Picks and Pans Review: Yesterday: the Unauthorized Biography of Paul Mccartney

updated 10/24/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Chet Flippo

For all their fame as a group, the individual Beatles have remained enigmas. Only John Lennon had the crazy courage to reveal much of his private self. Paul McCartney, the greatest solo success since the Beatles dissolved in 1970, remains the biggest mystery. His sweetly humored music, boyish charm and sheltered domestic life have proved an effective mask. For that reason, this slightly cynical biography by Flippo, a veteran journalist (Rolling Stone, PEOPLE), will be pored over by fans. Not that it's so revealing or spicy. The chapters on McCartney's boyhood portray him as an overweight, mischievous, parsimonious lad, who, like Lennon, was scarred by his mother's untimely death. But the book lacks the details to make this section interesting. There and throughout Yesterday, Flippo's tone is restrained, very unlike most rock biographers' purple prose. Then again, he's detailing a career that outstrips most hyperbole. Once Flippo reaches the point where the band changes its name—from the Silver Beetles—in 1960, the flow of events carries him along. Abruptly the Beatles went from a drummerless group playing The Third Man Theme behind strippers in a grimy Liverpool club to international stars of an unprecedented magnitude. While recounting their ascent, Flippo offers little insight into Paul's evolving character. There is more depth in the later chapters—especially the one on the band's chaotic final days. But it is here that the book's slant shifts. It becomes clear that the writer has little affection or respect for his subject. McCartney's numerous marijuana busts are trotted out, and more than once Flippo hints snidely that Paul's use of pot clouded his judgment. An unnamed former employee is quoted: "It's changed him. No doubt about it. He could have been Cole Porter. Now he's turning into Mancini." That change in tone is typical of the most striking facet of Yesterday: its uneven-ness. Certain points are handled well, such as the development of the Sgt. Pepper album. Others are hardly broached at all, such as his marriage to Linda Eastman. In the end McCartney remains an unknown quantity. Maybe that's why the latter half of the book is so bitter. It could be the frustration of a writer who had tried and failed to lay bare the Teflon Beatle. (Doubleday, $18.95)

From Our Partners