“Paul Is Dead” Clues in “I Am the Walrus”

“I Am the Walrus” is on the Beatles’ 1967 release Magical Mystery Tour. Because of its strange imagery, “I Am the Walrus” has long been closely scrutinized by people looking for clues that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike. To search this song for hidden meanings is rather ironic since, according to Pete Shotton, John Lennon intended to write a song with nonsensical imagery to confound those who looked for significance in every Beatle lyric. After recalling a grotesque song they used to sing as children, John strung together the most ludicrous imagery he could think of. Shotton recalls that after writing the song, “He turned to me, smiling. ‘Let the fuckers work that one out, Pete.'”
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“Paul Is Dead” Clues on Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles’ movie Magical Mystery Tour, originally broadcast on the BBC in 1967, opens with the line, “When a man buys a ticket for a Magical Mystery Tour he knows what to expect. We guarantee him the trip of a lifetime.” Perhaps the Beatles presumed that those who were “turned on” would understand what was going on, but the film was a poorly conceived and hard to follow. More than anything, this film showed that the Beatles were struggling to find their direction in their first major project after the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Still, the record that accompanied the film, also called Magical Mystery Tour (1967), had plenty of good music to keep fans happy. With all of the nonsense and surreal imagery it was understandable that fans would be looking for clues about Paul McCartney’s rumored death and replacement by a lookalike on this album, particularly when the title song announced, “the magical mystery tour is dying to take you away”.
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“Paul Is Dead” Clues on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

In the “Paul is dead” mythology, if Abbey Road is the funeral procession, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the burial. The Beatles had decided to stop touring and focus on experimenting with new sounds in the recording studio. It was Paul’s idea that the Beatles immerse themselves in an alternate identity for this 1967 release. The name “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” was a play on verbose hippie-era band names. As Paul explained in The Beatles Anthology,

It was at the start of the hippy times, and there was a jingly-jangly happy aura all around in America. I started thinking about what would be a really mad name to call a band. At the time there were lots of groups with names like ‘Laughing Joe and His Medicine Band’ or ‘Col Tucker’s Medicinal Brew and Compound’; all that old Western going-round-on-wagons stuff, with long rambling names. And so in the same way that it ‘I Am The Walrus’ John would throw together ‘choking smokers’ and ‘elementary penguin’, I threw those words together: ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. I took an idea back to the guys in London: ‘As we’re trying to get away from ourselves – to get away from touring and into a more surreal thing – how about if we become an alter-ego band, something like, say, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts”? I’ve got a little bit of a song cooking with that title.’

The cover photo, then, shows the Beatles assuming this new identity and laying to rest their earlier image as the Fab Four. People looking for clues of Paul’s death, however, interpreted the cover of Sgt. Pepper as representing Paul’s burial and the end of the Beatles as we had known them. With its iconic cover featuring so many images from popular culture, Sgt. Pepper is rife with “Paul is dead” clues.

The new psychedelic Beatles stand at the center while wax images of the younger Beatles look mournfully on the gravesite because the Beatles were no longer the same band.

pid_SgtPepperCover

Looking at the older, psychedelic Beatles, you’ll notice a couple of odd things. While the rest of the Beatles are standing at an angle, Paul is facing the camera as though he were being supported by his bandmates standing at his sides. While the rest of the Beatles are holding brass band instruments, Paul’s pid_HandOverHeadcor anglaise is black (death) and wooden (coffin). A hand is over Paul’s head, as though he were being blessed by a priest before being interred. In Strawberry Fields Forever #51, Joel Glazier points out that this hand belongs to Stephen Crane, who wrote a short story called “The Open Boat” based on his experience of surviving a shipwreck. He and three other men made it to a lifeboat, but one of the men drowned when the boat capsized. In his fictionalized version of the story, though Billie (the only character referred to by name) is the strongest of the four men in the boat, he drowns when they try to swim to shore. Glazier also notes that Stephen Crane died in his 20s, and a number of the other figures depicted on the cover died tragic deaths, as well, including Jayne Mansfield who was decapitated in a car crash.

