The Heckler

The Heckler: love your music, Macca, just not sure about you

Paul McCartney’s music is supreme but as a person he’s really not very likeable

7 May 2016

9:00 AM

7 May 2016

9:00 AM

It’s slightly galling, after years of sticking up for Paul McCartney, to read a new biography of the bloke and realise that you don’t, in the end, really like him that much. But that’s how good Philip Norman’s book is — Macca has no agenda, it simply lets you make up your mind. And for me, it was the leg-combing wot won it.

You can’t argue with McCartney’s work. In fact, what you have to argue against is the ridiculous notion that he was the poppy, pappy one while John Lennon was the radical. It was Macca who funded the underground newspaper International Times; who was into Stockhausen, Cage and Berio while Lennon was (to quote McCartney himself) ‘living on a golf course in bloody Weybridge’. And you can understand McCartney’s irritation when ‘Hey Jude’ (entirely his own work, but subject like all their songs to the joint-credit agreement) is rendered by his iPad as ‘Hey Jude by John Lennon and…’

No, the work is supreme — it’s Macca himself who grates. OK, he’s coped with fame better than most: anyone who has witnessed him meeting fans will know the vast well of patience he deploys. (The trick, he learned during Beatlemania, is to stay calm: ‘If you bolt and run they’ll tear you apart.’) But what Norman’s book reveals is that the effortless charm predates the fame, and it’s the sort of charm that isn’t always charming. As John’s famous Aunt Mimi put it, ‘Oh, yes, he was well mannered — too well mannered. He was what we call in Liverpool “talking posh” and I thought he was taking the mickey out of me. I thought “He’s a snake-charmer all right,” John’s little friend, Mr Charming. I wasn’t falling for it.’

This sort of affability can be useful — having forgotten his passport while filming Magical Mystery Tour Macca smooth-talked both British and French customs officers into letting him pass — but equally it can arouse suspicions. One of McCartney’s first girlfriends was Iris Caldwell, sister of Rory Storm (as in the Hurricanes). ‘Wherever we went, he always had to be the centre of attention,’ she says. One night in a coffee bar ‘Paul’s showing off got on my nerves so much that I picked up the sugar bowl …and emptied it over his head.’ Macca would get Caldwell’s mother to comb his hairy legs, because it relaxed him. ‘Oo, Vi, give me legs a comb,’ would come the request. It was always complied with — but Violet Caldwell was never completely won over. Irritated by McCartney always smoking other people’s cigarettes rather than buying his own, she would tell him: ‘You’ve got no heart, Paul.’ Relations remained good enough after Iris and Macca split up for the star to visit with his new girlfriend, Jane Asher. But although Asher was allowed in the house, Violet wouldn’t admit McCartney until he’d been to the local shop to buy a pack of fags.

You can see the quality to this day. It’s there in the trademark V-sign, the mannered drawl that carefully retains a touch of Liverpool but hovers somewhere halfway over the Atlantic, the ‘man’ at the end of every other sentence. Behind those famous doe eyes there shines, as it always has, a single thought: ‘What’s in this for Paul McCartney?’

Still love your music, Macca. Just not sure about the man, man.

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  • AdrianM

    I remember the beginning of the Beatle’s career and, I must say that, Macca and Ringo seemed to be the least likeable of the Fab-Four, despite Macca’s apparent charm, and Ringo’s studied naïveté.

    • congreve

      One of my early markers for the collapse of Western Civilisation is dated to Liverpool, 1963.

      • AdrianM

        Not quite with you but I’m interested…

        • post_x_it

          Nothing further where that came from!

      • anonuk

        “[Father Jack was] the first priest to denounce the Beatles. He could see what they were up to.”

  • BellBino

    Did we read the same book? Because from what I read, Macca the man has put up with a tremendous amount of abuse and pain and still managed to be a basically decent person. Sure, he’s not perfect. Are you? But Mark Mason looks like he read this book looking for things to judge Macca on, looking for all those moments when he fell short. What about all those times in the book where he exceeds your expectations. There are loads of anecdotes in this book of a guy who is generous, loyal, devoted, and kind. Too bad you read right over them.

    Sure, charm isn’t always charming. But then people with brusque personalities can sometimes be refreshing and sometimes just be jerks. So? What an oddly judgmental essay.

  • davidshort10

    Why does anyone one care? In any event, he could have got himself a more believable dye job.

    • Randi Brooks

      Why would anyone care? Because Paul McCartney is a rare natural born music genius that’s why many,many people care!

      • Edward Studor

        Bach, Liszt, Chopin, Stravinsky, a long list of composers and musicians could be called geniuses, along with a long list of poets. But to call McCartney a genius is stretching it a bit.

  • Randi Brooks

    This is a great August 1986 hour long Paul McCartney interview by Barbara Hower from Entertainment This Week. 🙂 She asked him a lot of great intelligent questions including how he felt about John Lennon’s horrible,tragic murder and she got a rare great interview out of him and he comes across as very likeable intelligent,funny,serious and charming. I still have this interview on an old VHS tape from the time. It’s not on youtube though for some reason. Unfortunately it gets interrupted by advertisements but then the interview resumes.But I just watched it again and there were no commercials now,I hope they don’t include them again.

    Paul also says in this interview that soon after John died Yoko called him up and told Paul that John really loved him.Notice how uncomfortable Paul’s face expression is for about a minute in this great August 1986 hour long Paul McCartney interview by Barbara Hower from Entertainment This Week when she says to him,probably your first great love before you married Linda was Jane Asher,it struck a chord.I’m sure that Paul was really in love with Jane too,you don’t write the beautiful love songs such as And I Love Her,Things We Said Today, and Here There Everywhere,(plus the great songs he wrote about his arguments with her,which was his own fault because of his sexism constantly trying to get Jane to give up her acting career she loved so much and that she had been doing since she was 5 years old.

  • Marshal Phillips

    “Can’t buy me love” tis true, but you can rent it.