“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.'”

As Andru Reeve explains in Turn Me On, Dead Man, in the “Paul is dead” mythology “I Am the Walrus” is John Lennon’s account of Paul’s death. According to R. Gary Patterson, in The Walrus Was Paul: The Great Beatle Death Clues, Paul suffered his fatal car crash after squabbling with his bandmates and leaving the recording studio in anger on a “stupid bloody Tuesday”. The refrain “I’m crying” is John expressing his grief over Paul’s death. The accompaniment at the beginning of the song has a repeating two-note pattern similar to the two-tone sirens in use on emergency vehicles in Britain at the time. According to Joel Glazier, the references to “pretty little policemen” and “waiting for the van to come” supposedly refer to the police who were present at the site of Paul’s fatal accident but were paid to remain silent.

In The Fifth Magician: The Great Beatles Impostor Theory, Forrest Dailey suggests that almost every line of “I Am the Walrus” relates to Paul’s death and replacement by a lookalike. “Sitting on a cornflake/Waiting for the van to come” describes how Paul was high while driving and crashed into a parked van. Paul picked up a female hitchhiker and she distracted him while he was driving (“Boy you’ve been a nbaughty girl/You let your knickers down”). “Yellow matter custard/Dripping from a dead dog’s eye” signifies the gruesome injuries Paul suffered in the crash. The replacement Paul grew a mustache to cover up his face while healing from plastic surgery to look more like the real Paul (“Man you’ve been a naughty boy/You let your face grow long”). The opening line of the song, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” indicates that all of the Beatles were involved in the conspiracy, and “Expert texpert/Choking smokers/Don’t you think the joker laughs at you” is directed at “the stoned college students who would later actually uncover the first clues.”

In the “Paul is dead” mythology, the walrus is an image of death. This has been repeated so often in “Paul is dead” sources that it is taken as given, but what is the origin of this? Perhaps it started with Fred LaBour’s article in The Michigan Daily when he jokingly asserted that the word “walrus” was the Greek word for “corpse”, or perhaps because the walrus costume on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour is the only one that’s black. A number of sources have tried to identify the cultural origins of the walrus as image of death though they’re not quite sure what to make of it. In his Life magazine article John Neary was purposefully vague when he stated that the “black walrus [is] a folk symbol of death.” The Chicago Sun-Times noted that, “The walrus is supposed to be the Viking symbol of death” and B.J. Phillips in the Oct. 22, 1969, issue of the Washington Post stated, “According to the hypothesis, the walrus is a symbol of death, although its origins have been attributed to such dissimilar sources as the ancient Greeks and modern Eskimos.” A walrus, then, isn’t immediately recognizable as a symbol of death but yet it has become an important image in the “Paul is dead” mythology.

And who was the walrus anyway? All of the Beatles are dressed in animal costumes on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour but it isn’t clear who is in each costume from that picture. The Beatles are dressed in the same costumes in the photo in the Magical Mystery Tour booklet performing the song. This photo comes from the Beatles’ performance of “I Am the Walrus” in the film Magical Mystery Tour.

pid_MMT_PerformingIAmTheWalrus

pid_MMT_LittleNicolaAlthough John plays the piano and sings “I Am the Walrus” and the walrus is seated behind the piano in the group photo, Little Nicola refutes John’s claim that he is the walrus. In the list of song titles in the inside front cover, “I Am the Walrus” is followed by “‘No you’re not!’ said Little Nicola”. Then, of course, is the intriguing line from “Glass Onion” on the White Album: “And here’s another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul.” Perhaps the final word on this subject is on the song “God” on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. On that most confessional of songs, John sings “I was the walrus but now I’m John”.

In the Journal of Popular Culture, Michael E. Roos provides key insight into the imagery of “I Am the Walrus” in his discussion of Lewis Carroll’s influence on John Lennon. The nonsense lyrics to this song take on new meaning when interpreted through the lens of Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter“, along with John Lennon’s growing cynicism about the Summer of Love ideals and the Beatles’ role in popular culture. For example, the line “See how they run/Like pigs from a gun/See how they fly” seems to connect the unrest of the 1960s to “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

