Those strange recent stories that claim to quote Ringo Starr saying Paul McCartney has been dead since the late ’60s don’t mean a thing because they are just another hoax like the whole “Paul Is Dead” idea was, Andru Reeve, author of the excellent book “Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the ‘Paul Is Dead’ Hoax,” told Beatles Examiner March 4.“The whole story is a hoax. It’s a hoax of a hoax,” he said. “Ringo never said what has been attributed to him.” He said the whole story was concocted by a satirical website, which then attributed it to a fake site.
Reeve said, though, it’s amazing that people are talking about this again. “Is it not fascinating to still be talking about this, over 45 years after the initial rumor appeared in the media? Once again, the Beatles are superlative — even in matters that have nothing to do with their music,” he said. “The amazing aspect of this rumor is its staying power. Name one other death rumor that has lasted as long and has been so popular in the cultural imagination. We are already on the third generation of fans who have become enthralled in this specious tale of untimely death.”
How much were the Beatles involved with the original rumor back in 1969? “That is the crux of my book on the rumor that I began researching in 1988. It was my goal to trace the history of the rumor and investigate all of the alleged perpetrators of the very first dissemination of the story,” Reeve said. “I think I pretty much nailed down how and why the thing became those huge back in those waning days of the Beatles’ career.”
Reeve ran though what factors transpired to bring the “Paul Is Dead” rumor to light. The first was Paul’s reduced visibility.
“Although the rumor had been around, in one form or another, since late 1966/early 1967, it really didn’t take off until October of 1969,” he said. “At that time, the Beatles had completed and released their final album of new material, ‘Abbey Road,’ and the band had effectively gone on hiatus. Everyone just went off to do their own thing. Paul, in particular, was entering a new phase in his life. The bachelor had finally tied the knot and he was enjoying time with his new bride in Scotland, far away from the limelight. So he wasn’t around to answer inquires about his well-being or existence. And his steadfast refusal — well, initially, anyway — to appear in front of cameras or talk to the media caused a minor mystery to snowball into an avalanche of speculation.”
The very first mention of any idea that McCartney might have been in a car accident came, ironically, in the Beatles own monthly magazine in its February, 1967, issue in a story headlined “False Rumor.” It reported rumors that Paul had died in a car crash in January of that year. “But, of course, there was absolutely no truth in it at all, as the Beatles’ Press Officer found out when he telephoned Paul’s St. John’s Wood home and was answered by Paul himself, who had been at home all day with his black Mini Cooper safely locked in the garage,” the story said.
Then there were the “clues” on the Beatles’ records. “There are esoteric visual and audible elements in certain Beatles recordings. Why is Paul barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road? Why is his back turned toward us on the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album cover? Why does John Lennon sing that ‘The Walrus was Paul’ in ‘Glass Onion’? With a lack of concrete facts, the ambiguity led people to fill in the blanks themselves.”
The third reason is that it was a different world in those days. “There was no Internet back in 1969. A story like the original rumor would now go around the world in minutes, but it would just as quickly be quashed,” he said. “Things moved much slower in the last century. Phone calls, newspapers, radio, TV — they all disseminated the story in one way or another, but it was over days and weeks and months.”
And he says the way it happened was a product of the times. “I say this in the book: I believe the events surrounding the “Paul-Is-Dead” rumor were one giant cosmic coincidence. It was the result of a singular, once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events.”
But Reeve says it’s “highly unlikely” they had anything to do with it. “At least not intentionally. Yes, they loved to hide stuff in their records and include curious lyrics in their songs, particularly on the later albums. But to what end? I don’t believe it was to spark a rumor of Paul’s death and replacement.”
For anyone interesting in the whole history of the “Paul Is Dead” hoax, Reeve’s book is an excellent recounting of the events. And, given what he says about the current story, there won’t need to be an update for 2015.