Book Review: Lesley Ann Jones – Fly Away Paul: The extraordinary story of how Paul McCartney
After Paul McCartney announced the release of a final Beatle track, Twitter went crazy piecing together a tapestry built up of insular connections to the band. And that’s where Lesley Anne Jones’ Fly Away Paul: The extraordinary story of how Paul McCartney survived the Beatles and found his Wings steps in to satisfy younger readers aching to find out more about the Beatle who worked with John Lennon, Elvis Costello and Kanye West. A book, lest we forget, that is supposed to piece together the “missing years” in the bassist’s trajectory, in a way that’s never been seen before. As you’ve no doubt ascertained, it really doesn’t.
You won’t be surprised to learn – and it’s no spoiler – that McCartney depended on his wife Linda for emotional support following his split from Lennon. The focus of the book hinges on the marriage, although frustratingly the author focuses more on their view of the union, and not on providing material that’s refreshingly novel or revelatory. On the other hand, the book does provide an overview of Linda’s struggles, both as a wife and a musician. It’s a shame that it took fifty years for people to realise that Linda’s struggles were as pronounced as her spouse’s, but for a woman with little musical experience, she tackled some of the trickier harmonies on Band On The Run – purportedly EMI’s biggest selling album of the 1970s in the UK – as well as many of the album’s more notable keyboard lines.
As stories go, it’s not the most unique, running straight from success story to success story, peeking at the couple now enjoying another wave of creativity. Jones knew the McCartney’s on a familiar level, which might explain why she writes so uncritically, which is odd considering that Back To The Egg was hardly an artistic triumph. The story fizzes with the same old charm of family conversation: warm and safe, albeit laced with deja vu and indignation. And while there’s no Agatha Christie narrative, Jones really can write, piecing together a portrait of the McCartney family that is suffused with imagination and personality. Considering the time of year, it will make an enjoyable companion during the long, cold Winter nights ahead.
But as engaging as the narrative is, or as gladiatorial as the prose is in the hope of bringing some sort of undue credit to the other musicians who worked with the ex Beatle, the book still feels shallow, lightweight and inessential. There’s no getting away from the fact that Fly Away Paul, colourful as it is, lacks the jaw-dropping ambition of McCartney Legacy. Or, for that matter, the originality and singular direction of Deirdre Kelly’s excellent Fashioning the Beatles: The Looks that Shook the World. Or the academic acumen and sheer determination of Erin Torkelson Webber’s historiography about McCartney. Then there’s the little matter of Mark Lewisohn, who is devoting his life to a triumvirate that will cover The Beatles journey from beginning to ‘The End'(Abbey Road joke.) In this era of impressive Beatle literature, Lesley-Ann Jones really is on a lower tier of publication.