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November 22nd, 2008

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08:42 pm - On the 40th anniversary of the White Album
It's about 9:45 on a Thursday night in 1984 and I'm lying in bed listening to the weekly Grape Street Power Hour on WHMP. This week their special feature is on the "Paul Is Dead" mystery, and the DJ is explaining the "clues" hidden in Beatles song lyrics and pictures:
  • The funereal Abbey Road cover (barefoot Paul the corpse, John the Preacher, Ringo the Pallbearer, George the Gravedigger)
  • The "LMW 28IF" license plate on the VW Beetle in the Abbey Road cover shot ("Linda McCartney Weeps," and Paul would've been 28 if...)
  • Paul's backwards pose on the Sgt. Pepper's cover (and the "OPD" patch on his uniform which stands for "Officially Pronounced Dead")
  • John's very faint "I buried Paul" at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever
  • The meaning behind A Day In The Life
  • "Billy Shears" being Paul's lookalike replacement, etc. etc. etc...
This was the first my young mind has ever heard of such a "conspiracy" so I'm eating it up completely. The notion of hidden messages in songs was pretty damn awesome when you think about it, and since the DJ is presenting this without any corroborative facts or opposing viewpoints (except for a mischievious "this is still a mystery...") I've got no reason to disbelieve it. I haven't learned yet that what John supposedly said at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever was "Cranberry sauce". Besides, I'm 10 years old, I'm up past my bedtime, and I'm in the dark listening to my clock radio. In that environment, your imagination says "This is where I'll take over" and really plays around.

Now the DJ gets to Revolution 9. He lays the story on us as if it were the perfect ghost story. Nobody knows exactly why or how this bizarre track made it onto the White Album, he says. It most certainly wasn't a rock song, and putting a long experimental sound collage on the album didn't jibe with everything else.

"This is how part of the song sounds," the DJ says, and plays a snippet. I've never heard it before. It is just a mishmosh of sounds, clashes, conflicts. I guess I'm not supposed to make heads or tails of it.

"But then," the DJ continues, his voice now low and hushed, "Someone played part of it backwards. And what they heard was one of the most disturbing messages ever recorded. They heard a message which sounded like 'Turn me on, dead man'. I'm going to play the very same clip you just heard, only now I'll play it backwards. Listen for yourself."

Of course, out of that mishmash, we're going to hear what the DJ just suggested, right? If he'd said "You'll hear 'Monkees Rule OK'", our brains, now tuned to that phrase, would believe they'd picked it out of the nonsense sounds. The power of suggestion is strong.

So the DJ plays the clip backwards. And I hear it. Oh god I hear it. Only I don't hear "turn me on"... instead, I hear a scream, and then "Get out of the car." Get out of the car, dead man. Get out of the car, dead man. Get out of the car, dead man.

I'm listening in on the scene of the accident. Paul's smashed up in that car. He's been flung back against the driver's seat, one arm dangling out of the door. Blood is streaming down his head. There's no way he survived that. And still, someone with a ghostly voice is urging him to get out. Get out of the car, dead man. That's all I can hear. In the darkness, all I can see is my clock radio glowing 9:49 in an angry, scary red.

I don't get much sleep that night.

And for many years afterwards, I always had to skip past Revolution 9 when I listened to the White Album. It had deeply scarred me so. Even when I knew the "Paul Is Dead" thing was a hoax and there was no backmasking of the DEAD GUY in Revolution 9, the track still stirred some primal fear inside me that kept me from listening to it all the way through. When I'd hear the first gentle piano notes of the track, all I could think of was dead men speaking backwards while a big red 9:49 burned itself into my mind's eye.

That said, I think "Dear Prudence" is a freakin' awesome song.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 23rd, 2008 02:17 am (UTC)
My favorite "Paul Is Dead" clue is from the Sgt. Pepper album, where Stephen Crane's hand is positioned right above Paul's head, which is a signal meaning death in some culture...Italian, I think.

We first heard this on a family trip to Denver. For the rest of the vacation, nearly every picture involved one of us holding their hand above another's head. "Hand of Death! Now you're dead!"

Of course, that was back when we were all in high school. Now, we just try to give our mother the finger every time she takes a picture.
[User Picture]
Date:November 23rd, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
And remember, that's Paul drumming on Dear Prudence, not Ringo. Or do I mean Billy Campbell?
[User Picture]
Date:November 23rd, 2008 06:56 am (UTC)
One of my formative Windows 3.1 sound recorder moments was recording myself saying "numbah nahine, numbah nahine.." then playin it backwards. Guess what it says!

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