Black History, Music, Pop Culture

Robert Johnson and the Devil.

Robert Johnson

Original publish date:  August 12, 2013                Reissue Date: June 18, 2020

“The Devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin’ for a soul to steal. He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind. He was willing to make a deal.” If you’ve ever listened to the radio in your lifetime, these lyrics are very familiar to you. And chances are, after reading this, they’ll be bouncing around in your brain for the rest of the day. But did you realize that there is a school of thought out there that believes these lyrics are not just musical fantasy, they are autobiographical in nature?
z Daniels thumbLegend claims this song tells the story of the most famous guitar player you’ve probably never heard of. Robert Johnson was born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi on May 8, 1911. He died under mysterious circumstances 75 years ago this week, on August 16, 1938. Johnson’s life has ascended into legend and it is often hard to separate fact from fiction, where this Mississippi bluesman’s life is concerned.
Robert Johnson was born to the Delta blues like a fish was born to water. Although he grew up dirt poor, one of 10 children, and was sparsely educated,no less an authority than Eric Clapton called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived.” Johnson was married at age eighteen in 1929. His wife, 16-year-old Vergie Mae Smith, died in childbirth a year later. He married Caletta Craft in May 1931 and a year later, the couple moved to Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta. Here Caletta fell ill and Johnson abandoned her for a career as a ‘walking’ musician. He spent the rest of his life traveling from town to town, playing on streetcorners, at picnics, Saturday night dances and juke joints.
z 976a8d34ef5e0338e1693cc971245069Johnson’s haunting, spiritual lyrics survive in songs such as “Cross Road Blues”, “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Me and the Devil Blues”. Robert Johnson’s shortlist of 29 landmark recordings from 1936 & 1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that influenced future generations of musicians. The American Record Corporation released eleven 78rpm records on their Vocalion label during Johnson¹s lifetime, and one more after his death.
If you doubt his impact on modern music, I suggest you Google Robert Johnson and take a few minutes to listen to any one of his many recordings that can be found on YouTube. Johnson’s music has been acknowledged as the driving influence behind the careers of guitar legends like Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Led Zepplin and the Allman Brothers. Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues”, which allegedly tells the story of how he sold his soul to devil, has been covered by Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, Steve Miller Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and The Doors, among others.
As an itinerant performer, Johnson experienced little commercial success and remained relatively unknown during his lifetime. From 1932 until his death in 1938, Johnson moved frequently between large cities like Memphis, Tennessee and Helena, Arkansas to smaller towns on the Mississippi Delta. On occasion, he traveled much farther to Chicago, Texas, New York, Canada, Kentucky, and here in Indiana. Johnson’s records sold poorly during his lifetime. It was only after the reissue of his recordings in 1961 on an album called “King of the Delta Blues Singers” that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style. Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an “Early Influence” in their first induction ceremony in 1986. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Johnson fifth on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

z a75c737614fb1f6ba6559017136d9185
This rare photo of Johnson, discovered in a box at a swap meet,  was recently discovered and sold on ebay.

Johnson’s songs documented the intense loneliness, terrors and tortuous lifestyle that came with being an African-American in the deep South during the Great Depression. Never before had the hardships of the world been transformed into such a poetic height; never had the blues plumbed such an emotional depth. Johnson transformed his specific and very personal experience into music of universal relevance and global reach. “You want to know how good the blues can get?” Keith Richards once said: “Well, this is it.” Eric Clapton put it more plainly: “I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson.”
The power of Johnson’s music has been amplified over the years by what little we know about him. Johnson was the first guitarist to use the guitar as ‘the other vocalist in the song’, a technique later perfected by B. B. King. Johnson mastered the guitar using an approach that was highly complex and extremely advanced musically. When Keith Richards was first introduced to Johnson’s music by bandmate Brian Jones, he asked, “Who is the other guy playing with him?”, not realizing it was Johnson alone playing one guitar. “I was hearing two guitars, and it took a long time to actually realize he was doing it all by himself,” said Richards, who would later add “Robert Johnson was like an orchestra all by himself.”
z rj lfContemporaries described him as well mannered, soft spoken, and most often, indecipherable. As for his character, everyone seems to agree that, while he was pleasant and outgoing in public, in private he was reserved and liked to go his own way. Musicians who knew Johnson testified that he was a nice guy and fairly average—except, of course, for his musical talent, his weakness for whiskey and women, and his commitment to the road.
When Johnson arrived in a new town, he would play for tips on street corners or in front of the local barbershop or a restaurant. During these live performances Johnson did not focus on his dark and complex original compositions, but instead performed more well-known pop standards of the day to encourage bigger tips. Johnson had an uncanny ability to pick up a tune after hearing it just one time. Johnson had no trouble establishing a rapport with his audience and in every town he played, he established ties to the local community that would serve him well when he passed through again a month or a year later.
z 220px-Cross_Road_Blues_single_coverJohnson’s poorly documented life and shadowy death at age 27, fueled the Faustian myth that he sold his soul to the devil to achieve success. This self-perpetuating legend states that sometime in the early-1930s Johnson strolled down a Clarksdale, Mississippi county road and was stopped at the intersection of highways 61 and 49 by Lucifer himself. It was here that he sold his soul to become the best blues guitarist that ever lived. Robert Johnson actually recorded songs alluding to this legend of the devil’s crossroads, and his untimely death only fed the legend.
Several different accounts of what really happened in Mississippi can be found on the net: it happened in the graveyard in Beauregard; it happened at the intersection of highways 1 and 8 in Rosedale; it happened at the crossroads of Old Highway 8 and Dockery Road in Clarksdale. There are now tourist attractions claiming to be “The Crossroads” in both Clarksdale and Memphis, so locating the “official” signposts that commemorate the event can be a challenge.