In  Carroll’s poem, which appears in Through the Looking-Glass, the walrus and the carpenter lure youthful, unsuspecting oysters to follow them only so they could eat them. John saw a connection with the Beatles’ relationship with their fans and the walrus and the carpenter taking advantage of the innocence of the oysters. 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. The Walrus regrets playing such a trick on the oysters and he weeps for them (“I’m crying,” John sings in “I Am the Walrus”) but he continues to eat them nonetheless.

pid_MMT_WalrusCarpenter2

In “Glass Onion”, included on The White Album the following year, John made references to a number of past Beatle songs, and again invoked the image of the walrus with the infamous line “And here’s another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul”. John was acknowledging his role as a Beatle and that he had at one time been idealistic about the possibilities that they represented, but he had now come to see that as false. In “Glass Onion” John was accusing Paul of perpetuating a false image of the Beatles. In John’s eyes, Paul had become the con man.

Another possible influence on John Lennon in creating “I Am the Walrus” is James Joyce. In his review of John’s 1964 book In His Own Write (the first Beatle solo project), reviewer John Wain likened John’s wordplay to that of James Joyce. “I Am the Walrus” has a dreamlike quality and uses invented language in a manner akin to Joyce in his 1939 novel Finnegans Wake. Joel Glazier asserts that the phrase “goo goo g’joob” is from Finnegans Wake. According to Allen B. Ruch, however, Joyce did not use the phrase “goo goo g’joob”. In his website “The Brazen Head“, Ruch cites the phrase “googoo goosth” as the closest Joyce gets to “goo goo g’joob” in Finnegans Wake. A search through the online version of Finnegans Wake available on eBooks@Adelaide confirms this. Also, like Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty (the Eggman) makes an appearance in Finnegans Wake in a song James Joyce wrote for the novel called “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly“. John Lennon wasn’t all that familiar with James Joyce in 1964 but he was later quoted as saying that discovering Joyce was like “finding daddy”.

I Am the Walrus
by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together
See how they run
Like pigs from a gun
See how they fly
I’m crying

Sitting on a cornflake
Waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt
Stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you been a naughty boy
You let your face grow long

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob

Mister City Policeman
Sitting pretty little policemen in a row
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky
See how they run
I’m crying

Yellow matter custard
Dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Crabalocker fishwife
Pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl
You let your knickers down

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob

Sitting in an English garden
Waiting for the sun
If the sun don’t come
You get a tan
From standing in the English rain

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob

Expert textpert
Choking smokers
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you?
See how they smile like pigs in a sty
See how they snied
I’m crying

Semolina pilchard
Climbing up the Eiffel Tower
Elementary penguin
Singing Hare Krishna
Man you should have seen them
Kicking Edgar Alan Poe

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob
Jooba jooba jooba

As “I Am the Walrus” begins to fade out two chants are heard (“Oompah, oompah/Stick it up your jumper” and “Got one got one/Everybody’s got one”). When played in reverse these chants become “Ha! Ha! Paul is dead”. On October 23, 1969, Gregory Jackson played this bit of audio on the ABC Evening News in a report on the “Paul is dead” rumor that was then sweeping the country.

Another source of “Paul is dead” clues from “I Am the Walrus” is in the Shakespearean play heard as the song fades out. The following lines from a BBC radio production of “King Lear” are heard:

Oswald
Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse:
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters thou find’st about me
To Edmund Earl of Gloucester, seek him out
Among the British party: O, untimely death.
(Oswald dies)

Edgar
I know thee well: a serviceable villain;
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.

Gloucester
What, is he dead?

Edgar
Sit you down father, rest you.

John included this recording through happenstance, though it does bear some superficial similarities to the circumstances of Paul’s rumored death, not to mention a high concentration of lines making reference to death: “bury my body”, “O, untimely death” and “What, is he dead?”. Paranoia magazine even hears a direct reference to Paul’s death in the radio play, “Paul, you’re darn near death”. Either they are mishearing the line “O, untimely death” or William Shakespeare was in on the hoax as well.

4 thoughts on ““Paul Is Dead” Clues in “I Am the Walrus”

  1. Pingback: “Paul Is Dead” Clues on Magical Mystery Tour | Turn Me On, Dead Man

  2. Hmm, also when the words I am the egg man, I am the walrus, coocoo cachoo are sung they are saying, the cracked egg or head of the original Paul being replaced by the walrus I.e moustache as tusks of the walrus on replacement Paul and in nature the coocoo chucks an egg out of a crows nest and replaces it with it’s own.

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