It must be said that fan recollections can be hit-or-miss affairs, especially for those artists and events that have been covered ad nauseum. How many Woodstock stories can one hear before one realizes that the stories are nearly always the same, fungible tales that don’t really seem that different from the other dozens of books on the same subject. Thus, one can grow a bit weary of certain topics and artists, and The Beatles–a band I love dearly–happen to be on the top of that list.
Yet, for all of their overexposure, their solo years are relatively unexplored–both in terms of biography and in terms of recollections. Considering that each member developed a routine that differed from the others–John Lennon’s cavorting and the transition into domestic bliss,George Harrison‘s reticence about his fame and his quest for peace and quiet, Ringo Starr‘s gadabout international playboy lifestyle, and Paul McCartney‘s world-traveling troubadour status–ensured that the solo adventures would not garner quite the same level of coverage–a boon for reminiscences of stories untold.
Which is where John Taylor‘s book Wings Over New Orleans: Unseen Photos of Paul and Linda McCartney, 1975 comes in. Taylor was a New Orleans native who had been inspired to become a musician thanks to the Fab Four, and he was chuffed to learn that Paul’s band Wings was recording their new album, Venus and Mars, at Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint‘s Sea-Saint Studios. Like fans do, he and his friends would gather in the parking lot in order to catch a glimpse of the Beatle and his entourage–and they certainly did. In this collection of photos–which has the charm and appeal of a photo album–one sees Paul and Linda McCartney interacting with fans, goofing off and mugging for the camera, and generally having fun. McCartney, who was notorious for his ambivalence and occasional disdain for fans hanging around in the early 1970s, is clearly in a generous mode; he doesn’t appear bothered by those hanging around, and generally comes across as a gracious guy enjoying himself in life, with only one or two photos showing him looking weary in a physically tired kind of way.
One must remember that McCartney’s anger and ambivalence was well-rooted in professional and personal frustration. Though the previous album, Band On The Run, had been a worldwide hit in both commercial and critical terms–one must remember that this phenomenon was something new for him, as up until then his previous full-lengths suffered from extremely negative reviews, and his career notable mainly for the occasional hit single. All of his fellow Beatles had made albums considered classics–and yet he hadn’t hit that peak. Tempering the frustration at being blamed for ending The Beatles, the hassles of the legal battles from being a Beatle, as well as being beleaguered by questions about when they would be getting back together.
Wings Over New Orleans captures a man transitioning from “artist” to “showman.” Having received the success he had desired, McCartney no longer had an excuse to be angry. The era captured here, in January of 1975 finds him on the cusp of another successful album, and a soon-to-come world tour that would reestablish him as a world-class entertainer. The stories told are fun, excited tales told from kids who were excited to be able to meet him, and though not particularly revelatory, they do an excellent job in showing that enthusiasm and devotion to him had not waned in the slightest. If anything, what’s most revealing is that the studio from which Venus and Mars and the international hit “Listen To What The Man Said” came was virtually a small shack off of the highway–most certainly not the luxurious, fancy environment one would think a Beatle would record an international hit record. (The studio still stands, and is still a studio–albeit a hair studio.)
Wings Over New Orleans serves its purpose well. It’s a brief yet fascinating glimpse into one of the lesser-covered eras in a pop legend’s career. Enjoy it while listening to the album it produced–you’ll be greatly rewarded.
Categories: Book Reviews