Across the gravesite is a bass guitar oriented the way Paul, who waspid_HyacinthBass left-handed, would play it. The strings of the instrument are made of sticks but there are only three sticks rather than four, just as there would only be three Beatles without Paul. With a little imagination you can see that the yellow hyacinths spell out “PAUL?” or, looked at another way, the flowers form the letter “P”.

Joel Glazier points tpid_HeDieo perhaps the most imaginative interpretation of an image on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. If you hold a mirror across the middle of the words “LONELY HEARTS” written across the center of the bass drum, you will see “IONEIX HE<>DIE”. When arranged as “I ONE IX HE <> DIE,” this image suggests the date (11-9, or November 9, 1966) that Paul died, as the diamond between the words “HE” and “DIE” points directly at Paul. One problem with this interpretation is that the British write dates as day-month-year rather than the American month-day-year, which would make this date September 11th rather than November 9th. You could read this, then, as “1 ONE 1 X”, meaning that one of the four is gone, and then the “HE DIE” points to Paul as the missing Beatle.

pid_Doll

The doll at the right side of the picture–the cloth figure of Shirley Temple–wears a sweater that reads “WELCOME THE ROLLING STONES”. Joel Glazier asserts that the Rolling Stones helped to cover up Paul’s death and the reference on the cover was a thank you from the Beatles. This message also suggests that without the Beatles the Rolling Stones would have been the undisputed leading rock and roll band. A model of an Aston-Martin, the type of car that Paul was supposedly driving at the time of his fatal accident, is leaned against the doll’s leg. The interior of the car is red, symbolizing Paul’s bloody accident. Also, the cloth grandmother figure, on whose lap the Shirley Temple doll is resting, is wearing a blood stained driving glove.

The Japanese stone figure at the feet of the wax images of the younger Beatles has line on its head, representing the head wounds that Paul sustained in his fatal accident. The four-armed Indian doll at the front of the picture is Shiva, symbol of both destruction and creation. Two of the doll’s arms are raised, one pointing at the wax image of the younger Paul and the other pointing at Paul himself. The television set on the ground to the right of the Beatles is turned off, suggesting that the news of the tragedy had been suppressed.

The album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band was innovative in several ways. It was one of the first to feature a gatefold sleeve, which allowed the Beatles an especially large space for a band photo.

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In the photo Paul is wearing a patch with the letters “O.P.D.”, interpreted as “Officially Pronounced Dead.” In his article in Life magazine, John Neary reported that this phrase is the equivalent of “Dead On Arrival” in British police jargon.

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In the same Life magazine article Paul stated, “It is all bloody stupid. I picked up the O.P.D. badge in Canada. It was a police badge. Perhaps it means Ontario Police Department or something.” This explanation didn’t help to clarify anything, however, because there is no such thing is the Ontario Police Department (well, except in California, that is). The badge Paul was wearing actually reads “O.P.P.”, which stands for the Ontario Provincial Police. The angle of the photograph makes the final “P” look like a “D”.

pid_OPP

Another distinguishing feature of Sgt. Pepper was that it was the first album to have the song lyrics printed in full on the album cover. On the original LP the song lyrics are printed on the back cover over a picture of the Beatles. Unlike the rest of the Beatles, Paul has his back turned to the camera, the three black buttons on the back of his coat representing the mourning of the other Beatles. Though John, Paul and George were all about the same height, Paul appears taller than the other Beatles, suggesting that he is ascending. Next to Paul’s head are the words “WITHOUT YOU” from the song title “Within You Without You”.

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Also, George appears to be pointing at the words “Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins”, which was supposed to have been the time of Paul’s fatal accident.

