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The Paul-is-Dead Rumor Part 3: Making Meanings

McCartney himself was not happy with this rumor that was circulating. He refused to speak on the matter, stating that he wanted to be left alone with his family. Apple was getting thousands of calls every day and the rumor was beginning to interrupt daily operations for not only McCartney, but the rest of The Beatles as well. Eventually, McCartney gave in to the press and agreed to speak on the rumor. He denied that he was dead, saying that he obviously could not be, as he was standing right there. While this brief explanation from McCartney was sufficient for many fans, others refused to drop the rumor. They believed that although McCartney confirmed that he was alive, the clues had to mean something. They believed that there were too many of them for it all to just be a coincidence.

Fans have found countless clues that point to the death and resurrection of Paul McCartney. Whether or not these clues point to the rumor being true, the entire concept reflects the culture of these young people at the time. Understanding the reasons why this rumor may have been produced can say a lot about not only The Beatles fanbase at the time, but also the surrounding culture of young people, especially in the United States.

According to Reeve, the death of a hero in America can have a powerful impact on everyday citizens. They define the public’s goals with their words and actions. They exude all of the traits that their audience would like to see in themselves, such as confidence, bravery, sexiness, and intelligence. President John F. Kennedy was one of these heroes to the younger generation. When he was assassinated, a void was left to fill. Shortly after Kennedy was assassinated, the Beatles arrived in America. In 1964, The Beatles were something fresh and new for the younger generation and ended up being a cultural phenomenon. With The Beatles serving as a new type of hero for the younger generation of Americans, the possibility of one of them being dead was inevitable. The Paul-is-Dead rumor brought people together. If McCartney really was dead, this generation would need the support of each other in their time of mourning. If he was not dead, however, something else must have been going on and they could solve the mystery together.

Another theory proposed by Reeve is that the late sixties were at the same time an Age of Enlightenment and an Age of Despair.. During the summer of 1969, thousands gathered at Woodstock and provided proof to the world that a peaceful utopia was indeed possible. At the same time, the lives of these young people were being forever changed by the Vietnam War. Much of the younger generation saw their friends being drafted, if not drafted themselves. Because of this confusing time, Reeve suggests, young people needed a stable force upon which to focus. Many were seeking a more secular explanation for life, and they found this explanation in The Beatles. Columnist Ralph J. Gleason saw the rumor as an outgrowth of theological thought. He wrote, “They’ve got it all wrong, it’s God that’s dead, not Paul McCartney. No one believes in anything anymore and man has a deep need to believe. Remove his objects of belief and he will invent others. The Beatles are only a part of it, but an important part. They have become secular saints and, in absence of personal manifestations in Candlestick Park or elsewhere, fee imaginative play occurs which invents mythology to fill a void.” LaBour even proposed that Lennon was creating a new religion based on the death and resurrection of McCartney.

Others believed that the Paul-is-Dead rumor surfaced out of a fear of death itself. Time magazine published an essay entitled “Of Rumor, Myth and a Beatle.”. This article suggested that “Those who believe that McCartney is dead are in part sublimating their fear of the grave. For whenever death visits another person, it must delay its appointment with you.”. Fear of death was said to be a big part of the McCartney rumor. The people searching for clues were transferring their own fears of death to someone who was more equipped to handle it. McCartney was basically a deity at this point, and death was not a threat to him, as he had already ascended to superhuman status.

While there may not be truth to the rumor itself, it is important in the context of Beatles history and also cultural history of the sixties. As Gibb stated, “This rumor is like an ice crystal on a giant snowball. In the history of rock and roll, I think that’s all it is. But there is a sense that it was something bigger. Well, look, twenty years later, we’re talking about it. Now, two thousand years from now if they’re still talking about it, then I’ll realize it was something.” The rumor itself reflects the culture of the sixties. It shows the need that the younger generation had for a hero and martyr in the midst of national crisis.

Morgan Smith

Elizabethtown '21

History Major Women and Gender Studies Minor
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