The term "Paul is dead" (PID) refers to an urban legend or a hoax perpetrated either on the musical group The Beatles by their fans or vice-versa. According to the legend, bass guitarist and singer Paul McCartney was replaced by a lookalike after his alleged death in an auto accident in the mid-60s. Proponents of this hoax cite obscure clues embedded within the Beatles' lyrics, symbolism in their album covers, and Wings as evidence that the "real" Paul didn't survive into the 70s.
The origin of the legend may stem from a December 1965 moped accident that left McCartney with a scarred lip. Thanks to the Beatles' immense popularity, this relatively minor incident ballooned greatly within months - informal polls showed that in spring 1966 many fans were convinced that Paul had been t-boned by a lorry, and by the beginning of the recording process for 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band some diehard Paul enthusiasts had accused Ringo Starr of hijacking an RAF fighter and crashing it into Paul's bike in the hopes of taking his co-lead singer status in the band.
Many comparisons have been made to McCartney's physical appearance pre- and post-accident, with some fans claiming that it was impossible, even considering injuries incurred in the crash, that McCartney's appearance should change so much in so short a time. The image at right details some of these physical anomalies.
The December 1965 release of Rubber Soul helped fuel the initial rumors of Paul's death. Several lines of the song "Drive My Car" reputedly refer to his accident:
- Baby you can drive my car - refers to the relinquishment of Paul's ownership of his moped due to his death
- Beep beep, beep beep yeah - mimics the sound of Paul's horn as he crashes
However, as Rubber Soul was released several weeks before the accident, these "clues" are not considered airtight by most PID theorists.
Rumors of McCartney's death began in earnest after the initial release of Yesterday...and Today. The album's original cover featured the four Beatles covered in bloody meat and the limbs of dismembered dolls. Two of the dolls draped on McCartney are missing their heads, implying that he was decapitated in his auto accident. He is also wearing a watch, indicating perhaps that his time on earth is up or that he is late for a dentist appointment.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper's contains perhaps the most "clues" about McCartney's death. The detailed album art, featuring the four Beatles arrayed with a plethora of cardboard cutouts representing famous historical figures and celebrities, gives fans many opportunities to find evidence for Paul's demise.
The first clue is that on the album Paul is the only bareheaded Beatle, setting him apart from the other three. Although John also appears to be bareheaded, PID theorists contend that he could actually be wearing a wig. Additionally, in the upper right corner of the cover there is a man in green who appears to be looking towards Paul (or possibly Ringo), and select letters from the album title can be rearranged to spell "PAUL'S DEATH" or "STAB LENON," the latter an apparent prophecy that Mark David Chapman misinterpreted thirteen years later.
Probably the most consistently cited proof of McCartney's death is the track "A Day in the Life," which chronicles the traffic accident of an unnamed man who "blew his mind out in a car" when he "didn't notice that the lights had changed." The middle verse of the song describes a man drinking coffee and smoking - both activities Paul was known to engage in - and the final jumbled words, when played backwards, sound remarkably like the well-known phrase "Naniver to Satan-y ho ho" in reverse.
Magical Mystery Tour
The cover for MMT depicts the Beatles dressed up as animals. Paul, apparently adorned as a walrus, wears a mask that obscures most of his face. This has led fans to surmise that the Paul on the cover is the real McCartney, exhumed for the photo shoot and covered to hide the signs of decomposition.
Often seen as a tribute to Paul - a white man - The White Album contains numerous PID clues within its tracks. The song "Revolution 9," a collection of experimental studio sounds and seemingly random sound effects, actually contains the entire eulogy said at Paul's funeral when the song is played backwards. Skeptics scoff at this as either coincidental or a humorous response to the legend by the Beatles, though the official coroner's records included in the album insert are difficult to explain away so easily.
In "Glass Onion" Lennon also makes the statement that "the walrus was Paul," which could either mean that:
- The walrus on the Magical Mystery Tour cover is the real Paul
- The walrus on the Magical Mystery Tour cover is the fake Paul, representing the death of the real Paul
- Paul was actually a walrus
Most theorists omit the third option as unrealistic.
The front of the Abbey Road album is often viewed as a kind of funeral possession for McCartney. In front, Lennon leads the way as a white-garbed priest, with Ringo Starr following behind in black clothing to signify mourning. McCartney comes next in some sort of box, followed by George Harrison as a grave digger in work clothes. Note that Harrison appears poised to trip over McCartney's box - perhaps a sign of Harrison's own eventual death in 2001 due to cancer.
Further, the closest moving car in the photo is in McCartney's lane. If it backed up (towards the camera) it would run over only McCartney, assuming George jumped out of the way.
Let It Be
In the track "The Long and Winding Road" on Let It Be, Paul can be heard singing tearfully, as if he knows he is already dead.
Even three and a half decades after the breakup of the Beatles, many fans still insist that the Paul McCartney who continues to record and tour is an imposter and that the true Paul died at the height of his musical career in the 1960s. Despite refutation from every Beatles member as well as the late Linda McCartney and the lack of any true evidence for the belief, conspiracy theorists refuse to let go of the notion.
In his book Turn Me On, Dead Man, considered the most exhaustive investigation of the "Paul is dead" legend, writer Andru J. Reeve concludes that "It may be hard to swallow, but yes, the 'Yesterday' Paul is the same as the 'Band on the Run' Paul. Sorry."
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