“paul is dead” has its roots in ypsilanti

At some point in young adulthood my obsession with the Loch Ness Monster and her cryptozoological ilk started giving way to an obsession with the Beatles. While I loved their music, it was something else that made it truly an obsession. It was the mystery of it all. Much like other big fans (such as Charles Manson and the David Berkowitz) I liked listening for hidden messages. I liked trying to unravel songs like “Glass Onion” and “I Am the Walrus.” And, there was no mystery bigger than the one surrounding the untimely death of Paul McCartney… Somewhere around here, unless Clementine or Linette has thrown it away or sold it on Ebay, is my “Paul is Dead” journal from the fifth grade where I’d recorded all of the clues substantiating the claim.

For some reason, the other night I felt compelled to get online and wistfully stroll down memory lane, reexamining the evidence while listening to backward lyrics. And, during this little exploration, I happened upon a tiny piece of synchronicity. The whole “Paul is dead” hoax started right here, in Ypsilanti, Michigan!

Here’s a clip from a site memorializing the Detroit rock station WKNR, the entity credited with popularizing the “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory:

On October 12, 1969… Russ Gibb, working on WKNR-FM heard from an Eastern Michigan University student about a series of clues that seemed to point to Paul’s death. The story took on a life of its own… and Russ received credit for making it a national story.

It was a Sunday afternoon in Detroit when Uncle Russ took the call. He had just played some tracks from the Abby Road album and turned to the phone lines for his customary “rap” with his listeners. Eastern Michigan University student Tom Zarski was on the line. “I was going to rap with you about McCartney being dead and what is this all about?”

Gibb told us that his mind immediately went back to the Dylan is Dead rumor that circulated after the poet’s serious motorcycle crash in 1967. He began to review the litany of rumors floating around about the current crop of rock celebrities. Tom was insistent, claiming that there were clues on the Beatle’s records. “..play Revolution Number Nine backwards,” he said.

WKNR-FM’s audience heard “Turn me on, dead man” for the first time.

An audio clip from that origninal call can be heard on this recording of a truly bizarre documentary broadcast shortly thereafter. (It’s one of the coolest things I’ve heard in years. The next time I have a minute, I need to come back and transcribe it. Or, better yet, use a clip in a Monkey Power song next year.)

On another WKNR tribute page they track down Tom Zarski and get his side of the story. Here’s a clip:

Sunday, October 12 is a watershed date in the WKNR story. It was the afternoon when an Eastern Michigan University student called Russ Gibb with questions about a rumor that Paul McCartney was dead. For 34 years, “Tom” has existed only as an anonymous sound byte, although he was the catalyst for the broadcast that amplified the Paul Is Dead story to international proportions. In June of 2003, Keener13.com tracked Tom down and at long last, we unmask his identity and hear an account of the historic day in his own words.

“By that Sunday, Oct 12, 1969, I had spent the better part of a week going over the ‘Paul is dead’ mystery clues, keeping track of them as best I could, on paper, and in my own head. I was hoping to solve the riddle there in my Ypsilanti, Michigan apartment, that was going around on the Eastern Michigan U. campus-amongst mainly my friends. Each of them seemed to remember only one clue or so that they had heard, and brought it to me. I was simply stumped at trying to find significance in a notion that one of the Beatles had died, if only figuratively speaking, as part of some story -legend, and nobody officially acknowledged it, or if so, why they wouldn’t?”

According to Wikipedia (see first link), this was followed two days later by an article in the Michigan Daily entitled, “McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Before you knew it, it had been completely swallowed up by popular culture. (The issue of the Batman comic pictured can be found here, and information on the other comic shown can be found here.)

I haven’t seen it yet, but a few years ago a documentary came out about the “Paul is dead” phenomenon. The trailer, which includes a clip of Tom Zarski, can be found here. Zarski, by the way, comes across in some of the material as a little bitter. Interviewed not too long ago at his Roswell, Georgia home, he indicated that felt responsible for jumpstarting the Beatles’ flagging records sales. (According to Zarski, the sales of “Abbey Road” were falling off up until the point when the rumor broke. He points out that he got nothing for his contribution.)

