Fab by Howard Sounes


Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney

I have to confess I thought I was reading “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles.
To Sounes credit once I realized I wasn’t, I was hooked by Souces history of James Paul McCartney. This long biography takes the reader from Paul’s childhood through the Beatles. In the longer section 2, we read about the formation of Wings, his solo career, which bring us up to 2009. There are no interviews with McCartney but Sounes manages to interview a wide range of people who know him both musically and personally. This biography can be gossipy at times, but for an intimate look it almost has to be. Even someone as well regarded as McCartney is going to have flaws- I don’t think any less of Paul after reading this biography. Most of my reading on McCartney or the Beatles had dealt with their music, so it was fresh reading for me to learn about Paul’s relationships with women: groupies, Jane Asher, Linda Eastman, and Heather Mills. Paul works very hard to be comfortable and usually gets what he wants. When he doesn’t this can end relationships with those he’s close too. The good news is McCartney just wants to keep the Beatles legacy alive, make music, tour, be close to his (adult) children, and keep company with another American divorcee: Nancy Shevell.
I can’t begrudge him any of that.

656 pages

Excerpts From My Kindle

‘They’ve got everything over there, will they want us, too?’ Ringo asked the pressmen rhetorically. The drummer’s gloom reflected what a struggle it had been to generate interest in the band in the USA. Despite the fact Capitol Records was owned by EMI, the American label declined repeated suggestions from George Martin that they should release the Beatles’ early singles, Americans having little interest in foreign practitioners of what was, after all, their music. Martin recalls a curt message from Alan Livingston, President of Capitol: ‘We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in this market.’ Livingston’s comment was based on the historical fact that few British pop stars had enjoyed success in the US, a recent example being Cliff Richard who discovered that his considerable popularity in the UK counted for nought in Poughkeepsie. Desperate to get their music out in America in some form, Brian Epstein cut deals with two minor US labels, Vee Jay and Swan, who released ‘Please Please Me’, ‘From Me to You’ and ‘She Loves You’, without much initial success. Epstein also hired an American song plugger to promote the records. Radio stations proved resistant, but slowly things started to change. Curiously, the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963 may have had some bearing on America taking the Beatles to its heart. In the depressing aftermath of the murder young Americans looked beyond their country for something new and innocent to cheer them up, and heard a fresh, joyful sound coming from England. American disc jockeys began to play imported copies of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ prior to Christmas 1963, the popularity of the song spreading across the States and into Canada. Alan Livingston woke up to the fact that there was now US interest in the Beatles. Capitol released ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’/’I Saw Her Standing There’ on 26 December, with plans for an LP in the new year. Vee Jay re-released ‘Please Please Me’ in January 1964. Suddenly American airwaves were crackling with the happy English sound. A number of other factors fell into place. A theatrical agent in New York named Sid Bernstein, who’d kept up with news from Britain since being stationed there during the war, had been reading about the Beatles with growing interest, to the point that he struck a deal with Brian Epstein to present the Beatles at Carnegie Hall in New York on 12 February 1964. Even more significantly, Ed Sullivan, who’d witnessed fan reaction to the Beatles at Heathrow Airport, arranged to have the band appear on his syndicated television show. Brian accepted a modest fee from Sullivan’s people, but insisted shrewdly that his boys get top billing. Furthermore, it was agreed that the Beatles would appear on three consecutive editions of this important show – on 9, 16 and 23 February – the first two appearances live, the third pre-recorded. – location 1756-76

As the Beatles’ first visit to America approached, Seltaeb and their manufacturing partners became concerned that Capitol Records wasn’t doing enough to promote the band. So they took independent action. ‘We had every lift boy in New York saying, “The Beatles are coming – which floor do you want? “‘ remembers John Fenton. Disc jockeys such as B. Mitchel Reed began counting off the days, hours and minutes to the Beatles’ arrival. Rival DJs, notably the irrepressible Murray ‘the K’ Kaufman on WINS, joined in, using Beatle as an adjective. 7 February 1964 became Beatle-Day or B-Day: It is now 6:30 a.m., Beatle time … They left London 30 minutes ago … They’re out over the Atlantic Ocean, headed for New York … The temperature is 32 Beatle degrees … Announcements went out over the air in the New York area that any girl who made it to the newly renamed Kennedy Airport in time to greet the boys would receive a buck and Beatles T-shirt. The T-shirt manufacturer bussed girls to the airport to make sure of a success. By the time Pan Am Flight 101 landed there were thousands of fans at Kennedy screaming for the Beatles. – location 1797-1805

‘Without Seltaeb the Beatles would have found it a lot harder to conquer America. We really whipped up hysteria there,’ says Fenton with a touch of exaggeration. After a slow start, Capitol Records had started to push the Beatles, spending upwards of $50,000 on promotion [#76,500], promising to make 1964 ‘the year of the Beatles’. It all helped to create the day the Beatles arrived in America; the ‘turning point’, Brian always called it. – location 1805-8

[I always wondered how The Beatles became so big, so fast, in America when for at least a year their singles rarely charted.]

