Paul's Rocky Revival

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

Ever Mr. Public Relations, McCartney puts a happy spin on such unfortunate events in Beatles history like the recording of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." If one song can be credited for expediting the breakup of the Beatles faster than Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney or Allen Klein combined, it's this one. In Mark Lewisohn's Sessions book, an EMI engineer recalls how Lennon was extremely agitated at having to do the song five nights running, literally smashing the piano keys in frustration and playing the song at twice the speed and yelling, "C'mon! This is it!" McCartney recalls that Lennon "bounced in, apologizing [for being late], in a very good mood. He sat down at the piano and instantly played the blue-beat style intro. We were pleased with his fresh attitude. I remember the two of us in the studio having a whale of a time." You tend to take this rosy account with a pinch of salt after realizing that engineer Geoff Emerick quit after the song's completion because he could no longer tolerate the tense atmosphere at Abbey Road.

But it's Macca's relentless name-dropping that arouses the most suspicion. Like a host who is constantly reminding you he's serving tea from Royal Doulton china, McCartney wants so much to impress you that he's rubbed elbows with Willem de Kooning and Michelangelo Antonioni, director of Blowup. Is there any McCartney tome where he doesn't mention that he once showed his experimental home movies to the Italian director?

"I showed Antonioni movies, and he was greatly impressed," McCartney says. You feel embarrassed for him, like when you're a guest at someone's house and the host insists on showing you his holiday slides. What's Antonioni gonna say, "Paul, your films reek," and then sit down to break bread?

It's like that grating moment in Anthology when Macca adds, "People like [Steven] Spielberg, I've read where he says that 'when I was in film school that Magical Mystery Tour was a film we really took notice of.'" Has anyone ever produced this Spielberg quote in any of the million Beatles books already in print?

What you come away with after reading this book is that McCartney's artistic decline owed as much to his estrangement from girlfriend Jane Asher as his split with John Lennon. Moving in social circles teeming with actors, intellects and artists of the ilk that McCartney frequently mentions, the Beatle had to swim or sink in such illustrious company. That he could impress William Burroughs with his narrative on "Eleanor Rigby" surely gave McCartney impetus to keep moving upward artistically.

Once Mac links up with Linda, he becomes the boring homebody he remembers Lennon to be. Imagine Burroughs or any of the Indica Gallery crowd being impressed that McCartney wrote "Magneto and Titanium Man" about a comic book he and Linda frequently liked to read. The author, Barry Miles, is one of McCartney's pals from those old days, and he couldn't even be bothered to look at the Beatles albums to check some fairly obvious facts (like mistakenly saying Lennon & McCartney wrote "Money" for Helen Shapiro when it was really "Misery," or stating that Ringo Starr sang lead on "I Don't Wanna Spoil the Party" and that Revolver led off with "Eleanor Rigby"). Imagine how nonplussed Miles would've been if he even heard latter-day Paulie fare like "Bip Bop" and "Little Lamb Dragonfly."

At least in the book, people like Burroughs and Marianne Faithfull get to speak about their brushes with a Beatle. The Rhino home video In the World Tonight captures the still-dizzying workaholic activities of a post-Anthology McCartney, and no one seems to get a word in edgewise. Linda, McCartney's soul mate for 28 years, offers some valuable insight on her husband in the Miles book, but in this pseudo-documentary, she has a total of eight spoken words, all of which are in agreement with something that Paul has just said. No wonder she's lasted longer than all the dissenting members of Wings combined.

There are plenty of other interesting people involved in the making of this year's album, Flaming Pie, that we see but never hear from: Jeff Lynne, Steve Miller, George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Ringo Starr, even McCartney's son James, who plays a Dave Gilmouresque solo on "Heaven on a Sunday."

Talking about the Beatle-inspired Flaming Pie title, McCartney says, "This album has come off The Beatles Anthology, so any of these connections I'm comfortable with." Anthology and its buy-products returned Mac to the top of the charts after a long fallow period where he had to watch even the relatively inactive George Harrison best his commercial achievements. This video, made presumably to prolong Flaming Pie's shelf life, serves another sinister purpose: proving that Paul can cover the same ground that 10 hours of Anthology did in an hour's time.

Lookie here! McCartney's conducting symphonies just like "A Day in the Life." And whassthis? Now he's being knighted and people are still crowding around Buckingham Palace just like when the Beatles got their MBEs. They even filmed him in black and white, standing in the same hallowed courtyard where the Fabs once stood. But wait--there's more!

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