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A Review of Man on the Run

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 3, 2016

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970sMan on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man on the Run is an interesting biography of Paul McCartney and his family during the 1970s, as well as his band, Wings (one of my favorite bands of that decade). It is a long, thorough look at the good, bad, and ugly and pulls no punches, even while it clearly sympathizes with McCartney.
The book begins with the messy breakup of the Beatles, centering around the very public feud between Paul and John, which was part of the impetus for Paul’s decision to legally file to dissolve the Beatles. However, the legal ramifications showed that there were financial problems for the group and led to even more, thus sending Paul into a spiral of depression that led to he and his wife, Linda, to move to a farm in Scotland, out of the spotlight. During this period, he also lost a great deal of his confidence he had had in his abilities as a musician, as well as his own identity. Thankfully, Linda helped him through this crisis. Without her devoted love, who knows what would have happened to Paul?

The McCartney family became hippies and lived the hippy lifestyle, but Paul missed being in a band and missed touring, something he had tried to talk the Beatles into doing again and which they had refused to do. So he decided to start his own band – Wings. I didn’t know this, but there were actually three incarnations of Wings, three different bands over the years, all with Paul and Linda in them. And they were all comprised largely of studio musicians, mostly unknown. In my opinion, it’s frankly amazing Wings achieved the success and prominence they did with such an unassuming group of musicians. They obviously did this only with Paul’s leadership and drive.

However, first Paul put out a couple of solo albums, although one was credited to both he and his wife. They were all largely critical failures. The first Wings group met, practiced, and put out Wild Life in 1971. I don’t actually recall how it initially did, but ultimately it reached number 11 in the UK and number 10 in the US. Indeed, Paul’s first “hit” was a political song called “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” a song that was banned by the BBC. A 1972 non-hit was actually “Mary Had a Little Lamb, literally, which left both his band and the critics confused. Not Paul’s best decision. In 1973, Red Rose Speedway was released. It ultimately hit number 5 in the UK and number 1 in the US. In late 1973, the band got its first big break with Band on the Run, which immediately hit number 1 in both the UK and the US (the previous two albums achieved high chart status over time, not immediately). Band on the Run turned Wings into instant stars. 1973-4 hits include “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It, “ “My Love,” a major song that hit number one in the US, “Helen Wheels,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Band on the Run,” a huge hit that got to number three in the UK and number one in the US, and “Live and Let Die,” a theme song to a new James Bond movie and one that hit number two in the US.

And on it continued. After starting its career playing impromptu college student union tours for something like 50 pounds, Wings were now doing international stadium tours. And Paul could finally gloat over John, who had been taunting Paul publicly for years, basically calling him a giant failure while John, of course, was a musical genius. Not anymore. While John turned out the occasional hit, Paul McCartney and Wings were international stars selling out stadiums with superstar hit albums, something John couldn’t say. Paul could, temporarily, put his demons behind him.

However, there was a problem. Pot. He and Linda loved their pot. They smoked a lot of it. And they got it shipped to whatever country they were visiting on their tours. And in one country, Finland?, they were caught and it made international headlines. Of course, it was hugely embarrassing, but the couple actually embraced the moment and came out in favor of pot use and said they were in favor of legalizing it. Later in his career, Paul would be arrested in Japan for possession and it could have been a very serious situation. You should read the book to find out what happened.

Meanwhile, there were band personnel changes. Paul was a cheapskate and while he raked in millions, he paid his band members practically nothing at all. Finally, these session musicians would get fed up and state that they could make more doing session work back in New York or London, so they’d leave. Paul never really got the hint. It’s a shame. Still, he continued to put out good albums and tour with his new musicians.

In 1975, Venus and Mars was released and would ultimately hit number one in both the UK and US. 1975 hits included “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” and “Listen to What the Man Said, “ which would hit number one in the US. In 1976, Wings released two albums: Wings at the Speed of Sound and a live album, Wings over America. Both hit number two in America. They contained “Silly Love Songs,” which hit number two in the UK and number one in the US and “Let ‘Em In,” which hit number two in the UK and number three in the US. In 1977, “Mull of Kintyre” was released, instantly a huge hit in the UK, remaining at number one longer than any other song in British history until that time, I believe. However, in America, it didn’t fare so well, just getting to number 33.

