and the Paul is Dead Urban Legend


cover art for Dark Side of the Moon+motion picture poster=Miss Gulch on bicycle

Urban Legend: Paul is Dead

Every generation of teens has its own teen idols, and in the early 1960s, the world had never seen anything quite like "Beatlemania", both in terms of this rock band's impact on popular music, and their effect on millions of adoring young females around the globe. The Beatles, as they were known as, combined the musical talents Of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

It seems that in 1966, Paul McCartney was involved in some kind of minor mishap involving a moped. From this minor mishap, rumors began to circulate that Paul had been killed in a traffic accident. Press agents, of course, tried to set the record straight; nevertheless, the rumor continued to smolder for a few years until 1969, while Paul was making few public appearances, when the smoldering rumor suddenly exploded into a great conflagration. A story developed that Paul had been killed in a traffic accident in 1966, and had been replaced with a look-alike. Meanwhile, The Beatles had been dropping clues into their music and the artwork for their albums to gradually break the news to the public about Paul's untimely demise.

The Clues

album cover Abbey Road

The evidence for Paul's alleged demise comes not from any eye-witness testimony; not from some unmarked grave in the corner of some cemetary; not from the tangled wreck of a moped once belonging to Paul McCartney; rather, the evidence comes from clues dropped surreptitiously in The Beatles recordings. Although hundreds of these so-called clues came to light, a few in particular attracted much interest. One of the most famous of these alleged clues is the cover of the album Abbey Road, pictured at right. The cover pictures the Fab Four crossing the street in what is supposed to represent a funeral procession. Paul is shown barefoot and out of step with the other three (his right foot leading as opposed to his left, as is the case with the other three).

Another clue, which perhaps ignited the whole controversy, was the alleged backmasked message found when "Revolution #9" is played in reverse. This message is supposedly repeating the phrase, "Turn me on, dead man." In the song "Strawberry fields forever", another clue is found: Here, John Lennon supposedly whispers, "I buried Paul." near the end of the song.

Its effect on the Recording Industry:

Proponents of the "Paul is Dead" rumor argued that The Beatles were using subliminal messaging to break the news to their fans. Subliminal messaging is a persuasion technique used mainly by advertisers, in which a suggestion is planted below the threshold of consciousness, in an effort to bypass the conscious mind's normal resistance to new or strange ideas.

While the concept of subliminal messaging has been understood for over a hundred years, in more recent times, many musical acts have been caught planting subliminal messages in their recordings. This craze of adding subliminal messages to recordings of popular music may have in fact been started by the "Paul is Dead" rumor, when recording artists realized that their fans wanted to hunt for "secret messages" embedded in their music. Below is an example of a subliminal message discovered embedded in the recording of a song by a popular psychadelic rock band:

"Hello, hunters. Congratulations. You've just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the funny farm, Chalfont."

The above message can be found on the song "Empty Spaces" by Pink Floyd, on the album The Wall, and is an example of backmasking (the message is recorded onto the song backwards). Groups such as Pink Floyd, seeing how much free publicity The Beatles got from a bunch of subliminal messages that probably weren't even real subliminal messages, must have thought to themselves that they could have a lot of fun with this and get tons of free publicity, if they just put some real subliminal messages in their recordings. While many conservative Christian groups were alleging that rock bands were embedding satanic messages and other perverse suggestions into their recordings, in an effort to corrupt youth, the vast majority of these messages that have been positively identified seem to have been remarks of a humorous nature, much like the above message found in the Pink Floyd recording.

Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon

By 1972, The Beatles had broken up for good, and Paul McCartney was enjoying his new found success as a member of the band Wings. It was also by this time that mostly everyone had figured out that the "Paul is Dead" rumor was either a hoax, or just a bunch of scatterbrain speculation. This was also the year that Pink Floyd started their classic rock album DSotM (The Dark Side of the Moon.)

If there is a connection between the "Paul is Dead" urban legend and Pink Floyd's DSotM, it can be no less than the whole affair must have been on the back of their minds while they were recording Dark Side of the Moon. After all, the band was working from the same studio where all the alleged subliminal messages had been planted in The Beatles' recordings -the very studio, on the same street featured on the controversial album cover. Plus, Pink Floyd would be employing the same sound engineer (Alan Parsons) who had worked for the Beatles' Abbey Road album.

Now I don't think that it would be exactly correct to say that at this point bands like Pink Floyd were saying it would be a good idea to put some subliminal messages on their albums and see what effect it has on their fans. What they might have realized is that if you have some offhand remarks randomly inserted throughout the album, fans will come up with their own interpretations of the significance of these remarks. That music fans might actually enjoy speculating about the significance of these remarks may have been behind the decision to scatter snippets of interviews done by Roger Waters onto Pink Floyd's new album, The Dark Side of the Moon. It is perhaps ironic that Paul McCartney was one of the persons whom Waters interviewed, although none of this interview made it onto the album.