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George positioned his hand in this way not to point to the printed lyrics, but to make the letter “L”, the first letter in the wordpid_JohnV “LOVE”, as the Beatles appeapid_RingoEr to be spelling out the word “LOVE” with their hands. In addition to George pointing his fingers in the shape of an “L”, John’s hands are arranged in a “V” shape, and Ringo’s clasped hands form an “E”. The “O” is missing as Paul’s hands are not visible.
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The lyrics themselves seem to be revealing information about Paul’s death and replacement by a lookalike. The title song introduces Billy Shears, who then tells the audience in “With a Little Help from My Friends” “Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song/And I’ll try not to sing out of key”. Paul’s replacement, William Campbell, but here referred to as “Billy Shears,” was still working on perfecting his singing voice. Several songs have references to a tragic accident. “Good Morning, Good Morning” opens with the line “Nothing to do to save his life call his wife in.” One story of Paul’s fatal accident was that he had picked up a woman named Rita and she became so excited when she realized she was in a car with Paul McCartney that she threw herself on him. As told in the song “Lovely Rita,” “I took her home/I nearly made it”. In “A Day in the Life” John sings ominously of a car crash. “He blew his mind out in a car/He hadn’t noticed that the lights had changed/A crowd of people stood and stared/They’d seen his face before/Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords”. Paul McCartney Dead: The Great Hoax asserts,

On the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” one of the songs, “A Day in the Life,” has been interpreted as Paul’s official death announcement. In the lyric of the song is the phrase: He blew his mind out in a car. This is to support the theory that Paul did die in an automobile accident in November, 1966-more precisely, that he was decapitated.

Also, according to Joel Glazier, toward the end of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” you can a voice shouting “Paul is dead, yeah, really really dead!”. This one is very much open to suggestion, however, as Andru Reeve has the voice shouting, “Paul McCartney is dead, everybody! Really, really dead!”

Sgt. Pepper’s Loney Hears Blub Band (Reprise) [edit]

Sgt. Pepper’s Loney Hears Blub Band (Reprise) [edit]

Another bit of audio that has been subject to scrutiny is the “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove”. The Beatles produced a few seconds of gibberish that would play on indefinitely for those with turntables that did not shut off automatically. Here it is played forward:

Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove [forward]

Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove [forward]

And here it is in reverse:

Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove [reversed]

Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove [reversed]

A variety of interpretations of this bit of audio have been put forth, some relevant to the “Paul is dead” story but most not. Long after the release of Sgt. Pepper, Paul McCartney, frustrated by all the rumors of secret messages, reported in Rolling Stone that he played “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove” backwards, “And there it was, plain as anything, ‘We’ll fuck you like Supermen.’ I thought, Jesus, what can you do?”

“Paul Is Dead” Clues on Abbey Road

AbbeyRoadAbbey Road, the last album the Beatles recorded together, was released in the fall of 1969 (September 26th in the UK and October 1st in the US). Rumors that Paul McCartney had died in 1966 and had been replaced by a lookalike had been in the air for many months before the release of Abbey Road, but this story had mainly just circulated on college campuses. People in the know claimed that the Beatles had left clues about Paul’s death and replacement on their albums. Abbey Road served to fuel these rumors and fears that Paul McCartney had died became the focus of media attention shortly after the album’s release. On October 12, 1969, Russ Gibb, a DJ for Detroit radio station WKNR, took a call from a listener who identified himself as Tom. The caller was concerned about the rumors of Paul McCarLifetney’s death and he thought “Uncle Russ” might be able to explain what was going on. This was news to the DJ, however, and Russ Gibb kept Tom on the line for an extended period as they discussed many of the “Paul is dead” clues on the air. From that point on the story took on a life of its own and within days it was reported in major newspapers and on network TV news. The story remained in the news for a few weeks until Life magazine tracked down Paul McCartney in Scotland and showed a picture of him with his family on the cover of the November 7, 1969, issue under the heading “Paul is still with us.”

