Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Turn Me On, Dead Man


On October 12, 1969, Russ Gibb (above), a local disc jockey for Detroit station WKNR-FM, opened the phone lines for callers. He received one from Eastern Michigan University student Tom Zarski, asking that he clarify a rumor that had spread across the campus like wildfire.

Gibb: Who do we have here? What’s your name?

Zarski: Uh, this is Tom on the line.

Gibb: Yeah, hello Tom. What’s going down? Have you got your radio on?

Zarski: Yeah, a little bit —

Gibb: Well, turn it down, man, ‘cause you’re giving us feedback.

Zarski: I was going to rap with you about McCartney being dead and what is this all about?

Gibb immediately recalled a previous false rumor regarding the supposed death of Bob Dylan two years earlier. He attempted to explain to Tom that rock stars like Beatle Paul McCartney were always rumored to have died secretly. Tom insisted that the DJ play the Beatles song “Revolution No. 9” backwards. Forward, a voice repeated the words “Number nine” over and over again. Played backwards, Gibb clearly heard the same voice utter, “Turn me on, dead man.”

Figure 1. “Revolution No. 9” excerpt, forward and backward.





Tom finally had Gibb’s attention. The two discussed the rumor at length. Subsequent callers began to point out other ‘clues’ that were apparent on other Beatles songs and artwork indicating that McCartney had died in 1966, and had been replaced by a double.

Unbeknownst to Gibb, the station management had been receiving calls from all over the place, as listeners phoned to friends in other towns about the rumor. One-by-one, other radio stations patched into the WKNR broadcast, until it saturated the entire US. After his shift, Gibb found out that he had just done a live, coast-to-coast broadcast.

Gibb wasn’t the first to publicize the rumor. Three days earlier, DJ Larry Monroe of Ann Arbor Station WOIA discussed the rumor on air, when callers began to alert him to it. Almost a month earlier, on September 17, 1969, Tim Harper, a Drake University (Iowa) student, reported the rumor in the campus newspaper, The Times-Delphic. Harper said he had heard it from his roommate, Dartanyan Brown, who had heard it from some unnamed musicians traveling through town between gigs.

Gibb’s callers only pointed out a few clues. University of Michigan student Fred LaBour came up with more a couple of days later when reviewing the Beatles’ latest release, the Abbey Road album, for his campus newspaper.

Other WKNR personalities followed through on the story during the next week. The station managed to contact Apple employee Derek Taylor, John Lennon and Yoko Ono for radio interviews. All three vehemently denied the allegation. Perhaps by then, however, it was too late for some to believe. Roby Yonge, a disc jockey for WABC (New York), the most listened to radio station in the US at the time, received a pink slip from station manager Rick Sklar during the middle of his broadcast for repeating the rumor. Younge’s firing seemed to hint of cover-up, and before long, a full-fledge conspiracy investigation had sprung up, with famed attorney F. Lee Bailey offering his services to find the truth.

McCartney, at the time living in seclusion on his farm in Scotland, hadn’t heard the rumor until approached by Life Magazine reporters a couple of weeks later. Paul took the news rather well, actually: he angrily threw a bucket of water on the journalists.

Realizing that one of them had taken a picture of the assault, and realizing the damage to his image, McCartney agreed to a full interview in exchange for suppression of the photograph. It appeared in the magazine’s November 7, 1969 issue (left), with McCartney, his wife and his kids adorning the cover.

That should have ended the rumor right then and there. But curiously, people were digging deeper and deeper into their record collections, and finding more clues. Consequently, McCartney has lived most of his life under the suspicion that he isn’t himself, but rather an imposter. The rumor acquired new legs in 1980, after his arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession. According to some, his fingerprints didn’t match those on file for when the Beatles first played Japan in 1964. The rumor began anew in 1984 when a German court dismissed a paternity suit against McCartney after forensic evidence excluded him as the baby’s father. Said some, “Of course his blood didn’t match. After all, the man tested wasn’t Paul.” Currently, a number of Internet websites have introduced photographic, and computer-analyzed evidence to “prove” that the man who recorded under the name Paul McCartney in 1965 was not the man who recorded under that name in 1968.

Gibb correctly surmised that celebrity death rumors had little merit, for they happened all the time. But the Paul Is Dead (PID) rumor was a very unique one, its singularity easily demonstrated by comparing it to the Dylan Is Dead (DID) hoax of 1967. The DID hoax was based on very public information, namely extensive documentation and news coverage of Dylan’s near-fatal motorcycle accident. The PID rumor had no documentation. In the DID hoax, Bob simply died, and that was that. In the PID rumor, McCartney had been secretly replaced. Furthermore, there’s very specific information about who replaced him and why. What’s more, there are these abundant clues. Most important: Dylan refused to come out of seclusion until his injuries had healed. Yet once he re-emerged, the rumor ended. Not so with McCartney.

