Peter Guralnick – “How Did Elvis Get Turned Into a Racist?” (2007)

November 24, 2008 at 2:16 pm (Elvis Presley, Reviews & Articles)

Peter Guralnick, who wrote the definitve biography (in 2 parts) of Elvis, wrote this op-ed piece for the New York Times, Aug. 11, 2007. He talks about how Elvis has unfairly been called a racist over the years because of things he was accused of saying (but never actually said) and because of being called “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (a title he never liked) and therefore “ripping off” black music. Elvis never claimed to have “invented” rock ‘n’ roll.
Keep in mind, that even when Elvis uses the term “colored people” (quoted below), that was a perfectly acceptable thing to call African-Americans at that time. Also keep in mind that most of the original black rock ‘n’ rollers (Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry) had nothing but the utmost respect for Elvis (and vice versa) and were friends with him, as were B.B. King, Muhammad Ali, Rufus Thomas, Roy Hamilton, Sammy Davis, Jr., etc. 
Public opinion is starting to change finally…

One of the songs Elvis Presley liked to perform in the ’70s was Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” its message clearly spelled out in the title.

Sometimes he would preface it with the 1951 Hank Williams recitation “Men With Broken Hearts,” which may well have been South’s original inspiration. “You’ve never walked in that man’s shoes/Or saw things through his eyes/Or stood and watched with helpless hands/While the heart inside you dies.” For Elvis these two songs were as much about social justice as empathy and understanding: “Help your brother along the road,” the Hank Williams number concluded, “No matter where you start/For the God that made you made them, too/These men with broken hearts.”

In Elvis’s case, this simple lesson was not just a matter of paying lip service to an abstract principle.

It was what he believed, it was what his music had stood for from the start: the breakdown of barriers, both musical and racial. This is not, unfortunately, how it is always perceived 30 years after his death, the anniversary of which is on Thursday. When the singer Mary J. Blige expressed her reservations about performing one of his signature songs, she only gave voice to a view common in the African-American community. “I prayed about it,” she said, “because I know Elvis was a racist.”

And yet, as the legendary Billboard editor Paul Ackerman, a devotee of English Romantic poetry as well as rock ’n’ roll, never tired of pointing out, the music represented not just an amalgam of America’s folk traditions (blues, gospel, country) but a bold restatement of an egalitarian ideal. “In one aspect of America’s cultural life,” Ackerman wrote in 1958, “integration has already taken place.”

It was due to rock ’n’ roll, he emphasized, that groundbreaking artists like Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, who would only recently have been confined to the “race” market, had acquired a broad-based pop following, while the music itself blossomed neither as a regional nor a racial phenomenon but as a joyful new synthesis “rich with Negro and hillbilly lore.”

No one could have embraced Paul Ackerman’s formulation more forcefully (or more fully) than Elvis Presley.

Asked to characterize his singing style when he first presented himself for an audition at the Sun recording studio in Memphis, Elvis said that he sang all kinds of music — “I don’t sound like nobody.” This, as it turned out, was far more than the bravado of an 18-year-old who had never sung in public before. It was in fact as succinct a definition as one might get of the democratic vision that fueled his music, a vision that denied distinctions of race, of class, of category, that embraced every kind of music equally, from the highest up to the lowest down.

It was, of course, in his embrace of black music that Elvis came in for his fiercest criticism. On one day alone, Ackerman wrote, he received calls from two Nashville music executives demanding in the strongest possible terms that Billboard stop listing Elvis’s records on the best-selling country chart because he played black music. He was simply seen as too low class, or perhaps just too no-class, in his refusal to deny recognition to a segment of society that had been rendered invisible by the cultural mainstream.

“Down in Tupelo, Mississippi,” Elvis told a white reporter for The Charlotte Observer in 1956, he used to listen to Arthur Crudup, the blues singer who originated “That’s All Right,” Elvis’s first record. Crudup, he said, used to “bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

It was statements like these that caused Elvis to be seen as something of a hero in the black community in those early years. In Memphis the two African-American newspapers, The Memphis World and The Tri-State Defender, hailed him as a “race man” — not just for his music but also for his indifference to the usual social distinctions. In the summer of 1956, The World reported, “the rock ’n’ roll phenomenon cracked Memphis’s segregation laws” by attending the Memphis Fairgrounds amusement park “during what is designated as ‘colored night.’”

