The scariest thing I’ve ever heard as a child was a radio show late at night discussing the “Paul Is Dead” phenomenon. It was a re-broadcast of a radio documentary by Dave Foxx in 1979. Here it is:
This documentary scared the living shit out of my 11-year-old self…spooky music, continual morbidity (pointing out all the “clues” on the Beatles album cover and lyrics “proving” that the real Paul McCartney had died in 1967)…and, the most terrifying of all, lots of music being played backwards.
Play anything backwards, it sounds like The Devil—I’m telling’ ya!
Anyway, I couldn’t sleep for the rest of that night…and was creeped out for weeks afterwards. In one way, listing to that show set me of on a path looking for even more weird stories. Because while it was true I was deeply creeped out, it was also a very memorable and visceral sensation that I would seek to repeat pretty much for the rest of my life.
Up until recently, I thought the “Paul Is Dead” rumor was just a fringe thing that merely happened in the 1960s on college campuses and was whispered about by some Beatles fans. But actually, the media—and the public—kind of took this rumor really seriously. It was front-page news. People were demanding that Paul McCartney make a public appearance to prove he wasn’t dead. There was even a prime-time special on NY’s WOR featuring star attorney F. Lee Bailey, in which he put the rumor itself “on trial” and interrogated “witnesses” including people who actually knew and worked with the Beatles. There’s a great documentary on YouTube called “Cranberry Sauce” (long story) that focuses on that period of time:
Think about it…it’s as if a member from One Direction, or Beyonce, or somebody of that popularity in pop music suddenly disappeared…or not even disappeared, but merely “seemed different” enough to suspect they were really dead and replaced with an uncanny lookalike…that’s what happened towards the end of the 1960s with the “Paul Is Dead” rumor.
People who still believe in “Paul Is Dead” now—a.k.a. “PID,” a.k.a. “Faul,” etc.—are some of the most passionate conspiracy theorists you will ever encounter. They honestly believe that Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced with a “double”…and that this “double” (possibly Billy Shears, possibly a man named William Campbell) operated as the real deal up to the present day. And they have the facial comparison charts to prove it.
My mind sometimes can be so open it feels as if my brain is in danger of falling out, but I was never really that swayed by the face comparisons or the backwards song lyrics. In fact, a lot of the PID clues in general just didn’t make an impact on me…to the point where I began to suspect that some of the biggest supporters of PID were actually trolling.
But there are two major takeaways I get from the entire phenomenon.
First, and biggest: The truth is, the Beatles were in a slump sales-wise before the PID rumor, and afterwards they received a proven bump in sales that carried them through their breakup and beyond. There is just no debating it…the death rumor=big cash for the Beatles. This is not to say that they themselves started the rumor, essentially trolling the fans (though many people think exactly that). But the intersection between death and money is very interesting. Especially in the light of so many other performers who died young and sparked massive posthumous sales of their work (and there’s a whole other conspiracy theory regarding Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love on this point).
Second, and more esoterically…let’s just assume that there was some sort of “change” evident about Paul McCartney around 1966/67. And maybe a lot of it wasn’t too obvious…but just something you “sensed,” rather than anything more tangible.
The elephant in the room is, of course, that between the 66/67 intersection, the Beatles completely changed their image, and became significantly more esoteric and even “dark.” I mean, what the fuck was with that original “Yesterday and Today” cover with the butcher meat and broken baby dolls, anyway?
So it could be simply that “Paul Is Dead” is really about fans coping with the radical change in their favorite band…and creating an elaborate mythology to “explain” it…because such a mythology/conspiracy would be more comforting than the fact that “the times they were a-changing” and a lot of innocence was being lost (pop-culturally, nationally, socially, etc.).
There are some bits and pieces from the PID documentary “Winged Beatle” (which is kind of completely insane, just letting you know) that put this whole thing in a slightly different perspective. (As of this writing, the original has been pulled from YouTube due to copyright restrictions on the music, but people are always uploading copies of it so if you’re interested, please do a search.)
“Winged Beatle” is a very elaborate doc with very high production values for something this crazy. It also claims some degree of insider knowledge, and literally like 700+ comments on a PID blog were devoted to its shadowy true creators (including the theory that McCartney himself secretly bankrolled it as a massive troll).