z Robert-Johnson-Death-shack
Purported death shack of Robert Johnson at “Three Forks.”

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson developed a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The “Devil” played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the Devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous. Another version places the meeting not at a crossroads but at midnight in a graveyard.
z 352168530590The capstone to Robert Johnson’s legend is cemented by the details of his early death at the age of 27. On the night of Saturday, August 13, 1938, Johnson was playing in a juke joint 15 miles outside of Greenwood, Mississippi when he was allegedly murdered by the jealous husband of a woman with whom he had flirted. In an account by fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnson had been flirting with a married woman at a dance, where she gave him a bottle of whiskey poisoned (reportedly with strychnine or lye) by her husband. When Johnson took the bottle, Williamson knocked it out of his hand and advised him to never drink from a bottle that he had not personally seen opened. Johnson replied, “Don’t ever knock a bottle out of my hand.”
Soon after, he was offered another tainted bottle and accepted it. Johnson began feeling ill the next evening and had to be helped back to his room in Greenwood Mississippi in the early morning hours. Over the next three days his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died in a convulsive state of severe pain. Some say the poisoned whiskey killed him, other stories range from pneumonia to syphilis. Regardless of cause, by all accounts, Johnson’s death was a violent array of howling and convulsions.
As you might expect, the mystery of Johnson doesn’t end with his death. The biggest mystery of all might be his final resting place. Three graveyards claim the musical legend’s tombstone: Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City; Payne Chapel near Quito Mississippi; and the Little Zion M.B. Church north of Greenwood. Visit any of the sites today, and you’ll see all kinds of memorabilia, liquor bottles and music-related trinkets left atop the headstones by adoring fans from around the globe.
z from-spirituals-500Ironically, 75 years ago this week, while Robert Johnson was thrashing back and forth in agony on his deathbed in 1938, Columbia Records producer John H. Hammond was frantically searching for Johnson to book him for the first “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Robert Johnson’s “Big break” never reached him.

z Johnson-composite_edited-1
So mysterious is Robert Johnson that he has three grave markers in three different cemeteries.
Auctions, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

John Lennon’s tooth and doodles.

John LennonTooth-sign

Original publish date: November 17, 2011            Reissue date: June 20, 2019

The last couple of weeks have witnessed yet another sign of the staying power of the Beatles as a couple of items hit the auction block at two different auction houses in Great Britain. One of them is historically significant while the other is slightly creepy.
On Saturday November 5th, the tooth fairy was denied when a tooth belonging to former Beatle John Lennon was sold by Omega Auction House in Cheshire England. (Admit it, an image of Austin Powers saying “Yeah, baby” just flashed through your mind.) Americans have long parodied the English and their bad teeth. The thought of actually paying money for the tooth of anyone, let alone a Beatle, may repulse and revile you. However, 49-year-old dentist Michael Zuk from Calgary, Alberta, Canada thought enough of the relic to plunk down $ 31,200 to own it.

z WEB_LennonsTooth
Dentist Michael Zuk.