That same year, Elvis also attended the otherwise segregated WDIA Goodwill Revue, an annual charity show put on by the radio station that called itself the “Mother Station of the Negroes.” In the aftermath of the event, a number of Negro newspapers printed photographs of Elvis with both Rufus Thomas and B.B. King (“Thanks, man, for all the early lessons you gave me,” were the words The Tri-State Defender reported he said to Mr. King).

When he returned to the revue the following December, a stylish shot of him “talking shop” with Little Junior Parker and Bobby “Blue” Bland appeared in Memphis’s mainstream afternoon paper, The Press-Scimitar, accompanied by a short feature that made Elvis’s feelings abundantly clear. “It was the real thing,” he said, summing up both performance and audience response. “Right from the heart.”

Just how committed he was to a view that insisted not just on musical accomplishment but fundamental humanity can be deduced from his reaction to the earliest appearance of an ugly rumor that has persisted in one form or another to this day. Elvis Presley, it was said increasingly within the African-American community, had declared, either at a personal appearance in Boston or on Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person television program, “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.”

That he had never appeared in Boston or on Murrow’s program did nothing to abate the rumor, and so in June 1957, long after he had stopped talking to the mainstream press, he addressed the issue — and an audience that scarcely figured in his sales demographic — in an interview for the black weekly Jet.

Anyone who knew him, he told reporter Louie Robinson, would immediately recognize that he could never have uttered those words. Amid testimonials from black people who did know him, he described his attendance as a teenager at the church of celebrated black gospel composer, the Rev. W. Herbert Brewster, whose songs had been recorded by Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward and whose stand on civil rights was well known in the community. (Elvis’s version of “Peace in the Valley,” said Dr. Brewster later, was “one of the best gospel recordings I’ve ever heard.”)

The interview’s underlying point was the same as the underlying point of his music: far from asserting any superiority, he was merely doing his best to find a place in a musical continuum that included breathtaking talents like Ray Charles, Roy Hamilton, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and Howlin’ Wolf on the one hand, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and the Statesmen Quartet on the other. “Let’s face it,” he said of his rhythm and blues influences, “nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

And as for prejudice, the article concluded, quoting an unnamed source, “To Elvis people are people, regardless of race, color or creed.”

So why didn’t the rumor die? Why did it continue to find common acceptance up to, and past, the point that Chuck D of Public Enemy could declare in 1990, “Elvis was a hero to most… straight-up racist that sucker was, simple and plain”?

Chuck D has long since repudiated that view for a more nuanced one of cultural history, but the reason for the rumor’s durability, the unassailable logic behind its common acceptance within the black community rests quite simply on the social inequities that have persisted to this day, the fact that we live in a society that is no more perfectly democratic today than it was 50 years ago. As Chuck D perceptively observes, what does it mean, within this context, for Elvis to be hailed as “king,” if Elvis’s enthronement obscures the striving, the aspirations and achievements of so many others who provided him with inspiration?

Elvis would have been the first to agree. When a reporter referred to him as the “king of rock ’n’ roll” at the press conference following his 1969 Las Vegas opening, he rejected the title, as he always did, calling attention to the presence in the room of his friend Fats Domino, “one of my influences from way back.” The larger point, of course, was that no one should be called king; surely the music, the American musical tradition that Elvis so strongly embraced, could stand on its own by now, after crossing all borders of race, class and even nationality.

“The lack of prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley,” said Sam Phillips, the Sun Records founder who discovered him, “had to be one of the biggest things that ever happened. It was almost subversive, sneaking around through the music, but we hit things a little bit, don’t you think?”

Or, as Jake Hess, the incomparable lead singer for the Statesmen Quartet and one of Elvis’s lifelong influences, pointed out: “Elvis was one of those artists, when he sang a song, he just seemed to live every word of it. There’s other people that have a voice that’s maybe as great or greater than Presley’s, but he had that certain something that everybody searches for all during their lifetime.”

To do justice to that gift, to do justice to the spirit of the music, we have to extend ourselves sometimes beyond the narrow confines of our own experience, we have to challenge ourselves to embrace the democratic principle of the music itself, which may in the end be its most precious gift.

Peter Guralnick

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Amy Winehouse – “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” (2004)

November 24, 2008 at 10:48 am (Music)

Amy’s fascinating cover of this 1960 classic by The Shirelles (written by Goffin & King) for the Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason soundtrack.

