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Paul McCartney: The Life -- biography by Philip Norman
9 May 2016
10.16am
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Joe
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Great review, @DrBeatle. I enjoyed reading that.

I rarely buy Beatles books nowadays but made an exception for this. I really don't like Norman's other books (for reasons mentioned elsewhere), and I wonder very much whether his volte-face over Paul is sincere or expedient. I also worry that there's too much of Norman in this – I don't really care at all about him as a person, and don't want to wade through pages of self-justification as to why he decided to write a book. Let's face it, it was for the money, and he had to sweet-talk Paul into not erecting a wall of silence from those around him.

That said, for all its awful prose, Shout! did contain some gold. I've not read the Lennon book cover-to-cover, but it seemed like a thorough job too. Lennon and McCartney both deserve thorough and illuminating biographies, and I hope this one falls into that category.

I wonder if he'll do biogs of George and Ringo after this. It'd be nice to have a tetralogy. But then I also hope Olivia brings down the shutters after the despicable things Philip Norman wrote about her husband after his death.

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9 May 2016
11.59am
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The chapter titles are interesting.

https://youtu.be/52nwiTs7bk8

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9 May 2016
12.36pm
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Out of the four of them, it seems that John is the one who gets the best bios..and the worst as well.. However, I do think that a proper George bio is way overdue. Ringo's as well.. I think Lewisohn is the only one who gives Ringo the credit & space that he deserves. The other bios are more like he didn't even exist before the Beatles when he was probably more famous than them on that scene.

 

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10 May 2016
3.44am
Abrahadabra
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Got this yesterday and finished it in no time. Not because it's good or bad but because it contains nothing of any use whatsoever.
To be blunt, it reads like Philip Norman's desperate attempt to redeem himself and it fails miserably. It's a 'Beatle blowj*b' of cloying and the number of basic inaccuracies confirm that Philip Norman is a talentless hack the body of whose text here has been lifted without irony from interviews we've all seen and articles which got things wrong.
His amazing conclusion, that Paul is not the caricature Norman and others have been majorly responsible for peddling these past forty years is so lame as to warrant public slapping from random passersby next time he gets out (I don't think he gets out much so he should be safe)

Of course, it will sell because he's the approved Sunday Times po-faced biographer that he is and Paul will be glad it's not an attack but it only confirms for me that Barry Miles' Many Years From Now book in unassailable as the definitive Paul expurge on the Beatle years and that the tales of McCartney's post-Beatle life are adequately served by his own Wingspan book and documentary.
As for the Heather Mills episode, Norman offered nothing that isn't available in the judgement and account of the court case online.

File under 'Unnecessary unless you've never heard of Paul McCartney and not the best choice even if that IS you.'

 

Philip Norman, you may now die, redeemed in the most pathetic, cringe-inducing way.
'See ya Phil'

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11 May 2016
4.18am
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Joe
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I'm actually regretting buying this now. The more I read of his stuff the more he comes across as a mean, spiteful, miserable man.

My copy arrives on Friday but I might return it and pick up a second hand copy at some point, because I really don't want to give any money to Philip Norman.

This was the article that changed my mind. from the Daily Mail (a newspaper from the very depths of the gutter press, so an ideal bedfellow for Norman) in 2003:

What's eating you Macca?

by PHILIP NORMAN, Daily Mail

As reports of Paul McCartney 's behaviour hits the headlines, one of his greatest admiriers, Beatles' biographer Philip Norman asks why are you doing your best to make millions of your fans despise you?

Here, in a letter to the rock veteran, Philip Norman charts the highs and lows of Paul McCartney 's popularity.

Dear Macca,

The millions of people who regard you as pop music's patron saint will have been shocked and disillusioned by your recent behaviour - though, as The Beatles' biographer and a long-time observer of your remarkable solo career, it comes as somewhat less of a surprise to me.

Last week, you unleashed a stream of foulmouthed abuse at a photographer who had the temerity to try to take your picture during a late-night visit to London's Tower Bridge, where the illusionist David Blaine is suspended aloft in his plexiglass prison cell.

According to the photographer, two of your companions, who strongly resembled 'minders', tried to intimidate him when he refused to hand over his film.

