Monday, October 21, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Man On the Run - Paul McCartney in the 1970s



Being a massive fan of not only The Beatles, but also Paul's work with Wings in the 1970s, I was very excited when I'd heard about this book a year ago.  Thankfully, I've read the book and present here my full review for your information.

***I'd like to thank Sally at Polygon/Birlinn for sending me a copy of the book to review!***


The Wings-era has always been underrepresented and almost dismissed when any discussion of Paul's career is at hand, and I know that personally, as a fan, I'd always found this very frustrating, especially given the quality and quantity of material Wings produced. They were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, although they've been almost forgotten beyond the realm of actual fans of the band. In this book, author Tom Doyle, who had interviewed Paul extensively over many years in the 2000s, focuses on the period beginning in the midst of The Beatles' disintegration in late 1969 up to the release of the quasi-Wings/solo-Paul #1 album, Tug of War, in 1982, and everything in between. His general thesis for the book is that Paul was, literally, a man on the run in 1970s, from his past as a Beatle and his name and reputation, as well as from the law and the press (which I will delve into more later on in this review). The layout of the book is straightforward, with an introduction and an epilogue focused on more recent interviews between the two, while the individual chapters flow in chronological order from September 1969 up to the release of Tug of War in 1982.  What I like, however, is that leading into each chapter is a question from Doyle and an answer from Paul that frame the forthcoming chapter. Think of is as Paul setting up, from the present, what you're about to view through the window into the past. A simple device that the author used, but one that I really liked.


I don't intend to go through the entire narrative in detail, since that would defeat the purpose of reading the book to anyone who hasn't done so yet. However, the overall arc of the book covers Paul's nervous breakdown and deep depression in the midst of the Beatles' breakup in the autumn and winter of 1969 when he and Linda retreated with their daughters to their Scottish farm. After wrapping up Beatle business (mainly recording and overdub sessions) in early 1970, Paul recorded and released his debut solo album, McCartney, and finished the year by suing his three best friends and former bandmates. The remainder of the dissolution of Apple Corps. and the Beatles' partnership is covered in greater (and excellent) detail in Peter Doggett's "You Never Give Me Your Money," which will be the subject of a later review of mine. In any event, Doyle does touch on the surface of this as it pertains to Paul's career in the 1970s, mainly in the background. He then takes us through the recording of Paul's second solo album, Ram (one of my all-time favorite albums by anyone, ever, as a disclaimer), which gave Paul the germination of an idea to form a new band and build it from the ground up. What follows are chapters on the formation of the original Wings line-up, their early growing pains, trials, and tribulations, from their initial rehearsals and lack of material, to the release of their first two albums (Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, respectively) and their first two tours; the first tour had the band showing up unannounced at small universities to play impromptu gigs until they could no longer outrun the UK press, and the second tour saw them playing more polished shows in Europe, traveling in an open-topped double-decker bus, earning a large fanbase while outrunning the European authorities for everything from marijuana possession to unpaid hotel tabs! Eventually, immediately following their first proper UK tour, the band splinters on the eve of recording their breakthrough album (and one of the finest albums of the 1970s, and all time), Band On the Run.

This perseverance in the face of ridiculous adversity is a recurring theme throughout the book, with Paul and Linda (and the ever-loyal Denny Laine) having to overcome their drummer and guitarist quitting right before Band On the Run, to the numerous problems they had keep a stable line-up together from here on out. Bringing Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton in didn't last very long before those two fought so much that Britton was sacked. Joe English then joined on drums to form the "classic" Wings line-up, the one that would record two further #1 albums (Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound) and break records on the mammoth Wings Over the World tours of 1975-1976. However, just when Paul was at his post-Beatles peak and had a sense of vindication, it all came crashing down again: Jimmy proved to be too combustible a personality and was sacked, Joe English quit, and Linda became pregnant again, grinding all momentum to a halt. Two more albums and a final line-up followed, leading into one of the most famous/infamous incidents in Paul's career.

The 1980 Japanese tour followed a lacklustre 1979 UK tour and was to serve as the warm-up for a 1980 return tour to America. However, upon landing in Japan, half a pound of marijuana was found in Paul's luggage. The rest of the story is very well known to everyone: he was jailed, the tour canceled, and he was eventually deported. There has been debate, none more so than from Paul himself, as to how and why it happened. The consensus he has come to is that he subconsciously sabotaged the tour in order to precipitate the end of the band as he was tiring of trying to hold yet another line-up together. In any event, he bookended the decade with a second self-performed album, McCartney II, and began work with George Martin (former Beatles producer, for those who don't know) on what was half-heartedly mooted to be the next Wings album, Tug of War, before Paul disbanded Wings and made it his next solo album.

