But what he got let him put together what reads like a facts-based account of McCartney’s career. He looks at all the angles – was McCartney an obsessed workaholic who disregarded the input of all but his closest collaborators (Lennon and Linda McCartney)? Or was he an insecure worry-wart, eager to ‘set the record straight’ by rewriting history of his contributions to The Beatles and the songs credited to “Lennon/McCartney?” Or was he a savant following his muse to greater and greater heights (but in the shadow of Lennon), anyone with an opinion be damned?
The cool thing about Carlin’s book is that unlike most writers, he does not take sides. This is not a “Paul is an insecure dick” book, nor is it a glowing re-writing of history putting forth that Paul for the most part drove The Beatles and Lennon was along for the ride. Most books take one of those two angles. Rather, Carlin lays out the facts and lets the reader decide.
Where did I land? Well, I have always seen McCartney as unnecessarily insecure. There is no reason why he needs to trumpet what he did in The Beatles. His vast catalog of amazing songs speaks for itself. Latter 70s Wings material and a few glowing spots in his solo career back up the notion that he is a master of the melody, an amazing songwriter who didn’t need anyone else to help him.
Of course he was rudderless in the early 70s. Unlike Lennon and especially Harrison, McCartney didn’t have a backlog of songs to draw from. Also he was the odd man out, shut out creatively and business-wise by his three best friends who at the moment despised him. It’s amazing the dude landed on his feet at all.
The book portrays Linda McCartney as the savior who helped him get on his feet when he was down and out. Carlin again reports the facts, that Linda was not a good musician (by her own account even), but that her presence in McCartney’s creative life helped drive him to the great success of Wings and his other endeavors. The fact that she could be a bit overbearing was offset by the fact that anyone not overbearing was pretty much ignored by McCartney!
Having read way too much about the Beatles already, I knew a lot of the subject matter. But there was a lot that was new to me as well. For example, the turmoil of the songwriting sessions for the Anthology series, where the three surviving Beatles were all concerned they would not be fairly represented in the mix of the new song Free As A Bird. And how they had a three hour ‘airing out’ session in Harrison’s back yard and seemed to come back happier and got back to work.
I appreciated the themes that Carlin kept coming back to, that 1) events in Paul’s childhood affected how he behaved through the rest of his life, and 2) because he was mega-successful from a very early age, McCartney has a very distorted sense of how things are supposed to be, and this frequently clouds his judgement across the board.
Another recurring theme in the book is all of the ‘what if’s’ and close calls regarding Beatle reunions. I didn’t know that Lennon and McCartney hung out several times in the 70s and even jammed in a studio one time, with McCartney on drums. I found the bootleg of that session and it’s interesting to say the least but not very magical. They are all pretty wasted and it’s during Lennon’s “Lost Weekend.” But damn, it's interesting!
There were even a few times in the 70s when three of the four Beatles played together and just for purely logistical reasons the fourth wasn’t there (not because he wasn’t invited or because there was bad blood). The recounting of these events in the book makes me believe that the Beatles absolutely would have reunited at some point if Lennon had not been killed in 1980, if even for a one-off.
Anyway, for the most part McCartney comes across as a positive if slightly bemused artist (in the purest sense of the word) who struggles with various insecurities and the inability to identify a really good idea from a really bad idea.
It’s a fascinating read and even if you think you know all there is to know about the Beatles or McCartney I promise you will learn something from this book. And Carlin does it in 340 pages, which is a feat in and of itself. There is a LOT to cover in those pages and he does a great job not glossing over anything but not hammering the reader to death with details. And to back up his facts, there is a much appreciated appendix that outlines where he got all of his quotes and info. Very nice.