So one has to wonder why all the controversy over the putative death of a man so obviously and provably alive.

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23 Comments:

  • At 5:29 AM, Blogger foam said…

    i remember those rumors, esp. the ones during the 80s.
    don't think i ever remember reading who paul perhaps really is. this should be interesting. do i believe it? not really, but the possibilities are interesting to contemplate.

     
  • At 1:16 PM, Blogger Angie said…

    Catching up on my reading so no comments yet. Interesting topic though. Just wanted to say hi.

     
  • At 3:28 PM, Blogger the.red.mantissa said…

    me too, i remember this. and hearing about the turn me on thing in the lyrics.

     
  • At 6:49 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Foam, we'll talk some about who McCartney's suppose to be in future posts. We'll have photos and a recording for comparison's sake.

    We'll also have a photo of Brian Epstein's alledged double. It belongs to a face that you're probably familiar with.

    Angie, read away. The fact that you drop by always makes me smile.

    Mantissa, there are loads of "clues," with people still finding more. I can't really count the number, but there are many more than the ones we grew up on.

    This is an area that's tangentally related to what I do in my non-X-Dell personna. Looking deeper into it, just for the hell of it, however, something struck me about these "clues" and the continuing insistance that McCartney is dead.

    The overwhelming evidence makes it pretty much a slam dunk that McCartney still lives in the public eye, as he has done since 1964. My curiousity is raised, however, was why someone wanted the public to believe this.

     
  • At 10:32 PM, Blogger LADY LUXIE said…

    Reached here as well I can remember...didn't give it much thought though...

    Wonder what you personally think...dead or alive?..

     
  • At 2:17 AM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Lux, there's no question that McCartney's alive. The question is why people would have us believe that he is not.

     
  • At 6:49 AM, Blogger Dale said…

    It's Yoko isn't it? She's an easy blame victim anyway. I remember my fascination with the PID rumours as well. Strange stuff.

     
  • At 9:29 AM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    True, Dale. Ono is always the default villain for Beatlephiles. They blame her for breaking up the band, her husband's murder, and earthquakes in California.

     
  • At 10:00 AM, Blogger Behind Blue Eyes said…

    The other day, I recieved an e-mail concerning Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren or someone stating that he had been thrown of the Oprah show for making racist statements. It said that he didn't want people of color to be wearing his clothes because it detracts from his image.

    I found it very offensive and almost passed the e-mail on. Then luckily I checked the inter-net and it is an internet rumor. Who knows how these things start up.

     
  • At 12:14 PM, Blogger Malcolm: said…

    Good post. I read in one of my books that when Paul read the bad reviews of some of his solo work, he probably wished he was dead.

    WKNR was an awesome station. Although I wasn't around during its heyday, I have heard some of their airchecks. I also visit http://www.keener13.com/ from time to time.

     
  • At 1:31 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Behind Blue Eyes, the Tommy Hilfiger and the Ralph Lauren rumors were unfortunate rumors, in that they tarnished both brands unfairly. The rumor was that both designers claimed to actively discourage African Americans from buying their wares. Neither company indulges in this practice.

    What's really unfortunate is that I know that a lot of clothing manufacturers do. While teaching media courses, some of my students worked at PR and ad firms for some designers. My students would sneak me memos saying pretty much the same things....or worse. Of course, people are candid in confidential information.

    As of now I cannot even say the names of the corporations, lest I get these students into serious trouble.

    That's the problem with rumors. In this case, it deflected the blame of an industry onto two companies that were innocent of the charge. Meanwhile, the rest of the fashion industry gets off the hook.

    Malcom, welcome to The X-Spot. Don't be a stranger. My day gig actually concerns popular culture, so I don't do much of it here. But I'm glad you stopped by. You have a really good page.

    I'm sure that there are many Beatles fans that wished McCartney would have died sometime before "Silly Love Songs." McCartney might have even wished himself after his divorce.

    If so, everyone will get their wish, if they wait long enough.

     
  • At 2:36 PM, Blogger JohnB said…

    One would think since the advent of DNA testing, that the rumor could be resolved in one fell swoop...yes, but why all the hype? That indeed is a good question.

     
  • At 3:00 PM, Blogger Enemy of the Republic said…

    I just taught my four so I can't think, but I love the new look.

     
  • At 3:58 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    John, McCartney's perfectly free to quell the currently raging rumors by simply opening his mouth up for a swab. If he were that upset about the rumor, now in a far more virulent and aggressive form than in 1969, then you might think he would have gotten himself tested.

    McCartney's reaction to the rumor has been hard to fathom. Sometimes, it seems to make him really angry and upset. At the same time, he doesn't pass up a chance to joke about it (e.g. like on The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.