Not content with that, you were blisteringly rude to a bystander who asked if he could shake your hand. Even David Blaine came in for a bashing when you loudly referred to him as a 'stupid c***'.

Later, in more familiar McCartney style, you tried to smile away the episode as 'a boys' night-out' and protested that you hadn't really meant publicly to fire your PR man for having apparently set up the media ambush.

But all your formidable spin-doctoring gifts could not undo the ugly, unnecessary scene.

Like many others in your superstar firmament, you have the ability to shrug off uncomfortable truths, abetted by the legions of yes-men with whom you surround yourself and whose sole function is to tell you that you are infallibly wonderful every day of your life.

But I wonder whether the David Blaine incident may have led even you to ponder on the decline in your reputation over these past few years - and ponder, too, the extent to which you may be almost deliberately unravelling one of the most carefully tended images in showbusiness history.

As a Beatle, you seemed as close to perfection as a young man could be. A brilliant songwriter, a uniquely poignant vocalist, cherubically goodlooking, funny, charming, polite, wellspoken and considerate to fans, you seemed to have everything.

You were a secular Saint Paul, and the world and the world's media ate out of your hand. Well, what a difference 35 years and £1billion make. In those days, it was hard to find a McCartney headline that didn't sing your praises even more lyrically than you sang them yourself. Today, it's hard to find one that doesn't portray you as egotistical, grasping, small-minded, self-deluding, more than slightly absurd - and now, to cap it all, as moody, rude and foul-mouthed as any delinquent from pop's kindergarten.

Consider the awful Press you were already getting when you decided to take that ill-advised 'boys' night-out'. Even your old friend and rival, Sir Mick Jagger, with his wrinkly stage antics and puerile pursuit of women a third his age, could hardly match it.

On your recent American tour, you were reported to be behaving like the worst rock megalomaniacs of the Led Zeppelin era. A special request added to your backstage requirements issued to promoters forbade meat to be served to you - or eaten by anyone in the road crew.

Above all, you portrayed yourself as just an ordinary musician on the road, who would pile aboard the tour bus with the rest of your band. However, I'm told that as you came offstage each night, the band were expected to line up and give you a 'spontaneous' ovation.

The fact is that, where you're concerned, we have all swallowed an illusion as skilful as any ever created by David Blaine. All that's happening now is that the mask is being allowed to slip.

For, even in those magic, innocent early Beatle times, you were never remotely like the smiling boy-angel the world took you for. You had just the same young man's foibles as John, George and Ringo, as well as a good few peculiar to yourself.

The melting moon-face and sad puppy-dog eyes already masked a ruthless ambition to make it, with or without the other three. Remember how, even in the band's earliest days of playing gigs for ha'pence on Merseyside and the Cheshire Wirral, you were always known by the others as 'the Star'?

The niceness for which you became famous was not wholly illusory. All four of you Beatles were indeed incredibly nice and, more incredibly, managed to remain so, even after being penned in a goldfish bowl far worse than anything David Blaine could contrive.

The difference was that, while the others often gave way to understandable temper or frustration, you could never bear to drop that honeyed manner, whatever your true feelings.

Amid the trauma of The Beatles' break-up, your wisest move - though few at the time recognised it as such - was to wed American photographer Linda Eastman.

The marriage proved a spectacular success, allowing you to combine your globally successful post-Beatles band Wings, featuring Linda on keyboards, with a stable home life known to few others in that echelon of the music business.

Together you raised four children to be civilised human beings rather than over-indulged rock-brats. With shy, dignified Linda around - apart from a few aberrant drugs-busts, one of which got you briefly locked up in Tokyo in 1980 - your public profile was irreproachable.

The problem was that, jointly directing your band and your profit-rich publishing company MPL, you became ever more of a ruthless perfectionist and autocrat, elbowing aside anyone who threatened to steal even a molecule of your limelight.

Have you ever paused to wonder, for instance, why your feature film Give My Regards To Broad Street proved to be such a turkey? Quite simply, it was because, regardless of either the plot or the quality of screen actors you hired, you insisted on making yourself the soft focus centre of virtually every shot.

Yet, despite all these rumours and rumblings, your image endured - that of cheerful, cheeky 'Mister Thumbs-Up', an unspoiled boynext-door who still greeted each day with a Beatley cry of 'Great!'