It was at this time that Wings peaked. Already there was a third group of musicians and maybe it was chemistry, maybe Paul was burned out from the nonstop, frantic pace of the decade, I don’t know, but the following two albums weren’t nearly as good as the preceding albums by most accounts. In 1978, London Town was released. It didn’t do as well. Only Paul, Linda, and the lead guitarist were on the album cover because those were the only people in the band. It actually happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time, because I was a youngish kid when it came out and it was one of the first albums I had and my best friend and I listened to it over and over while building model planes. I love that album, but most critics do not. It’s not considered one of the better Wings albums, but it did hit number four in the UK and number two in the US. There were three singles released from this album, but the only one that really charted high was “With a Little Luck,” one of my all time favorite songs, which hit number five in the UK and number one in the US. Wings’ last gasp in the studio came in 1979 with Back to the Egg. It hit number eight in the UK and number three in the US. Its’ biggest single was “Getting Closer,” which made it to number 60 in the UK and number 20 in the US. And aside from some more solo work over the years, Paul was done and Wings were definitely done as a group. It was the end of an era. A highly successful era, a great decade of music, one of my favorite groups, as I said. And while the rest of the Beatles went on to do solo work and while John achieved some success, clearly Paul McCartney ended up the most successful Beatle of them all, post-Beatles. The best musician, the one who taught John and George how to play, ended up teaching Linda and helping his studio musicians put out a series of commercially successful albums and successful world tours, something the other Beatles rarely, if ever, achieved.

John sniped at Paul throughout most of their post-Beatles lives and Paul, on occasion, sniped back. Paul never really understood where John’s hostility came from, his utter hatred. Paul tried to make peace a number of times. There were a few times John seemed to accept the olive branch, only to blindside Paul later with public attacks that hurt Paul deeply. Fortunately, some time before John’s premature death, they buried the hatchet and reconnected, so that’s a very good thing and even though the author implies John was the major one to start things between the two, he treats all of the Beatles with reasonable respect and points out Paul’s faults when necessary.

The author stresses certain things that are important to Paul, such as family. He brought his family on the road with him, kids included. This sometimes made his band members uncomfortable, as it limited their abilities to lead the stereotypical 1970s rock and roll lifestyle (i.e., groupies), and it led to tension, but Paul was dedicated to his wife and kids and that’s generally a good thing. He was the only Beatle to have a 100% successful marriage/relationship. That’s impressive. He was also committed to financial honesty, at least in his dealings with the Beatles and in management’s dealings with the band. He figured out quite quickly that the manager the other three had hired had been screwing the band out of millions while paying the band crap, so he sued – and won – and was vindicated in doing so. The only difficulty with his financial honesty was in his dealings with his band because he stuck with his commitment to pay his band members their agreed upon wages, but when they struck it rich with their new number one hits and their world tours, he wouldn’t share the riches and it was truly rather greedy of him, unfortunately. A McCartney wart.

This hardback I read isn’t long, just over 250 pages. However, it’s packed with so much information and trivia, it takes longer to get through than your average 250 page book. Still, it’s informative and exciting and exactly what I’ve been looking for. I know a lot about the Beatles. I know a lot about John during the 1970s. What I didn’t know was what happened to Paul during the 1970s and the story of Wings and I didn’t know a book like this existed. So I’m elated to have discovered it and read it. I learned a ton of new information, some good, some bad, but all fascinating, and it answers a lot of questions I had about these people, that band, and that decade. For anyone who’s a fan of McCartney and Wings, this is a must read for you. Even if you’re just a Beatles fan or a 1970s music buff, this will be a good read for you. Four stars and definitely recommended.

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A Review of John Lennon: The Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 25, 2013

John Lennon: The LifeJohn Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whew! I finally finished this 850 page beast of a book. There is so much there, it’s so packed with information, that it’s hard to recall everything one would want to include in a review. Philip Norman did an outstanding job of going through documents, media, and interviewing everyone under the sun who knew John Lennon. I admire the job he did and it obviously took him years to do it. I almost feel guilty for paying just a couple of bucks for a used copy. Norman deserves a lot of money for his efforts.

I finished John Lennon: The Life on the heels of Paul McCartney: A Life and it is interesting to compare and contrast the two perspectives. Some of it is overlapping, of course, but there are some notable differences which I may touch on later in this review.