    On some days, it probably gets on his nerves. After all, I'd imagine it would get on my nerves if someone claimed I wasn't X. Dell. Then again, a man his age, and with that kind of fame, probably has few intrigues left in him. I would speculate that he's always enjoyed the rumor, for the most part. If he takes the DNA test, that kills all the fun.

    I'm quite certain, however, that he didn't start the rumor, and I have a sneaking suspicion of who did.

    Enemy, thanks for commenting. Since I haven't changed my template in over a year, I felt this was due. I'm hoping to make it easier to read.

     
  • At 4:22 PM, Blogger foam said…

    i think i'm floating ...

     
  • At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Ray said…

    During the time Paul McCartney’s “death” was the rage, radio station WKBW in Buffalo, NY jumped on the bandwagon and produced its own special program about the hidden clues. The conclusion made by the host: Paul’s death was indeed a hoax but one perpetrated by John Lennon!

    Ray

     
  • At 6:23 PM, Blogger Rayke said…

    Dude. This is incredible. As a child of he 80's, I had never heard of ANY of this. Even the "Revolution #9" thing was unbeknownst to me.

    After reading that I did some digging of my own to see what else I could find about this, but you pretty much nailed most of it. But one thing I DID find interesting, that I had never noticed before, was that on the cover of Abbey Road, McCartney is the only one who is barefoot. But even more perplexing is the fact that he is only one out of setp with the others. His right foot is forward while the others have their left feet forward.

    http://johngushue.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/abbey_road_album_cover.jpg

    I'm probably looking too much into it, but Wikipedia will do that to you.

    You should absolutely post more if you have anything left.

     
  • At 6:48 PM, Blogger Kate said…

    I dont remember the rumors... how weird would it be to hear that you were rumored dead!!

    That audio clip was cool... I dont know if I hear the 'dead man' part... that could have been the name of a person... Desmond for instance.

    Interesting! Have a good weekend!

     
  • At 7:07 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Foam, du bist der Schaum. Du sollst treiben.

    Ray, I've come across a number of other specials produced after the WKNR one. Some of them, like the one you mentioned, believed that the Beatles themselves perpetrated the hoax to sell records. After the hoax came out, Harrison, Lennon, and (especially) McCartney made lighthearted references to the rumor, and wittingly contributed to it. But I'm fairly sure that they didn't start it, for reasons small and obvious. For example, the Beatles didn't need help selling records in 1969, especially since fans all over the world were begging them to stay together--they had already broken up twice by the time WKNR produced this. Were it to be known that they duped a lot of people, they would have been as welcome as, say, Milli Vanilli years later.

    In other words, the risk was far greater than the potential gain. I'd find it difficult to believe that their manager at the time, Allan Klein, would have let them do something so stupid.

    Rayke, you bring out an interesting point. The Beatles are kinda the ultimate in rock brand names. There's no need to delve deeper into intrigue, so a lot of the scuttlebutt of that era has since become meaningless. That's one of the reasons why I'm fascinated about the PID rumor making such a strong resurgence these days. Deep down, I suspect that some of these people cannot reconcile the fact that the same man who wrote "Hard Day's Night" could write something as inane as "No More Lonely Nights."

    Unfortunately, I cannot get your link to work. I will see if I can tweak it a bit.

    We'll post more on this, and we'll add some more "clues."

     
  • At 7:10 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Kate, it's one thing to be rumored dead. It's another thing for people to still believe you're dead, even when you tell them that you're not.

    Kate, that's a good point about the "Turn me on, dead man" thing. Like most backmasked lyrics, these take a bit of imagination to translate into actual words.

     
  • At 12:46 AM, Blogger JohnB said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

     
  • At 12:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    With all the autographs and personal belongings in the collector market, and the contact McCartney still makes with fans (I saw him in my hometown after a concert 6 years ago), it would be easy to "prove" that Paul is not Paul. It's not unusual to obtain a DNA test these days, and I'm certain fingerprints on documents would be even easier to establish. The notion that "clues" would be released about a supposedly secret event is absurd. Of course, he is still the same guy. Just look at the 'PID' websites, loaded with nutcase conspiracy theories about the CIA and aliens, and you can understand that the people who cling to this imaginary belief are very disturbed and have little ability to accept reality, that Paul McCartney is quite alive.

     
  • At 1:02 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Hello, Anonymous, welcome to The X-Spot.

    I agree with you that it's obvious that Paul McCartney is no other than Paul McCartney. Moreover, he could easily prove this at any time. But this post is only the first in a series that examines the nature of the rumor.

    While I agree with your bottom line, I take a dim view of armchair psychoanalysis. I don't see people who believe as pathological, I don't think you should either. After all, if they give the rumor any creedence it's because McCartney himself is responsible, in part, for maintaining it.

     

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