Linda's death from cancer in 1998 and your obvious devastation unleashed a fresh tide of love and goodwill which diminished when you met and proposed to former topless model Heather Mills, a woman young enough to be your daughter.

It is obviously unfair to compare your new wife with Linda, even though both experienced exactly the same backlash for daring to marry a man whom a large part of the world's womanhood regard as their personal property.

Much of Heather's unpopularity may well be undeserved - but she does have an unfortunate knack of compounding it almost every time she opens her mouth.

Heather has received much of the blame for the new, abrasive Macca we're seeing, and certainly the symptoms are those which often tend to occur in a 61-year-old man with a much younger wife.

Where once you carefully limited your public appearances, you'll now willingly escort Heather to the opening of an envelope.

Your hair-dye is so obvious that, when you last played at the Oscars, it received an unofficial award as the evening's best special effect.

Swearing at a photographer may also strike you as youthful and macho, though I suspect you'd be far more upset if photographers began to ignore you.

So determined are you for Heather to be accepted that you even let her give you critiques of your night's performance, a privilege you seldom gave to your fellow Beatles - and one which I doubt Linda ever exercised.

Recently, you refused a music industry lifetime achievement award because you said it implied your career was over and you had nothing left to give to music.

But hanging onto youth is only part of the reason why, despite all your colossal achievements, you continued to push yourself to such an extent, touring for months on end and pumping out records as well as writing classical symphonies, exhibiting your (not very good) paintings and publishing your (at best mediocre) poetry.

It seems you cannot rest until you've persuaded us that our typecasting of The Beatles all those years ago was so completely wrong; that you weren't just the 'nice' one while John Lennon was the arty and edgy one; that you can do anything John ever did, and still more.

That said, it's almost some comfort to us lesser beings that, even if you are Sir Paul McCartney , with that vast pile-up of achievement and honours behind you, you can still be insecure enough to wake in the night, sweating and fuming over the running-order of a credit on a record made almost 40 years ago.

In other words, Sir Paul, you're only human. And that's what you're belatedly starting to show us.

Yours,

Philip Norman

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11 May 2016
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Yeah, that one played a big role in my refusal to give the book a chance. That, along with the poem in which he wishes Paul a speedy death, and of course that atrocious obituary he wrote about George. I don't believe someone can change their mind so completely in such a short amount of time. At least, not in that direction. People might go from loving someone to hating them, but the other way around?

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11 May 2016
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That poem, for anyone interested:

“O deified Scouse, with unmusical spouse
For the cliches and cloy you unload
To an anodyne tune may they bury you soon
In the middlemost midst of the road.”

I've read that it was longer when originally published in the Sunday Times, but those four lines are all I've found. It was written in the early 70s, presumably when Norman's feelings were turning from betrayal and hurt to anger and resentment at the announcement of The Beatles' split. Poor little lamb.

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11 May 2016
10.00am
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So when Norman wrote

Amid the trauma of The Beatles' break-up, your wisest move - though few at the time recognised it as such - was to wed American photographer Linda Eastman.

in the 2003 article above that was himself he is also referring to since he was so filled with anger, resentment, feelings of betrayal etc?

I tried to read 'Shout' many years ago and found it to be unreadable. Never went back to it.

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11 May 2016
11.34am
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Joe said
Great review, @DrBeatle. I enjoyed reading that.

I rarely buy Beatles books nowadays but made an exception for this. I really don't like Norman's other books (for reasons mentioned elsewhere), and I wonder very much whether his volte-face over Paul is sincere or expedient. I also worry that there's too much of Norman in this – I don't really care at all about him as a person, and don't want to wade through pages of self-justification as to why he decided to write a book. Let's face it, it was for the money, and he had to sweet-talk Paul into not erecting a wall of silence from those around him.

That said, for all its awful prose, Shout! did contain some gold. I've not read the Lennon book cover-to-cover, but it seemed like a thorough job too. Lennon and McCartney both deserve thorough and illuminating biographies, and I hope this one falls into that category.

I wonder if he'll do biogs of George and Ringo after this. It'd be nice to have a tetralogy. But then I also hope Olivia brings down the shutters after the despicable things Philip Norman wrote about her husband after his death.  

