FAB: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney – Reviewed

This is the US cover of the hardback edition of “FAB: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney” by well-known biographer Howard Sounes.

I posted previously on this book when I got a copy of the Australian edition in softback. If you click on the link you can see it was published with a very different cover to the rather subdued and conservative North American edition.

It has really taken me some time to actually read the book and write this appraisal.

What happened was I’d published that earlier post and then Da Capo Press, the US publishers of the book, saw the post and wrote offering me a review copy of the US release. It took a while to get here via snail mail and then, at 634 pages, it took me a while to read it from cover-to-cover.

I found it a pretty good read actually. Sounes writes in an engaging style and the book had just enough new details to keep me coming back. All-in-all it really was a great summer holiday read (its still summer here in Australia!). The book is not sensationalist – it pretty much sticks to the facts and tells it like it is – and that is refreshing.

One thing does stand out though – like many books on the Beatles it’s still written from an outsiders perspective. No matter how many interviews you do with some of the main players in and around McCartney’s life (and Sounes did many – he says he interviewed over 220 people for the book), he didn’t interview McCartney himself and so you still get this feeling of an outsider looking in.

Having said that, “FAB: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney” is very revealing of the man himself, showing us aspects of the Paul personality we’ve perhaps thought were there but were never really sure. What we tend to see is the facade Paul wants us to see: “Macca”, the thumbs-up, positive, likable guy. This book goes deeper and reveals his his perfectionism; the fact that he he doesn’t suffer fools lightly; that for a wealthy man he was often quite frugal (for example paying Wings band members a very basic wage); that he wants above all to be remembered for having made a mark and leaving some sort of legacy; that family is very, very important; and that his mother (and her early death) has played a central role in his life, in his creative work, and in his relationships.

Sounes’s book is also good because it brings the reader right up to the present day. Its not just about the pre-Beatles and Beatles glory days. It includes a lot of detail about the Wings years, and about Paul’s solo career right up to 2009’s “Good Evening New York City“. In fact a good half of the book deals with the post-Beatles life of Paul.

It also gives a hint of what it must be like to live, practically for your whole life,  as one of the most famous and wealthy people in the world. Paul is a man who is used to getting his way and getting what he wants. Its not a life to be envied really. Everyone around you agrees with you because you are Paul McCartney. They suck up to you, they pay their respects. It must be incredibly difficult to keep a handle on what is real.

The gratifying thing about this book is that it’s not sensationalist. To be sure there’s plenty of opportunity to do that – particularly in that period of his later life (post Linda McCartney) when McCartney made some really bad relationship choices – but Sounes wisely sticks to the facts.

The book also has some great photographs. Who better to step us through the contents using some of those than the author Howard Sounes himself:

FAB: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney

I was in Hobart, Tasmania this week and a friend mentioned at dinner that he’d just picked up a new biography of Paul McCartney.

“What new biography?” I said, as I’d not heard of it. “Oh, its just been released. Looks good”, said he.

Well, next day I had an hour or two to kill waiting for the plane home, and so decided to take wander along the main street of the town. I popped into the local Angus and Robertson bookstore – and to my great surprise there it was on the shelf in its paperback form:

Front cover "FAB: An Intimate Life of Paul Mccartney"

As you can see from the Australian and UK cover above (yes, I bought a copy), it’s called “FAB: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney”, written by Howard Sounes. Harper Collins is the Australian publisher and their website says it was published here and in the UK only very recently – on 25 August, 2010.

Until this week, I’d never heard of it! It has certainly flown under the radar as there hasn’t been much written about it in the lead-up to its release. At least, it flew under my Beatles radar….

In the US it gets a different cover:

As one reviewer asked, does the world need another Paul McCartney biography? The answer is that while this one does trawl through the early days once more, it brings us up right up to date with what has been a prolific and interesting later career. In fact the work includes “Electric Arguments”, “Good Evening New York City”, the Beatles Remastered releases, and his illustrated children’s book “High in the Clouds” released last year.

And it is big – 634 pages. I only got it yesterday – so a review will be coming later.

If you’d like to get a taste Sounes, who worked as a journalist for the Daily Mail in England, has published lengthy extracts from the book that you can read here and here. His other books include “Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan”.

Beatlesnews has also published a short article about author Howard Sounes and this new McCartney book.  The Liverpool Echo has published an interview with the author. And there’s a very good review of the book by Simon Sweetman here.