Though it’s difficult to identify the specific detail that triggered the “Paul is dead” hysteria, Abbey Road contributed several new “clues” to the story. The cover, which shows a photograph of the Beatles walking in step across the street away from Abbey Road Studios, resembles a funeral procession. Leading the procession is John wGreatHoaxearing white, symbolizing the clergy. Ringo, dressed in black, is a pallbearer or an the undertaker. George, dressed in work clothes, is the gravedigger. Paul, the corpse, is out of step with the other Beatles, leading with his right foot instead of with his left. Also, Paul’s eyes are closed and he is barefoot. Asserting that because people in many areas of the world are buried barefoot, Paul McCartney Dead: The Great Hoax stated that this was “a strong death symbol.” Also, Paul is smoking a cigarette, also known as a “coffin nail“. He is holding the cigarette in his right hand, even though the real Paul McCartney was left handed.

Behind the Beatles on the left side of the street is a Volkswagen Beetle with a li28IFcense plate reading “28IF”, suggesting the Paul would have been 28 if he were still alive. Actually Paul would have been 27 when Abbey Road was released. For those who thought that this was just too tantalizing to let pass, Paul Is Dead: The Great Hoax explained, “To the believer, 28 IF does symbolically state Paul’s age—since people (especially in the Near East where Paul learned mysticism) believe we are all one year old at birth (counting the nine months of pregnancy). True, in this light, Paul would have been 28 IF he had lived!.” (Emphasis in original) The first three letters on the license place, “LMW,” has been interpreted as “Linda McCartney Weeps”. One prPoliceTruckoblem with this interpretation, however, is that Paul had yet to meet Linda Eastman in 1966 when Paul’s fatal accident supposedly occurred. A police van was parked on the opposite side of the street in the Abbey Road cover photo. Joel Glazier, author of “Paul Is Dead… Miss Him, Miss Him” in the fanzine Strawberry Fields Forever #51 (1978), asserted that the police who came to the scene of Paul’s fatal accident in 1966 were paid off to maintain secrecy. To Joel Glazier the police van parked in the background is a reference to this.

The back cover, which shows a young woman walking by a wall marked with an Abbey Road street sign, was also scrutinized for “Paul is dead” clues, and the images on the back cover have given rise to some of the strangest clues. Embedded in the concrete are a set of tiles spelling out “Beatles” and the “S” at the end of “Beatles” has a crack running through it. In The Walrus Was Paul: The Great Beatle Death Clues of 1969, R. Gary Patterson suggests that this is an allusion to literary “supernatural characters who assumed any shapes desired. This shape appeared perfect at first glance, but upon closer examination, a slight deformity was evident.” He cited the character of Geraldine from “Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “Lamia” by John Keats—easily the most literary (and far-fetched) of the “Paul is dead” clues.

AbbeyRoadBackCover
To the left of the tiles spelling out “Beatles” are eight dots, which when connected form the numeral “3”, so the back cover actually reads “3 Beatles”. In 1970 Joel Glazier 3Beatlesvisited the wall where this photo was taken and he counted 13 dots. His conclusion was that the Beatles had intentionally cropped the picture to reveal the number of remaining Beatles. Also, he noted that to the right of the tiles is a very odd shadow that looks like a skull.

Skull
R. Gary Patterson reports that a number of conspiracy theorists thought that the woman pid_Armwalking by was Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend at the time of his fatal accident.Conspiracy theorists believe that she must have been aware of Paul’s death and replacement by a look-alike, so she must have been paid to keep quiet about the whole matter. Joel Glazier, however, asserted that the woman’s image was included on the back cover because it contained a visual reference to Paul McCartney. He suggested that if you look at the elbow of the woman in the photo from a distance, you can see Paul McCartney’s profile, with his nose in the upper right hand corner of the picture and the woman’s elbow forming his mouth.

