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The Enduring Mystery of Faul [Trenchant Edges]
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes, 6 seconds. Contains 3220 words. Could have gone on a lot longer, lol.
Hello friends and welcome back to this, finally, an “On Time” Trenchant Edges.
I think things have been a bit heavy here, or at least too serious. Trying to parse the secrets of our national bullshitters on a subject as hard to pin down as the meaning of a dream.
So I thought we’d do something a little more fun this week.
We’re going to talk about the Beatles’ most famous conspiracy.
Editor’s note: All typos generously donated to you free of charge.
A Graveyard of Beatles Hot Takes
As maybe the most enduring and popular Boomer icons, the Beatles were a really interesting edge case for what fame can do to people.
I’ve already lived through a few cycles of people loving and hating the Beatles uncritically. For a long time, I hated them myself but I think what I disliked was their reputation and the reverence many people had for them.
But an honest discussion of their music, even by someone who doesn’t like it, has to admit that while they were never the best band of the ‘60s, they were probably the Most Improved of the decade. And certainly embodied their fair share of the zeitgeist.
And they made the sitar popular in the Anglosphere, something for which we should all be grateful. Sitars rule and we shouldn’t have abandoned them as a pop fad.
Obviously, this isn’t going to be an exhaustive history of the Beatles or even of the Paul is dead meme.
My small contribution to the litter of people trying to come up with something new to say about this band is simply that Fake Paul (Faul, as we’ll come to know him) is the superior Paul.
We’ll get into that hot take later, but let’s get the basics out of the way first:
The Beatles were a British pop/rock band from Liverpool who got bigger than Jesus in the 1960s. They formed in 1960, broke up in 1970, and had a wild mess of a decade. In that time they produced 13 studio albums, four movies, and did more drugs than most of us can ever aspire to.
They consisted of 5 core members: John Lennon who’d be killed by a fan in 1980, Paul McCartney who died secretly in November 1966, Fake Paul who turned out to have all the same skills as real Paul but was maybe a bit better, George Harrison who I can’t think of anything clever to say about, and Ringo Starr who maybe should have aimed for a less fake ass stage name.
There are a number of “fifth Beatles” from artist Stuart Sutcliffe who played bass, Pete Best who was the group’s first drummer, to Brian Epstein their long-term manager who’s death in 1967 is the point many consider the beginning of the end of the band, and finally their producer George Martin.
The fact that Faul was kind enough to spotlight Epstein and Martin so many times in public makes me think pretty well of him, tbh. Plenty of famous people could do a lot worse than spotlighting the behind-the-scenes people who make their work possible.
They started off playing shitty bars in Hamburg, returned to England in 1961, and ended up with a record contract in 1963, which lead to a whole bunch of shit. Over their 13 studio albums, you can track a lot of the social and cultural changes of the decade. It’s hard to imagine being more famous.
As the decade wore on they shifted from pretty vapid pop music to a whole mess of experimental music. Freed from the constraints of mere mortals they were able to throw a lot of stuff against the wall.
All in all, a respectable career despite the little hiccups like John Lennon beating his wife, raging egos slowly poisoning everything they did, and perhaps too much LSD.
After they broke up, John Lennon was murdered in 1980, George Harrison died from lung cancer in 2001, and Ringo and Faul continued their decades-long psychic war to be the last Beatle standing.
OK, so that’s the long arc.
Let’s get into the minutiae.
Paul is Dead
Let’s get this out of the way: Paul almost certainly didn’t die in 1966. Faul doesn’t really make sense. This whole thing is a kind of apophenia mixed with the Fab Four’s puckish qualities and a level of fame that can only be described as reality-altering.
That, combined with the sheer weirdness in their latter albums and easy access to mind-expanding drugs created an atmosphere for one of those rumors that’s pretty funny until you think about it for a bit and realize it’s really fucked up to chase a guy for decades with an accusation that he’s dead and impersonating himself.
While not true, though, Paul is Dead is very fun. It hits a real sweet spot of being just transgressive and rude enough to feel edgy, scratches a serious apophenia itch with all the weird stuff the Beatles did in the 60s, and is mostly harmless.
OK, it is, let’s face it, a pretty rude thing to say about Paul McCartney who seems like a decent enough guy as far as I know.
But when other conspiracies on the menu are semi-regularly provoking mass shootings and the occasional bombing, being a dick to Paul seems pretty innocent.
So how did all this happen?
First, let’s take a moment to set the scene: Whatever its original origin the conspiracy broke into public consciousness in the fall of 1969, 3 years after Paul’s alleged death.
The year kicked off with Richard M Nixon taking office followed by the last Beatles live performance in January, impromptu at Apple Records, before it was broken up by the police.
The summer had some of the most polarizing moments of the entire decade: The Moon Landing, Woodstock, and the Manson Family Murders.
I’m not sure we’ve seen anything quite like it since, the mix of optimism and pessimism. The fulfillment of some of our greatest dreams (albeit as propaganda & a massive paycheck for the military-industrial complex) and that peak souring and curdling into the beginning of the Nixon 70s.
Not sure I’ve lived through anything like that.
