Paul McCartney's Life Seldom Less Than Fab

macca book jan13.jpg
Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney
By Howard Sounes
Da Capo Press, 634 pp., $29.95.

While the Beatles and Beatle-related bookshelf is groaning beyond belief, the main thing to know about Fab is this: Howard Sounes has produced the finest, most detailed, and most up-to-date doorstop tome on the life and music of Macca. And that includes the similarly-large near-autobiography Many Years from Now.

Soune, who also penned the fine Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, conducted more than 200 original interviews, and the effort shows.

And while the nuggets of newness aren't as frequent in the much-rehashed Beatles years, fresh glimpses and incidents from McCartney's youth and solo career abound.

But perhaps the best chapters are the ones that cover Paul's last two decades, in which Sounes shows a man attempting to exist both as a Living Legend but, like the overachieving schoolboy he once was, still wants more accolades, forging into choral and classical music as well as poetry with mixed results. That's also when he gives his rock records less and/or lazier effort than ever before.

The book also shows the many sides of Paul's personality, from generous financial provider of his family to thin-skinned, carping studio musician and all stops in between. Sounes also gives credence to the inherent inanity of the constant "Paul vs. John debate," as if (to Paul's defense) he could ever compete with the public perception of and love for an assassinated martyr.

The book ends on a bang, with an incisive and often hilarious deconstruction of Paul's ill-fated marriage to Heather Mills, portrayed as a greedy, manipulative, and shallow opportunist who was almost universally disliked by McCartney's family and inner circle.

One friend/observer puts the attraction succinctly: The at-the-time sexagenarian was, simply put, "cock happy." All you need is love, indeed.

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You wrote: But perhaps the best chapters are the ones that cover Paul's last two decades .......when he gives his rock records less and/or lazier effort than ever before.

I'm not sure if you intended to paraphrase Sounes here (he was not overly complimentary but I wouldn't have stated it like this) or whether this is your opinion, but either way this makes no sense. Since 1997's Flaming Pie, and possibly even going back to 1989's Flowers in the Dirt, McCartney has released some of the most popular and critically acclaimed albums of his career. A few minutes online would be enough to confirm that - reviews, sales, Grammy nominations - you know, that sort of thing. Your statement is simply indefensible.


I thought this was a terrible book. The author seemed to dislike his subject intensely, and that made for muddled analysis of McCartney's music. If you're going to write about a musician, you shoudl have some appreciation for his music, and Sounes doesn't. He barely seems to like the Beatles' music, let alone anything Paul did on his own. Sounes exaggerated George Martin's role, and seems unduly obsessed with Paul's pot smoking and sex life.

Plus he doesn't reveal ANYTHING new about McCartney. He spends pages describing some criminal uncle of McCartney's, as if it's some big revelation. But who cares? And we all read about the details of the Mills fiasco on the Web. You can google the divorce settlement. There's nothing new at all here, yet Sounes spends way too much time rehashing false allegations, and far too little time on McCartney's music this past decade, in which he's produced several good to great records.

Sounes is especially neglectful on terrific RECENT records, like Chaos and Creation and 2008's Electric Arguments (a work that got really strong reviews and which Sounes ignores almost entirely in favor of telling us about divorce gossip.)

All this book does is rehash what we already know about Paul, and allow Sounes to take potshots at music he didn't like in the first place.

Bob Ruggiero
Bob Ruggiero

M Rosin - I appreciate your comments, but I would disagree. I don't feel a writer has to be an outright fan of their subject in order to do an effective job as a biographer. And when someone is, it can veer close to hagiography (as seen in some of Geoffrey Giuliano's Beatles books).

As for Sounes' new information, I did find a number of fresh things (including the stories about the uncle, which I hadn't read anywhere else, and don't think he went "on and on" about), and I have more than 100 Beatles/Solo Beatles books at home.

With the recent solo material, Sounes does talk about how both the records you mentioned were well-received ("Chaos" happens to be my favorite thing he's done in the past 25 years). And for the Mills issue, I think Sounes' bigger point is how a man who has been so careful about his life and actions for most of his time in the public eye went off the rails (despite the howls of everyone around him) for a pretty face, making Macca seem all the more normal. But, as I said, I appreciate your commentary.


Darn, I accidentally hit "like" on your comment. Annoying. Anyway, it's patronizing for you to suggest I wanted a fan's perspective in the book. I don't want hagiography. I'm well aware that Paul has produced some dreck in his career. So does Bob Dylan, whom Sounes idolizes. So did Lennnon. But Sounes' critical judgments on McCartney's music are unbelievably harsh and sometimes completely inexplicable. An author should actually LIKE some of an artist's music if he's doing to write a biography of a musician, and Sounes makes clear he values hardly any of it. So why write about him? How can an author bring any light to a subject he doesn't care for? All he brings is his own biased snide attitude.

Plus, Sounes goes out of his way to be dismissive of the Beatles again and again, and act like George Martin was the secret behind all of it (never mind that George Martin never managed to come up with another band even close to the Beatles, and never mind that Martin's work on the Yellow Submarine is marginal at best). I think George Martin played a significant role in the Beatles' work -- obviously -- but Sounes overstates it again and again in his constant attempts to diminish/demean John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Sounes spends barely any time on Chaos and Creation and, if I recall correctly, doesn't even mention Electric Arguments. Yet he goes on for pages and pages about Heather's crazy talk. The section on the divorce is all out of proportion to the rest of McCartney's life.

And please, tell me, what that story about the uncle told us about Paul? Hmm? Absolutely nothing. We all have an aunt or uncle or whatever who was shady. Big deal. My family's shady uncle tells you nothing about me.

McCartney deserved fair treatment. Not fan adoration. Fair treatment. And he didn't get it in this book. Judging from the interviews he's given, Sounes doesn't even like Paul. He says foolish things about how private Paul is, and criticizes the fact that Paul didn't cooperate with the author. Well why should he cooperate when he knows he's going to get an author like Sounes?

And don't even get me started about the misogynistic way Sounes treats Linda, who seems to be punished for being a woman who enjoyed sex. My, how shocking.

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