Part of it smacks a bit of those “concerned Christian”/anti-rock and roll/It’s The Satanic Illuminati docs on YouTube, in that all the old conspiracy chestnuts regarding alleged occult influence on the Beatles gets trotted out (Al Crowley on the Sgt. Pepper cover, the “Satanic hand-signals” from the Yellow Submarine, etc.). But it also starts to create a very interesting theory, one that I had not encountered previously.
And the theory is: rather than John or George being the ones who initially exposed the Beatles to alternative religions and all sorts of metaphysical stuff, it was really Paul!
That baby-faced, squeaky-clean Paul McCartney was the guy bringing in the Crowley references, and mystical stuff, and everything. An occult “mastermind,” if you will—one who nobody would have suspected.
Further, “Winged Beatle” makes the claim that on an African safari in 66 or 67, McCartney somehow became…”possessed”…and then when he got home to England he locked himself in his house (his assistant summarily firing their longtime butler) and conceived of the entire Sgt. Pepper concept in one big massive creative mind-dump.
Basically, the insinuation is that he channeled the whole goddamn thing, Sgt. Pepper…and thus “infected” the world with a radically new pop-cultural energy…one that would literally change the world forever.
Which would make the fact that the band originally had not one, but two images of Aleister Crowley on the Sgt. Pepper cover pretty interesting. Because in 1904, Crowley pretty much did the same thing McCartney was alleged to do…he channeled “The Book Of The Law” from an entity named Aiwass, and claimed that the book would usher a new age in humanity. And whether you think that Crowley was full of shit and hashish (and many do think this), the fact is, the world did massively change following the publication of that book (whether it had anything to do with it or not).
But again…this all smacks of the “concerned Christian” anti-rock stuff, with “change in society”=”The Devil.”
However, let’s take that whole “Satanic Panic” thing out of the equation and look at this again.
Have you ever noticed that there are certain periods of time in human history where the culture radically changes? There will be a certain holy book that will get written, a certain new mythology, and suddenly everybody’s following it and painting it and governments change because of it and humanity seems to be shifted to another direction?
Back in the old days—back in the time of the Bible and such—much of that material was flat-out channeled from theoretical “angels,” “God,” and whatnot. Take the Book of Revelation, for instance…that was channeled material. The Ten Commandments…essentially, channeled material from an outside entity. The Book of Mormon…ancient Egyptian texts…Hopi prophecies…etc.
What makes us think that has all really changed at the present day?
If you are some weird outside entity-type thing and you want to change the world, you start at the top, with the most influential (or potentially influential) people. You start with a pop star, or a best-selling novelist, or a movie director.
This is not to say that I actually believe Paul-frigging-McCartney was possessed by an alien entity during an African safari, thus leading him to create Sgt. Pepper and changing the world forever…the change in Paul “manifesting” in weird unplanned synchronicities and “clues” on the Beatle record covers and encoded in their music when played backwards…the change in Paul sort of palpably felt by fans and friends, leading to these rumors of him being replaced by a lookalike…I’m not saying that.
What I am saying is: that would make an amazing bit of science-fiction.
At any rate, Paul McCartney seems not only to not have been “cursed” by such morbid rumors, but indeed appears to be well on the way to possibly surviving his other three bandmates.
WHICH brings me, finally, to the comic book “Batman” #222, published at the tail-end of the PID craze in 1970.
The issue featured a very Beatles-looking band called “The Oliver Twists.” Robin investigates the rumor that band member Saul Cartwright (Paul McCartney?) had died in a freak motorcycle accident and was replaced by a double. Luckily, Batman/Bruce Wayne is the major stockholder in The Oliver Twists’ music label Eden Records (or, Apple Corps), and the two have access to the band.
What is the true shocking secret of the story “Dead…Till Proven Alive?” Saul is Saul—it’s the rest of the band members who are fakes, the originals having died in a tragic plane crash in the Himalayas during a spiritual journey. Saul masterminded everything so the band could continue to make records (and money).
And there you have it—when looking for answers on the PID mystery, ya gotta call Saul!