Paul Is Dead
An English Boy
peter_dennis_blandford_townshend at hotmail.com
Mon Feb 7 13:31:52 CST 2005
Listen to what the man says
36 years after rumors of his demise, Paul McCartney is
still alive - and playing guitar
By Susan Whitall
Gannett News Service
Thirty-six years ago, Detroit disc jockey Russ Gibb
found himself at the center of a burgeoning conspiracy
theory. Was Paul McCartney of the Beatles dead?
The human love of a mystery, a fascination with death
and Beatlemania all came together to whip U.S.
teenagers into a frenzy over what seems today a
laughable urban legend. In the past month, Gibb has
been interviewed by two crews, one from a Russian TV
production company, and one from the Netherlands,
about his role in kicking the "Paul is dead" rumor
into overdrive by airing "clues" to McCartney's death
on his Detroit-area radio show.
Why the renewed interest decades later? The rumor of
McCartney's death, raised and debunked in the fall of
1969, now wends its way across the Internet, where
there are scores of "Paul is dead" Web sites.
Perhaps it's because McCartney and the Beatles are
still such a big part of the cultural zeitgeist so
many years later, with young fans continuing to
discover the music. To add to the synchronicity, a
very much alive and kicking McCartney is headlining
the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show today in
"He'll keep his clothes on," halftime show producer
Charles Coplin quipped to the Associated Press, in
case you forgot about last year's halftime show and
the Janet Jackson "reveal."
The durability of the "Paul is dead" legend, which
started in Michigan, amazes Gibb. It was several
lifetimes ago when he was a disc jockey for the
underground radio station WKNR-FM in Dearborn.
"I don't know why people are so interested," says a
bemused Gibb. "I called Dick Purtan up to ask him,
because he was on WKNR-AM at the time of the 'Paul is
dead' thing. Dick said he thinks people are thinking
about the Beatles because of those albums they just
reissued in the fall."
At center of hoax
A Russian TV crew visited Gibb in January, and last
week, a group of Dutch film students led by Wouter van
Opdorp, 24, of Amsterdam, Netherlands, followed Gibb
around and quizzed him for a documentary on the "Paul
is dead" phenomenon that will air on Dutch public TV.
"I first heard the 'Paul is dead' story when I was
12," says van Opdorp. He was already a Beatles fan,
having heard his parents' records.
"Does the Paul McCartney hoax still follow you?" the
director quizzed Gibb, on-camera.
"Yes, I'm known as the 'Great Ghoul,' " says the
retired teacher. "I had to change my phone number a
few years ago. I'd get calls from kids around the
country saying, 'Are you the guy who buried Paul
McCartney?' And either they were mad about it, or they
thought it was cool."
The "Paul is dead" rumor started in a few college
newspapers in September 1969, but picked up steam when
an Eastern Michigan University student, Tom Zarski,
called Gibb on his nighttime radio show on Oct. 12 and
asked if Gibb had heard about it.
After that, listeners called in every night to discuss
it and mull over messages that came up when Beatles
records were played backwards.
Newspaper articles followed, and there was even a
November television special taped by RKO Television in
Los Angeles and hosted by F. Lee Bailey, on which the
famed lawyer quizzed Gibb and others in a mock
Researching the death rumor
There are a few books on the "Paul is dead"
phenomenon, but none as thoroughly researched as "Turn
Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the Paul-is-Dead
Hoax" (Authorshouse, $19.95) by Andru J. Reeve, 42.
Reeve was only 7 in 1969 when Gibb started talking
about it on his radio show and the rumor flew around
the country via old-school media like the telephone,
newspapers and word of mouth in high school hallways.
His Beatles fandom hadn't started until the 1970s,
after he heard McCartney's James Bond anthem "Live and
Let Die." Reeve discovered the rumor of the bassist's
demise while researching his favorite band.
"I'm not really sure why it keeps skipping
generations," Reeve says of the rumor's potency.
"That's amazing to me. You have these kids on the
Internet with 'Paul is dead' Web sites.
"I write about this extensively in my book. I found
about 200 Web sites devoted to 'Paul is dead.' "
Clues to McCartney's 'death'
There are innumerable "clues" amassed by fans over the
years that they felt (and some zealots still insist)
point to an alleged Paul McCartney death and
substitution by an alternate Paul. Here are just a
The cover of the Beatles album "Abbey Road" (right)
supposedly shows Paul's funeral, with John Lennon
dressed all in white portraying God; Ringo Starr
dressed in black as the undertaker; a barefoot Paul
McCartney is, of course, the deceased; and a
blue-jeaned George Harrison is the gravedigger.
Backward tracking. There are several instances of
messages supposedly embedded in Beatles records, but
you have to have a turntable and a vinyl record to
hear them. The most famous one is in "Revolution No.
9," when John Lennon repeatedly says "No. 9 ... No.
9... No. 9 ..." Played backward under the right
conditions, it sounds like he's saying "Turn me on,
Lyrics: "He blew his mind out in a car," from "A Day
in the Life," on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
The cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
is rife with "clues," since it's the Beatles assembled
at a funeral.
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