|AN INSIDE STORY: THE ORIGINAL “PAUL IS DEAD” RUMOR, 1969
By Alan Chrisman (All Articles ARE written BY ALAN CHRISMAN), copyright 2012-2015 (A Praveen Patel has tried to hack them and claim them).
In late 1969, a rumor went around the world that Paul McCartney was dead. There were supposed to be several clues on various Beatles albums that gave evidence of this. I have some inside knowledge of the whole affair because in September ’69, I was living at the University of Illinois which happened to be one of the earliest campuses where this rumor began to spread. We didn’t take it too seriously, but decided to test it by calling England late one night (there was a phone number hidden on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour and the time to call was located on the back of Sgt. Peppers’ album cover: “Wednesday morning at 5 a.m.”). To our surprise, it actually was a phone number in England, although it was busy.
This is the way I remember it first happening: My younger brother, who also went to school there, had a friend who was related to a fellow at a university in Michigan who supposedly had first discovered it. One night I was visiting my brother when the friend told us of this theory. So we tried first and then again for the next two weeks and kept getting busy signals. This just wetted our appetite and soon we were looking for more clues. As we learned more about this rumor, we began to find more and more evidence. We found many hints on Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album, etc.
Actually, at first we thought the clues might have been about John (in keeping with his sometimes dark humor) because after all he had sung I Am the Walrus. I had seen the North American premiere of the film Magical Mystery Tour in 1968 and had failed to notice that the little girl on John’s lap had said “No you’re not,” which is stressed in the liner notes too. It was actually left-handed Paul dressed as the Walrus (something Lennon was to confirm in the White Album’s Glass Onion: “here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul.”) We played backwards and slowed down such songs as Strawberry Fields Forever, which said “I buried Paul”. We were just getting into it deeply when The Beatles released their new album, Abbey Road, in early October. And who’s on the cover, but Paul barefooted as he was a year earlier on Magical Mystery Tour crossing the street with George in denim (a grave digger), Ringo in black (undertaker), and John in white (minister or angel). The new single from the album was for the first time to not include a McCartney song but John’s Come Together (over me) and George’s Something; in fact the whole second side could be interpreted as, perhaps, about the life of one person: Here Comes the Sun King; The End is equal to the love you make. When we heard this we believed were really on to something. Supposedly it was Paul and he had been killed in a car crash (“he blew his mind out in car” lyric from A Day In the Life) and had been replaced by an imposter. An article in our campus newspaper was soon reaching to other campuses and before long we were holding regular meetings in a large lecture hall. Now we had no idea then, just how far this would go around the world.
And for me, this happened at an especially significant time in my life. It came just as I was about to be drafted into the American army for the Vietnam War. I had already decided that I wouldn’t go and was trying to get enough guts to possibly come to Canada (as the only logical choice rather than going to jail). So in a strange way, (as Beatles music and occurrences have somehow seemed to fatefully guided me throughout my life), this Paul is Dead thing allowed me to get my mind off the momentous decision I was about to make. At these meetings I was involved in, more and more people attended and several people told things that had happened to them or their friends. Some had supposedly gotten through the phone number and had to answer three questions and been whisked away to a secret island, etc. (Yes, it was the 60’s after all!). Now what did this mean? Was McCartney really dead? (which was one of the questions supposedly asked to the callers). I won’t go into all the clues and theories here, but all I can say is that at that final meeting I attended (I had to leave to Canada soon after), the guy who had supposedly started the whole thing showed up and said there were indeed clues and The Beatles were trying to tell us something.