 

Joe, he was kinder to George in the Paul bio than he was in Shout, but still pretty snide about him being "dour" and "humorless." While I agree that George was a very grumpy person for most of his post-Beatles life, he wasn't 100% like that. The Paul book *is* a good one, and the foreword and epilogue kind of chronicle his discover/epiphany about Paul's life and music...it wasn't overdone so I actually didn't mind it much as he didn't really inject himself at all into the main text.

 

Joe said
I'm actually regretting buying this now. The more I read of his stuff the more he comes across as a mean, spiteful, miserable man.

My copy arrives on Friday but I might return it and pick up a second hand copy at some point, because I really don't want to give any money to Philip Norman.

This was the article that changed my mind. from the Daily Mail (a newspaper from the very depths of the gutter press, so an ideal bedfellow for Norman) in 2003:

What's eating you Macca?

by PHILIP NORMAN, Daily Mail

As reports of Paul McCartney 's behaviour hits the headlines, one of his greatest admiriers, Beatles' biographer Philip Norman asks why are you doing your best to make millions of your fans despise you?

Here, in a letter to the rock veteran, Philip Norman charts the highs and lows of Paul McCartney 's popularity.

Dear Macca,

The millions of people who regard you as pop music's patron saint will have been shocked and disillusioned by your recent behaviour - though, as The Beatles' biographer and a long-time observer of your remarkable solo career, it comes as somewhat less of a surprise to me.

Last week, you unleashed a stream of foulmouthed abuse at a photographer who had the temerity to try to take your picture during a late-night visit to London's Tower Bridge, where the illusionist David Blaine is suspended aloft in his plexiglass prison cell.

According to the photographer, two of your companions, who strongly resembled 'minders', tried to intimidate him when he refused to hand over his film.

Not content with that, you were blisteringly rude to a bystander who asked if he could shake your hand. Even David Blaine came in for a bashing when you loudly referred to him as a 'stupid c***'.

Later, in more familiar McCartney style, you tried to smile away the episode as 'a boys' night-out' and protested that you hadn't really meant publicly to fire your PR man for having apparently set up the media ambush.

But all your formidable spin-doctoring gifts could not undo the ugly, unnecessary scene.

Like many others in your superstar firmament, you have the ability to shrug off uncomfortable truths, abetted by the legions of yes-men with whom you surround yourself and whose sole function is to tell you that you are infallibly wonderful every day of your life.

But I wonder whether the David Blaine incident may have led even you to ponder on the decline in your reputation over these past few years - and ponder, too, the extent to which you may be almost deliberately unravelling one of the most carefully tended images in showbusiness history.

As a Beatle, you seemed as close to perfection as a young man could be. A brilliant songwriter, a uniquely poignant vocalist, cherubically goodlooking, funny, charming, polite, wellspoken and considerate to fans, you seemed to have everything.

You were a secular Saint Paul, and the world and the world's media ate out of your hand. Well, what a difference 35 years and £1billion make. In those days, it was hard to find a McCartney headline that didn't sing your praises even more lyrically than you sang them yourself. Today, it's hard to find one that doesn't portray you as egotistical, grasping, small-minded, self-deluding, more than slightly absurd - and now, to cap it all, as moody, rude and foul-mouthed as any delinquent from pop's kindergarten.

Consider the awful Press you were already getting when you decided to take that ill-advised 'boys' night-out'. Even your old friend and rival, Sir Mick Jagger, with his wrinkly stage antics and puerile pursuit of women a third his age, could hardly match it.

On your recent American tour, you were reported to be behaving like the worst rock megalomaniacs of the Led Zeppelin era. A special request added to your backstage requirements issued to promoters forbade meat to be served to you - or eaten by anyone in the road crew.

Above all, you portrayed yourself as just an ordinary musician on the road, who would pile aboard the tour bus with the rest of your band. However, I'm told that as you came offstage each night, the band were expected to line up and give you a 'spontaneous' ovation.

The fact is that, where you're concerned, we have all swallowed an illusion as skilful as any ever created by David Blaine. All that's happening now is that the mask is being allowed to slip.

For, even in those magic, innocent early Beatle times, you were never remotely like the smiling boy-angel the world took you for. You had just the same young man's foibles as John, George and Ringo, as well as a good few peculiar to yourself.

