‘I buried Paul’

Your guide to the con­vo­luted con­spir­acy the­ory that Paul McCart­ney died in 1966

Kingston Whig-Standard - - ENTERTAINMENT - TRISTIN HOP­PER

This month marks the 50th an­niver­sary of the re­lease of Sgt. Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which means it also marks the golden ju­bilee of the in­fa­mous “Paul is dead” con­spir­acy the­ory. This was the pop­u­lar ur­ban le­gend that Bea­tle Paul McCart­ney had been killed in a 1966 car crash and re­placed with an im­pos­tor by record ex­ec­u­tives. It’s ob­vi­ously wrong, of course. But re­gard­less, the Paul is dead the­ory re­mains an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of how a group of ded­i­cated con­spir­acists can gather sur­pris­ingly com­pelling ev­i­dence for a the­ory — even if that the­ory is still ut­terly and com­pletely ridicu­lous.

Here are some of the “clues” of the Paul is dead the­ory.

The ‘burial’

Sgt Pep­per is a fa­mously busy al­bum cover, so it’s also a rich source of con­spir­acy leads. There’s an open palm over McCart­ney’s head, which fans in­ter­preted as be­ing akin to a priest bless­ing the dead Bea­tle be­fore in­tern­ment. While the other three Bea­tles are car­ry­ing brass in­stru­ments, McCart­ney is car­ry­ing a cor anglais, a black wood­wind in­stru­ment. In the corner, next to a doll wear­ing a “Wel­come the Rolling Stones” jumper, is a red­dish driv­ing glove sym­bol­iz­ing McCart­ney’s bloody crash death. A bass gui­tar made out of flow­ers in the fore­ground only has three strings, al­legedly sym­bol­iz­ing a dead McCart­ney as the “miss­ing” string. Hold a mir­ror over “lonely hearts” in the drum logo and it ap­pears to use num­bers and Ro­man nu­mer­als to spell out 11/9 HE DIE — an al­leged ref­er­ence to McCart­ney’s dy­ing on Novem­ber 9, 1966. And fi­nally, the whole scene de­picts McCart­ney’s burial. In truth, the al­bum is sup­posed to de­pict a burial, but a metaphor­i­cal one. The Bea­tles wanted a psy­che­delic way to com­mu­ni­cate to fans that their mop-topped col­lar­less suit days were over, and that the world should in­stead pre­pare for a quar­tet of so­phis­ti­cated stu­dio mu­si­cians who may or may not en­joy dress­ing in Ed­war­dian mil­i­tary re­galia.

The ‘funeral pro­ces­sion’

Al­though it has since be­come a rock icon, the cover for Abbey Road re­mains a tri­umph of lazy al­bum art­work. The Bea­tles sim­ply walked out of the stu­dio in what­ever they were wear­ing and posed on an ad­ja­cent cross­walk. McCart­ney, notably, didn’t even bother to put shoes on. But fans in­ter­preted the four as rep­re­sent­ing a funeral pro­ces­sion of sorts: A gravedig­ger, a corpse, an un­der­taker and a priest. Ac­cord­ing to the­o­rists, McCart­ney’s shoe­less­ness was a nod to the prac­tice of in­ter­ring corpses with­out shoes. How­ever, a per­sis­tent prob­lem with Paul is dead ev­i­dence is that the­o­rists kept re­fer­ring to sym­bols for death that don’t re­ally seem to ex­ist. So it is with the shoe­less the­ory; it’s not ac­tu­ally a prac­tice to bury oth­er­wise well-dressed corpses with­out shoes. “I was walk­ing bare­foot be­cause it was a hot day,” is how McCart­ney ex­plained it. Also, in the back­ground, a Volk

‘I buried Paul’

In an au­dio from the end of Straw­berry Fields For­ever, the dis­torted voice of John Len­non can be heard say­ing some­thing. Len­non claims he was say­ing “cran­berry sauce,” the Bea­tles’ press of­fi­cer claimed he was say­ing “I’m very bored” and con­spir­acy the­o­rists thought he was say­ing “I buried Paul.”

Ran­domly in­ter­ject­ing dur­ing record­ing ses­sions was a favourite habit of Len­non. At the end of the White Al­bum song I’m So Tired, Len­non fades out the track with a few sec­onds of gib­ber­ish. Play it back­wards and it does in­deed sound like Len­non is say­ing “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him.” One of the rea­sons that al­leged se­cret mes­sages were able to gain such trac­tion with fans is be­cause the Bea­tles ac­tu­ally did have a pen­chant to put se­cret mes­sages in their al­bums. But rather than com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mor­bid coverup, they were usu­ally just try­ing to slip naughty things past the cen­sors.

Above are the two al­bum cov­ers for Yes­ter­day and To­day, a com­pi­la­tion al­bum re­leased for the North Amer­i­can mar­ket.

On the right is the cover that the Bea­tles wanted to use; an ex­tremely ab­stract con­cept im­age in­tended to sym­bol­ize the fact that the Bea­tles re­mained flesh and blood de­spite their fame. On the left is the photo that ul­ti­mately ended up on the al­bum when hor­ri­fied record ex­ec­u­tives ki­boshed the butcher cover.

For con­spir­acy the­o­rists, the butcher cover’s sym­bol­ism was easy: It de­picted the car­nage of McCart­ney’s grisly death. But they even had an ex­pla­na­tion for the mild cover. McCart­ney is seated in­side a steamer trunk sym­bol­iz­ing the fact that the “real” McCart­ney was also in a box six feet un­der­ground.

The Cana­dian con­nec­tion

On­tar­i­ans will im­me­di­ately rec­og­nize the patch on McCart­ney’s left arm in this sleeve art from Sgt. Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is the shoul­der patch of the Ontario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice, and found its way into McCart­ney’s pos­ses­sion dur­ing a tour through Canada. Given the an­gle of the photo, how­ever, the­o­rists took it that the patch read “OPD,” an al­leged ab­bre­vi­a­tion for “of­fi­cially pro­nounced dead.” Once again, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that Bri­tish hos­pi­tals ever used the acro­nym OPD to re­fer to a de­ceased pa­tient.

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