Zuk, a crusading whistle-blowing dentist and author of the 2010 book, “Confessions of a Former Cosmetic Dentist”, has practiced dentistry in the Canadian town of Red Deer for 25 years. He admitted he hoped the high profile tooth purchase might draw attention to his book. He said Lennon’s tooth is another example of how even celebrity’s teeth can be imperfect. “It’s visibly rotten and contains a large hole, Zuk said, adding it’s likely a second or third molar from the lower part of Lennon’s mouth. I’m guessing Lennon may have had an acid reflux problem caused by the rock star lifestyle.” says Dr. Zuk. “That’s my speculation, he had a stomach problem that caused a massive cavity.” Zuk said. The Doctor says he’s already making plans to take it on tour and show it off at dental schools worldwide. He added it could be used for future research. “The nerve of the tooth is dried up and inside,” he said. “But that’s where DNA would be if in the future people are interested in trying to clone John Lennon.”
z lennon tooth 2The molar, slightly yellowed with heavy coffee stains and a large cavity, was given to Dorothy “Dot” Jarlett, John Lennon’s housekeeper for half-a-decade. The story goes that one day Lennon encountered the housekeeper in the kitchen of his Kenwood home in Weybridge, Surrey. John, having just returned home from a trip to the dentist, gave Dot the tooth wrapped in a piece of paper and asked her to dispose of it for him. Then John paused for a moment and suggested that Dot give it to her daughter as a souvenir, since she was such a huge Beatles fan. Dot Jarlett’s daughter cherished the sacred relic and when she married a Canadian, she brought her Beatle biting bicuspid into the marital union. The tooth has been “living” in Canada for all but a couple of the last 45 years.
Dot Jarlett, who was employed by Lennon from 1964 to 1968, developed a warm relationship with John. Lennon’s mother died in an automobile accident less than a decade before when Lennon was just 17-years-old. He was in his mid-twenties and Dot was in her mid-forties during their association. Undoubtedly, Dot filled a void in Lennon’s life as a much needed maternal figure during her employ, thus strengthening the connection between the two. Dot’s son Barry told BBC News, “He treated her like family because he didn’t really have a very big family and he really looked after my mum. He used to call her Aunty Dot.”
z Clone-a-BeatleWhile “Aunty Dot” is selling the tooth, she plans to keep a leather wallet and a pearl necklace Lennon gave to her after returning from a concert tour of Japan. Lennon gave the Jarlett family many gifts over the years. A few years ago, Dot sold the jacket worn by John on the “Rubber Soul” album cover, also given to her by Lennon. Dot, who is now 90-years-old, said it was the right time to pass it on rather than to risk the tooth getting lost. Auction house experts have determined that the tooth is too fragile to conduct a DNA test but they have no doubt about its authenticity and point to the impeccable provenance that accompanies it.
Of course, this isn’t the first Rock-N-Roll body part to be sold at auction. In 2009, a clump of hair trimmed from Elvis Presley’s head after he famously joined the Army in 1958 sold for $18,300 at Chicago’s Leslie Hindman auction house. Lennon, who was a huge fan of the King, would be pleased to share that stage.
Less sensational, but undoubtedly more historically significant, 10 days later on Tuesday November 16, 2011, a placard for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 “Bed-In for Peace” sold for $155,892 by Christie’s International auction house in London. The winning bid for this anti-Vietnam War movement relic came from an unidentified phone bidder. The handwritten cardboard rectangular sign featured the slogan: “BED PEACE” and could be seen behind John & Yoko in the window directly behind them when they spent seven days occupying rooms in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada.
z 2-2-31The Montreal bed-in came two months after the couple’s honeymoon bed-in in Amsterdam and was their take on a sit-in. Lennon’s idea was for protesters to stay in bed and grow their hair rather than doing anything violent. The couple opened their hotel room door to the world’s media and spoke to journalists, politicians and artists trying to promote the idea of peace in the world. They also found time to record the anthem Give Peace a Chance. Many artworks and placards were created over the week and were moved around and given away but the Bed Peace sign was a constant.
The placard, signed and dated by the couple, was acquired by a sound engineer who attended the event. He passed it on to a colleague, whose family kept the relic safe ever since. The message “BED PEACE” was scrawled in black ink on a piece of plain manila colored foam board. The two words were outlined and then colored in with black felt tip by John Lennon himself. John and Yoko produced many artworks during the event but this was one of only two kept prominently above the bed (The other was a sign that read “Hair Peace”). Many were moved around the room and some were given away to friends and fans. However, the sign sold at the Christie’s auction was displayed in the window of the Montreal hotel room (Suite 1742) for the couple’s entire stay. It can be seen in nearly every picture taken of the pajama-bathrobe clad couple as they called for an end to the Vietnam War. The sign includes John’s self doodled mini-portrait of the newlyweds and is signed by both Lennon and Ono.
z Bed-In_for_Peace_Amsterdam_1969_-_John_Lennon__Yoko_Ono_13The sign is not the only item from the Montreal “Bed-In” to be auctioned by the famed auction house recently. On July 10, 2008, Lennon’s hand-written lyrics for “Give Peace a Chance” sold for $800,000 at Christie’s. When Lennon gave teenager Gail Renard his scribbled lyrics to “Give Peace a Chance” in 1969, he told her to hold on to the cue card. “It will be worth something someday,” predicted Lennon. She did, and it was.
Renard, a teenage fan who sneaked past security guards, was among the first to arrive. She befriended Lennon, helped look after Ono’s young daughter, Kyoto, and made copies of the song Lennon wrote during the “bed-in” so their friends could read the lyrics and record it in the room. “It was a bit ‘Mission Impossible,'” Renard recalled. “It was back up back staircases and fire escapes and waiting until the security guard — until nature called — and the moment he went away, running in, knocking on the door, and Yoko answered, and I said, ‘Could we have an interview for a school magazine?’ and she said, ‘Yes’! ” They were wonderful. We were lucky. It was before the world’s press got in, and they had just arrived, and John was very tired and hungry, and they couldn’t get room service yet, and I had a Hershey bar in my handbag, and I said, ‘Would you like a chocolate bar?’ And he went, ‘Yes, please.’ And we bonded over a Hershey bar! … He was a lovely man.”

