Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Turn Me On, Dead Man"

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently read (the first edition of) Andru Reeve's Turn Me On, Dead Man, a chronicle of the truly bizarre "Paul-is-Dead" hoax that transfixed so many Beatles fans in the late '60s and early '70s. It's the second book I've taken in on the subject. To be frank, it's vastly superior to the other one, R. Gary Patterson's The Walrus Was Paul, which is a sophomoric and atrociously written effort. I'd prefer to not be so uncharitable, but it's true. Turn Me On, Dead Man, conversely, doesn't suffer from any glaring weaknesses. It's well-structured, thoroughly researched, and accessible. Reeve is a capable and even inventive writer. He employs a "non-fiction novel" approach which allows him to recreate, inter alia, conversations between major players in the hoax as they might have occurred. Though not without drawbacks, Reeve's method is successful on the whole, I think, and makes for an interesting read. People like WKNR-FM's Russ Gibb and the University of Michigan student Fred Labour come to life more than they perhaps otherwise would have. The focus of the book, though, never strays from the many, many clues that obsessive fans creatively uncovered and used as the basis for concluding that Paul McCartney had died years earlier in a tragic car accident.

It seems clear, then, that I enjoyed Turn Me On, Dead Man and have an active interest in the subject. Allow me to issue a qualification. It dawned on me recently that the more I read about the "Paul-is-Dead" hoax, the less intrigued I become. Learning about some of the inanely far-fetched clues that fans propagated has had the effect of weakening the sense of fascination that, say, the Abbey Road album cover once instilled in me. In my mind, that's the ne plus ultra of "Paul-is-Dead" clues. Yes, it's implausible like the rest and doesn't actually mean anything. But its purported symbolism is so rich and absorbing; it seems to work perfectly. But so many of the other clues, like the alleged telephone number on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour or certain parts of the lyric from "Come Together," amount to tedious overkill and only cheapen the genuinely captivating aspects. The lesser clues really underscore the rumor's inherent silliness. Be warned, then: To know too much about the "Paul-is-Dead" hoax is to risk, perhaps, your former appreciation of it.

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