Books

Not-so -blithe Beatle

Paul McCartney tries to set the record straight

NICHOLAS JENNINGS December 29 1997
Books

Not-so -blithe Beatle

Paul McCartney tries to set the record straight

NICHOLAS JENNINGS December 29 1997

Not-so -blithe Beatle

Paul McCartney tries to set the record straight

Books

PAUL MCCARTNEY: MANY YEARS FROM NOW By Barry Miles (Random House, 654 pages, $35)

Early on, as the first blast of Beatlemania raged across the planet in the mid-1960s, John Lennon was cast as the dark, witty, adventurous Beatle, while Paul McCartney was stereotyped as the cute, charming, happy-go-lucky one. Despite the plethora of books on the group that have appeared over the years, those images have rarely been challenged—perhaps because, with only a couple of exceptions, none of the research came directly from the Beatles themselves. After standing by and watching numerous biographers tell various versions of his life story,

Sir Paul has now decided to set the record straight. Based on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews conducted between 1991 and 1996 with longtime friend Barry Miles,

Many Years from Now offers an exhaustive, revealing portrait of the Beatle who is renowned for being tightlipped about himself. Just how accurate is that Brooding Beatle-Blithe Beatle dichotomy? “I had to be the bastard as well as the nice melodic

one and John had to have a warm and loving side for me to stand him all those years,” McCartney tells Miles. “John and I would never have stood each other for that length of time had we been just one-dimensional.”

At the core of Miles’s biography is an examination of McCartney’s relationship with Lennon as both friend and collaborator. The author includes a song-by-song analysis of every tune the two wrote together. And McCartney makes it clear from the outset that he has no intention of tarnishing Lennon’s image. “Lest it be seen that I’m trying to do my own kind of revisionism,” he tells Miles, “I’d like to register the fact that John was great, he was absolutely wonderful and I did

love him. I was very happy to work with him and I’m still a fan to this day.”

Overall, by quoting McCartney so extensively, Miles gives the story of the former Beatle, now 55, a sense of intimacy and immediacy. After tracing McCartney’s origins and the well-known rise of the Beatles from Liverpool church-basement group and Hamburg strip-club rockers to the darlings of the British pop scene, Miles takes the reader deep into the world of swinging London in the ’60s. It was “a glittering late-night playground of first nights, doormen, red carpets and cocktail parties, Hollywood smiles and wisecracking working-class lads from up north or the East End being wined and lined and bedded by the daughters of aristo:rats.” He shows how McCartney’s relationship with actress Jane Asher had a profound effect on his artistic development. Moving into her family’s house, McCartney met lane’s brother Peter and such people as John Dunbar and the author himself—all of whom introduced the Beatle to the London avant-garde. With McCartney’s help, Asher, Dunbar and Miles launched the Indica Bookshop and Gallery, where Lennon discovered timothy Leary and met experimental artist aoko Ono.

McCartney was soon dabbling in sound collage and other effects—experiments that helped to make Sgt. Pepper so revolutionary. He was also dabbling in marijuana (Got to Get You into My Life was McCartney’s joyful ode to pot). The Beatle, writes Miles, became part of an elite of “potheads descending |long the hipster tradition: Mick Jagger was introduced to pot by Paul McCartney, jfvho was introduced to pot by Bob Dylan, who was introduced to pot by [journalist] AÍ Aronowitz, who was introduced to pot by Allen Ginsberg, who was introduced to pot by some Puerto Rican sailors in a brothel in New Orleans in 1945.”

The book’s analysis of Beatle songs is fascinating. Who knew that the “eggman” in Lennon’s I Am the Walrus was actually Eric Burdon of The Animals, so named because of his proclivity for breaking raw eggs over naked groupies during sex? And Miles discovered that “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” means “life goes on” in the Yoruba language. McCartney learned the phrase from a Nigeriaborn conga player.

Any authorized biography is bound to be flattering. Several times, Miles quotes McCartney about how fair he has been in compensating individuals for contributions, however minor, to his songs. Meanwhile, for all the insight it offers into the Beatles as a creative entity, the book offers little that is new about the private Paul. McCartney’s 28-year marriage to Linda is one of the longest-running in show business, but Miles sheds scant light on their relationship.

Humor and honesty save the book from becoming one big McCartney love-in. Reflecting on the Beatles’ skepticism of the Maharishi during their 1968 visit to India, McCartney recalls asking the guru if he could levitate himself. ‘We said it as a tourist thing,” he explains. “ ‘Eh, you got any of them snake charmers then, Swami? Can you do the Indian rope trick?’ There was a slight aspect of that, we were just Liverpool lads. Let’s face it, this was not the intercontinental Afro-Asian study team.” Many Years from Now gives the most well-rounded portrait of Sir Paul to date. Showing him to have been an innovator, a group leader and a taskmaster, it makes clear that McCartney can take at least as much credit as Lennon for making the Four utterly Fab.

NICHOLAS JENNINGS