Those looking for references to Paul’s death listened closely to the lyrics of the songs on Abbey Road. As R. Gary Patterson points out, the tone of “Come Together” suggests that “an underlying tragedy was hidden beneath the lyrics,” and the cryptic imagery of the song lends itself to imaginative interpretation. The opening line of the song “Here come old flattop” might refer to the injuries to the head Paul sustained in his fatal crash. “He wear no shoeshine” may refer to the barefoot Paul in the cover photo for the LP. “Got to be good looking ’cause he’s so hard to see” may refer to the absence of the “cute Beatle.” “Got to be a joker/He just do what he please” might refer to the “great hoax,” Paul’s replacement by a lookalike. And the line “One and one and one is three” might mean that there are now three Beatles instead of four.

The medley that dominates side 2 of the LP offered plenty of fodder for conspiracy theorists, as well. The interlocking set of eight songs from “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “The End” may not have been thematically related but the song fragments fit together well. This form was fairly novel in 1969 and the reputation of this piece has grown over the years. Rolling Stone calls it “the matured Beatles at their best: playful, gentle, acerbic, haunting and bonded by the music.” Inevitable, then, that conspiracy theorists would examine this piece closely. Joel Glazier pointed out that the “Sun King” was the French monarch Louis XIV. In Part III of The Vicomte de Bragelonne or Ten Years Later by Alexander Dumas, “The Man in the Iron Mask” is Louis XIV’s twin brother who, through an elaborate plot, comes to replace the “Sun King”. To Glazier this reference supported the story that Paul had been replaced by a lookalike. Also, Andru Reeve, author of Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the “Paul Is Dead” Hoax, points out that the songs in the medley contain a number of references to death. “You Never Give Me Your Money” contains the line “All good children go to Heaven,” “Golden Slumbers” is “the Big Sleep—death,” and the medley concludes with “The End.” He also mentions that “Carry That Weight” could be interpreted as a pallbearer’s task (which is how this song was used in the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton musical adaptation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), as well as the heavy burden on the remaining Beatles after Paul’s death.

“It is all bloody stupid,” complained Paul McCartney when he was interviewed by Life magazine in the fall of 1969. “On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day. The Volkswagen just happened to be parked there.”  Clearly Paul McCartney was bothered by such strange interpretations of the Abbey Road cover and he has made references to it at various points over the years. In 1993 he released the album Paul Is Live, choosing the title not only because it was a live album, but also as a counter to the “Paul is dead” story. In the cover photo McCartney consciously addressed the “Paul is dead” PaulIsLivemythology that had emerged surrounding the Abbey Road album cover. The cover shows an updated image of him crossing Abbey Road with his dog, Arrow, who was a descendent of Martha, immortalized in the song “Martha My Dear” on the White Album. Paul is balancing on his left foot (rather than leading with his right foot) and holding the dog’s leash in his left hand. Paul’s eyes are open and he’s wearing shoes. Gone is the police van but the the white Volkswagen Beetle remains. Close inspection reveals that the license plate has been changed to read “51 IS”, as Paul was 51 when this album was released in 1993.

In 2009 Paul McCartney was a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. Dave asked him about the “Paul is dead” hysteria, and McCartney pointed to the Abbey Road cover as the trigger for the rumors.

What happened was we did a cover for a record called Abbey Road and we–[applause] see, even the cover gets applause! The idea was to walk across the crossing and I showed up that day with sandals–flip flops–and so, it was so hot that I kicked them off and walked across barefooted. So this started some rumor that because he was barefooted, he’s dead. I couldn’t see the connection myself…. It was American DJs so you guys are to blame. Not you personally. The thing is, you know, I just laughed it off but it was a little bit strange because people did start looking at me like… is it him or a very good double?