z SD_SD200810487494522AR
John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “Give Peace a Chance.”

The lyrics, she added, were “on my wall originally, but then somebody pointed out, ‘Is it really wise keeping it on your wall”‘ And it became a responsibility, because it had to go into a vault and things, and I thought, ‘It should be enjoyed. It has to be enjoyed and seen, and remember why John wrote it in the first place. John and Yoko did it for love and peace.'” Renard, now a British-based TV writer and presenter, developed a lifelong friendship with Lennon, who helped launch her journalism career by placing an article she wrote about the bed-in in the Beatles Monthly magazine. The actual recording of “Give Peace a Chance” took about five minutes. It became a worldwide hit after it was touched up in the studio. A number of famous guests, including Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Tommy Smothers, sang on the record, which went to No. 14 on the Billboard charts. The song is a simple, casual affair recorded without any of the Beatles’ typically high level of musicianship and artistry, but the phrase “Give Peace a Chance” has entered the popular lexicon, surviving long after Lennon’s death in 1980.
Who’d have thought that a cue card, a sign or a tooth could be worth so much money? There was no such thing as rock memorabilia back in 1969. Who could have predicted what a big business Rock-N-Roll would become? zbe4c8532446775cb45446b70adfe80f0

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part IV

Part four abbey-road-album-cover-the-beatles

Original publish date:  June 29, 2015

Reissue date:  May 9, 2019

By the time The Beatles released their eleventh, and ultimately last, studio album Abbey Road on September 26, 1969, the “Paul is dead” rumor had developed a life of it’s own. Although Let It Be was the last album released before the band’s dissolution in 1970, work on Abbey Road began in April 1969. Although the band was barely speaking to each other at the time, Abbey Road is widely regarded as one of The Beatles’ best albums. Rolling Stone placed it at number 14 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2009, readers of the magazine also named Abbey Road the greatest Beatles album. But in the fall of 1969, many Beatle fans were in the throes of mourning for what they believed was their dearly departed bass player, Paul McCartney. And the cover of Abbey Road did little to quell the controversy.
z Beatles-696x464Almost immediately conspiratorialists saw the Abbey Road album cover as a funeral procession. Leading the procession is John dressed in white, symbolizing the clergy. Next comes Ringo, dressed in black like an undertaker. Paul, the presumed corpse, is third in line and walks out of step with the other Beatles, he is barefoot and his eyes are closed. George brings up the rear, dressed in work clothes the supposed gravedigger. Also, Paul is smoking a cigarette, also known as a “coffin nail”. The fact that he is holding the cigarette in his right hand, even though the “real” Paul McCartney was left handed, only added to the belief that this was an impostor posing as the dead bassist. z 995528_522730157803684_710584043_n
z Abbey-Road-facts-the-beetle-carThe death clues were not confined to the image of the lads in the crosswalk however. For behind the Beatles on the left side of the street is a Volkswagen Beetle with a license plate reading “LMW 28IF”, suggesting that Paul would have been 28 if he were still alive. Actually Paul would have been 27 when Abbey Road was released. This seeming miscalculation was explained away by the rumorists with the fact that Paul studied mysticism in the Near East. Most mystics believe we are all one year old at birth (counting the nine months of pregnancy) confirming that Paul would have been 28 IF he had lived!.” The first three letters on the license place, “LMW,” were interpreted as “Linda McCartney Weeps”. On the right side of the road is a police van, seen as a reference to the cover up of Paul’s death by police.
z IMG_1561-Version-3Perhaps as expected, the clues are not only confined to the front cover, for devoted clueseekers, many hidden secrets can be found on the back cover as well. To the left of the tiles spelling out “Beatles” are eight dots, which when connected form the number “3”, so the back cover actually reads “3 Beatles”. Also, there is a crack in the “S” at the end of “Beatles”. Some say that to the right of the tiles is an odd shadow that looks like a skull.
The woman walking by is supposedly Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend at the time of the accident, who was supposedly paid to keep quiet about the whole matter. The rumor also states that if you look at her elbow from a distance, the silhouette of Paul McCartney’s profile appears. The songs themselves of course hold clues to Paul’s demise in the lyrics. In “Come Together” the line “One and one and one is three” hints that there are three Beatles instead of four. And of course, “Golden Slumbers” and “The End” are easily open to macabre interpretation.
As previously stated, although recorded before Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles released was 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. In the lyrics of the title song, “Let It Be”, Paul’s lyrics allegedly hint that everyone should “let it be” and accept the fact that is he dead once and for all. The mention of “Mother Mary” in the song confirms that Paul is dead, as the Bible indicates the she stands at the gates of heaven beside St. Peter. Lastly, the track “The Long and Winding Road” is said to be a reference to the road that led to Paul’s decapitation.
z letitbe-500x500Finally, on the “Let It Be” cover, the album cover is black. Said to symbolize the end, or death, of the Beatles. Or maybe it was to symbolize the death of a Beatle? The background squares of John, George, and Ringo’s photos are all adorned in white. While Paul’s square is depicted with a blood red background. Also, Paul is shown facing forward rather than in three-quarter profile. Another indication of Paul’s death is seen by the fact that he grew a beard, seen by some religions as a sign of death and mourning. The rest of The Beatles’ beards are clues as well, as they all indicate that the three surviving members are in mourning for their lost bandmate.

