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coming down fast, I'm miles above you
on 22 July 2014
This is about Paul, from the Paul camp, but not *by* him - let's be clear about that. It's funny actually, when it claims to be based on 'hundreds of hours of interviews', the things Barry Miles didn't think to ask him about - eg his ideas on the Let It Be sessions seem to be based solely on having watched the film. Nor is it anti-John. It's anti-Yoko, perhaps, but I think no less of it for that. It would be wrong to blame her for the breakup; the responsibility was really John's, as he eventually acknowledged, and it was he that drew her (albeit without any evident reluctance on her part) into the band's space. Still, it was his band to mess up if he wanted, not hers. The role she played was obtuse, vain and insensitive at best. The idea that Lennon hired the unscrupulous and divisive Allen Klein just because he had promised her a New York exhibition - which the Beatles ended up paying for - is enough to make you fume.
However, mentions of her are few. This isn't a book of gossip; it's largely about the music, and as such makes a horses-mouth companion to Revolution In The Head (a book Miles quotes with approval). Only at the end does the book, like the group, get tangled up with Klein And All That. What comes through is that McCartney's chief fault was to remain committed to the Beatles when the others no longer were. Yet still, after all these years, he doesn't appear to recognise that he wanted two incompatible things: to remain in a group of democratic equals, and to do things his own way. By insisting too much on the latter, he was effectively making the same choice as the others - to be master of his own ship - and unwittingly helping to break the group up.
It doesn't delve all that deeply. The man himself refers to the 'idiot McCartney myth', and it has to be said that it's partly his own fault for hanging on to his larky Beatle persona, and often obscuring the meaning of his songs (especially compared to Lennon's neon-lit shopfront). As he says, when on dangerous ground 'a veiling takes place' so that the subject is not too obvious. One shock is the description of Helter Skelter, the group's heaviest song and precursor of grunge, as being about 'the demise, the fall of the Roman Empire'. That carries the startling implication that 'you' in the song might be John, or all the Beatles. Actually it makes good sense: do they want to be in the band or not? But, there and elsewhere, Miles doesn't follow up the hint.
Does it claim more for McCartney than is his due? No-one can say for sure, because no-one else knows just how much of each Lennon-McCartney song was contributed by him. You do wonder at times. In one case, where he works on John's idea, it's 'but the difficult thing is to make more of it'; but then where John works on his idea it's 'but it was all basically there'. On the other hand he gives John credit on a lot of songs where you might not have expected it, eg for contributions to Birthday, Here, There & Everywhere and Drive My Car.
But you know what, I don't really care if he does overstate his case slightly in places. Basically the point of this book is that, as McCartney says, 'it really did pan out about equal'. If Paul feels that fact has been insufficiently recognised over the years, certainly by the muso world, he has a point.
It's true there's too much about Swinging London, man, probably because the author was part of the scene (he confusingly refers to himself in the third person as 'Miles'). It's also true that it's sometimes a bit cavalier over the details; Paul surely can't think that Revolution 1 was 'the hottest recording we ever made'? Someone must be getting confused with the Single version. And it's a shame that there's virtually no coverage of McCartney's post-Beatles work, other than his experiments in other mediums (painting, classical etc). The book ends movingly with his eulogy for Linda, who had then died recently.
Nothing will convince me, though, that 'the movement you need is on your shoulder' is a great line...