Often quoted as the first documented case of Paul is Dead comes from Tim Harper, a student editor at the Drake Times-Delphic, the student newspaper of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
This was about 14 days before the Beatles released Abbey Road, an album that would also provide ample fuel for our story.
Further digging shows that Tim missed the boat by almost two years since the February 1967 issue of the Beatles Monthly Book mentions the rumor.
“Stories about The Beatles are always flying around,” the magazine briskly noted. “A rumor swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the M1. But, of course, there was absolutely no truth in it at all.”
But of course, they deny it. And Tim certainly appears near the beginning of the wave of this rumor that actually matters.
A few weeks later in October 12th, Russ Gibb, DJ for Detroit's underground station WKNR-FM received a phone call from a guy named Tom.
Bad start already.
But anyway, Tom told Russ to play Revolution Number 9 backward to hear “Turn Me On Dead Man”
Then on the 14th, the Michigan Daily posted a review structured like an obituary titled McCartney Dead, New Evidence Brought To Light, it starts off with the hilarious disclaimer, “Yeah, we asked this writer to review the Beatles’ new album but this is what they wrote instead”. Relatable.
This one is a bit uh higher energy than than the radio show as it includes more fun claims like Paul’s death hoax is setting up Paul to be the Messiah in a new religion.
In Patterson Grey’s The Walrus Was Paul, he remarks on all this: “It was unimaginable that the American public would believe such an unfounded rumor.” before going to explain, Well, you know the 1960s were a pretty paranoid time in politics and it’s not actually that unreasonable people would reflect that paranoia in pop culture.
Hard to disagree with him.
The 1960s were, in large measure, the crumbling of the lies US citizens had been telling themselves since WW2.
Including and especially “official” narratives. Mix that with the recent Manson murders and the fact the Beatles’ public appearances had gone way down in recent years and perhaps a bit of enthusiastic drug experimentation and, well, you’ve got a lot of people primed to follow obscure clues to reveal the secret truth.
Many among the Beatles’ most devoted fans were still reeling over their lack of touring since 1966 and when you’re in the right headspace the brain stops asking, “Isn’t this too crazy to believe” and starts asking, “Is this crazy enough to be true?”
I don’t really want to go over the evidence for this notion. None of it is very convincing or even particularly interesting.
It’s just taking bits and pieces of weird stuff the Beatles said, did, or put in their album art and free associating it with death.
Death, you know, that thing that happens to everyone. And particularly relevant to the Beatles, to their manager Brian Epstein in August 1967. He seems to have been both a decent guy and the one mediating the band both interpersonally and professionally.
So it’s not even like death wouldn’t have been on their mind.
But let’s go through the rest of the timeline before we get to the analysis.
It’s the 14th of October again, almost a month or so after Abbey Road’s release, and another student newspaper, the Michigan Daily, has gotten in on the fun. How serious was this meant to be is hard to say. Variable irony will come back though so let’s put a pin in that.
The Daily’s story got reprinted in at least a dozen other student newspapers including the Harvard Crimson building momentum.
This culminated in the real break out on October 22nd as almost 100 papers, coordinated through the AP, UPI, and Reuters wire services, printed stories about Paul Is Dead.
Being good Objective Journalists they mostly also printed Official Denials from the Beatles. Of course, here we have an interesting moment: Paul hadn’t given public interviews in more than a year and many of the quotes in these were actually made up by Apple Records PR Director Richard Dilello trying to get the phones to stop ringing with people asking about Paul.
Coverup behavior *ahem* allegedly without anything to cover up.
All this fueled further speculation by irreverent underground newspapers inspired by the free speech movement. There are a ton of fun stories there but let’s keep focused on Paul.
On October 26th, John Lennon called Russ’ WKNR show and denied everything, “It’s the most stupid rumor I’ve ever heard. It sounds like the same guy who blew up my Christ remark.”
(True Beatle fans will appreciate the joke of me saying let’s focus on Paul and immediately quoting John)
Of course, he WOULD deny everything, wouldn’t he?
IT’S PROOF EVERYTHING IS REAL I’VE BEEN LYING TO YOU THE WHOLE TIME FAUL IS REAL AND HE’S THE BEST BEATLE.
Before we skip ahead to the good stuff I’d just like to credit Ringo with this incredible line: “The Rumors are too stupid to bother denying.”
In all this time Paul, who was trying to avoid the spotlight, was just living his life on his farm until LIFE magazine hunted him down by sending a goon squad of Journalists to his home.
Paul did end up giving an interview and his tone is… well, tired. The Beatles might have been the luckiest people ever, but it obviously took a toll.
It’s funny looking back on this interview because Paul says explicitly, “But the Beatle thing is over.” Before ending the interview saying that if he has anything to say he’ll write a song about it.
Honestly, it’s classy stuff from a guy who had a hell of a decade in the best and worst sense and was trying to find some grounding.
But enough of the history stuff. Let’s get to brass tacks.
Why the fuck are we talking about Faul?
Well, aside from crediting his undeniable musical achievements. Paul was never the greatest musician but it’s not like there are millions of people who can perform at his level for decades.
And in all that time he’s never really given up any hints about secretly replacing the original Paul. What a total pro.