z $(KGrHqF,!hcE1iIvgPizBNmqBFT)7!___32
On November 7th, 1969 Life Magazine ran an interview with Paul McCartney at his Scottish farm. Paul spoke about the various “death clues” including the OPD badge on his Pepper suit (which fans took to mean “Officially Pronounced Dead”), his black flower in Magical Mystery Tour, and his barefooted appearance on the Abbey Road album cover. Paul was quoted as saying, “It is all bloody stupid. I picked up that OPD badge in Canada. It was a police badge. Perhaps it means Ontario Police Department or something. I was wearing a black flower because they ran out of red ones. It is John, not me, dressed in black on the cover and inside of Magical Mystery Tour. On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day. The Volkswagen just happened to be parked there.”
Paul continued, “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days. I would rather do what I began by doing, which is making music. We make good music and we want to go on making good music. But the Beatle thing is over. It has been exploded, partly by what we have done, and partly by other people. We are individuals – all different. John married Yoko, I married Linda. We didn’t marry the same girl. The people who are making up these rumors should look to themselves a little more. There is not enough time in life. They should worry about themselves instead of worrying whether I am dead or not. What I have to say is all in the music. If I want to say anything I write a song. Can you spread it around that I am just an ordinary person and want to live in peace? We have to go now. We have two children at home.”
Ringo dismissed the rumors as “a load of crap.” George never publicly spoke about the PID rumors. John proclaimed, “No. That was bullsh*t, the whole thing was made up.” But Paul had the last word on the rumors of his death. The cover of McCartney’s 1993 album “Paul Is Live” shows him with his dog on the famous Abbey Road crosswalk, obviously poking fun at the rumored funeral procession of nearly a quarter century before. In the background, once again, a Volkswagen Beetle is parked at the side with the license plate reading “51 IS”. Rather than being dead in his twenties, Paul was still alive and making music at age 51.

z tegning
Paul McCartney’s original Abbey Road album cover concept sketch.

As for the Abbey Road cover design, a photograph of The Beatles traversing a zebra crossing; it was based on sketched ideas by McCartney himself. The photo was taken from atop a step-ladder on August 8, 1969 outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road at 11:30 in the morning. Photographer Iain Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the photo while policeman held up oncoming traffic.
The white Volkswagen Beetle belonged to one of the people living in the block of flats across from the recording studio. After the album was released, the car’s license plate (LMW 281F) was stolen repeatedly by adoring fans. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for $ 3,795.00 and in 2001 the VW Beetle was put on display in a German museum. The man standing on the pavement to the right of the picture is Paul Cole (1911-2008), an American tourist unaware he had been photographed until he saw the album cover months later.
z paul-coleCole, a Florida salesman, was on vacation with his wife, who wanted to go see “yet another museum.” Mr. Cole decided to wait outside on the north London thoroughfare. Cole watched as photographer Iain McMillan stood on a stepladder in the middle of the street, photographing the four Beatles as they walked, single-file, across Abbey Road. The entire shoot lasted 10 minutes. “I just happened to look up, and I saw those guys walking across the street like a line of ducks,” Cole remembered. “A bunch of kooks, I called them, because they were rather radical-looking at that time. You didn’t walk around in London barefoot.”
The image of the Beatles on the crossing has become one of the most famous and imitated in recording history. The crossing is a popular destination for Beatles fans and there is a 24-hour-a-day webcam aimed at it. Undoubtedly, in years to come some ghost group or spiritual investigation team will claim to see the ghost of John or George trodding across the stripes once more. As for Sir Paul McCartney, he’ll do his best to delay that walk for as long as he can.