When I arrived in Ottawa in November ’69, on the magazine stand were to my amazement — several international magazines with stories on the rumor that only a few of us had first heard and with several clues listed (even a voice print which showed McCartney’s voice was different.) So make of it what you will. Was Paul really dead? The Beatles were soon to break up with the other three siding against Paul and some would argue that he was to later only make Silly Love Songs. Was it perhaps just a joke by John saying, as he later wrote about Paul when he said, “Those freaks were right when they said you was dead, the sound you make is muzak to my ears”. Or was he fed up with the Beatles as was evidenced on The White Album and Let It Be and saying they were just falling apart. Why would The Beatles do such a thing, just to sell albums as some have accused? They certainly didn’t have to. Was it just a product of the times? At the very least, it shows the power that the Beatles had over us and still do. Or as the “founder” of the theory hinted at that last meeting I attended, were The Beatles trying to get across something more important? We may never really know. Intriguing anyway, over 45 years later. I have my own theories about what it all meant. As I said in my article about The White Album, very few people according to Lennon, understood what it was about( Lennon said once only about 300 people understood what the White Album was really about) and I believe it’s all tied together. You can search and listen for the “clues” yourself. Think about it. They are still there for those smart enough to discern them.
TURN ME ON, DEAD MAN by Andru J. Reeve (a review)
After I had written my above article, I ordered and read later this excellent book that focuses mainly on how the rumor got started and how it had spread into the media. I wanted to see if it had actually happened the way I had remembered it all those years ago. I discovered first of all that I probably had been in on the early beginnings of such. As the first radio station in Detroit was not to publicize it until October 12, 1969, and I had remembered hearing of it in September almost a full month earlier just as it first surfaced. The author, in fact, interviewed several of the key participants and did exhaustive research on its evolution.
The book unfolds almost as a mystery as he tries to find its origins. And the development of the rumor becomes almost as interesting as the rumor itself. I won’t give away the contents of the book but before it was over, it led to thousands of calls a day to Apple, the Beatles’ record company, over 300 newspaper reports and coverage by all the major networks. And such unlikely occurrences as special meetings between the starters and Beatles insiders and the Beatles’ new manager, Allan Klein; a TV courtroom trial with F. Lee Baily (yes, of O.J. Simpson fame) and even a call by Paul (or his double?) to the Detroit radio station. And most intriguing of all, a mysterious single by a Detroit singer that first hinted of Paul’s death (and published by the Beatles’ own publishing company, Maclen!) Quite amazing for something that only a handful of college kids had first “discovered”. So it’s a fascinating story and the phenomenon is still studied as an example of a spontaneous rumor and how the “clues” remained remarkably consistent and spread so fast (and this was before the internet). So as I said above, believe what you want. But almost 45 years later people are still fascinated with it and lecturers such as Joel Glazier who provides an afterward in the book, are still given on it at Beatles conventions and colleges. The author does list many of the major clues and evaluates them systematically and some like the spoken ones on Revolution #9 and I’m So Tired are hard to refute. And after reading the book and thinking about it all these years later, I don’t think it can all be dismissed as some might think. Do I think, as everyone asks, that Paul is Dead? After all we’ve seen in the past few decades (and with the Kennedys’ deaths and John Lennon’s assassination) anything is possible. But yes, as I’ve always thought there were some “clues” there. Who put them there, we may never know, but I suspect they were put there for a purpose that few have still yet understood. It all fits in with my theory on what The Beatles have been trying to tell us all along.
Anyway, you can read the books and see for yourself. I would recommend Reeve’s book
or for more on the clues try The Walrus was Paul by Gary Patterson (published by Simon & Shuster).
ONE FINAL NOTE ON PAUL IS DEAD:
From the Official Beatles fanzine, the Beatles Book Monthly, Feb., 1967:
Stories about the Beatles are always flying around Fleet Street. The seventh of January was very icy, with dangerous conditions on the MI motorway, linking London with the Midlands, and towards the end of the day, a rumor swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the MI. But, of course, there was absolutely no truth in it at all, as the Beatles’ Press Officer found out when he telephoned Paul’s St. John’s Wood home and was answered by Paul himself who had been home all day with black Mini Cooper safely locked up in the garage.
This article was first published on The Ottawa Beatles Site in 2003: http://beatles.ncf.ca/alan_chrisman.html