The melting moon-face and sad puppy-dog eyes already masked a ruthless ambition to make it, with or without the other three. Remember how, even in the band's earliest days of playing gigs for ha'pence on Merseyside and the Cheshire Wirral, you were always known by the others as 'the Star'?

The niceness for which you became famous was not wholly illusory. All four of you Beatles were indeed incredibly nice and, more incredibly, managed to remain so, even after being penned in a goldfish bowl far worse than anything David Blaine could contrive.

The difference was that, while the others often gave way to understandable temper or frustration, you could never bear to drop that honeyed manner, whatever your true feelings.

Amid the trauma of The Beatles' break-up, your wisest move - though few at the time recognised it as such - was to wed American photographer Linda Eastman.

The marriage proved a spectacular success, allowing you to combine your globally successful post-Beatles band Wings, featuring Linda on keyboards, with a stable home life known to few others in that echelon of the music business.

Together you raised four children to be civilised human beings rather than over-indulged rock-brats. With shy, dignified Linda around - apart from a few aberrant drugs-busts, one of which got you briefly locked up in Tokyo in 1980 - your public profile was irreproachable.

The problem was that, jointly directing your band and your profit-rich publishing company MPL, you became ever more of a ruthless perfectionist and autocrat, elbowing aside anyone who threatened to steal even a molecule of your limelight.

Have you ever paused to wonder, for instance, why your feature film Give My Regards To Broad Street proved to be such a turkey? Quite simply, it was because, regardless of either the plot or the quality of screen actors you hired, you insisted on making yourself the soft focus centre of virtually every shot.

Yet, despite all these rumours and rumblings, your image endured - that of cheerful, cheeky 'Mister Thumbs-Up', an unspoiled boynext-door who still greeted each day with a Beatley cry of 'Great!'

Linda's death from cancer in 1998 and your obvious devastation unleashed a fresh tide of love and goodwill which diminished when you met and proposed to former topless model Heather Mills, a woman young enough to be your daughter.

It is obviously unfair to compare your new wife with Linda, even though both experienced exactly the same backlash for daring to marry a man whom a large part of the world's womanhood regard as their personal property.

Much of Heather's unpopularity may well be undeserved - but she does have an unfortunate knack of compounding it almost every time she opens her mouth.

Heather has received much of the blame for the new, abrasive Macca we're seeing, and certainly the symptoms are those which often tend to occur in a 61-year-old man with a much younger wife.

Where once you carefully limited your public appearances, you'll now willingly escort Heather to the opening of an envelope.

Your hair-dye is so obvious that, when you last played at the Oscars, it received an unofficial award as the evening's best special effect.

Swearing at a photographer may also strike you as youthful and macho, though I suspect you'd be far more upset if photographers began to ignore you.

So determined are you for Heather to be accepted that you even let her give you critiques of your night's performance, a privilege you seldom gave to your fellow Beatles - and one which I doubt Linda ever exercised.

Recently, you refused a music industry lifetime achievement award because you said it implied your career was over and you had nothing left to give to music.

But hanging onto youth is only part of the reason why, despite all your colossal achievements, you continued to push yourself to such an extent, touring for months on end and pumping out records as well as writing classical symphonies, exhibiting your (not very good) paintings and publishing your (at best mediocre) poetry.

It seems you cannot rest until you've persuaded us that our typecasting of The Beatles all those years ago was so completely wrong; that you weren't just the 'nice' one while John Lennon was the arty and edgy one; that you can do anything John ever did, and still more.

That said, it's almost some comfort to us lesser beings that, even if you are Sir Paul McCartney , with that vast pile-up of achievement and honours behind you, you can still be insecure enough to wake in the night, sweating and fuming over the running-order of a credit on a record made almost 40 years ago.

In other words, Sir Paul, you're only human. And that's what you're belatedly starting to show us.

Yours,

Philip Norman

  

 

Joe, I know that quote as well as the poem he wrote. To be fair, he expressed regret for them both in the foreword. I would at least urge you to give the book a chance...it ain't perfect but he does redeem himself, IMO, from Shout and the other stuff he'd written. He's still a strange man, though...VERY hung up on Paul's appearance, for example.

