Monday, 24 March 2014

'Man on the Run' by Tom Doyle

MAN ON THE RUN by Tom Doyle

Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
Millionaire songwriter begins the Seventies estranged from his band mates, mired in legal wrangles and lacking confidence as he settles into rural life with his vegetarian wife and kids – but can he turn those closest to him into a record-breaking supergroup with a string of catchy hits and their own private jet before the end of the decade?

When did I buy it? Where and why did I buy it?
Just last weekend. It was a Facebook chat about the solo albums of the Beatles in the Seventies that started it. Someone mentioned this book – and there it was on Kindle for 99p. So I found myself defying my book-buying ban and interrupting my reading pile for a wodge of Seventies nostalgia and showbiz gossip.

What’s your verdict?
I loved it because there’s a feeling that it comes straight from the horse’s mouth. Tom Doyle spent a good long time interviewing McCartney over a number of years for magazines such as Q. The two of them appear to get on, and McCartney seems to spill the beans about bits of his life and times that I never really knew about. The opening and ending of the book, in the Soho office in the present day bookends the tale of this 70s Fall and Rise of the ex-Beatles’ creative fortunes, and it makes it seem a bit like a wonderfully old-fashioned novel or cheesy biopic. The whole thing is deliciously readable.

What genre would you say it is?
It’s a rock star biography, but one that brings you into the eye of the tornado. One where you find out what it was like in the epicentre and you learn what they had for tea, how they spent their evenings and what they all really thought about each other. I’m placing it alongside books such as Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and Suze Rotolo’s ‘A Freewheelin’ Time.’ Books in which the legend is in the shadow of domestic arrangements.

What surprises did it hold – if any?
For me the most surprising stuff was about McCartney’s apparent lack of confidence in himself and his own abilities – his drinking and breakdown in the early Seventies. Also, his apparent lack of self-knowledge or awareness of how he’s presenting himself. I love the fact that he freely admits to just making it all up as he goes along. His selfishness and naivete in places are astonishing. I’d always had him down as more hard-nosed and cynical than he appears. Here he comes over as more of a hippie than Lennon ever did.

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
There’s a longish scene at the Dakota building in the late Seventies, with Paul and Linda spending an evening at John and Yoko’s, watching Saturday Night Live and old movies. There’s jokey stuff about deciding impulsively to catch a taxi downtown to the TV studio and get the Beatles back together on air, in response to a silly challenge. This is countered by an earnest moment, the following day, from Paul – rebuffed by a grumpy, baby-sitting John – and then a final sentence to the scene that caps it all off and is a very wounding final word on the matter. I don’t want to spoil it here – just go and read it. It’s one of those moments you only get described in memoirs written long after the event, and they come for the reader with the sensation of being present at something both humdrum and momentous at the same time. Here and elsewhere it’s like eavesdropping on scenes you never imagined you’d be able to…

Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
I’d be interested to see what else Tom Doyle writes. At times, especially when he’s covering gaps between anecdotes, the writing has the glossy facility of music magazine prose (not surprisingly) – with lots of sentences top heavy with clunky clauses and rock critic clich├ęs. But when the material’s allowed to breathe a bit more and read more like a novel, it really flies.

I’ve read many books about the Beatles over the years, thinking about it. Often Lennon-centric ones. The albums and houses and years have a familiar shape to me. But there’s a freshness to the perspective here. It turns out McCartney had a much more exciting 1970s than any of the others from the world’s most famous band.

What will you do with this copy now?
It’s a Kindle – so it’s a keeper anyway (that’s a strange, not always welcome feature of e-books – you can’t lend them out, give them away or chuck them.) I imagine I’ll dip into this again. Probably, as I did this time, listening to all the albums mentioned as I read.

Give me a good quote:
“’I actually used to have some very frightening phone calls with him,’ McCartney admitted. Paul told John what he’d been up to – eating pizza with the kids, reading them fairy tales.
         ‘You’re all pizza and fairy tales,’ Lennon retorted bizarrely.”

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