(Audio only)

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Deday LaRene – “The Walrus Was Paul?” (1969)

November 24, 2008 at 9:54 am (Music, Paul McCartney, Reviews & Articles, The Beatles)


Written for the November 1969 issue (Vol. 2, Issue 5) of Creem magazine, comes this article on the whole ridiculous “Paul is Dead” rumor that was floating around back in the late 60s. Of course, Paul McCartney was NOT dead, as we all know.
By the way, his new “Fireman” album comes out tomorrow,
Electric Arguments. I heard it on Myspace and it is very good – check it out…

The Paul McCartney Death Hoax and How It Grew


Detroit is known for automobile factories, Greenfield Village, Grosse Pointe, Motown Records, sewage, Zug Island, drag racing, race riots, Bob-lo, salt mines, air pollution, Walter Reuther, pizza, Vernor’s ginger ale, Henry Ford, Coney Island hamburgers, bad teeth, the GM Tech Center, two-headed dogs, the Lions, the Tigers, the Red Wings, the Pistons, the MC5, blind pigs, cheap statues, and now, the Great Paul McCartney Death Hoax.
Russ Gibb was doing his weekend radio show in WKNR-FM on Sunday, October 14, when “Some kid from Eastern Michigan University called and asked very simply, what did I think of the story that Paul McCartney was dead. I said ridiculous, no such thing, we’d know about it, the media is right there all the time and obviously you couldn’t hide something like Paul McCartney’s death.” A reasonable response, one would think. But the kid asked Russ to play “Revolution No. 9” backwards and see what he thought. When the phrase “number nine,” which is repeated sonorously over and over throughout that cut, is played backwards, it sounds a lot like “turn me on, dead man.” Hearing that, a seed of doubt was planted.

