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Turn Me On, Dead Man—The “Paul is Dead” Hoax

“That reminds me of people who claimed they used to play Beatle's records backwards ( I don't even know how you could do that ...) , and claimed you could hear voices saying "Serve Satan" or some such nonsense.”

You do it by putting the turntable in neutral and spinning it backwards with your finger. When you do, you hear repeatedly and very distinctly, “Turn me on, dead man.” (Revolution #9) When you play “Strawberry Fields Forever” forward, you hear at the very end, “I buried Paul.”

The rumor was that Paul, of the wildly popular only-game-in-town Beatles, had died some years ago and that the other three had covered it up, hiring a look-alike to take his place. This look-alike was referred to as “Billy Shears” from the Sgt Pepper’s album, who worried “what would you do if I sang out of tune?” but took solace that he would “get by with a little help from my friends.”

The Beatles cross the street “Abbey Road” in single file on the cover of the album of that name. John leads, dressed in white—he is the preacher. Ringo is next, in black—he is the undertaker. Paul is third—barefoot as a corpse would be, out of step, with cigarette in hand, though he supposedly quit them years ago—he is the dead man. George is fourth, dressed in workman’s clothes—he is the ditchdigger. The license plate of the VW just over the curb is “28 IF,” the age Paul would be IF he was still alive. The first song of that album, “Come together,” incorporates a sound that could best be characterized as a shovel piling on dirt, as in a burial. References abound to the group going on without Paul: “He says, ‘one and one and one is three,’ Hold on to his armchair, you can feel his disease.”

The Sgt Pepper’s album cover features the old Beatles looking down upon the new Beatles, recostumed and renamed Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The scene is of a burial—“Beatles” is spelled out in floral arrangement, and a host of other famous, though dead, people—Albert Einstein, Mae West, Edgar Allen Poe, about thirty in all—join the old Beatles in looking on.

This is just for starters. Supposedly, the three surviving Beatles had planned this for years, hiding clues in their records.

Why do I know this in such detail? I was a college student at the time. When this story broke, campus life came to a standstill. Kids were glued to campus radio, which cancelled all other programming to run with this 24/7. There was radio tie-in with major schools, which were also at standstills as regards academics activity. Students would call in with the latest theorizing. There were many in our school who cut classes so as not to miss a word. My roommate urged me (unsuccessfully) to install a reverse gear in my record player so as to play all Beatles songs backwards in search of additional clues. Had it been feasible, I probably would have done it.

Outlandish rumors were bandied about and accepted as gospel. The feed station—from UCLA, perhaps—featured neverending call-ins and interviews featuring the latest “research.” On the back  cover of the Sgt Pepper’s album, one of the four—Paul’s replacement, I think—is conducting the band. Superimposed on the cover are the lyrics to the songs within. By this means, “Paul’s” finger points to the words from “She’s Leaving Home,” “Wednesday morning at five o’clock.” If you called a certain number at that time—the number also listed in the album somewhere, I think—you found yourself connected to hell. I think that if you pressed the matter, you risked losing your soul. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that they are “young adults” in college. They are big children, reveling in the [then] newfound freedoms of drugs and sex, free of parental supervision,  ideally on their way to becoming adults.

This Beatles’ plot was  the dominating concern of students then and it lasted for days on end.

The weekend came. Maybe it was even some holiday. I went home, about 250 miles away. NOBODY KNEW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS! On campus, NOBODY KNEW ANYTHING ELSE! I couldn’t believe how oblivious the out-of-touch farts were to the greatest story of our time! Finally, after a day or two, there was a brief snippet at the end of the “World News Report” and it was in the form of a scolding. Walter Chronkite or someone ran a line of two, briefly acknowledged that the Beatles—those precocious kids—were having a laugh on the whole world, but what a sick laugh it was.

I wrote this up long ago. It does me good to recall it:

Wikipedia (11/18/19) calls it a conspiracy theory. What! Are they nuts? A conspiracy theory is when you put a gullible spin on innocuous facts. In this case, it it the obvious spin on elaborate staged facts. Do you think that Paul showed up for the album cover photo and said: “Well, what a coincidence! I came dressed as a dead man, John is a preacher, Ringo an undertaker and George a gravedigger! Well, well, well!” ?

There is such a thing as “an educated fool” who really ought to be out digging ditches somewhere or unplugging toilets. That same Wikipedia entry references a few:
 
Author Peter D writes that, while the theory behind "Paul is dead" defied logic, its popularity was understandable in a climate where citizens were faced with conspiracy theories.” 
 
Ian D says that the Beatles were partly responsible for the phenomenon due to their incorporation of "random lyrics and effects", particularly in the White Album track "Glass Onion" 
 
What does he mean, “partly responsible?” They were fully responsible, and unless you knew that they were pranksters, it was emanantly logical to draw the obvious conclusion that they had “carefully concealed” in their Word.
 
During the 1970s, the phenomenon became a topic of academic study in America in the fields of sociology, psychology, and communication. [Of course] among sociological studies.
 
Barbara S recognised it as, in Schaffner's description, a contemporary reading of the "archetypal myth wherein the beautiful youth dies and is resurrected as a god". [and to think I wasted my career caring for the developmentally disabled].
 
Oh—here’s a beaut: American social critic Camille P locates the "Paul is dead" phenomenon to the Ancient Greek tradition symbolised by Adonis and Antinous, as represented in the cult of rock music's "pretty, long-haired boys who mesmerize both sexes", and she adds: "It's no coincidence that it was Paul McCartney, the 'cutest' and most girlish of the Beatles, who inspired a false rumor that swept the world in 1969 that he was dead."
 
Ding dong.......Excuse me, I’m expecting Paul to return. Hello?
 
It’s him!!! Squeeeeaal!! Wheeeeeeee!!!! Paul!! I’ve been keeping on the watch! I knew you would return!!
 
The one quote that is believable in all this aftermath polishing is from Paul himself [The Beatles Anthology]: “Well, we'd better play it for all it's worth. It's publicity, isn't it?"
 
Oh, and this one: 
 
In November 1969, Capitol Records sales managers reported a significant increase in sales of Beatles catalogue albums, attributed to the rumour. Rocco Catena, Capitol's vice-president of national merchandising, estimated that "this is going to be the biggest month in history in terms of Beatles sales"
 
Do you think?
 
This is the antitypical myth of the meandering Greek god Cashco beholding, not the reality on the wall, but the artificially superimposed image that is all his educated and drug-altered brain can take in.” — The Sheepandgoats Guide to Heroes and Has-Beens.
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Comments

Sandra Wiley

As I was growing up my older brother taught me about the clues. I too examined them carefully, including playing some songs backwards. I'd scrutinize pictures of Paul...he looks taller here, shorter there, his eyes look different here from there, etc.

I'm so glad it was all silly nonsense.

Andrew Davis

I saw a tongue and cheek documentary on the beatles conspiracy once.
A very serious presenter went through each point in detail. I remember him commenting on the white clothes one was wearing in an albumn cover and commenting: "White is the traditional colour of mourning in many cultures."
He then went through several other clues and arrived at a photo where the beatles were all wearing black. A serious close up followed where the presenter said: "Black is the tradional colour of mourning in many cultures."
Conspiracy theories are a great trick. All you have to do is find people who don't know much about the subject and put doubt in their minds. "Could it be that the Ark of the covenant was actually a nuclear reactor?" (you need someone who has never read the Bible for that one)

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