Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin

This has been a Christmas break filled with shoveling, sleeplessness, and a sickly infant. Probably not my favorite, most restful week ever. On the bright side, I did have a chance to cruise through Peter Ames Carlin’s new biography, Paul McCartney: A Life.

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a huge Beatles fan and McCartney enthusiast. Having read similar (and more authoritative) books like The Beatles by Bob Spitz and John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman, some parts of Carlin’s book were treading overly familiar territory for me. However, he does an excellent job at connecting themes in the music of McCartney and Beatles with the events of their lives and their own personalities. Throughout the text, Carlin posits that McCartney’s music is his truest, most endearing expression of self and reflects not only his unparalleled talent but his need to prove himself and to please others. It’s definitely worth a read for any Beatles fan or serious follower of pop music history inclined to dismiss McCartney’s work as trite or suburban.

Here are a few interesting tidbits from the book worth sharing:

-Carlin tracks the arc of McCartney’s character from age 9 (when his mother passed away) to today. McCartney matured from a bright, good-natured kid from a poor neighborhood to the early Beatles days as the group’s most assured talent and yin to John Lennon’s yang to the supreme confidence and accomplishment of the late 60s to his years as a sort of neo-hippy family man prone to losing his musical focus from time to time. All the while, McCartney comes across as genial and ingratiating, but also self-centered and slyly self-aggrandizing in a way the unfilterable Lennon could never manage.

-McCartney wrote the song “Maybe I’m Amazed” about the experience of having a beard and being awesome. In other words, it’s about me.

-Carlin details how John Lennon served a central role in McCartney’s life to an extent surpassed only by Linda, his wife of 30 years. Lennon, McCartney’s childhood friend and collaborator, was the only person who McCartney ever viewed as a true professional peer capable of offering meaningful criticism. Carlin offers one example after another from the 70s and 80s of McCartney indignantly reacting to critics in the studio, while Lennon’s take from afar (usually via a newspaper or magazine interview) was always incredibly meaningful to him. Years later, McCartney offhandedly mentions his songs that John liked, and his friends recall him agonizing over the insults Lennon tossed his way. As McCartney himself said a day after Lennon’s death, “He was pretty rude about me sometimes, but I secretly admired him for it.”

-McCartney has long been able to ingratiate himself with journalists and promoters by affecting a genial, effortless facade and by making silver dollars magically appear from their ears and by kissing them on their special zone.

-For all his musical abilities, Paul McCartney was the primary creative force behind two of the lousiest films of the 20th century, 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour and 1984’s Give My Regards to Broad Street. They are both mind-numbingly inane, pointless exercises in hubris. On the plus side, at least they’re in color.

-In one interesting aside, Carlin throws out an analogy for the dysfunction of the Beatles by the late-60s. Lennon was the emotionally aloof, ne’er-do-well husband and father, McCartney the tidying mother blindly trying to make the best of everything, George Harrison the surly teenager, and poor Ringo Starr was the boy playing with the toy airplane in the backyard.

-Some have speculated that McCartney hired Mark David Chapman to assassinate Lennon. Because this sounds about right to me, those people are accurate. You can find more of my valid, provable ideas at

-McCartney’s relentless womanizing exploits as a young man were unsurprising (I’m shocked – SHOCKED – that the Beatles had sex with groupies!) but nonetheless pretty pathetic. He was a serial cheater, while also sure to instruct his girlfriends how to dress, wear their makeup, and behave (not unlike how he tended to direct his bandmates at times). His turnaround once he got involved with Linda is thus all the more remarkable. They were soulmates and basically inseparable for the three decades of their marriage. Admirably, they raised their kids in a stable, loving (and rich beyond imagination) family. All their kids went to neighborhood public schools and have turned out to be the sort of totally unembarrassing celebrity kids you don’t see much of.

-Putting the intelligent, but minimally musically-talented Linda McCartney in Wings was a totally reasonable decision with no downside, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

-Carlin’s passages describing Linda’s death from breast cancer in 1998 are incredibly moving. The real heartbreak, however, is following Paul’s heartbroken self-destruction blindly into a new marriage with Heather Mills, who turned out to be a lying, narcissistic bitch to the surprise of none of her ex-husbands.

-Paul McCartney is an animal-loving vegetarian, like my wife and Hitler.

-After avoiding playing many of his Beatles hits in concert, McCartney’s shows since 1989 have featured crisp performances of much of his Beatles material to the delight of his fans. In unrelated news, Paul McCartney enjoys money.

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2 Responses to Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin

  1. tim hopps says:

    Excellent post! I haven’t read the book, but now I don’t have to.

    Peter, you (and your readers) may also enjoy my brother Dr. Richard S. Hipps’ new book, The Focused Life, available through and other places. I started it last night and am eating it up. A bounty of food for thought. (Which reminds me… I’m hungry, it’s lunchtime!)

  2. Tracey says:

    Brian told me that you had reviewed this book, and now I’m really looking forward to reading it.

    My brother was once only a few yards away from Sir Paul, in Fairmont, MN, of all places. Linda was promoting her line of vegetarian meals at “Fairmont Foods,” which was just the type of place to create such concoctions.

    I’m sure that Paul was super impressed with Fairmont, which is probably how they finally got that Walgreen’s.

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