It’s interesting to consider why Abbey Road was the album that triggered the “Paul is dead” hysteria. Perhaps the growing awareness that all was not well with the Beatles contributed to this phenomenon, but this does not completely explain why the “Paul is dead” story took on a life of its own at this particular time. In his book Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth, Curtis Peebles suggests that the incident that took place in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 did not have much of an impact on mainstream culture until decades later because the mythology about UFOs was not yet in place to support the story. Only after key elements of UFO mythology had been established did the story spread beyond a small group of conspiracy theorists. Similarly, the “Paul is dead” mythology was not fully in place until 1969 when college students organized the “clues” into a narrative. I would point in particular to Fred LaBour, who created key elements of the story that would later be repeated as true, such as the identity of Paul’s double, WIlliam Campbell. Fred LaBour had listened to Russ Gibb’s radio show on October 12, 1969, before writing a review of Abbey Road for his college newspaper. He structured the review, which appeared in the Michigan Daily two days later, as an obituary built around a number of the “Paul is dead” clues that he had either heard or invented to fill in the gaps. Once this narrative was in place, the “clues” took on new meaning and the story spread rapidly after that.

Alternative Conspiracy Theory: Ringo Is Dead

Some time ago I bought a book in which the author suggests that the Beatle death “clues” do not point to Paul’s death and replacement by a lookalike, but instead refer to Ringo. The book is goofy but earnest with a rambly, overpunctuated title, PAUL IS DEAD!!!! OR………… IS RINGO DEAD???? DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THAT SECRET???? by Azing Moltmaker. Many of the “Ringo is dead” clues are simply transferred from the “Paul is dead” story, since so many are vague references to death. Still, Moltmaker has come up with a number of “Ringo is dead” clues that are unique to this version of the story. For example, among the wax figures of the Fab Four on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Ringo is the only one not wearing a tie. Instead he wears a black sweater (“a sign of mourning” according to Moltmaker) and the Ringo figure appears to be grieving over the gravesite.

The blurb on the back cover of Moltmaker’s book goes so far as to suggest that the “Paul is dead” rumor was a “diversion” from the real Beatle death: Ringo.

This sort of neverending search for Beatle death clues was most effectively parodied in an article that has long been on rec.music.beatles, “Everyone BUT Paul Is Dead.”

Though it has a long way to go toward acquiring the same meme status as the “Paul is dead” rumor, “Ringo is dead” references have popped up occasionally on the internet, though without any enduring presence. “Ringo Is Dead” at one time had a page on Facebook, and some poorly made videos have appeared on YouTube. Gone now is the Ringo Is Dead website, which laid out an even goofier account of Ringo’s death than Azing Moltmaker’s book. Without the same underlying mythology, “Ringo is dead” just doesn’t have the same appeal as the “Paul is dead” rumor. And then, of course, there’s the fact that Ringo is not dead. Answers.com gives a short, definitive answer to the question “Is Ringo Starr dead?” stating, “no he is still alive and well” In stark contrast to Azing Moltmaker’s overpunctuated book, Answers.com feels no need for punctuation in this case.

References to “Ringo is dead” have also popped up in odd places, perhaps the oddest is in a scholarly article on semantics. In his discussion of “transfers of meaning” in a 1995 article in theJournal of Semantics, Berkeley lingusitics professor Geoffrey Nunberg uses Ringo as a running example (and I assume he means Ringo Starr because he states, “Ringo denotes the singer”) and manages to kill him along the way. A transfer of meaning is a linguistic mechanism we use to refer to a person or something related to that person, sometimes even in the same sentence. When someone says something like “Ringo was hit in the fender by a truck when he was momentarily distracted by a motorcycle,” the first reference is to Ringo’s car and the second reference is to Ringo himself. Nunberg’s next example is “Ringo was hit in the fender by a truck two days after he died.” For the rest of that section of the paper Ringo is dead, but Nunberg resurrects him in the next section to discuss how Ringo squeezed himself into a tight space.

