Paul's Rocky Revival

With new book and home video, Paul McCartney tries to get in the last word on his fab past

Why do they still bill James Brown as "The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business"? He's barely broken into a cold sweat since dodging the police in the '80s. Once, you could've given Dick Clark that title, but clearly someone behind the scenes must've forced him at gun point to give up at least two TV shows or face payola hearings again.

No, clearly that mantel belongs to Paul McCartney, rock's most compulsive workaholic. Since his 1970 public announcement that the Beatles were finished, McCartney's carried that weight like a worker ant, determined to outdo the Beatles on his own and prove that their success was, in no small part, because of his input.

It proved a hollow victory, since none of his nine No. 1 solo hits ("Ebony and Ivory" and "Silly Love Songs" being the two biggest and scariest) has enjoyed even a scintilla of the critical attention or scrutiny that minor Beatles B-sides still continue to garner.

Which is why McCartney, who hasn't placed a solo single in the Top 10 since 1984, regularly trades on his Beatles past now, from readopting his signature Hofner bass to using Beatles memorabilia in his videos and issuing two double live albums of mostly Beatles tracks, even capitalizing on the old Paul is Dead rumor with the silly Paul Is Live album. If all this is a contrived effort to force us to view Mac's solo work as a continuum of Beatlemania, it calls into question just how much smoking California grass has affected the man's judgment. Only a fool on the hill would open his 1989 world tour with heart-stomping film footage of the Beatles at Shea Stadium, only to send expectations crashing rapidly earthward with his first selection, the instantly forgettable, instantly forgotten "Figure of Eight."

Worse than competing with his young-lion days is constantly having to measure up to a dead rival. From the sound he appears to make in the new 654-page book by Barry Miles titled Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (Henry Holt and Co.), the cute Beatle apparently must go to bed each night wishing everyone thought he was the smart Beatle, the clever Beatle, the cool Beatle. How vexing that John Lennon has always managed to impress rebels and pseudointellectuals alike without exerting a tenth of McCartney's industry. That Lennon did nothing for the latter half of the Me Decade but stay home, raise Sean, buy some cows and bake bread seems, in hindsight, infinitely cooler than recording London Town and Back to the Egg. And, since his assassination by a disappointed autograph-seeker, Lennon's inactivity has stepped up, while McCartney's had to work thrice as hard just to get noticed.

It's been a major source of embarrassment to Beatles fans whenever Macca makes sure to inject in every interview that it was he--not Lennon--who wrote "Helter Skelter," the big Charlie Manson number, and that McCartney discovered John Cage avant-garde recordings way before his old partner. McCartney first made these assertions about 15 years ago when interviewed for the updated version of Hunter Davies' Beatles biography, and got plenty o' flack for it. Now, in this officially sanctioned Miles book, Paul recollects his Beatle past, song by song, to set the record straight: The crap he takes ain't equal to the love he's made.

Don't get me wrong. This is a unique and fascinating read. In the Beatles literary world, where every topic's been raked several times over, this is the only book with a personal account of who did what in the Lennon & McCartney partnership, offering insights on their songwriting habits, like how they wrote in three-hour sessions and where.

While it does seem petty to be divvying up the L&M pie at this late date, in fairness, Lennon did plenty of interviews which recalled his involvement in 80-20 percent proportions. In only two instances do Lennon's and McCartney's accounts not jibe; Lennon's recalling his lyrical role in writing "Eleanor Rigby"--which was reportedly nil--and his remembering only a small contribution from McCartney to "In My Life," which McCartney remembers as penning the guitar lick and the entire melody!

Given the volume of erroneous data Lennon gave in his selective Lennon Remembers interviews, it's easy to revert this credit back to Macca. Unfortunately, in the same way that ill-informed fans tended to give George Martin the credit for the group's innovative productions, now casual fans--given McCartney's spotty solo output--tend to hand credit for all that was good about the Beatles over to Lennon.

This clearly rankles McCartney. On the book's cover, he says, "John was great, and I did love him, lest it be seen that I'm trying now to do my own kind of revisionism. He was fabulous, but really all I'm saying is that I have my side of the affair as well, which sometimes gets ignored." Is it revisionism that every instance in which McCartney pats himself on the back is followed by an account of how envious Lennon was of McCartney's carefree bachelor life? Or how Lennon was dulling his senses at home to escape his boring marriage to his first wife Cynthia while McCartney was having dinner with Allen Ginsberg or William Burroughs? Or how about this: McCartney brings Lennon into his circle of cool friends, and then Lennon blows it by mispronouncing Nietzsche! Ain't that a shame!

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