“…the accepted myth involves the premature death of a youth who is transformed by death into a god. This is a prevalent theme from Osiris and Achilles to Jesus Christ.”
–R. Gary Patterson, “The Walrus Was Paul”
“I’m not the phony—THEY are!”
–Saul Cartwright, “Batman” #222
We’re going to discuss now one of the key pop-culture conspiracy theories of the 20th Century…the supposed death and replacement of Beatle Paul McCartney.
I. A CHILDHOOD OBSESSION
The scariest thing I’ve ever heard as a child was a radio show late at night discussing the “Paul Is Dead” phenomenon. It was a re-broadcast of a radio documentary by Dave Foxx in 1979. Unlike the majority of documentaries on the topic that have been scrubbed off of YouTube (though periodically re-uploaded), this is still available on Vimeo:
This documentary scared the living shit out of my 11-year-old self…spooky music, continual morbidity (pointing out all the “clues” on the Beatles album cover and lyrics “proving” that the real Paul McCartney had died in 1967)…and, the most terrifying of all, lots of music being played backwards.
Play anything backwards, it sounds like The Devil—I’m telling’ ya!
Anyway, I couldn’t sleep for the rest of that night…and was creeped out for weeks afterwards. In one way, listing to that show set me of on a path looking for even more weird stories. Because while it was true I was deeply creeped out, it was also a very memorable and visceral sensation that I would seek to repeat pretty much for the rest of my life.
II. THE RUMOR
Up until recently, I thought the “Paul Is Dead” rumor was just a fringe thing that merely happened in the 1960s on college campuses and was whispered about by some Beatles fans. But actually, the media—and the public—kind of took this rumor really seriously. It was front-page news. People were demanding that Paul McCartney make a public appearance to prove he wasn’t dead. There was even a prime-time special on NY’s WOR featuring star attorney F. Lee Bailey, in which he put the rumor itself “on trial” and interrogated “witnesses” including people who actually knew and worked with the Beatles.
Think about it…it’s as if a member from One Direction, or Beyonce, or somebody of that popularity in pop music suddenly disappeared...or not even disappeared, but merely “seemed different” enough to suspect they were really dead and replaced with an uncanny lookalike…that’s what happened towards the end of the 1960s with the “Paul Is Dead” rumor.
People who still believe in “Paul Is Dead” now—a.k.a. “PID,” a.k.a. “Faul,” etc.—are some of the most passionate conspiracy theorists you will ever encounter. They honestly believe that Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced with a “double”…and that this “double” (possibly Billy Shears, possibly a man named William Campbell) operated as the real deal up to the present day. And they have the facial comparison charts to prove it. (Which an article in the Italian edition of WIRED actually seriously looked into)
This post is meant to be an introduction to the voluminous (and often a wee bit batshit) lore surrounding “Paul Is Dead.” Key documentaries made by Believers include (and I’m just putting links to the YouTube searches for these, because as I said before they tend to get scrubbed):
“The Winged Beatle”
The “Rotten Apple” Series
There is also a popular alleged memoir by McCartney “replacement” Billy Shears, which claims to be “fully encoded” with clues. This book is a WHOLE separate post, because it opens up like 5,000 different rabbit holes. (Not saying any of those rabbit holes are true…but they do get opened!)
III. BUT WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT ALL THIS?
Yes, what do I think about all this???
My mind sometimes can be so open it feels as if my brain is in danger of falling out…but I was never really that swayed by the face comparisons or the backwards song lyrics. In fact, a lot of the PID clues in general just didn’t make an impact on me…to the point where I began to suspect that some of the biggest supporters of PID were actually trolling.
But there are two major takeaways I get from the entire phenomenon.
First, and biggest: The truth is, the Beatles were in a slump sales-wise before the PID rumor, and afterwards they received a proven bump in sales that carried them through their breakup and beyond. There is just no debating it…the death rumor=big cash for the Beatles.
This is not to say that they themselves started the rumor, essentially trolling the fans (though many people think exactly that). But the intersection between death and money is very interesting. Especially in the light of so many other performers who died young and sparked massive posthumous sales of their work (and there’s a whole other conspiracy theory regarding Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love on this point).
Second, and more esoterically…let’s just assume that there was some sort of “change” evident about Paul McCartney around 1966/67. And maybe a lot of it wasn’t too obvious…but just something you “sensed,” rather than anything more tangible.
The elephant in the room is, of course, that between the 66/67 intersection, the Beatles completely changed their image, and became significantly more esoteric and even “dark.” I mean, what the fuck was with that original “Yesterday and Today” cover with the butcher meat and broken baby dolls, anyway?
So it could be simply that “Paul Is Dead” is really about fans coping with the radical change in their favorite band…and creating an elaborate mythology to “explain” it…because such a mythology/conspiracy would be more comforting than the fact that “the times they were a-changing” and a lot of innocence was being lost (pop-culturally, nationally, socially, etc.).
IV. THE “OCCULT” CONNECTION
There are some bits and pieces from the PID documentary “Winged Beatle” (which is kind of completely insane, just letting you know) that put this whole thing in a slightly different perspective.
Part of it smacks a bit of those “concerned Christian”/anti-rock and roll/It’s The Satanic Illuminati docs on YouTube, in that all the old conspiracy chestnuts regarding alleged occult influence on the Beatles gets trotted out (Al Crowley on the Sgt. Pepper cover, the “Satanic hand-signals” from the Yellow Submarine, etc.). But it also creates a very interesting theory, one that I had not encountered previously.