Another strange reference to “Ringo is dead” came from sound collage artists Negativland. Negativland’s 1984 album Over the Edge Vol. 4: Dick Vaughn’s Moribund Music of The ’70s contains a track called “Ringo Is Dead.” Negativland is involved with a weekly radio show called “Over the Edge” broadcast on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, and the Over the Edge series of albums contain material edited from those shows. “Ringo Is Dead” was one of many prank phone calls to other radio stations from Dick Vaughn.

“Ringo Is Dead” by Negativland. Running Time 6:55

Not really related but I though I would mention a band with one of the cleverst names of all time, Ringo Deathstarr, who sound much like My Bloody Valentine in their most recent single.

Azing Moltmaker’s book has an April Fool’s Day connection. Moltmaker reprints Bruce Spizer’s April Fool’s joke article “Paul McCartney Admits Beatles Planned Death Hoax” that appeared in the April 1, 2004 issue of Goldmine magazine.

Well, Here’s Another Clue For You All

Occasionally someone will contact me to ask if I think the Beatles intentionally placed the “Paul is dead” clues on their records. My answer is that I do not believe the Beatles had anything to do with the rumor that Paul McCartney had died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike. I take John at his word when he said that he was taken aback that people were reading such significance into the lyrics he wrote, let alone that he was trying to suggest that Paul was dead.

John Lennon interviewed by John Small of WKNR Detroit in 1969 [source: The Ottawa Beatles Site]

I think most all of the clues are easy to explain and many of them are so ambiguous that you could read almost any meaning into them. To me, the significance of the “Paul is dead” rumor is the hysteria it generated–how much the public wanted to read into the Beatles every word and action.

When I say that most of the clues are easy to explain, there was always one that puzzled me, which was the line in “Glass Onion”: “Well here’s another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul”. That line always bothered me because I didn’t know what John could be referring to. That he mentions a “clue” suggests that he is trying to communicate something to the audience that isn’t immediately apparent. But what? I was mystified by this until I read “The Walrus and the Deacon: John Lennon’s Debt to Lewis Carrol,” a 1984 article in the Journal of Popular Culture by Michael E. Roos. Roos suggests that several of John’s songs draw heavily on imagery from the writings of nineteenth-century author Lewis Carroll that John had read as a boy. “In “Glass Onion” John makes reference to several Beatles songs, including “I Am the Walrus,” which in turn is a reference to the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass, written by Lewis Carroll in 1871. Roos explains that John was becoming disillusioned with the altruistic ideals he had associated with the Beatles. In Carroll’s poem the Walrus and the Carpenter lure youthful, unsuspecting oysters to follow them only so they could eat them. Where he had once been idealistic, John was coming to see the Beatles playing the same role with their audience. Their young unsuspecting fans were looking to the Beatles for answers but Lennon had none to give, so he came to see the Beatles as con artists. John’s line in “Glass Onion”, “Well here’s another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul” was a put down of McCartney because Paul continued to encourage the audience to believe in the heady ideals of the Beatles.

To me, the line in “Glass Onion” was the only thing that made me consider the possibility that the Beatles intentionally placed the “Paul is dead” clues on their albums. Once I read Roos’s article, however, I became convinced that the “Paul is dead” rumor was nothing more than obsessive fans constructing meaning where there was none. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that the author of that article held a different view. When this website had a forum, Roos posted the following, “I have always believed there really was a conspiracy among the Beatles to create a “Paul is dead” rumor, and over the years I’ve also come to believe that John may well have gotten the idea from Bob Dylan.” he went on to explain,

Here’s my theory: Dylan and Lennon had been conducting a sort of dialogue in song over the years of 64-66 (maybe even as late as 68). There was mutual admiration (and competition) as well as influence back and forth, culminating in one of the most blatant exchanges when Dylan very distinctly parodied John’s 1965 song “Norwegian Wood” in his song “4th Time Around” from Blonde on Blonde (1966). Dylan and Lennon hung out together in London during Dylan’s infamous spring 66 tour of England, recorded in a widely bootlegged outtake from Dylan’s film Eat the Document. Shortly after the tour ended, Dylan had his famous motorcycle accident and disappeared from public view for well over a year, generating a tremendous rumor mill over what happened to him or what his condition was. I don’t know if there was any contact between Lennon and Dylan during Dylan’s period of seclusion, which ran from July 66 through at least Feb 68, but the first clues of Paul’s death start showing up in late 66, right? Is there anything earlier than the “I buried Paul/I’m very bored” line at the fade out of “Strawberry Fields”?

