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Paul McCartney by Philip Norman

Paul McCartney by Philip Norman


In Shout!, his bestselling 1981 biography of The Beatles, Philip Norman was “magisterially rude” about Paul McCartney, portraying him as manipulative, shallow and overrated, said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. In his new biography, an “older and wiser” Norman reveals what inspired his emnity: he was jealous. McCartney, he has now decided, was an “undoubted genius” whose “back catalogue is pop music’s equivalent of the works of Shakespeare”. He lists his “endless” courtesies (remembering everyone’s name; paying for an old friend’s child to have an operation), and goes out of his way to be nice about McCartney’s first wife, Linda. Many saw her as “frosty and standoffish”. Norman now thinks she was a vibrant, salt-of-the-earth character, and even her much-mocked singing voice was “sweet”. Meanwhile, John Lennon – once the apple of Norman’s eye – finds himself “subject to a major downgrade”: it was his laziness and intransigence, rather than McCartney’s domineering personality, that caused The Beatles to split in 1970.

McCartney, born in 1942, was “very much his parents’ son”, said Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. From his musician father, he inherited his “kindness”, while his midwife mother (who died in 1956) bequeathed her “ambition”. The instinct to be “upwardly mobile” runs through his life: in one “very good” section, Norman reveals how, when McCartney was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Japan in 1980 for cannabis possession, he resolved to be the best prisoner – “the first with his room cleaned, the first who gets to wash and do his teeth”.

Sadly, there are too few revelations like this, said Lynn Barber in The Sunday Times; the book could “certainly have been shorter”. Though Norman is good on McCartney’s childhood and The Beatles years, the coverage, later on, gets noticeably “skimpier”. For example, McCartney doesn’t marry Heather Mills, his second wife, until page 740, while his latest marriage, to Nancy Shevell, only “squeaks in” on page 799. But Norman does provide one invaluable service, said Neil Spencer in The Observer: he explodes the myth that McCartney was the “safe, soft-centred” Beatle, and Lennon the “edgy” one. In fact, McCartney’s music was no less innovative than Lennon’s, and in the band’s Hamburg days, McCartney participated just as eagerly in the “orgiastic craziness”. Then, in the mid-1960s, he “immersed” himself in London’s underground scene while Lennon – as McCartney once put it – “was living on a golf course in bloody Weybridge”.

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