First, let me say that I never really knew until now just how big a PRICK John Lennon was!!! The McCartney book hinted at it sometimes, but Norman makes clear just how big a dick Lennon was to nearly everyone in his life, for virtually his entire life, until his son Sean was born a few years before Lennon’s assassination. Man, he was a jerk! The main reason seems to be abandonment issues, dating back to his childhood when his father, Freddie, a seaman, left the family to go overseas and didn’t really return. Meanwhile, his mother, Julia, who he had some sort of sick sexual fantasy about during his entire life, and who had Lennon while having an affair with another man, gave him up to be raised by his strict Aunt Mimi, because she was more stable. Julia was a loose cannon. Freddie eventually came home and John was forced to choose between them, choosing Julia before being shuffled off to Mimi. This trauma appears throughout the book, throughout his life.

John was also very insecure much of the time, it seems. He was also rebellious by nature, making it difficult for Mimi to raise him in the way she would have preferred. By the time he was in high school, he was wearing disreputable clothing and combing his hair improperly. It was the rebellious ’50s after all, with Elvis and everything, and John loved Elvis.

John learned to play the guitar, partly, and not well. The McCartney book makes clear that Paul taught John how to play properly, and this book alludes to that, but not in those exact words. John had a band called the Quarrymen he played with while in art college. This college was next to a high school that Paul and George Harrison attended and they eventually combined their musical interests to form a band of their own. Their bassist was Stu Sutcliffe, an excellent artist but terrible bass player. They didn’t have a drummer for awhile, until Pete Best joined them. In 1960, they were offered a gig to play in Hamburg, Germany, in the seediest section of town — even in a strip club. Apparently they took to it and really played hard edged music. The book describes John as being the original Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame, years before punk rock emerged. I’m not sure I buy that entirely, but they wore all black with black leather jackets, and they ended up playing Hamburg three times, for weeks at a time. Eventually back in Liverpool, Brian Epstein, a reputable (but closeted gay) upper class businessman, found them playing in a club and decided he wanted to become their manager, and so it happened. Shortly after, they got a recording track and “Love Me Do” came out and Beatlemania began. Everything went downhill for John from that point on. John got his girlfriend, Cynthia, pregnant and felt compelled to marry her. They had a son named Julian who Lennon basically ignored. Cynthia was a dutiful wife, because management didn’t want the fans to know any of the Beatles were taken, so she stayed in the background while the boys toured the world to all sorts of acclaim as hit after hit came out. Epstein made the boys (Ringo had replaced Best by now) wear matching suits and ditch their black attire and John resented this. John also grew to resent the fans, who made no effort to listen to the music at the concerts, instead overwhelming the venue with shrieks and loud sounds. The lyrics couldn’t even be heard, and this ticked John off.

John liked Ringo and always got along with him, but he seemed to not respect George, always viewing him as a younger brother of sorts, and credited himself with teaching George everything he knew, which was highly unlikely. He and Paul formed a great song writing team, perhaps the best ever, but he resented Paul’s attempts to manage the group during recording sessions and for marketing, and later for everything. He had a love/hate relationship with Paul. The McCartney book talked about Paul’s resentment of the songs being credited to another “Lennon McCartney” song, when he wrote the majority of the hits. The Lennon book seems to view more of the hits as coming from John. I guess that’s not too surprising.

Lennon had a mighty temper and it was often uncontrollable, especially when he was drinking — he was a terrible drunk. Norman nearly implies Lennon was responsible for Sutcliffe’s premature death by kicking him in the head repeatedly in a drunken brawl. Wow. As we all know, Lennon started doing drugs, lots of them, early on. Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to pot, which became a pretty common drug of use for all of them. Someone else later introduced John to LSD, which he possibly took hundreds of times. And apparently, Yoko introduced him to heroin later on. Pity. Tragedy, really.