Throughout the book, in various asides, Doyle also touches on the evolving post-Beatles relationship between Paul and John Lennon, from bitter feuding and anger in the early 1970s, to a softening of feelings and a happy reconciliation in 1974. For the most part, their relationship was better as the decade went along, leading, however, tragically to John's still-senseless murder in 1980. Even having lived through (OK, I was 10 months old when it happened) and read about it countless times, it still managed to bring a tear to my eye reading Paul and Linda's firsthand accounts of hearing the news and how they felt at that moment. While obviously not the main thrust of the book, the Lennon/McCartney friendship was still a very important part of Paul's post-Beatles life during the decade and it did have an impact on his music, so I was pleased that Doyle included these bits. It's especially bittersweet given the fact that John was *this close* to collaborating with Paul during the Venus and Mars sessions in 1975 before certain...events, shall we say...conspired to prevent this, and robbed the world of what could have been even more glorious and joyous music.

While most of this book contained information that was already well-known, at least to me, it is still very nice to have it all laid out in order as a chronicle of the decade in Paul's life and music. There were some bits of information that were new even to me, such as former Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell auditioning to be the drummer for Wings in 1974. However, there were also some inaccuracies, such as the apocryphal (and since disproved) story that, after a disagreeable court verdict during the court cases in the early 1970s, John, George, and Ringo threw a brick through Paul's window. Also, the statement that 1976 was the last time John and Paul saw each other, as well as John's 40th birthday in October 1980 being the last time they spoke on the phone...I don't believe either of these are true. There are several interviews with Paul and members of his family stating that they'd visited the Lennons in the late 1970s, with James McCartney (Paul and Linda's son) even stating he has a photo of John holding him as a 2-year old at the Dakota, which would have to be in 1979 (he was born in 1977). Also, Paul has said in numerous other interviews that he last spoke to John not more than 2 or 3 weeks before his death, in November 1980.  Perhaps memories have been fogged by the passage of time, but it seems a little more research on the part of the author in these areas may have been order. Maybe it's just the nitpicking of an overanalytical fan on my part, but still, at least presenting the claims I stated as a counterpoint to the conventional wisdom would have been in the best interest of the narrative.  Another minor nitpick is how the departure of Joe English from the band was handled in all of a few sentences, with no mention of his being in a religious cult the last couple of decades made. Again, this is information that is available and I wish the author had delved into a bit more detail on things like this, but to the casual reader, it won't matter as much.

What struck me throughout, through both new tidbits of information, as well as how Doyle presented it, is just how bohemian and countercultural Paul and Linda's existence was in the 1970s. His vast fortune from the Beatles tied up in receivership, they lived off of Linda's photography money and were often at a loss for funds in paying expenses until Wings because more successful in the middle of the decade. They lived a very free-spirited life, bringing their kids everywhere, including on tour, with them, smoking a LOT of pot (and getting busted for it), and living in relative squalor and grime (mainly on their Scottish farm). Even when the money came back, they lived very simply, in 2- or 3-bedroom houses with their four children, either on their farm or in their London or Sussex houses. While Paul has the image these days as a comfortable, rich, expertly put-together elder statesman of music, and John is seen as the hippie/counterculture Beatles, in fact during the 1970s it was quite the opposite, and Doyle documents numerous instances of John's private jealousy not only at Paul's success and wealth, but he ability to be rebellious and go against the grain without bringing the disdain from the establishment upon himself that John did throughout the 1970s. However, by the end of the book, Paul reflected back on those years with a contented decision to tone down and eliminate the marijuana smoking as well as clean up (in a literal sense) his home life. As a 40 year old father of four children by 1982, this of course made perfect sense.

While Doyle doesn't necessarily come across as a massive Wings fan, it is clear that he likes Paul both as a person and as a musician, and he does a good job bucking the conventional wisdom laid down from the 1970s that Wings were a "joke" not to be taken seriously, showing how they were a very hardworking, respected, and successful band, not least of all thanks to Paul's tireless (and nearly obsessive) work ethic, which he maintains to the present day. The writing style is engaging and enjoyable, and the book is fun to read and flew by quickly. Perhaps it's a bit too breezy and could have dug down below the surface a bit more; I found the more recent interview bits with Paul quite interesting and wanted to learn more than what was offered. However, that again could be more of my own complaining as a more rabid fan. For the casual or devoted, but not obsessive, fan, this book will be more than enough.

Overall, this is a very, very good book that is informative and important in documenting this inexplicably forgotten era of Paul McCartney's career, and is another book I'm more than happy to add to the bookshelf housing my collection of Beatles books.

MY RATING: 8.5/10

2 comments:



  1. Andre,










    This is a great August 1986 hour long Paul McCartney interview by Barbara Hower from Entertainment This Week. :) She asked him a lot of great intelligent questions including how he felt about John's horrible,tragic murder and she got a rare great interview out of him. I still have this interview on an old VHS tape from the time. It's not on youtube though for some reason. Unfortunately it gets interrupted by advertisements but then the interview resumes.




    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3qtunj




    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry, I sent this as an email too,and I didn't mean for the name Andre to be included on here.

    ReplyDelete