Does the world really need another book about Paul McCartney? By now the story of the Beatles has been picked apart from every conceivable angle, from Peter Brown’s insider’s tale The Love You Make to Bob Spitz’s tome The Beatles: The Biography, which, at an intimidating 992 pages, answers just about every question you could ever have about the Fab Four. But Oregonian scribe and devout McCartney fan Peter Ames Carlin obviously thinks there’s something left to tell, and Paul McCartney: A Life (Touchstone, 384 pages, $26) will appeal to anyone who still puts on “Silly Little Love Songs” and dances around their room in glee.
A Life begins with McCartney as a young lad and leads all the way up to Sir Paul’s resistance to releasing the Beatles’ music on iTunes. It’s quite an undertaking to tackle a figure so large in such a constrained space, and A Life feels sharply edited in a few too many places. Ames Carlin casts the whole Beatles story in an idyllic light, glossing over many key moments with only a brief mention. That famous backstage scene where Bob Dylan gives the young lads their first taste of marijuana? The accidental drug overdose that claimed the life of manager Brian Epstein? Ames Carlin almost assumes we already know these stories. A Life is clearly written for a pop music scholar instead of a McCartney novice.
The best parts, then, are the stories we usually never hear about—the moments of failure that reveal that even the world’s biggest pop star dealt with crippling moments of insecurity and self-doubt. Let’s put it this way: I wish Ames Carlin dedicated more time to everything after McCartney grew the mullet than to perpetuating the Beatles’ myth. The first 10 years of post-Lennon-McCartney outfit Wings seems to fly by quicker than “Band On the Run,” as McCartney jets from exotic locale (a castle in the Scottish countryside, Nigeria, the Virgin Islands) to exotic locale, recording albums with an interchangeable lineup behind the core of Denny Laine and wife Linda McCartney.
Ames Carlin hits the mark in detailing Paul and Linda’s tidy family life and the musician’s struggle to adapt to professional failure. Unsure of where his muse was leading him in the mid-’80s, McCartney produced two total flops: the atrocious day-in-the-life spoof film Give My Regards to Broad Street and 1986’s Press to Play, which unfortunately found McCartney dabbling in cheeky period production and bad synthesizer sounds. It’s this section that’s most intriguing. But with more than half of A Life acting as a quick-hits take on the Beatles’ rise to fame, you end up wishing the author would leave behind the lore and dive into the life we rarely hear about.
GO: Peter Ames Carlin celebrates the release of A Life, and Nick Jaina, Matt Sheehy and Jim Brunberg perform a musical tribute at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 753-4473. 8 pm Wednesday, Nov. 18. $7.