05 June 2014

A Cheap, Nasty Cash-In

by Christopher Sandford

I like a good rock bio — Robert Shelton on Dylan, Jimmy McDonough on Neil Young, Keith Richards on himself. I even like a good bad rock bio, like Anthony Scaduto’s poison-pen-portrait of Mick Jagger, or Albert Goldman’s minutely detailed dissection of Elvis.

But this is the pits.

Christopher Sandford appears to have researched his subject simply by reading a lot of newspaper articles and watching a lot of television. Everything he gives us is at least secondhand, more often third-hand. He evidently knows and cares nothing for music: we learn nada about McCartney's working technique in the studio, his amazing multi-intstrumental abilities or his songwriting (except that he knocks them off in minutes and sometimes dreams them, which we knew already) and barely scratches the surface of what we want to know. Barring onstage performances, which Sanderson obviously watched after the fact on video — and which anyone else could watch just as easily — there are no descriptions of McCartney or the Beatles at work whatsoever.

Music apart, Sanderson doesn’t know much about anything else, either. He seems to think Peruvian flake is a kind of cannabis. Many biographical details about McCartney and his associates, including the other three Beatles, are not given precisely as one remembers them, yet no explanation is offered for the discrepancies. The women in Paul’s life remain mysterious. Jane Asher is a cipher; the remarkable mutual affection and interdependence between Linda Eastman and her second husband are described but no attempt is ever made to explain it; Heather Mills is portrayed straightforwardly as a brassy, gold-digging slut — but even here, we are given no idea how a canny operator (and legendary womanizer) like Paul ever came to have fallen for such an essentially unattractive creature.

Early in the book, Sanderson relates a story about McCartney musing over the reams of analysis to which his friend John Lennon has been subjected, and how people all seemed to think they knew John. ‘But they don't know me, do they?’ concludes McCartney. This story is so placed in the book as to present the reader with the implication that, by the time they have finished reading, they will know McCartney. Well, they won’t.

They will, however, have been given the impression — entirely erroneous — that John Lennon was a bit of an also-ran in the Beatles, whose true creative and professional engine was Paul McCartney. This, of course, is preposterous — and pointless. It would not have detracted one iota from Paul’s own towering achievements to have acknowledged the equivalent genius (and undeniable cultural primacy) of his erstwhile creative partner. Though perhaps, considering how Sanderson trivializes the artistic genius of his hero, it is probably just as well.

Still, I must say I did learn at least one interesting fact I didn't know before: Linda’s family wasn't always named Eastman; they took that name after migrating to the United States two generations previously. The original family name was... Epstein.

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