Unlikely though the story sounds, John Fenton says Seltaeb hushed up a scandal by buying an item that would have incriminated somebody involved with the Beatles on the trip. He won’t say who, other than it wasn’t a member of the band, but states: ‘If it hadn’t been for us there would have been no Beatles in America because they’d have been killed stoned dead by the federal rape law.’ It was only because of their connections with ‘Italian gentlemen’ in the New York merchandising business that they managed to take the evidence out of circulation. ‘It was a huge indiscretion which could have got them into a lot of trouble.’ – location 1822-27
[There were more than one incident, which if it had come to light would have killed the Beatles career, and not just Brian Epstein.]

George Martin, whose situation at EMI had changed significantly. After a long-running dispute over pay, Martin had quit as head of Parlophone that summer to start his own company, Associated Independent Recording (AIR), striking a deal with EMI whereby he would continue to produce the Beatles on a freelance basis for a producer’s royalty. It may or may not be coincidental that, with his enhanced financial stake in the band (though not an overly generous one), Martin became more involved in the creative process from this point, increasingly adding the orchestral touches that are a hallmark of the Beatles’ mature work and that do so much to raise the band above the pop herd. Indeed, their next album together was the breakthrough. – location 2427-32

Songwriters, like novelists, write from the point of view of characters that are often entirely or partly imagined, so it is rash to read a song too readily as autobiography. Yet Paul has made it clear in interviews that ‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ give a contemporaneous insight into his relationship with Jane Asher. This is intriguing because Jane is one of only a handful of the Beatles’ close associates who, apart from a handful of brief comments, has never told her story, a policy of discretion she adopted in the first flush of her romance with Paul and has stuck to, despite repeated requests by journalists and authors, myself included. Her silence has inhibited the normally garrulous McCartney, who has said little about his time with Jane, but he has revealed that he wrote ‘I’m Looking Through You’ at Wimpole Street at a time of tension in the relationship, essentially because Jane insisted on pursuing her acting career, which took her away from London, whereas Paul wanted her to wait at home for him. – location 2468-76

In April 1966, John, Paul and Brian agreed to sell Lenmac to the now-public Northern Songs for #365,000 ($558,450) of the shareholders’ money, Paul apparently judging it wise to take the cash before these early songs – numbers such as ‘She Loves You’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – became as obscure as skiffle tunes. From the start, the boys all felt, in common with most people in show business, that their type of music was ephemeral, and that they should look ahead to a longer-term career as professional songwriters in a more mature style. Interestingly, they didn’t dispose of songs written after 1965 in the same way. As a result of the Lenmac sale, Paul stopped receiving royalties directly for those 56 early Beatles numbers, though he and John still owned shares in Northern Songs itself, which now included and was enriched by Lenmac. This was an extremely unwise decision as it turned out, because their early songs proved to be evergreen. – location 2550-57
[Paul actually had a number of opportunities to buy his song-rights back, but failed to take action.]

Paul: ‘Charm for him is like a weapon.’ Beneath the charm, ‘he is very, very tough’. – location 2618-19

In mid-January, the Beatles started work on their monumental track ‘A Day in the Life’, the inspiration for which is often attributed to the untimely death of Tara Browne. Paul was sufficiently close to the playboy heir to have invited him to Rembrandt in recent months. One night he and Tara decided to ride over to see Uncle Mike on a couple of mopeds. Paul came off his bike, split his lip and broke one of his front teeth. He would wear a cap afterwards to cover the broken tooth, and grew a mustache while the scar healed, helping start a trend. All four Beatles soon wore little mustaches. Not long after this incident, on 18 December 1966, Tara was killed when his Lotus hit a van in London. It was reading news reports of the death – GUINNESS HEIR DIES IN CAR CRASH; A BOY WHO HAD TOO MUCH-that is often said to have prompted Lennon to begin work on ‘A Day in the Life’, though Paul doesn’t recall a particular connection. The lyric was created in the cut-up style of William Burroughs, jumbling together scraps of newspaper articles, a compositional method John and Paul were a little sheepish about at first, – location 2903-10

In his childhood, the McCartneys turned off the wireless when classical music came on the air. In the Sixties, Paul dipped into Berio and Stockhausen, as we have seen, becoming sufficiently enthused by their experimental compositions to create avant-garde music of his own. He also became friendly with Stockhausen and Tavener. He’d never shown much interest in mainstream ‘classical’ music, though. On the contrary, Paul and Linda walked out of a New York production of La Boheme when they were courting because they were bored. – location 7460-63

