There I was, forty years ago, calling in requests to KIMN radio at my brother's behest for "Yellow Submarine," when I heard the news. Oh boy. Paul was dead. The round-faced guy who wrote all the songs was dead. How could this be? From where I was sitting, the Beatles ruled the world. The king of the world was dead.
How could we be sure? Well, he was the only one barefoot on the cover of "Abbey Road." Paul is the only one turned around on the back cover of "Sergeant Pepper," and his jacket has a patch on it that reads "O.P.D.": Officially Pronounced Dead. And this was just the album covers. Inside, things got even more bizarre. "Blackbird" had the backward message "Paul is dead now, miss him, miss him." Or something that sounded like that. At the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever," I am sure that I could hear "I buried Paul." Pretty sure.
And there was more. Much, much more. My older brother must have trashed a dozen needles playing records backward, forward fast, slow, and in-between. "Can you hear that?" he would ask me. If he told me I was listening to the fiery wreck that was the end of Paul McCartney, then that was what I was listening to. I sat in my brother's basement bedroom, with all the lights out, the experimental sounds of "Revolution #9" creeping out of the speakers. Creeping me out. Deeply.
F. Lee Bailey was fooled for a minute. When he asked the "expert witness," University of Michigan student Fred LaBour, if any of this sordid tale was true, he was told that it was a complete fabrication. Since they still had an hour-long TV special to fill, they decided to go ahead with the hoax.
And nobody decided to tell me. Or my older brother. We went on for months afterward, searching for clues that would explain how all this terribleness could have occurred. Two years later, when I heard "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" from Paul's second solo album, I heard the line "we haven't done a bloody thing all day," and was convinced that we were still receiving communiques from beyond the grave. I was nine. I was certain that something fishy was going on, and somebody needed to be held accountable. By this point, my older brother had moved on. There was no mystery. There was no conspiracy. My brother eventually gave me his old Beatles albums as he replaced the worn and scratched Apple labels with crisp new Capitol vinyl. I inherited history, treasure. But I never listened to them backward. In the dark.