And the theory is: rather than John or George being the ones who initially exposed the Beatles to alternative religions and all sorts of metaphysical stuff, it was really Paul!
That baby-faced, squeaky-clean Paul McCartney was the guy bringing in the Crowley references, and mystical stuff, and everything. An occult “mastermind,” if you will—one who nobody would have suspected.
Further, “Winged Beatle” makes the claim that on an African safari in 66 or 67, McCartney somehow became…”possessed”…and then when he got home to England he locked himself in his house (his assistant summarily firing their longtime butler) and conceived of the entire Sgt. Pepper concept in one big massive creative mind-dump.
Basically, the insinuation is that he channeled the whole goddamn thing..and thus “infected” the world with a radically new pop-cultural energy…one that would literally change the world forever.
Which would make the fact that the band originally had not one, but two images of Aleister Crowley on the Sgt. Pepper cover pretty interesting. Because in 1904, Crowley pretty much did the same thing McCartney was alleged to do…he channeled “The Book Of The Law” from an entity named Aiwass, and claimed that the book would usher a new age in humanity. And whether you think that Crowley was full of shit and hashish (and many do think this)…the fact is, the world did massively change following the publication of that book (whether it had anything to do with it or not).
But again…this all smacks of the “concerned Christian” anti-rock stuff, with “change in society”=”The Devil.”
However, let’s take that whole “Satanic Panic” thing out of the equation and look at this again.
Have you ever noticed that there are certain periods of time in human history where the culture radically changes? There will be a certain holy book that will get written, a certain new mythology, and suddenly everybody’s following it and painting it and governments change because of it and humanity seems to be shifted to another direction?
R. Gary Patterson points out in his seminal work on PID lore, The Walrus Was Paul, that the name of the 1st in what would be the “New Beatle Sound” albums, Revolver, “evoked images of change.” He then extensively examines the symbology around the disturbing song “Revolution 9” from the White Album—symbology so evocative of violent revolution that allegedly the Manson Family “was convinced that the recording was actually the sounds of Armageddon itself.”
Further—Charlie Manson himself believed that the Beatles were divinely communicating the Book Of Revelation to him!
Back in the old days—back in the time of the Bible and such—much of that material was flat-out channeled from theoretical “angels,” “God,” and whatnot. Take the Book of Revelation, for instance…that was channeled material. The Ten Commandments…essentially, channeled material from an outside entity. The Book of Mormon…ancient Egyptian texts…Hopi prophecies…etc.
What makes us think that has all really changed at the present day?
If you are some weird outside entity-type thing and you want to change the world, you start at the top, with the most influential (or potentially influential) people. You start with a pop star, or a best-selling novelist, or a movie director.
This is not to say that I actually believe Paul-frigging-McCartney was possessed by an alien entity during an African safari, thus leading him to create Sgt. Pepper and changing the world forever…the change in Paul “manifesting” in weird unplanned synchronicities and “clues” on the Beatle record covers and encoded in their music when played backwards…the change in Paul sort of palpably felt by fans and friends, leading to these rumors of him being replaced by a lookalike…I’m not saying that.
What I am saying is: that would make an amazing bit of science-fiction.
VI. THE ETERNAL BEATLE
But more than mere science-fiction, the “Paul Is Dead” rumor is, in my opinion, just the latest in the primal, tried-and-true “resurrection of the dying god” mythological trope.
“The Beatles’ McCartney could have been that archetypal man, joining the ranks of literary heroes who died young and were later reborn as gods, like Achilles or Alexander. This may have paralleled Lennon’s statement that the Beatles were more popular than Christ. Only, this time, Lennon could have been answering his fundamentalist detractors through symbolic images. In this symbolic state McCartney may have represented a Christ figure born again not for the spiritual redemption of mankind, but raised like the Phoenix from the ashes of ignorance and intolerance to lead the way to wisdom and love. Remember this was 1967, San Francisco was in the midst of the Summer of Love celebration, and all things were possible.”
Of course…the ancient Egyptian symbol of the winged scarab beetle symbolized eternal life and resurrection…and then there’s Sgt. Pepper cover-boy Crowley’s whole Aeon of Horus to consider…the White Album released the same year as heavily-resonating “New Aeon” movies 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rosemary’s Baby.
To me: this is where the power of PID lies. These synchronicities on album covers and lyrics and related images…not of literal origin, but quantum. Paul, the young god, dies tragically, like Christ and Mithras and so many others…then he is reborn, symbolizing the New Age.
The lore survives because it strikes that primal nerve in the collective subconscious…the way many such conspiracy theories do.
VII. “BETTER CALL SAUL”
Finally, let’s just briefly touch upon the comic book “Batman” #222, published at the tail-end of the PID craze in 1970.
The issue featured a very Beatles-looking band called “The Oliver Twists.” Robin investigates the rumor that band member Saul Cartwright (Paul McCartney?) had died in a freak motorcycle accident and was replaced by a double. Luckily, Batman/Bruce Wayne is the major stockholder in The Oliver Twists’ music label Eden Records (or, Apple Corps), and he has access to the band.
What is the shocking secret of the story “Dead…Till Proven Alive?”
Saul is Saul—it’s the rest of the band members who are fakes, the originals having died in a tragic plane crash in the Himalayas during a spiritual journey. Saul masterminded everything so the band could continue to make records (and money).
And with Lennon’s tragic early demise and George Harrison passing away in 2001…it may very well end up that McCartney, ironically, becomes the last surviving Beatle.
At any rate—when looking for answers on the PID mystery, ya gotta call Saul!