z Beatles_1969_AppleCorpsLtd2009

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part III

Part three White Album Poster

Original publish date:  June 22, 2015

Reissue date:  May 2, 2019

Last week, we once again visited the famous “Paul is Dead” rumor that haunted the Beatles rock band for many years. Obviously, the rumor that Paul McCartney died in a November 1966 car accident was just a rumor, to many Beatlemaniacs during the final years of the turbulent sixties decade, it was very real. It had become a national pastime to search for clues to Paul’s death in the music and artwork produced by the band. The albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery tour were allegedly rife with references to Sir Paul’s demise.
The band’s next album, a self-titled work known as “The White Album”, was released on November 22, 1968, prophetically 5-years to the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The death reference is not overstated, as soon, the “Paul is Dead” theorists would dissect the music and its accompanying poster for further clues of McCartney’s death. The death connection continued as, in time, the album would be blamed for inspiring Charles Manson and his “family” during their murder spree. Much of which was aimed at the music industry itself through the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson and the band’s record producer Terry Melcher. But that’s another story.
z 316GrhxGleL._SY355_The stark snow white album cover was seen as an obvious reference to the white light of heaven, where Paul was supposed to be at its release. But it was the poster issued inside the white album (a collage featuring a number of random images of the Fab Four) that came under the scrutiny of those looking for “Paul is Dead” clues. In the lower right hand corner of the poster (page 7 of the CD booklet) is a grainy B&W photo of Paul dancing. Upon close examination, a pair of ghostly hands can be seen reaching toward Paul from behind.
In the lower left hand corner of the poster (page 18 of the CD booklet) is a cold war inspired passport photograph of Paul in disguise. Conspiracy theorists suggested that this image was actually of Paul’s replacement in the band, William Campbell Shears, taken prior to the plastic surgery that made him look more the “the late” Paul McCartney.
In the upper left hand corner of the poster (page 3 of the CD booklet) is a picture of Paul with his head partially submerged in a bathtub. The position of Paul’s head and the suds around him suggest the grisly accident scene of his fatal accident or perhaps the aftermath in the morgue. One version of the “Paul is dead” story claims that Paul left the recording studio after arguing with drummer Ringo Starr. In his song “Don’t Pass Me By”, Ringo is said to express his regret at the tragic turn of events after Paul’s angry departure from the studio: “I listen for your footsteps coming up the drive…I listen for your footsteps but they don’t arrive.” At the end of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, George Harrison is thought to moan the words “Paul, Paul”.
z beatles goThe song “Glass Onion” makes a number of references to Beatle songs and events. John mentions “The Fool on the Hill” and states, “I tell you man he living there still” thought by some to symbolize heaven. However, perhaps the most intriguing line in the song is “Well here’s another clue for you all…The walrus was Paul.” Seen as a final bow to his fallen bandmate and co-songwriter. Some sources have suggested that the phrase “goo goo g’joob” is from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (Alas, the phrase “googoo goosth” is the closest Joyce gets in th book.) Never fear, the “Paul is Dead” rumorists claim that “goo goo g’joob” are the last words uttered by Humpty Dumpty before his fall. A fall that cracked his head open, much like Paul’s supposed fatal car accident.
Further proof is said to be found in the odd conclusion to “Cry Baby Cry” as Paul asks “Can you take me where I came from? Can you take me back?” Not necessarily as much for what those lines are supposed to mean, but rather that the song leads into “Revolution 9”, the most analyzed of all “White album” tracks by “Paul is Dead” clue seekers.
z revolution 9 singleRevolution 9 was an innovative sound collage that, quite frankly, soared over most listener‘s heads. Later transcripts of the dialog heard early in the song reveals two men who can be heard saying “I know all about it George. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? Yes.” Theorists claimed that this was John talking with George Martin about the secret placement of clues on Beatles records. However, the biggest clue to Paul’s death on the track is the title itself, whose repeated phrase “Number 9” is said to sound like “turn me on, dead man” when played backwards. A dark recall to the line “I’d love to turn you on” from “A Day in the Life”.
The sound collage of “Revolution 9” is said to contain a recreation of Paul’s fatal car accident. At one point listeners hear car horns, followed by a car crash, and concluding with the crackling sounds of a fire burning. When played backwards theorists claim the statement “Let me out! There were two. There are none now.” can be plainly heard. Most astonishingly, “Paul id Dead” devotees swear that, when played normally, the following disjointed lines can be heard throughout the song: “he hit a pole. We better get him to see a surgeon. So anyhow he went to a dentist instead. They gave him a pair of teeth that weren’t any good at all…So my wings are broken and so is my hair… I’m not in the mood for words… Find the night watchman… A fine natural imbalance… He must have got it in the shoulder blades… Take this brother, may it serve you well…” The final line marking Paul’s passing of the torch to his replacement William Campbell Shears.
z 150422235054-paul-mccartney-car-1100x619Ardent believers believed that other “Backwards” clues could be found on the track “I’m so tired / Blackbird” when some random mumbling is heard that they believe sounds like John and Yoko right after the abrupt ending of “I’m So Tired” and before the beginning of the next song, “Blackbird“. This passage makes no sense when played forwards. However, when played backwards, they believe that you can hear John say, “Paul is a dead man. Miss him. Miss him. MISS HIM!” John Lennon was said to be expressing his grief over Paul’s death in this line of the song followed by the very next line on the record, sung by Paul, “Blackbird singing in the dead of night”, that mentions death.
Ten months later, on September 17, 1969, an article titled “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” was published in the student newspaper of Iowa’s Drake University. Soon, the “Paul is Dead” story went viral. Almost immediately, other articles followed claiming that clues to McCartney’s death could be found among the lyrics and album covers of The Beatles’ recordings. Clue hunting proved infectious and for a couple of months in late 1969 it became an international phenomenon. Just in time for the Beatles’ next album, Abbey Road. Guess what? The clues continued and soon, Paul McCartney himself would finally be heard from.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part II

