Paul is undead
"Paul is undead" is an urban legend alleging that Paul McCartney of the English rock band The Beatles died in 1966 of an artificial infection and then was reanimated as a zombie. This legend, despite its sheer insanity and laughable nature, has continued to circulate on an international scale not because it is real, but because everybody likes Paul McCartney and everybody likes zombies.
Rumours that McCartney was in an abnormal life state started with a call into a Detroit radio station, claiming that McCartney was dead and that playing "Revolution 9" backwards would yield "turn me on, dead man", thereby proving the assertion. The DJ, however, thought that he instead heard "turn me undead, man", and posited his own theory that McCartney was not completely dead, but rather a zombie. The executives at the station, realising that none of this made an inkling of sense, fired the DJ immediately, but already they were too late to stop the rumours.
Hearing the radio broadcast and the sounds of the DJ resisting being dragged out of his chair and then being dragged out with his chair, two college students at the University of Michigan thought this theory was insane, but ridiculously cool at the same time, and decided to write a satirical piece with ridiculous, allegedly hidden audio or visual "clues" that could not possibly be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it appears that nobody else at or around the University of Michigan knew the meaning of the words "sarcasm" and "critical thinking", as the story spread further through national newspapers and radio stations.
For the most part, clues are rare and few before 1967. The one song that might possibly speak to McCartney's zombie transformation is "Yesterday", in which he sings "suddenly / I'm not half the man I used to be", suggesting that the infection had already consumed half of his mind and body, and that it happened suddenly.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is perhaps the most infamous source of clues for "Paul is undead" theorists, largely because of the song "A Day in the Life", and in particular, the lyrics sung by McCartney, which theorists claim to be the clearest description of the zombie infection itself. The line "drank a cup" appears to be the point of infection; when he "went into a dream", he in fact died; and the strange "ahhh" sounds that Lennon makes are just making us feel really trippy.
Other songs are not, however, entirely unnoticed. For instance:
- "With a Little Help from My Friends" is thought to be a semi-autobiographical account of McCartney's increased dependence on his friends following his transformation into a zombie; the line "What would you do if I sang out of tune?" points to McCartney's awareness of the quickening decay in his vocal cords.
- In "Good Morning Good Morning", Lennon sings "it's time for tea and Meet the Wife"; the free radicals and tannin found in tea are known to delay skin decay in the undead, and Meet the Wife was just a TV show McCartney watched from time to time.
- "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" has the lyric "Cellophane flowers of yellow and green" which is of obvious significance.
The cover of the album is also a major source of speculative clues, largely due to its striking imagery (see right). In addition, theorists believe that the album's title, "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", has a hidden meaning. Specifically, rearranging the letters and translating the result from German—remember, the Beatles spent quite a bit of time in Hamburg—yields "Snap! Counselling by Dolby" (the original German being "Schnapp! Beratungsstelle per Dolby"). Since this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, theorists claim that it is exactly the sort of thing a zombie like McCartney would say.
After Sgt. Pepper
A prominent audio clue from Magical Mystery Tour appears at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever". While most people agree that this is Lennon singing "cranberry sauce", "Paul is undead" proponents believe that this is actually zombie McCartney himself singing—or making his best effort to sing—"BRAIIIIINS". A fringe group of proponents accept that it was, in fact, Lennon singing "cranberry sauce", but argue that this was because zombies actually prefer cranberry sauce over brains, since the texture is pretty similar anyhow.
As far as visual clues from the album go, all the theorists have found is that the album cover shows McCartney dressed up as a walrus. Many theorists have claimed that the blubber of a walrus is a key ingredient in reanimating a corpse as a zombie in voodoo religions; however, current literature has shown this to be just about as implausible as the walrus being a symbol of death in any culture.
Yellow Submarine is generally avoided, not because it would not yield any clues, but because theorists look silly enough without buying an album titled Yellow Submarine.
The White Album, however, is a solid source of clues. In addition to the "turn me undead, man" clue that started the conspiracy theory, a plethora of other hints are allegedly heard when "Revolution 9" is played backwards, including repeated cries of "BRAIIIIINS", further repeated cries of "BRAIIIIINS", more repeated cries of "BRAIIIIINS", and repeated cries of "I CRAVE BRAIIIIINS". The song "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" also has an alleged double meaning, with the "warm gun" referring to both firearms and killing zombies. The cover art also allegedly harbours a visual clue despite its minimalism (see left).
Abbey Road also yields numerous visual and audio hints. The cover allegedly shows McCartney walking in a zombie-like pose while the other Beatles pretend to be oblivious to his state. Also a gold mine for clues is the song "Come Together". "He wear no shoeshine" refers to zombies' natural phobia of shoeshine; "one and one and one is three" refers to the chainsaws each Beatle carried near McCartney in case of emergency; "he got walrus gumboot" is, again, of trivial significance.
Rebuttal and aftermath
The hoax was undeniably extinguished once and for all with the 7 November 1969 issue of Life magazine, in which McCartney says what is the closest the world has ever had to a serious official statement about the conspiracy:
|To the people’s minds who prefer to think of them as rumours, then I am not going to interfere, I am not going to spoil that fantasy. You can think of it like that if you like. However, if the end result, the conclusion you reach is that I am a zombie, then you are wrong, because I am very much alive, I am alive and BRAIIIIINS I CRAVE BRAIIIIINS, er, I mean, living in Scotland.|
—Paul McCartney, interview with Life magazine
In turn, the theorists responded with their statement, which was revealed to be a list of 66 clues drawn from the interview itself that supported the "Paul is undead" assertion. In response to this, McCartney just sighed, at last despondent and devoid of any hope that he could ever correct these misguided theorists, and sat in his recliner, absent-mindedly munching on a piece of John Lennon's brain.