OK, enough joking about Faul being the better Paul (even though this is the correct take).
Paul-is-dead is a really interesting conspiracy. Not so much for the Beatles or the hidden clues, or any of that but because of how it can only really happen in a mass media environment.
Oh no, longtime readers realize, he’s about to bring in some McLuhan shit here, isn’t he?
Well, kind of.
I just mean that before you had mass media there just weren’t celebrities at this scale people expected to have like… intimate contact with.
Oh sure, there were famous people but you mostly never expected to interact with them personally unless you had some kind of good reason to.
Paul McCartney was nobody in 1960. By 1966 he was one of the most ubiquitous images on the planet. And the tension between his image and his person fucked him up like it did everyone else in the band. And, IMO, just about everyone else living at that level.
There are people who look like exceptions, but I’m not convinced they actually are. Like, does anyone think being Donald Trump in the media for 30 years has been good for Donald Trump as a person? He likes the attention but he’s been full steam ahead towards an iceberg for like 15 years.
So this combination of faux-intimacy ala parasocial relationships, the expectation of contact, and the continued attention targeting Paul and the rest of the band culminated in a moment when the impossible seemed possible.
Before mass media, a rumor of death usually happened close enough that you’d probably either see them yourself or be able to find someone who has. Or you just be like, “Well that’s a rumor I’ll never be able to know for sure about.”
What makes this moment interesting is manifold:
This is an early modern example of Qanon-style public baking
Paul-is-dead never really went away no matter how debunked it gets because nothing is lost in an era of mass media (except when stuff is lost)
Because the Beatles’ content was everywhere and filled with little notes and references and ambiguities it was ideally suited for this kind of thing.
For some fans it may have been emotionally preferable to believe Paul was dead over Paul really needed to get away from them, even impersonally.
I originally was going to use this as a way to talk about Apophenia and the brain’s reticular activating system, but we’re far too deep into it now.
After last post’s mammoth 4,500 words, I’ve been advised to keep things to about 10 minutes of reading time for the average reader, which we’re already over.
So let’s hit the last couple of core points here and get home.
Early Qanon was developed more on YouTube videos and Twitter than 4/8 Chan. They coined the word baking for a kind of pseudo-investigation that we see very clearly in Paul is Dead.
Baking is a kind of group improv game. A bit of “Yes, and” and a bit of a competition to come up with the most compelling/hard-to-tear-down story.
They, of course, would say it’s serious research but it bears little resemblance to that.
Baking is kind of a social collage rather than a systemic study.
You take a bird’s nest of facts, decontextualize them, and recontextualize them to suit the game you’re playing at the moment.
The commitment isn’t to the logical structure of X and Y happened, therefore Z, but the social enactment of shared distrust usually born out of intergroup conflict.
I skipped over detailing it but in late October before the LIFE article came out, there were a TON of radio hosts doing call-in shows and asking people if they thought Paul was dead. A ton of public baking before LIFE made anyone in the mainstream feel silly for considering it at all.
And that’s a big part of why Paul-is-dead is so sticky: It’s not just a rumor, it’s a rumor that’s been optimized to grab human attention by the collective creation of thousands of people.
Last thing, promise, is access. It’s not an accident that the clues for Paul-Is-Dead are mostly on their albums and not like, “Well Paul now looks different and plays music differently and isn’t really the same guy.”
People were looking at the information they had easy access to rather than doing the hard thing and actually going where Paul was and being like, “Hey, I’m so sorry I have to ask this but…”
Which is what LIFE did and that put the whole thing to bed for most people.
But once something’s officially false it becomes gristle for anyone who wants to oppose any kind of mainstream narrative. And make no mistake, the mainstreams are complicated enough that almost everyone does to some degree.
So Paul is alive, but so is Paul-is-dead. And the really funny part is the latter will outlive the former.
And probably all of us.
Whew, ok so this was supposed to be a fun easy thing for me to do to decompress from UFO bullshit so I can get to UFO bullshit.
But I ended up reading dozens of articles and skimming 3 books to do it.
And that doesn’t count the neuroscience stuff.
So this is technically out “on time” in the regular slot we’ve literally never been able to keep.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be doing the neuroscience sequel to this and… I think I’m going to do a really obnoxious thing and redo the whistleblower post by breaking it into two posts (posted in the same week) and editing them into tighter pieces because frankly, I have more to say.
And after that, we can get into the real shit I want to talk to about UFOs: The Paul Bennewitz case and going into real depth on just how compromised by US intelligence the UFO community is and has been.
So far I’m at…. 5 book-length sources for that.
Do you hate UFO shit yet? I do.
But hopefully, we’ll be out of this and towards greener pastures soon enough.
Alright, thank you for reading. And if you’ve gotten this far please leave a comment on if you want these to be actually regular events. It really helps me to focus when I know people have gotten to the end, lol.
Even just a “More often” would be great.
And of course, one of the best things you can do is share the newsletter with one person you think would appreciate it.
Alright, see you sooner or later.
This shit only ever happens because so many people are generous enough to help me pay my bills so I can justify to my mom why I’m doing this instead of more lucrative work. Please join them, lol.