And so, with all of that having been said, I want to announce that, in the very near future, Linette and I will be adding “Paul is dead” products to our line of Let’s Put Ypsi on the Fucking Map clothing. (We just need to think of a way to show “the cute one” dying in a horrible automobile crash (perhaps crashing into Ypsi’s famous water tower) that isn’t too disturbing.) Yes, soon you may be able to have your very own “Paul is dead” panty.

So, for the record, Ypsi’s got Winsor McKay, Iggy Pop, Elijah McCoy, Preston Tucker and “Paul is Dead.” Can any other town even come close? (And, if we’re ever tied in a coolness showdown with another town, we can always whip out the fact that Phyllis Diller lived here for a few months during the 40’s.) I think it’s safe for me to say, “We win.”

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15 Comments

  1. be OH be
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    In the t-shirt graphic Paul might be driving a Tucker and soiling some ypsi underwear with “Turn Me On” stitched into the waistband.

    It goes without saying that he should be facing away from the viewer and someone’s open hand should be directly above his head. How one would illustrate all of that effectively is the magic that will sell thousands of these shirts. sign me up for the first batch.

  2. Ted Glass
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Is that really Clapton on the recording? It’s hilarious. It sounds as though he really thinks that Paul might have been replaced by an impostor.

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    It might be just as valuable to remind folks that although he
    opened his first store in Ypsi, this
    guy’s
    from Ann Arbor.

  4. ol' e cross
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Sorry folks. Messed up the link to Tom Monahan…

  5. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    We had a serial killer too. Certain things don’t need to be mentioned.

  6. UBU
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    If you listen closely to the end of “I am the Walrus” you’ll hear dialogue like “Oh, what an untimely death,” or “”Sit you down father, and rest you.” When I learned they were from King Lear I read the play for the first time, thinking wow, how brilliant is John Lennon to use that play, Shakespeare bleakest and most existential in that song, the Beatle’s most literary and absurd — later I heard an interview where Lennon said, oh, and there was some play on the radio so we threw that in there too. Goo goo ga joob indeed.

  7. It's Skinner Again
    Posted September 22, 2006 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Hey, don’t forget the “Three Christs of Ypsilanti.” They count, too.

  8. mark
    Posted September 23, 2006 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I like the idea of “Turn me on, dead man” panties.

    And, yes, Doug, I forgot the the “Three Christs.” Huge omission on my part. Please forgive me.

    And someone else can make the John Normal Collins (our home town serial killer) and Tom Monahan shirts. Linette and I won’t be pursuing those. (Unless, of course, we can combine them on one shirt somehow.)

  9. Ted Glass
    Posted September 25, 2006 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing the story, UBU.

  10. Posted April 14, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Everyone knows it was George Martin and not John that choose King Lear on 29 September 1967.

    Oswald: Slave, thou hast slain me.
    Villain, take my purse. If ever thou wilt thrive,
    bury my body And give the letters which you find’st
    about me To Edmund, Earl of Gloucester. Seek him out
    Upon the English party. O, untimely death! Death!
    Edgar: I know thee well: a serviceable villain,
    As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
    As badness would desire.
    Gloucester: What, is he dead?
    Edgar: Sit you down, father. Rest you

  11. Paw
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Inspired by “Paul is Dead” the Monkey Power Trio should start hiding “Mark isn’t Feeling Well” messages.

  12. Posted April 14, 2008 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Not to scare you all but — At 1:16 into “One Day We’ll Meet in Heaven” you can hear “I buried Paw” coming out of the left channel. Then what sounds like a waterboarding/drowning.

  13. Stan Swan
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    That’s fucking creepy.

  14. Che
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Swan. I have seen a movie of yours called Ream Ass in Romulus. There is a woman in it in the second scene calling her self Kiki. I think she is my auntie Raquel. Have her call Che if she is.

  15. Carol Catherine
    Posted October 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    this is great, and Ypsi is great!!–and just as an aside, in my family we always heard that my dad, John Gray, started that rumor, along with his best friend Fred LaBour. My dad was the editor of the section that Fred’s article ran in. Can’t ask him now because he passed away over a decade ago, but I wonder if he heard that on the radio before he and Fred decided to publish the famous article. I offer this not as a territorial claim on the legend but more in the spirit of how everyone remembers things just a little differently…

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