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11 May 2016
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I've got it now. I've read the foreword and have skimmed bits elsewhere in the book. It seems OK, thankfully better written than Shout. I'll reserve further judgement until I've read a bit more.

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17 May 2016
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Joe said
I've got it now. I've read the foreword and have skimmed bits elsewhere in the book. It seems OK, thankfully better written than Shout. I'll reserve further judgement until I've read a bit more.  

 

I know you will, and I look forward to your thoughts!

What's been bugging the hell out of me elsewhere, on other forums I frequent, are the folks who have such a bad opinion of Shout (as do I), that they've automatically condemned this book. Some of them are reading it and picking every little nit apart to an almost ridiculous level simply because they don't like Norman, while others are proudly declaiming that they won't read it and STILL condemning it...how can you pass judgement on something you can't read?

I couldn't care less if anyone likes or hates this book, I have ZERO personally invested in it. But as someone who has now become a semi-pro freelance book reviewer (there's a side gig I never would've guessed I'd now have 5 years ago!) and someone who reads and passes judgement on things all the time for it, it's more than a bit irritating to see so many people doing just that. (And I'm not passing judgement on you in any way, Joe, as obviously you're reading it...more of a general statement and observation).

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17 May 2016
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^^^ I think it's because a lot of fans really dislike Norman after all the bullshit he had written about Paul in the past, especially when he almost condemned him for being alive even. Why write a book about him now, and make some really cheesy comments about Paul being his favourite and all that? 

Besides that, I guess it's because there isn't anything new in there. Die hard Beatle fans would already know everything, and those who aren't couldn't care less either way.

I'd rather save up my money to buy Lewisohn's next volume, even though a trip to my grave might come sooner a-hard-days-night-paul-7

 

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10 January 2017
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Am trying to find a book to read (the last two, both fiction, I couldn't get into) so have borrowed this from the library. Have so far read the prologuey bit which is Norman going over why he was so biased against Paul until he (Norman) saw the light.

Will give it a go and see how far I get.

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14 June 2017
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I just listened to the Something About the Beatles podcast where they talk about this book and Norman in general. He really does seem like a nasty piece of work and a total hypocrite. Some of those things he's said about Paul and George over the years are truly shocking, nasty and needlessly vindictive. 

Which really begs the question: Why did Paul agree to sanction his book and give him his blessing? For me it's disappointing that Paul would have anything to do with him. I know he's concerned with his legacy and the way history will view him but why would he need the approval of a nothing author?

Also on the podcast they questioned why Norman had omitted from his new book some of the recent findings by Mark Lewisohn. They interviewed Norman and put that question to him knowing it was a loaded question. Norman was quite disparaging of Lewisohn, saying ... "I discovered him when he was a clerk and I created a monster. He's not as infallible as he always likes to say he is. It's like the way American writers overburden the writing with facts just to show how many facts they know. That is not what good writing should be. Good writing is the use of fewer facts strategically to illustrate a point."

What a grade "A" a$$hole. 

He also said he won't be doing a book on George as he didn't find him interesting enough and that Paul and John's talent had just rubbed off on him. How can he really be "an authority" on The Beatles when he thinks like this?

Regarding Paul I can't believe Norman could have had such an epiphany. More like... the Philip Norman pension fund needed boosting. 

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Pivotal Moments in Beatles History No.118:  Yoko helps herself to one of George's digestives. 

14 June 2017
11.49am
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Little Piggy Dragonguy
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Rishikesh
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I think it says a lot about Paul that he gave Norman his blessing after all that Norman has said about him, and I respect Paul for that decision. It is a good when someone can know when to let something go. "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong."

All living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit 

22 October 2018
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I bought a copy of this for $6.78 over the weekend. It was on sale and I got a discount on top of that.

"This Beatles talk bores me to death.” —John Lennon 

11 December 2018
7.44pm
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Elementary Penguin
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I found a copy of this book at a discount book shop. I was tempted to buy it but I am aware of Philip Norman's reputation and decided to pass.

I have ignored his previous books but I am curious about this one. The shop had plenty of copies so if I change my mind I can go back and pick up a copy.

I almost feel like I need to read his other Beatles related books just for context on his opinions on the group and it's members. 

And in the end the lunch you take is equal to the lunch you bake.

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