Friday, April 1, 2011

The Groove Book Report: FAB - An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes - Harper Collins rrp $40.99


This is a Transcript of a review broadcast on 7 April 2011


I never really liked McCartney's music post Beatles, except for Wings' epic Band on the Run, which still maintained some of that great late fab-four zaniness. Yet reading this epic 634 page tome it's hard to contest that, in the words of David Puttnam, McCartney is a man of "immense, immense, immense talent". It's just that somehow he seems unable, or unwilling to make that crucial transformation from merely good to exceptional. All through this biography author Howard Sounes keeps poking the cynical stick. "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?" What he seems to have missed, I believe is that creative rivalry between McCartney and Lennon, between te Beatles and the Beach Boys between Wings and the Plastic Ono Band. McCartney's best work was when he was challenged, threatened even. Obviously McCartney's a natural musician, with extrodinary writing capabilities. Songs like "Yesterday", "Honey Pie", "Blackbird", "The Long and Winding Road"are beautifiully written, so simple they can be peformed by everyone from a punk band to a reggae dub collective. It's virtually impossible for even the Ekatahuna 1st Grade Recorder Ensemble to stuff up one of his compositions. But yet the post Beatles era is bland. Still nice, but without that creative edge. In Beatle days, the schoolmasterly George Martin was always in the control room, pushing the boys on. Afterward, McCartney seems to have shunned all advice. Wings were essentially a Band on the Payroll, not the Run. Poor old Linda was as musically witless as they come. And the truckloads of narcotics they consumed surely dumbed down their critical faculties. Linda even arrived at one of their many court hearings "stoned out of her mind", according Len Murray, their long suffering lawyer. But if this was Iggy or Bowie the creative juices would be flooding the studio floor. Nope. McCartney chose to drift gently down stream, strumming and humming in the summer breeze. Puttnam and Murray are just two of the 220 people author Howard Sounes canvassed for their for what he believes is "a better-balanced, more detailed and more comprehensive life". Interestingly, though he doesn't directly speak with the man himself. The early sketches by those around in the heyday of Merseybeat, friends, neighbours and fellow-musicians all offer insights, annecdotes and evidence. And others(Ravi Shankar, John Tavener, Carla Lane), mostly industry types provide further pieces for the jigsaw yet the some like Ken Dodd, Bruce Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer simply offered nothing bt extra pages, void of editorial rigour. Personally, I found the memoirs of Astrid Kirchherr and J├╗rgen Vollmer fascinating. Although a quick web search roves this material s hardly new. The 'explanations' from Imelda Marcos are most certainly enlightening, given the treatment of the Beatles in the Philippines led to their decision to quit touring.


Alas, those most likely to add to the story – Ringo Starr, the McCartney children, Jane Asher – remain silent. Incidently, it's amazing Asher has said nothing since 21 July 1968 when, questioned about her engagement to McCartney, by chat-show host Simon Dee, she replied: "I haven't broken it off, but it's finished." Maybe she's forgiven him for that dscretion, despite her family looking after him, and McCartney's pressuring at the time for her to give up acting.


I'm always suspicious of authors who use source notes rather than numbered footnotes. And there's nearly 20 pages worth here. They simply, disguise Fab as an exceedingly thorough cut and paste job with a heavy reading of Barry Miles's authorised biography on the side. I could certainly do without the supermarket trash moments and tittle tattle around McCartney's marriage to Heather Mills, and the the overvalued implosion that followed. Still, it's a good airline book, assuming you're planning on several trips to the UK non-stop in the next wee while. While, hardly academic, Fab ticks off as a definitive re-work on McCartney, not entirely original but meaty, exhaustive and the most up to date thing you'll find on the shelves at present.

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