Just as his 1981 book, Shout!, is considered by many to be the definitive history of the Beatles, so biographer Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney: The Life will be the once-for-all-time record of the lad from Liverpool whose song lyrics and boyish good looks broke hearts and whose career after the Beatles was almost as successful as his time with them.
Drawing on scores of interviews with McCartney’s family, friends and associates, Norman delivers a sprawling, year-by-year chronicle filled with details about McCartney’s personal and professional life that will be familiar to many devoted fans. The book ranges from McCartney’s childhood and the devastating death of his mother—after which, he said, “I learned to put a shell around me”—to his love of rock ’n’ roll and his early days with John and George in The Quarrymen. From a young age, McCartney capitalized on his considerable appeal to the opposite sex. “Ever since kindergarten, he’d been aware of his attractiveness to girls and the infallible effect of turning his brown eyes full on them,” Norman writes.
The author chronicles the Beatles’ apprenticeship in Hamburg, the acrimony that tore the band apart and the beginnings of Wings, as well as McCartney’s relationships with Linda Eastman, Heather Mills and Nancy Shevell.
Along with the biographical narrative, Norman weaves in analysis of McCartney’s music as it evolved. For example, Wings’ 1973 album, Band on the Run, appeared at first to be out of control, but the band, according to Norman, “made a courageous journey through unfriendly territory” to emerge with a record that garnered “reviews as ecstatic as those of his previous albums had been dismissive.” On Ram, McCartney includes an instrumental to please his father, Jim, a former big band musician in declining health when the album appeared in 1971.
The author paints a portrait of a musician driven constantly to reinvent himself and a perfectionist who still deeply loves the process of songwriting. While Norman never shies away from revealing McCartney’s shortcomings (“the inexhaustible geniality Paul showed the world was not always replicated in private,” for example) his enthusiasm for the artist turns this book into a sympathetic look at McCartney’s life and his deep contributions to music.