A biography of the multitalented musician, written with his “tacit approval.”
Unless you know nothing about Paul McCartney or think the Beatles were merely his first backup band before Wings, not much in this account from Norman (Mick Jagger, 2012, etc.)—who has authored biographies of John Lennon, Buddy Holly, and Elton John, among others—will come as news. However, though late to the party, Norman has a couple of things going for him. One is the subject’s tacit approval, useful considering that McCartney has “constructed ramparts of privacy rivaled only by Bob Dylan.” Another is the author’s comprehensive grasp of the existing literature and his sense of what makes a good story. This book is full of good stories, few reflecting poorly on McCartney though sometimes calling his impulses into question, notably with respect to his latter-day marriage to Heather Mills and the mayhem it caused. Mills emerges as the villain of that particular piece, but not without careful evidence and dissection. Elsewhere, Norman repeats well-worn yarns, though sometimes in curious ways. His account of how an apparently throwaway line became the centerpiece of McCartney’s song “Hey Jude” is flat, and his retelling of his subject’s helpful hints on the financial benefits of music publishing lacks the sense of tragic inevitability that we all know lurks nearby. However, Norman has considerable strengths. He understands how complicated the business dealings underlying the Beatles’ Apple Corps were and just how right McCartney was to sue to dissolve that partnership. He also reveals a few little-known facets of Sir Paul’s daily life and interests, including archival talents that would rival any librarian’s, as when Norman takes us to the scene of a “secret underfloor compartment” containing the Hofner bass Paul played at the Beatles’ last performance. There’s plenty on McCartney’s post-Beatles career, of course, but the foursome remains the heart of interest, especially the long rivalry with Lennon.
A worthy biography that doesn’t approach the greatness of its subject.