Get Lit: Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin

Rocks Off understands that this effort is meant for a more general audience and not a Beatles obsessive like himself who owns a bookcase stocked with 93 Fab-related tomes (we counted). And on that level, A Life is a fine if surface summation of the life and career of Sir Paul.

Much of Carlin's narrative is either culled from other sources or revisits well-worn tales. In fact, since the book neatly slices into three sections (pre-Beatlemania, Beatles career, post-Beatles), it's the middle section that's most wanting for a jolt of literary juice.

When he does conduct original interviews - mostly with early McCartney friends/associates and later band members - he unearths many fresh anecdotes to add to the legend. Like when a drunk and huffy John Lennon first encounters British actress (and soon-to-be McCartney main squeeze) Jane Asher, he asks the mortified blonde teen if she can tell him "how girls play with themselves."

Another tale - known in some form before - has the early Quarrymen (including Paul) participating in circle jerks. But while some members would yell out names of sexy actresses like Brigitte Bardot to stoke teenage fantasies, the waggish Lennon would scream "Winston Churchill!" to break the mood.

Carlin's interviews with two members of Wings also shed some light on McCartney's "benevolent dictatorship" of that band - prone to Macca stinginess with credits and royalties.

Carlin does promote the true thesis - most vociferously waged by his subject - that while Lennon gets the credit for his experimental and avant-garde life and music, it was in fact McCartney who first dabbled with films and sound collage - an offshoot of his living in the heart of Swinging London while his bespectacled bandmate was married and miserable in the stockbroker suburbs.

He also notes that McCartney and his musical contributions are also unfairly (and, perhaps, unavoidably) looked upon in light of Lennon's post-assassination ascension to "secular sainthood" and real rock and roll martyr.

But Carlin is hardly in awe of his subject. At times, the Paul on page comes off as highly thin-skinned, narcissistic, cheap, and obsessed with image and credit. And while some of that is certainly true, there's still a bit of a hit-job aspect to A Life.

Still, it's ironic that Paul McCartney has found his greatest success in the past decade by getting back. Sold-out concerts around the world and plenty of live albums that lean heavily on Beatles tunes - many of which the band itself never did live.

The concluding chapters paint a portrait of an active and engaged man pushing 70 who is reclaiming - and reminding - his audience (and their kids and grandkids) of his legacy, with time as his only enemy. The recent Beatles edition of Rock Band and the (finally!) remastered catalogue have continued to put the group and its most recognizable face forward more than 50 years after two gangly American music-obsessed teens met at a church fete.

In the end, A Life is really just a taste of the monster McCartney bio yet to be written. And no, 1997's largely Paul-approved/guided Many Years From Now does not fill that space.

Simon & Schuster, 374 pp. $26.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero