Paul Is Dead ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Forty-six years ago today occurred one of the craziest events in the annals of Rock and Roll Music History, in which I played a minor role. Here’s how it all came about

According to The Music History Calendar:

1969 : Russ Gibb, a DJ at WKNR in Detroit, takes a call from a listener who tells him that if you play The Beatles song “Revolution 9” backwards, a voice says, “Turn me on, dead man.” Gibb plays the record in reverse on the air, and the phone lines light up with astonished listeners offering more clues as to why Paul McCartney might be dead. For about a week, Gibb entertains a stream of rumors on the show, as ratings explode and the story goes national. Other clues include a voice at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” that says “I Buried Paul” (actually John Lennon saying “Cranberry Sauce”) and the cover of the Sgt. Pepper album, where Paul is wearing an armband that says “OPD” – “Officially Pronounced Dead.”

This Day In Music erroneously writes about this event:

1969, A DJ on Detroit’s WKNR radio station received a phone call telling him that if you play The Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ backwards, you hear John Lennon say the words “I buried Paul.” This started a worldwide rumour that Paul McCartney was dead.

What does this have to do with your humble correspondent? According to Paul is dead?!?, “introduced and explicated by saki” on the old USENET group rec.music.beatles:

Another
source for clues invention was a popular radio show hosted by
disc-jockey Russell Gibb of WKNR-FM in Detroit was a vital element in
the spread of the hoax. A regular r.m.b. reader, Headly Westerfield, who
was not only a friend of Gibb but was present in-studio that afternoon
(12 October 1969), recalls reading an “underground newspaper” (it may
have been one of the the college papers then carrying the “clues”,
similar to the ones Dartanyan Brown remembers seeing) with a list of
“Paul Is Dead” clues.

Gibb and cohorts were sufficiently inspired
to read them on the air and to improvise new ones on the spot.
Listeners to the show even recall someone calling up Gibb to report that
if you played “Revolution No. 9” backward, you’d hear a secret message.
(Note: radio-show collectors used to offer an aircheck of this show or a
followup show for trade! Anyone have a copy?)

Within days, Gibb
& Co. were astonished when newspapers and reporters took their
on-air joke seriously and spread the tale more widely. Some clues which
have become part of established folklore, Westerfield reports, were
invented that obscure day at WKNR-FM, but have since been accepted as
part of the original hoax. Gibb and friends were not the source of the
hoax, he emphasizes, but played a part in its initial wider
dissemination. 

TommyGarcia2’s YouTubery has a 2 part exposé on the Paul Is Dead rumour:


When this rumour broke wide I was shocked and ashamed. From just goofing around in a radio studio, to it becoming a worldwide sensation, freaked me out. I was just 17 years old and unsophisticated in the ways of the world. I was worried that somehow this would all blow back on me in a horrible way. Therefore, I didn’t mention my involvement to anyone for about 20 years. Then I allowed myself to be interview by saki, who got word of my involvement from a mutual friend.

When I saw what was finally printed, I went underground for another 20 years. Recently I told the whole, deeper story to my nephew Adam, one of the subjects of my blog post My Days With John Sinclair. He suggested I just live with it, in essence echoing the advice at the end of the wonderful 1962 John Wayne/James Stewart/Lee Marvin Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:

Ransom Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

I’ll let Sir Paul, with a little help from his friends, have the last word:

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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