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Old Oct 29, 2010, 04:22 AM   #1
Lucy
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Default McCartney Keeps the Biographers at Bay

I've just started reading this book. So far so good!

McCartney Keeps the Biographers at Bay

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...151998306.html

Like other works of art, biographies have provenance. Each comes with a history that has to be understood in order to judge the authenticity of its account. How did this book originate? What is its chain of evidence? In the case of un authorized bio graphies—which appear without the blessing and, perhaps, with the curse of their subjects—the author must be upfront about his sources and the potential limitations of his working methods.

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Howard Sounes's subtitle, "An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney," implies some kind of extra ordinary access to the subject, and Mr. Sounes touts more than 200 interviews, including some with family members who preferred to remain anonymous. But he says nothing about Mr. McCartney's reaction to being written about in this way. So what to make of the biographer's claim that he has studied his subject "closely, as an entomologist might put another kind of beetle under the microscope"? Isn't something missing from Mr. Sounes's laboratory slide?

Mr. Sounes does provide sound background on Mr. McCartney's working-class roots, the environs of Liverpool, and the bonding of two song-writing youths (Mr. McCartney and John Lennon) who both lost their mothers while still in their teens. The author turns up new details on these early topics—although some of what he has gleaned (about a family scandal involving larcenous "Uncle Will," for example) does not really add to an understanding of Mr. McCartney or his music.


Yet if Mr. Sounes's book fails to impress, it is in part because in his source notes he resorts to headings such as "Relations with brother: author's interviews." Well, yes, but tell us with whom. No one expects an unauthorized biography to boast the parade of big-name sources that adorn the pages of the approved accounts. In the end, though, an un authorized biographer's credibility will actually benefit from a candid discussion of any piece of evidence that does not come directly from the subject. Otherwise the biography does not even meet the People magazine standard.

Speaking of which, former People senior writer Peter Ames Carlin has written a book that treats the evidence in an even dodgier fashion. But where "Fab" is rather ponderous—"A large part of the Beatles' success, and thereby Paul McCartney's, can be put down to the fact that the boys worked with first-rate people from the start"—Mr. Carlin's "Paul McCartney: A Life" at least has the virtues of readability and style. In his acknowledgments, Mr. Carlin includes a doughty paragraph saluting a list of names for "interviews, insights, and fact-checking." Who did the interviewing and how extensive it actually was remain a little murky— but a notes section does nail down the identities of key informants.

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Mr. Carlin's most disturbing tic is a faux-intimate style. Describing Mr. McCartney's appearance at the celebration of his 66th birthday in his old working-class Liverpool neighborhood, the biographer notes that his subject has his "Höfner bass strapped around his neck, and this makes him look—and almost certainly feel—ageless." But couldn't it just as easily make him feel aged? After all, this bass is the instrument of his youth, one of his iconic symbols, as Mr. Carlin affirms on the way to this muddle-up of the moment: "It is his Rosebud, his Excalibur. It's not the key to his past, exactly. But that he still has it, and wields it so frequently in public, tells you something." Tells us what? You can turn the page, but it does not get much better.

Still, Mr. Carlin has a knack for setting a scene. Crisp reporting makes his version of the Beatles' encounter with Elvis a fascinating cultural and political misadventure: John Lennon twits Elvis for his support of LBJ and the Vietnam War, but Mr. McCartney saves the day and dispels the stilted atmosphere by saying: "Can we play some music?" This episode emphasizes the generational differences between the King of Rock 'n' Roll and his British acolytes turned rivals. Indeed, Mr. Carlin might have developed this moment further, since it is rich with irony—the subversive, hip-swinging Elvis of the 1950s having become the stodgy supporter of the 1960s establishment. Even so, Mr. Carlin's scene adds a few sharp details to the account found in Peter Guralnick's biography of Elvis, a work that sets the gold standard for biographies of rock musicians.

The Elvis scene works so well for Mr. Carlin because he's not afraid to acknowledge the limited perspective of his source—in this case, journalist Chris Hutchins, barely mentioned in Mr. Sounes's account but right at the crux of the action in Mr. Carlin's riveting re-creation of a pivotal time in rock-music history. This single source gives Mr. Carlin what he needs to capture a moment, when, as Paul McCartney put it, the "styles were changing in favour of us."

I found myself constantly shifting between these two books, hoping to find that one remedied the other yet never finding the sustained balance between fact and interpretation that is crucial to the integrity of unauthorized biography.

—Mr. Rollyson is the author of seven biographies and of "Biography: A User's Guide."
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Old Oct 30, 2010, 05:58 PM   #2
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I think we've yet to see the truly great McCartney biography... but I hope it comes soon.
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Old Oct 31, 2010, 04:52 AM   #3
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I can't wait to read it.
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Old Dec 05, 2010, 11:20 AM   #4
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Why can't Paul just write an autobiography and be done with it, or at least authorize one.
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Old Dec 05, 2010, 12:54 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cuttingedgedjs View Post
Why can't Paul just write an autobiography and be done with it, or at least authorize one.
He did. "Many Years From Now".
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Old Dec 05, 2010, 09:04 PM   #6
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Quote:
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He did. "Many Years From Now".
It's an autobiography?
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Old Dec 06, 2010, 02:03 AM   #7
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Well, about as close to an autobiography as we can get until Paul decides to write his own completely....it's more of an "as told by Barry Miles type book with alotta help from a friend". It's a good book though..
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Old Dec 06, 2010, 08:15 AM   #8
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I've gotten all my Christmas shopping done. I might get myself that book just in case I get any poor choice Christmas gifts this year. (I finish my Christmas shopping early every year).
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Old Jan 08, 2011, 05:29 AM   #9
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The only true biography will be one Paul actually is "Hands on" with a co-writer, and he acknowledges it as same. If we see the "Official" bio after he's gone... I doubt it will be "official" ... know what I mean?
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Old Jan 09, 2011, 10:04 AM   #10
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I'm reading Fab now, and it's pretty good. I'm right in the middle of Beatlemania now. I have Many Years from Now, but haven't read it yet.
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Old Mar 26, 2011, 12:08 AM   #11
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I bought "Fab" last month at Border's on sale because Borders is closing in my town. It is an EXCELLENT book and the best biography of my favorite Beatle that I have ever read!
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Old Mar 27, 2011, 03:22 PM   #12
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Many Years From Now is still my favorite Paul book. I've read much of Fab and it is very very negative though I don't mind the negative stuff, but the author is way to critical of Paul as a musician after the Beatles. No bio of Paul ever dealt with Wings very well.
(I have a dream of being the one to write that book)

I'm reading Chet Flippo's book right now and it's entertaning but Many Years from Now is still the best. It made me by the book Hippie by Barry Miles too.
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Old Mar 28, 2011, 02:44 PM   #13
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I thought the book was well written and full of very interesting information, even though I didn't agree with the author's viewpoints 100% of the time. I personally think that Paul is an extraordinarily talented musician, well versed in versatility. He is also a brilliant lyricist and he has written the world's most beautiful love songs.

I liked Fab as well as Alan Clayson's box set, feeling both authors were quite the researchers.
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Old Mar 29, 2011, 05:31 AM   #14
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What's Allen Clayson's boxed set? Never heard of it (and I have a serious addiction to Beatle books. A really really serious addition)
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