Lennon was such a trickster (and so competitive with Dylan, too) that I can easily conceive of him getting the boys together and concocting this highly elaborate scheme to pull one over on the public. His comments about “I Am the Walrus” only support the idea that he thoroughly enjoyed playing tricks on the public.

I’ll admit that many of the clues seem very far-fetched to me too, but some of them just seem too obvious to ignore. I certainly still do believe that “I am the Walrus” is based on the Lewis Carroll poem and that John was telling the world, as he told Hunter Davies in that biography, that the Beatles were a con. I also still believe that “Glass Onion” was about what I said it was back in the article, that John was slamming Paul, saying that Paul was still into the whole Beatle mythmaking machine. But when John says, “Here’s another clue for you all…” it’s so clear that he was very well aware how he was toying with the public, no matter how we interpret the rest of this song or any of the others that have been cited for clues. More than just slamming Paul, he was telling all of us how foolish we are to spend our time pouring over these songs, playing them backwards, looking for clues that lead nowhere. Of course Paul never died, and the joke, intentional or not, was really on us.

I don’t have any definitive proof that there was a conspiracy, but it is fun to think there was one. Perhaps I want to believe in the hoax because I think it’s such a great joke, and I love the jokester in Lennon. The ultimate irony is that there is a very real, legitimate artistic statement in what he was saying, through all of what he himself called gobbledeegook. And “I Am the Walrus,” as well as most of John Lennon’s work through the period of the late 60s and 1970, was really about the notion of the artist/celebrity and his relationship to his audience. Much of Dylan’s best work deals with that as well.

[A few years ago], for the first time, I went to Abbey Road, saw the studio, and made the walk across the street with some of my students. We did the photo, as thousands have done before us, and it was spooky to be there. I could really “feel” the imprint of Lennon’s tennis shoes, Ringo’s dress boots, Paul’s bare feet, and George’s suede boots. And I can hear John saying, “Hey, I’ll be the doctor, Ringo, you be the undertaker, Paul, you, of course, are the dead man, and George, you’re the grave digger. Won’t the public get their knickers twisted over this one! Ha ha ha!” I love it. But then again maybe I’m just looking through a glass onion.

To that I replied, “The irony! Your article was the thing that convinced me that the Beatles had no intention of starting the “Paul is dead” rumor! I was always skeptical, but as I said before, the only clue I couldn’t explain was the line in “Glass Onion”, “Well here’s another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul”. The explanation you gave in your article laid to rest any doubts I had about the Beatles having anything to do with a hoax about Paul being dead. I agree with you, though. Part of me does want to believe that John and the boys were having a little joke on us all. I hadn’t thought of the Dylan death rumors as having any connection with the Paul is dead rumor before.”

Here are a couple of interesting interpretations of “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. The first is from the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland (1951).

and a rather unorthodox interpretation of the poem’s significance from the movie Dogma (1999):

Michael Roos is currently a professor of English at the University of Cincinnati. At the time of this writing, he was “preparing to teach two Beatles related courses this spring and summer. In the spring, I’m doing a course on Dylan and the Beatles, in which I’ll be covering in detail all of the ground mentioned in my commentary below plus a lot more. Then in June, I’m leading a study abroad group to Britain, where I’ll be doing a writing course with the cultural evolution of ’60s and the Beatles as the basic theme. It should be a lot of fun. We’ll be crossing Abbey Road again and seeing more Beatles places I haven’t seen before, including Liverpool.”