). Do come down, say hi, and have some memorably crazy fun!