DSotM would be the band's first concept album, so another purpose of these interviews was to give the album a unifying theme, and this is why the questions at the interviews were all about death, madness and violence. Dying is addressed in the song "The Great Gig in the Sky", which features the vocals of Clare Torry. At times, Torry seems almost to be wailing, as if she is mourning. But also consider the lyrics just before this song begins, in "Breathe in the Air" (reprise):

Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells.

We know that a tolling bell is usually rung at funerals. This tolling bell is "far away across the field", but normally we do not think of fields as very large, as in "far away across the sea." Here, "far away" must be taken to indicate that the tolling bell is far enough away to be just barely audible. The faithful obviously must be those who listen for this barely audible tolling bell. Softly spoken again suggests barely audible (as in subliminal). Describing these softly spoken incantations as magic spells suggests that they may have some kind of hypnotic effect (once again, as in subliminal).

It is after these lyrics are sung that "Great Gig in the Sky" begins. "Great Gig in the Sky" contains snippets of interviews that addressed the issue of dying. If you listen closely, near the beginning of the song, you can hear a voice saying: "And I am not frightened of dying . . . anytime will do . . ." This voice is just audible when the album is played at normal volumes; in other words, it is at the subliminal level.

Whether Pink Floyd intended this or not, I think the combined effect of these lyrics, the morbid interview heard in the background, and the forlorn sound of Torry's vocals is that listeners to the album were being primed subliminally to expect news of a death. What's interesting about this album (in contrast to the Beatles albums and the Paul is Dead rumor) is that Pink Floyd created a legitimate subliminal message here, although probably unintentionally. And as with Beatles fans who suspected that somebody had died, listeners of Dark Side of the Moon suspected that somebody was about to keel over. What's interesting here is who they thought was about to "kick the bucket" this time. Part way through the song "Great Gig in the Sky" careful listeners thought what they heard was a woman's voice saying: "If you can hear this whispering, you are dying."

Of course, what they really heard was another of Water's interviews; this time, it was an interview with their road manager's wife, Myfanwy Watts, responding to one of Water's questions with: "I never said I was frightened of dying." As to just why people hear this line as "If you can hear this whispering you are dying" has to do in part with the fact that it is just barely audible. But also, as I have just said, people had been primed subliminally to expect news of a death.

When Stanley Kubrick did 2001: A Space Odyssey, he first approached Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack for the film. The band had to refuse, because of prior commitments, but Roger Waters, who wrote the lyrics for DSotM, is reported to have said that it was one of his biggest regrets that they didn't get to do the soundtrack for the film. 2001 was released in 1968, when humanity stood on the brink of manned space flights to other worlds. Dark Side of the Moon was released shortly after the Apollo space program ended, in an age where manned space flights to other worlds had already been achieved.

So Kubrick's film was made in an era of anticipation of entering a new era of scientific discovery. 2001 was about entering the "great unknown", but there was also this theme of "progress vs. regression." Technology is associated with progress, but this kind of progress is usually accompanied by change, and change means uncertainty. When there is uncertainty, there is apprehension, and when there is apprehension, this in turn leads to regression in human behavior.

Many psychiatrists treat mental illness as an inappropriate response to stress. One of the things Kubrick's film was trying to demonstrate was that even machines will "crack" under sufficient stress. 2001 was made in an era where there was still a lot of optimism about humanity's having entered the space age. Dark Side of the Moon was written in an era of having already entered this new era, and an era where a lot of that initial optimism was turning to apprehension; this apprehension, in turn, was turning into regression. Dark Side of the Moon is about mental illness, but to be more specific, it's about the insanity brought on by the modern lifestyle.

Dark Side of the Moon begins with that heartbeat sound and the song "Speak to Me/Breath in the Air" symbolizing the beginning of life; and as with every life, this one begins with a series of experiences: "All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be." From simple experiences, enjoyed without the concomitant pressures to employ one's time constructively, this young life enters the "rat race": "Long you live and high you fly, but only if you ride the tide; balanced on the biggest wave, you towards an early grave." The next part of the album is about things that can be thought of as the pressures of modern living: pressures to live faster/work harder, time pressures, money pressures, rivalries and competitions etc., until we come to the song "Brain Damage." "Brain Damage" is about finally "caving" under all the pressure, and deals with mental illness.

The final song, "Eclipse", mirrors the theme we see in 2001 of progress vs. regression. The song ends with the heartbeat sound again, but this time symbolizing the end of life, as the beat goes silent. But "Eclipse" is not just about "the end"; it's about healing. It compares the final stages of life to the beginning of life, when life was a wondrous experience: "All that you touch, all that you see, all that you taste . . ." The moon is an important symbol in Dark Side of the Moon and an eclipse symbolizes "the end", as an eclipse corresponds to the new moon. One can look at the new moon as either the end of one cycle of the moon, or the beginning of the next cycle of the moon. All life comes to an end, but still life goes on.

Men had gone to the moon and had found little worthwhile there, but they had only gone to the sunny side of the moon. When Pink Floyd sings, "I'll see you on the dark side of the moon" it expresses the need to "dig deeper", to find whatever it is humans need to discover about themselves. The dark side of the moon represents the part that is not normally visible; we might say it represents the unconscious mind. For many psychologists, such as Freud and Jung, unlocking the unconscious mind was the key to healing the mind.