Mo was somebody Paul had been on holiday with, and seen constantly during the early days; she was also the mother of Ritchie’s three children – Zak, Jason and Lee – who were like cousins to Paul’s kids. He responded to her death by writing a moving song, ‘Little Willow’, encouraging Mo’s children to be strong, rather as he had written ‘Hey Jude’ to buck up Julian Lennon after John abandoned his family. ‘Little Willow’ is a good and a touching tribute to Mo, whom Ritchie had remained close to after their divorce, and in May Ritchie came to Hog Hill Mill to record two new songs with Paul: the ballad ‘Beautiful Night’ and their first co-written song, ‘Really Love You’, both of which were produced by Jeff Lynne. – location 8127-32

Although ambitious, impatient and sometimes overbearing, Paul is essentially a decent man, a happily married family man for many years past. But domestic happiness does not tend to beget great art. Rather it engenders the bland; in Paul’s case, prosaic and cliched love songs. His albums typically featured one or two outstanding tunes, padded by filler, with a marked propensity for the sentimental, and though he agonized over some albums, many of his records had been put out before enough reflection and revision had taken place. – location 8214-17

Most people couldn’t behave normally around a Beatle. John and Paul had chosen as their partners gutsy women who treated them as normal people. Yoko, Linda and Heather were all three a match for their dominant, willful partners. And the senior Beatles were both of them a handful. John and Paul had become so famous, so rich and so powerful that they were inevitably slightly monstrous. They were only comfortable with equally monstrous women. – location 8700-8703

Paul’s new road band featured the Americans Rusty Anderson and Abe Laboriel Jr from the Driving Rain sessions; he also rehired Englishman Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens who’d played keyboards on tour and on record with McCartney between 1989 and ’93. As an old hand, Wix told the Americans how exciting it would be to play with Paul on stage, ‘the right voice singing these songs, and you’re all part of it’. The last member to join the band was Californian Brian Ray, who would play guitar and bass (when Paul took up a different instrument). – location 8873-76
[I wish the book talked a little bit more about Paul’s new touring band. This band seems to have been around now longer than either the Beatles or Wings.]

Its journalists had laid their hands on a German sex manual from 1988, Die Freuden der Liebe (The Joys of Love), in which Heather was pictured nude and semi-nude, simulating sex acts with an equally bare male model. The picture set, shot in London around the time of Heather’s supposed stint as a cosmetics model in France, was presented as a sex manual, but a manual without any words, leading the Sun to describe the images as pure pornography, thereby labeling Heather a ‘former porn star’. Heather’s lawyers disputed the picture set was pornography, describing the book as ‘a lover’s guide’, which became a moot point when even more explicit pictures of Heather emerged, including classic top-shelf images of the model with her legs splayed apart. – location 9264-69

Her outburst was also in marked contrast to the dignified silence maintained by Sir Paul. A hint of what he was feeling came when he said, in reply to a question about the divorce: ‘As Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going!”‘ – location 9457-59

worked on a guitar concerto and oversaw the endless exploitation of the Beatles’ back catalogue, being the driving force behind the Beatles Rock Band video game, released in the autumn of 2009, around the same time as a complete digital reissue of the Beatles’ studio albums. Although almost everybody already had all this music, and the box sets cost almost $300 (#196), they sold strongly, helping make the Beatles the second best-selling act of the decade in America, just behind Eminem, a remarkable achievement for a group that split 39 years ago. – location 9731-35
[Compared to other ‘Rock Stars’ McCartney is a work-a-holic.]

With this book I set out to write a better-balanced, more detailed and more comprehensive life of Paul McCartney than has previously been achieved. I did not have an agenda to find fault with Sir Paul, nor did I seek to glorify his career glibly. Rather I have tried to tell the epic story of his life truthfully and fairly as I have found the facts to be from studying him closely, as an entomologist might put another kind of beetle under the microscope. – location 9793-96

[Music I’d like to track down]

  • Paul worked with George Martin on a score for the movie “The Family Way”.
  • The Scaffold novelty hit ‘Thank U Very Much‘, by Mike McGear.
  • Thingumybob with Brand as a score for the Black Dyke Mills Band
  • I’m the Urban Spaceman‘, produced by Apollo C. Vermouth
  • The Scaffold ‘Lily the Pink
  • Daytime Nightime Suffering
  • Goodnight Tonight‘ for the “Hot Hitz and Kold Kutz“, Wings album
  • I Lost My Little Girl‘, 1:13
  • “Unplugged” album (MTV)
  • Little Willow
  • Beautiful Night‘, with Ringo produced by Jeff Lynne
  • Really Love You‘, with Ringo produced by Jeff Lynne
  • Standing Stone‘ is a long (36 verses), densely woven and sophisticated poem edited by Tom Pickard’, appeared in the book, Blackbird Singing.

About craigmaas

I do a little web design work and support a couple web sites and blogs. My primary focus is lighting and energy consulting where I use a number of computer tools to help my customer find ways of saving money and improving their work environment. See my web site for more information: www.effectiveconcepts.net
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