Book Review: Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle

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There are numerous selling points for the new Paul McCartney biography Man on the Run, available June 17 from Ballantine Books. For one, author Tom Doyle had frequent access to McCartney himself when conducting interviews for magazines, including Q and Mojo. This is no insignificant fact and raises expectations considerably for Man on the Run. The book also has the distinction of focusing almost exclusively on one extended chapter of McCartney’s career, one that is not often treated with a great deal of seriousness: the 1970s. This isn’t another retelling of Paul McCartney’s life as a Beatle. Doyle’s narrative picks up immediately following that band’s implosion, finding an unfocused and unmotivated McCartney attempting to make sense of his life.

The introduction of Man on the Run, which charts Doyle’s initial meetings with McCartney on the eve of the musician’s ill-fated marriage to Heather Mills, presents some of its most compelling passages. Though brief, we’re treated a fly on the wall view of McCartney’s inner world. It’s here that we really glimpse the benefit of Doyle having gotten to know his subject on a face-to-face level. The meat of the book covers ground that will be largely familiar to hardcore McCartney buffs. Much of this charts the highs and lows of McCartney’s ever-changing band, Wings. Despite the common image of McCartney and Wings as fluffy pop lightweights, drug and alcohol abuse factors heavily into the story. Behind-the-scenes details of the celebrated Wings Over America concert tour of 1976, in which various intoxicated band members allegedly took turns piloting their private jet, are particularly illuminating.

What makes Man on the Run a compelling read for both casual and well-versed fans is the way it takes McCartney’s post-Beatles career seriously on its own terms. With so many previous McCartney bios, once the formative years and Beatles period are covered, there are relatively few pages devoted to the artist’s life from age 27 and beyond. Here, Doyle presents a McCartney trying to outrun his own fame—an artist hell-bent on separating himself from the unimaginable public expectations placed on a former Beatle. By focusing almost exclusively on the ‘70s, the book unavoidably ends on a series of downers, not the least of which being the 1980 murder of John Lennon. The dawn of the ‘80s saw McCartney briefly incarcerated in Japan, an event that contributed to a nearly decade-long absence from the live performance arena, and the dissolution of Wings.

Man on Run US cover (184x280).jpgFor those who have paid little attention to the details of McCartney in the ‘70s, even while enjoying his many hit singles and albums, Doyle’s book will be a real eye-opener. Even those who have already read everything they can get their hands on will likely appreciate the fresh context Doyle brings to the years detailed within. He’s written Man on the Run from a largely pro-McCartney perspective, offering a balanced account of the successful and the unsuccessful, the creative and the rote, and the driven and the lazy output from the decade that saw McCartney rebuilding his reputation.

So many past writers, when mining similar territory, have adopted a tone of often dismissive condescension (i.e. “Band on the Run was alright, but pales beside the Lennon/McCartney songbook,” and so forth). Man on the Run might not deliver many true revelations (even having “unprecedented access” to the notoriously guarded McCartney is only going to yield so much), plus its timeframe results in an inevitably abrupt conclusion. Nonetheless, fans of all levels will appreciate the drama that Tom Doyle emphasizes throughout his retelling of Paul McCartney in the 1970s.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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