The Dark Side of the Rainbow

As many of you may already know, DSotM (Dark Side of the Moon) can be used as an alternative soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz (1939), in a phenomenon often referred to as DSotR (Dark Side of the Rainbow). It is interesting to note that members of Pink Floyd and everyone associated with DSotM have all insisted that there was never any conscious intention to synchronize the album to any motion picture. What is interesting about DSotR is that many of the themes we see in DSotM get reitterated in DSotR.

If you follow the set-up procedure for doing DSotR, then when you come to the end of "Breathe in the Air" and the line about the "softly spoken magic spells" you should see Dorothy sitting down in front of Professor Marvel, when a look of concern comes over Dorothy's face. You may not be aware of what is happening right here, because the sound for the actual movie is turned down. What in fact has happened is that Professor Marvel has looked in his crystal ball and told Dorothy that he sees her Aunt Em putting her hand over her heart and dropping down on the bed. Aunt Em is in fact quite healthy, but Dorothy becomes convinced that she is seriuously ill, possibly dying. It is here that Dorothy decides that she needs to get back home as quickly as possible.

As Dorothy high tails it back home, a tornado approaches, all done to the music of "The Great Gig in the Sky." The intensity of the song picks up and drops, picks up and drops etc., seemingly to match the intensity of the action in the tornado sequence. As the twister approaches the Gale farm, we can hear ominous background voices on the album: "And I am not frightened of dying . . . anytime will do . . . I don't mind . . ." As Dorothy gets the bump on the head that knocks her unconscious, the music suddenly goes soft. Moments later, Dorothy awakens . . . or she thinks she has awakened, but is in fact now dreaming. The next sequence shows various debris and other people caught up in the twister with her, as she looks out her bedroom window at the sight of her house being carried up into the sky.

Next, comes the very interesting part, as this relates to the "Paul is Dead" urban legend. As we know, various versions of the rumor had it that Paul was flattened in a traffic accident, while driving his moped. Here, in DSotR, we see Miss Gulch appear on a bicycle, and this is exactly where people hear what they think is: "If you can hear this whispering, you are dying." Now guess what? Miss Gulch, who changes into the wicked witch on her broomstick, is about to get flattened by Dorothy's house.

Now forget that this is all only in Dorothy's dream, and consider these events strictly from the perspective of Dorothy. First, we have Dorothy, who is convinced that her perfectly healthy aunt is dying, trying desperately to get home to this "sickly" aunt. Next, we have what Dorothy thinks she sees as Miss Gulch turning into a witch, and for all Dorothy knows, Miss Gulch was a nasty old witch in disguise all along. Next, we have Dorothy's house land on top of the witch, and for all Dorothy knows, this witch might have been Miss Gulch. Moreover, the dead witch seems to have been replaced with another "look-alike" -the wicked witch of the west.

So what we have is one dead witch, possibly one dead Miss Gulch, and one Aunt Emily in death throes - at least from the point of view of Dorothy. In "reality" what we have is a perfectly healthy Aunt Em; a perfectly healthy Miss Gulch; and the imaginings of a young girl in a delirium, after being struck on the head. So the great irony is that the one who is imagining that all these people are dying is in fact the one who is really dying from a brain swelling. (Although it wasn't a very convincing blow to the head in the movie, we are assuming that Dorothy in fact suffered a serious head trauma.)

DSotR is often cited as an example of Carl Jung's synchronicity. Carl Jung divided the mind into the conscious and unconscious. Jung believed that the path to individuation (a form of self-actualization) was in bringing to conscious awareness certain elements of the unconscious mind. If we take the dark side of the moon as symbolizing the unconscious mind, then the final song, "Eclipse", would represent healing: During a solar eclipse, the normally invisible dark side of the moon is made visible as it passes in front of the sun.

So what we have is these parallel themes connecting The Wizard of Oz, DSotM and DSotR. With Dorothy, you first have a bunch of mistaken assumptions, some "brain damage" (the bump on the head), the discovery of truth (the wizard was a phony), and finally, healing. The theme is repeated in DSotM: It begins with a mistaken assumption (If you can hear this whispering you are dying); next comes "Brain Damage" or the breakdown associated with the stress of an impending doom. Then the discovery of truth: the voice was really saying: "I never said I was frightened of dying." Finally, there is healing: The end of one's life is to be approached the same way as the beginning of one's life . . . as another experience . . . all that you touch, all that you see is all your life will ever be.

The secret message we find buried in DSotM seems to be mirrored by the one found in DSotR. But what is particularly strange is how this message got mirrored in DSotR supposedly with no intention on the part of Pink Floyd to create an alternative soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz. So is this another example of synchronicity?

Anyway, if you found the stuff on DSotR fascinating, you can read more about these deeper meanings by clicking on the following links. For more on DSotR, click on HOME.

Dark Side of Oz: Coincidence, Apophenia or Coincidence?

The Dark Side of the Rainbow: Illuminating the Tragic


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