Part Two Magical Mystery Tour

Original publish date:  June 15, 2015

Reissue date:  April 25, 2019

Last week, we revisited the famous “Paul is Dead” rumor swirling around the Beatles rock band during the last few years of the turbulent sixties decade. The rumor that Paul McCartney died in a November 1966 car crash seems silly to us now, but it was pervasive back in the day. As we covered in Part I of this series, the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in June of 1967 to much well deserved fanfare. Both for the music it contained and the supposed references it made to the death of the Beatles’ heartthrob bass player.
z 514EFDAnUSLMagical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967. After the success of Sgt. Pepper’s, Paul McCartney wanted to create a film based upon The Beatles and their music. The film was to be unscripted and would “star” various “ordinary” people who were to travel the countryside on a bus and experience “magical” adventures on film. The Magical Mystery Tour film was made and included six new Beatles songs. The film was universally panned and largely forgotten, but the resulting album / soundtrack is considered a classic. Produced by George Martin, Magical Mystery Tour was packaged by Capitol records as a full LP with a 24-page companion picture booklet.
The booklet was eagerly devoured by the “Paul is dead” theorists and the clues it supposedly offered only fueled the ever-growing conspiracy. So, dear readers go and dust off your copies of Magical Mystery tour as we thumb through it and decipher the clues. On page 3 of the booklet, Paul is dressed in a British military uniform posed seated behind a desk with a nameplate that reads “I Was” in front of him. Further interpretations of the nameplate claim it reads either “I You Was” or “I Was You,” both suggesting that Paul had disappeared and been replaced by a double. Also, the British Union Jack flags behind Paul are crossed as they would traditionally appear at a military funeral.z 5cc0bc9bb6d5645e975a0238
On page 6, John Lennon appears as a carnival barker manning a ticket booth with a sign reading: “The best way to go is by M&D Co.” According to the “Paul is dead” rumor, M&D Co. was a funeral parlor, but such a place never existed. Theorists also note that in the picture, a departure time is given but the return time is blank.z d76c076b0c7bc4a2699c0a574cc06d94
On page 9, “Fool on the Hill” is shown next to a cartoon image of Paul who appears to be standing on a grave shaped mound of grass. The second “L” in the title extends above Paul’s head and dribbles into his scalp as though his head were split open. This picture hints at the devastating head injury that Paul allegedly sustained in his fatal accident.
In the band photos on pages 10, 11 and 12, Paul appears without shoes, which would become a recurring theme among the “Paul is Dead” crowd in years to come. Also, on Ringo’s bass drum between the word “Love” and the name “The Beatles”, the numeral “3” can plainly be seen which seems to spell out the cryptic phrase “Love the 3 Beatles”. Eerily, in that same photo, blood appears to be dripping from Paul’s shoes resting next to the drum. Theorists assert that “empty shoes were a Grecian symbol of death.”
z magical_st1_2emi_emirim_bookh3_largeOn page 23, the Beatles are all wearing stark white tuxedos with carnations in the lapels. Paul’s flower is black while the other Beatles have red flowers. Years later, Paul denied that the black carnation had any significance at all; “I was wearing a black flower because they ran out of red ones.”