The McCartney book seemed to imply to me that Yoko was indeed responsible for the breakup of the Beatles. At least, that’s how I read it. This book doesn’t seem to say that. Lennon had become dissatisfied with and resentful of the Beatles before the White Album even came out and it was everything he could do to keep up appearances. When Yoko appeared on the scene in a London art gallery, where she was displaying her work, visiting from NYC, he felt an instant connection, as did she. They didn’t immediately follow up on it, but when they finally did, it was instant and permanent. Cynthia came home from a vacation to find John and Yoko in robes one morning, sitting in John’s kitchen. Cynthia fled and divorce proceedings began. Meanwhile, Yoko, who had a daughter with her husband, divorced him so she and John could be together. The important thing in all of this was John was insecure and insanely jealous, so he demanded that Yoko be with him at all times, even taking her to the bathroom with him when he had to go! It was crazy. So naturally she ended up at recording sessions, and it was his insistence that she be given the opportunity to comment on the recordings, and since she was an outspoken artist, she did, ultimately to the resentment of the other Beatles. Everyone in the world hates Yoko, but Norman goes out of his way, I think, to portray her in a kind light and I learned a lot I didn’t know, about her sacrifices for their relationship, about the crap she had to put up with, about her artistry, about her business acumen, about her miscarriages before she became pregnant with Sean at age 42. I no longer hate Yoko. John broke up the Beatles, with Yoko’s help. It wasn’t Yoko. John was determined to do it himself. One of the first breaks he tried to make from the others was in obtaining new management. Epstein had died, the Beatles had mismanaged their fortune, so Paul hired his girlfriend Linda Eastman’s lawyer dad and brother to represent them, presumably with the okay of the others. Meanwhile, John and Yoko met with Allen Klein, manager of the Rolling Stones, and hired him to represent Lennon, and possibly the Beatles, leading to a bad scene. He said, “I don’t give a bugger what anyone else wants … I’m having Allen Klein for me.” (Years later, Lennon would admit Paul was right about Klein while Klein was suing him for millions.)

At times, John did recognize he had unresolved issues. At some point, he came across an American shrink named Janov who pioneered primal scream therapy and hired him to help Lennon out. Norman writes, “John’s psychological state came as a profound shock to Janov. ‘The level of his pain was enormous … as much as I’ve ever seen. He was almost completely nonfunctional … At the center of all that fame and wealth and adulation was just a lonely little kid.'” Lennon felt like he had been abandoned by several people — his parents, his Uncle George, who died early, Stu Sutcliffe, and Brian Epstein. He took these deaths as personal desertions, which is kind of an unhealthy way of looking at it in my opinion.

In 1971, after the breakup of the Beatles, John gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which “he told what being one of the world’s four most adored and envied young men had really meant — the infantile mayhem that had progressively stifled their desire to do live concerts, the enforced kowtowing to insufferable dignitaries and officials, the ban on expressing a view on any grown-up topic whatever, the backstage sex orgies … belied by the front-of-stage squeaky-cleanliness, the sense of being trapped in ever-increasing, unstoppable madness.” He also discussed his trip to Spain , with Epstein which people had talked about for years with rumors of a gay affair. Lennon said, “No, not an affair…. I watched Brian picking up the boys. I like playing a bit faggy, all that.” Huh. I didn’t have much pity for Lennon and his fame. McCartney handled it just fine. Why was Lennon so put off by everything that came with fame? Oh, speaking of playing “faggy,” at one point Yoko was quoted as wondering if “he had contemplated an affair with Paul, but had been deterred by Paul’s immovable heterosexuality.” “I knew there was something going on there … From his point of view, not from Paul’s. And he was so angry at Paul, I couldn’t help wondering what it was really about.”

I had thought John and Yoko had the perfect marriage, so I was somewhat surprised to learn that Lennon grew disenchanted with her sexually, especially since they really lit it up early on. “They agreed it would do their marriage no harm if John were to find other sexual partners.” Wow. Yoko offered up their Chinese assistant May Pang, who accompanied John on the “Lost Weekend” to L.A., which lasted something like a year and a half and during which time he was a drugged out drunk who missed Yoko. I had heard about May Pang, but had forgotten her. John didn’t even stay faithful to HER, hooking up with various women around L.A. Bad scene.

John and Yoko eventually reconciled and got back together. They had Sean and John all of a sudden grew up and matured. He became a househusband and father while Yoko took care of business. They wanted to match Paul’s solo monetary success, jealous of how he and Linda were doing. I like how much of the book is devoted to Lennon post-Beatles. It really gives you a window into he and Yoko and all they did. The thing I didn’t like about the book was the last few years of Lennon’s life, when he had settled down and became a good father — even to Julian too — take up just a few of the last pages of the book. It climaxes with Mark David Chapman’s assassination of him outside the Dakota apartment building in NYC, just after Double Fantasy had come out and John was in a good place in his life for the first time ever. A real tragedy. There’s a postscript called “Sean Remembers,” which is really sad to read, but it’s a good way to finish the book. The only other things I could have wished for was more on Yoko post-death, and the reactions of the other Beatles to the horrific event. Nothing is said, so we’re left wondering what went through the minds of everyone else. I think that’s a small weakness of an otherwise strong book. It’s a long read and John is knocked down a few pegs, in my estimation, but it’s interesting and worth the time investment. Recommended.

