Reviewed by Liz Thomson
Friday, 24 September 2010
Reading this book, listening to his post-Beatles music, it's hard to
disagree with David Puttnam that Paul McCartney is a man of
"immense, immense, immense talent" unable to make the crucial extra
effort that would transform the merely good into the exceptional.
"Was it that it was too hard, was it that it was too challenging? Or
was it that he was a reasonably contented guy and he didn't think it
was worth putting himself through that amount of pain? But the
difference between good and great is that last 15 per cent." Puttnam
believes he has not "absolutely delivered what was in [him]".
A natural musician with an astonishing gift for melody (think of
"Yesterday", "Honey Pie", "Blackbird", "The Long and Winding Road"),
McCartney has indeed got by on talent rather than effort. Moreover,
he has (like many celebrities) surrounded himself with yes-men whose
place at "court" depends on their paying suitable obeisance.
In Beatle days, competition with the outspoken John Lennon was a
healthy game-raiser, and the schoolmasterly George Martin was always
in the control room. After the Beatles, McCartney appears rarely to
have felt the need for advice: members of Wings were hired hands,
paid (mostly poorly) to obey His Master's Voice, while wife Linda,
scarcely a musical bone in her body, acted as cheerleader-in-chief.
The vast quantities of dope they consumed surely blunted their
critical faculties. Linda arrived at the hearing for one of their
many drug busts "stoned out of her mind", according to their lawyer,
Puttnam and Murray are among some 220 people with whom Howard Sounes
talked or corresponded for what he believes is "a better-balanced,
more detailed and more comprehensive life" than any so far. These
include many from the heyday of Merseybeat, as well as friends,
neighbours and fellow-musicians. Some provide further fragments for
the jigsaw (Ravi Shankar, John Tavener, Carla Lane) but others (Ken
Dodd, Bruce Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer) have nothing illuminating to offer.
The likes of Astrid Kirchherr and Jûrgen Vollmer are long talked-out,
though we haven't previously heard from Imelda Marcos, whose
treatment of the Beatles in the Philippines led to their decision to
quit touring. Those most likely to add to the story Ringo Starr,
the McCartney children, Jane Asher remain silent. It's a credit to
Asher that she has said nothing since 21 July 1968 when, questioned
about her engagement by chat-show host Simon Dee, she replied: "I
haven't broken it off, but it's finished."
Source notes rather than numbered footnotes help disguise the fact
that Fab is little more than an exceedingly thorough
scissors-and-paste study which draws heavily on Barry Miles's
authorised biography. Still, it's a good read for those seeking a
Pauline perspective on the Beatles plus a look at his solo career.
Yet it's marred by a tendency to retail tittle-tattle while
acknowledging that it's only rumour.
In the end, Fab tells us little we don't know. McCartney was, from
the get-go, the most ambitious Beatle, convinced from an early age
that he would be famous. He was arrogant, turning up late for the
meeting with Brian Epstein that would seal their future, and soon
considered himself a cut above the others.
The Asher family gave him both a Wimpole Street roof over his head
and an entrée into London society. He wanted Jane to give up her
acting career and was suspicious when she was on tour, regarding
their relationship as "open" from his side only. He treated her as
shabbily as Lennon did Cynthia. An endless supply of girls was his
for the taking, and take he did. He found happiness with Linda
Eastman, a groupie who determined she would marry him, and his grief
at her death propelled him into the chilly embrace of Heather Mills.
Their brief entanglement occupies fully 10 per cent of Fab.
Despite so many desultory solo albums, McCartney is arguably the most
successful Beatle, musically and financially. While still close to
his Liverpool roots, the cultivated image of blokeish normality fails
to disguise a man who has lost touch with everyday reality, buying
land, houses, cars and horses as we shop for groceries. As a
music-business manager once told me, rock stars are never like the
rest of us - they only pretend to be.