 

 

z carnations_zps14423978And on the final page of the photo booklet, once again, a hand appears over Paul’s head. Although this instance of a hand over Paul’s head isn’t nearly as dramatic as the Sgt. Pepper’s cover photo because several people have their hands raised above their heads in this picture. But it certainly did nothing to ease the conspiracies.
z nZ75ZWFHowever, there is one compelling image in the pages of the pictorial book that, when analyzed, virtually screamed out to all those looking for signs of death in the Beatles’ works to substantiate the rumors of Paul’s premature passing. On page 8 of the booklet, a dining scene, at the left of the image (but on the right as the image is rotated one turn clockwise), with a little imagination, you can see a skull in this picture. It occupies the left side of the picture, with the beret of the person seated at the table forming the eye and the hair of the woman seated next to him the mouth. Like a “Magic Eye” painting, once you’ve accepted it as a skull, it’s easy to see the damage to the top of the head. This grisly image suggests the damage to Paul’s head as a result of his car crash. The fact that this picture, unlike all of the other images in the booklet, does not appear in the movie again only encouraged the “Paul is Dead” crowd as proof of his passing.z none-magical-mystery-tour-skull-3-pau
Then there’s the cover image. The bandmates appear on the cover, as they did in the companion film, dressed in outlandish animal costumes. The animal costumes were in keeping with the predominantly psychedelic themes of the music on the LP. It’s a common misconception that Paul was the walrus, no doubt made famous by the lyric in Glass Onion on “The White Album” and the song’s innumerable references to it in the ‘Paul is Dead’ conspiracy. However, Paul isn’t the walrus, John is. This can be seen in the ‘I Am The Walrus’ segment of the Magical Mystery Tour film where the walrus is seated at the piano singing the song (just as John was at the start of the song). The hippo is standing in front playing left-handed bass guitar. In truth, Paul was the Hippo, John was the Walrus, George was the Rabbit and Ringo was the Chicken.
walrustourTheorists would claim a connection between Paul’s supposed Walrus costume and the death rumor, but the real controversy revolved around the word “Beatles” above the lad’s heads that purportedly reveal a secret phone number. As Rolling Stone famously pointed out, it’s not exactly clear what that phone number is supposed to be. Depending on whom you ask it could be read as “231-7438, 834-7135, 536-0195, 510-6643, 546-3663, 624-7125, no telling what city, maybe London.” If you turn the album cover upside down and hold it in front of a mirror you can see the numbers 8341735, which is a stretch because the threes, the seven and the five are backwards. If you simply hold the album cover upside-down, the numbers could be 5371438. Of course, there is no area code. The rumor claimed that when this number was dialed, the caller would receive information about Paul’s death, or the person would be able to take a trip to “Magical Beatle Mystery Island”, or maybe even speak to Paul in the hereafter. Stories circulated about the strange responses callers were receiving from the voices on the other end of the phone line. Later it was discovered that one of the phone numbers belonged to a journalist who was nearly driven crazy by the numerous phone calls from people hoping to connect with the late Paul McCartney.
z R-7799943-1449024243-9186But it was the music contained on the album that offered the clue seekers the most tantalizing hints at Paul’s demise. One of the best known “Paul is dead” audio clues comes at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. As the song fades out for the second time, John allegedly says “I buried Paul.”‘ This audio clue can be heard more clearly when the record is played at 45 rpm as John’s voice is slowed down to a virtual crawl. Years later, John admitted that he was really saying “cranberry sauce,” which became evident on the “take 7 and edit piece” version of the song that appeared on Anthology II in 1996. Paul explained “That’s John’s humor. John would say something totally out of sync, like ‘cranberry sauce.’ If you don’t realize that John’s apt to say something like ‘cranberry sauce’ when he feels like it, then you start to hear a funny little word there, and you think aha!”
The “Paul is Dead” theorists prophetically point to the song, “I am the Walrus” on the album as definitive proof of McCartney’s death. The very fact that theorists looked for clues in “I Am the Walrus” was ironic, since John’s intent was to write a song with nonsensical imagery to poke fun at all those people looking for clues in every Beatle lyric. Still, John’s explanation didn’t stop them from looking for “Paul is Dead” clues in the song.
According to the “Paul is Dead” rumor: Paul left the recording studio in anger on a “stupid bloody Tuesday” after a quarrel with his bandmates. The refrain “I’m crying” is John expressing his grief over Paul’s death. The references to “pretty little policemen” and “waiting for the van to come” refer to the police present at the site of Paul’s fatal accident. The opening line of the song, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” suggests that all of the Beatles were aware of the death and ensuing cover-up. In the “Paul is dead” mythology, the walrus is an image of death. But no evidence for this statement has ever surfaced to explain why.
z Booklet 1-10The album, movie and pictorial booklet are arguably the most ambitious effort ever attempted by the Fab Four. Completed at a time when the Beatles were still having fun, but questioning their viability at the same time. Although they saw themselves as a rock band, their fans were looking at them as modern day prophets. Undoubtedly, this view was responsible in large part for the devastation perceived by the “Paul is Dead” rumors that continued to swirl around the band. The band’s next effort, “The White Album”, would do nothing to help end the controversy.