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A Review of Paul McCartney: A Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 24, 2013

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney by Peter Ames Carlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book to read. The Beatles were a little before my time, and I grew up listening to Paul’s Wings, but I’ve always been interested in the Beatles and Paul McCartney, so I enjoyed this book. While the author is clearly a fan, he doesn’t hold back his critiques either, which balances the book out.

I learned a lot I didn’t know. For instance, I didn’t know that Paul was the musical genius in the group and taught Lennon how to play the guitar. I also didn’t know he was so controlling, and tried to direct everything the group did himself. He took that to extremes at times, but it shows he was driven, that he had a good work ethic (which he got from his father). The book focused a lot on the Lennon/McCartney relationship, both good and bad, and often left out George and Ringo, which I thought was a shame. I didn’t know Paul was responsible for so many of the Beatles classics, and it was sad to read about Lennon’s increasing disillusionment with the group, even before Yoko was on the scene. And yes, Yoko was evil. She really did drive the group apart. Tragedy. We learn a lot about the Beatles in this book, but the author keeps a lot out — too much. For instance, early on, the boys are broke and playing lots of concerts, trying to make it. Several pages later, they’re all driving a Rolls Royce. Huh? How did that happen? I’d have liked to learn about how their empire started and grew and how they adapted to their new financial situations. We were also told how the other three Beatles bought houses in the suburbs with their wives. I didn’t even know they were married, and we are never told when or how this happened. We’re not even told how John met Yoko, which I think would be critical to a book that has so much to say about Yoko. The breakup of the Beatles is tragic to read about though.

When Paul met Linda Eastman, he was already engaged. I didn’t know that. When he and Linda married, it was no big deal. They had kids — well adjusted, by all accounts — and grew their family. Linda was a photographer, which I didn’t know, so when Paul tried to make her a member of his new band, Wings, she was a little nervous. Here, I don’t think the book treats her very well. She sings off key, can’t play the keyboards that she’s just learning for the group. She’s basically in the band cause Paul wants his wife in it. She really doesn’t get any credit for the Wings success, which I think is a bit unfair.

Paul was a total whore before he married Linda. Apparently he liked the groupies. But as far as I can tell, he and Linda had a great marriage, so when she died of cancer in the ’90s, it was sad to read about and difficult to read about Paul’s attempts to adapt to his new life without her.

Paul was also into drinking and drugs, and he and Linda smoked pot til the end. I didn’t know that. I don’t know that that makes a difference to me, but I hadn’t realized that. Lennon was into harder stuff though.

Paul was cheap. He paid the members of Wings 70 pounds a week for years, which was less than they could have made as session musicians. He promised they’d share in the royalties when they started selling albums and touring, but he never did it. He’s treated pretty roughly here in the book, but apparently it’s deserved.

When Paul meets Heather Mills shortly after Linda’s death, you can just tell it’s a bad idea, especially with no pre-nup. His kids were opposed to it. Virtually everyone was. And while Heather was a model, she had apparently done some lying about her past. She’s not painted well in this book, and after they’re married a few years, she becomes a first class villain. She’s truly evil, and fortunately, she got away with less of Paul’s money than I had thought or remembered.

Paul’s solo works in the ’80s through the present are interesting to read about. I didn’t even know about most of them. I’d be interested in listening to a few now after reading about them. One thing that the author does is give a brief run down and comment on virtually every song on every album Paul’s involved with, including all of the Beatle’s, Wings’, and his solo efforts. I’m not sure how I feel about that, because they’re just snippets of words about these songs, but I guess they’re there for a reason, so I won’t complain. Carlin is a big fan of Paul’s music, that’s all I can say….

It was a good book to read, and quite easy to get through. I would give it five stars, but it leaves out too much that I would consider to be critical info, so I’m downgrading it to four. Still worth reading though. Good book.

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