Paul has declared that he won’t write an autobiography and that the release of ‘Paul McCartney The Lyrics’ will be the closest thing to it. He offers that the memories triggered from his song lyrics and associated artefacts from his own archives represent the telling of his own story in the absence of any diaries.
Paul worked closely with poet Paul Muldoon who he felt would not be “looking for gossip or secrets” or “to transform every word uttered into some kind of sacred text”, clearly referencing other biographers who he feels have misrepresented his story over the years. ‘The Lyrics’ is a collection of snapshots that may or may not reveal, something new in terms of inspiration or motivation to write a particular song, providing some context as to the times in which it was written and recorded. This is not, however, the Paul McCartney story.
Over two volumes, representing the 154 songs included, the compendium is superbly produced and presented. The alphabetical, rather than chronological ordering of the songs prevents the weighting towards The Beatles songs being too noticeable. The pictorial aspect of the books are what really bring most value. Drawn from Paul’s archives are some marvellous photographs from all parts of his life added with the lyrics themselves which disclose so much interesting context in terms of doodles and even the paper they were written on which bring the songs to life. These are fantastic!
In terms of the narrative it is interesting how Paul pays particular attention to the women who have played significant roles in his life. His mother, Mary, Jane Asher and her mother Margaret, Linda and also his wife Nancy. He is appreciative of the parts they have all played in his journey and honest in his some of his own failings too. Heather Mills is unreferenced.
Having seen how much care has gone into the book’s production it is surprising that there is a large amount of repetition within the pages. In general terms it is unsurprising that certain songs appear and the associated stories have been well known and well told by Paul over decades. The origins of ‘Yesterday’ [Scrambled Eggs] and ‘Put It There’ [His Dad’s saying] are familiar territory as are others. It is disappointing however, that his confidence in his paintings, his ability to spell the word ‘Phlegm’, family piano parties at New Year, John pulling his glasses down and saying ‘It’s only me’, his Dad’s love of crossword puzzles and sitting and writing opposite John as if in a mirror are all told more than once in these pages.
The McCartney story itself is a compelling one and his genius will always attract people to write about him. There is probably not too much within these pages, other than from a contextual standpoint, that will be added to future biographies and the definitive biography is, in all honesty, still to be written.
For dedicated fans the visual impact of ‘The Lyrics’ may supersede the written telling, but in all things McCartney it will always be the music itself that will define his story.
By Gwyn Jenkins.