Of course, without more, there’s really nothing in that “turn me on, dead man” to suggest that Paul McCartney is the dead man referred to, that the dead man is any of the Beatles, that it’s a real dead man they’re talking about, or that there’s any significance to the aural phenomenon at all. After all, if you played a recording of someone speaking the word “dog” backwards, you’d get something that sounds as much like “god” as “number nine” played backwards sounds like “turn me on, dead man.” Depending on the accent of the speaker, of course. (Has anyone out there tried playing Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog” backwards? There may be more to that record than meets the eye/ear).
But the idea of Paul McCartney being secretly dead was too macabre, too bizarre, too ridiculous, therefore too appealing to go no further. For the next few days, WKNR’s switchboard was jammed with calls from people who had unearthed new clues supposedly pointing to Paul’s death.
“I was listening to Russ’ show on the way to this Oakland Community College number that I was supposed to emcee, and I heard this kid, kid named Tom or something, telling Russ to play “number nine” backwards. And Russ did, and I heard it, briefly, and I heard this thing evolve on his show, with a lot of kids calling, the excitement and the weirdness, and Russ was totally freaked. I got home and John Small called me and asked me what I thought of it. I said ‘pretty strange,’ and he said yeah, and that’s as far as it went. The next morning about eight o’clock he calls me again and says that he and Russ were up most of the night, that Russ was pretty freaked, and that we should look into this when I get into the station.” Dan Carlisle, WKNR-FM disc jockey.
“I vascillated back and forth from thinking he was really dead to the fact that he was playing a game of being symbolically dead,” says Gibb. On Monday, KNR had to call in two extra people to man the switchboard. Gibb, Carlisle and Small waited to see if it would cool down, but instead it kept growing, and by Wednesday they decided they ought to get something together.
The decision was in large part the responsibility of John Small, WKNR-FM program director. “At first I got the impression that everybody thought it was a joke.” But as he got more involved in the matter, things began to assume a new seriousness. All the WKNR people seem to feel that they did no more than respond to public demand. The kids, it turned out, were taking it seriously, and in one way or another they found themselves taking it seriously themselves.
On Monday, a University of Michigan student and Paul Krassner fan named Fred LaBour started to write a review of Abbey Road for the school newspaper, the Michigan Daily, but he had heard Gibb’s show on Sunday and was taken with the idea of a Beatle Mystery. So instead of writing a review of Abbey Road, he fabricated a fantastic plot which he attributed to the Beatles. Paul, he said, had left the EMI studios one night early in November, 1966, to be found four hours later “pinned under his car in a culvert with the top of his head sheared off.” He then went on to outline succeeding events in impressive detail.
“When word of Paul’s untimely demise was flashed back to the studios,” he wrote, “the surviving Beatles, in a hurriedly called conference with George Martin decided to keep the information from the public for as long as possible. As John Lennon reportedly said, “Paul always likes a good joke,” and it seemed that they considered the move an attempt to make the best out of a bad situation.” George supposedly did the burying. Ringo conducted the services, and John went into seclusion for three days. “After his meditation,” LaBour explained, “Lennon called another meeting of the group, again with George Martin, and laid the groundwork for the ensuing hoax. Lennon’s plan was to create a false Paul McCartney, bring him into the group as if nothing had happened, and then slowly release the information of the real Paul’s death to the world via clues secreted in record albums.”
At this point, LaBour’s article started to take a macabre turn. “Brian Epstein,” he wrote, “was informed of the group’s plan, threatened to expose it all, and mysteriously died, leaving five men who knew of the plot.”
The story was that through a lookalike contest, someone named William Campbell was found to be the new Paul. According to LaBour, there’s a picture of him—pre-coaching and minor plastic surgery—on the foldout sheet that came with the double album. Campbell was easily introduced, he explained, because Paul lived in the homosexual half-world and had few close friends. So when Jane Asher was hired to play the girlfriend, there was no real girl or other friend to expose the ruse. Whew.
Even stranger was LaBour’s assertion that the hoax began to assume an “essentially religious nature” in the minds of the plotters. With John masterminding the enterprise, which was supposedly no less than the founding of a new religion with Paul as Messiah, resurrected by John to propagate an order of “beauty, humor, love, realism, objectivity. It is a religion for everyday life.” On the cover of Abbey Road the risen Paul, still dressed as a corpse in business suit and without shoes or socks, is led from the cemetery by John the anthropomorphic God, and his friends. “The real Paul is still dead, of course,” wrote LaBour, “but his symbolic resurrection works fine without him.” The gospel, you will note, is the entire second side of Abbey Road.
LaBour peppered his article with clues from Beatles albums, some of which he had heard suggested on Gibb’s show, some of which he discovered himself. None of them really go to confirm the actual workings of the plot he outlined, but are presented as its manifestations. Similarly, all the clue hunting that went on that week had as its end the finding of manifestations of a premise, rather than the discovery of whether or not a hypothesis was in fact correct. So where one aspect of a larger phenomenon could be construed as pointing to the death, it was seized out of context, whether or not it was consistant with the thrust of the larger thing of which it was a part. Keep that in mind as we wander through the elaborate sand castle constructed by the death theorists.
Drawing from LaBour’s article, listener phone calls, and their own investigations, Gibb, Carlisle and Small put together a two hour documentary that was aired the following Sunday night. They divided the presentation of their case into three parts: visual clues, aural clues, and supporting analysis of human phenomena uncovered by their inquiry.
They started with Yesterday and Today. On the cover, Paul sits in a trunk which stands open on one end. Turn the album sideways, they recommended, and it looks like he’s (sort of) lying in a coffin. Also, here’s the first appearance (reported) of the much-mooted Death Hand Sign. Ringo’s hand is resting on the top of the trunk, so that in effect it is held palm down over Paul’s head. This, they learned from a professor of Eastern culture, is a mystical symbol of death or dying. Another professor noted that it is a sign of blessing, buy anyway it’s one of the constants in the search for Paul’s death.
Moving on to Revolver, they noted the pen and ink artwork by Klaus Voorman in which three of the Beatles look forward, while Paul looks away. John eyes Paul suspiciously, and on the back of the jacket Paul is less clearly defined than the other three. Not much yet, but with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band things really start to turn up.
The grave. The guitar in flowers, it was decided, was a left handed bass (well, it does have three strings); looked at another way, it spells Paul; less elaborately, it is the initial P. The bust on the grave is a minister; a doll representing Shiva, the destroyer, dissolution. Paul himself. Taller, a hand extending over his head from the crowd in back. On the inside of the jacket a moustache obscures a previously apparant scar and generally makes comparison with the “real” Paul more difficult. The braid he wears is apparantly dark edged, he wears a medal supposedly commemorating death, and the patch on his left arm reads “O.P.D.,” “Officially Pronounced Dead.” On the back cover Paul has his back turned, while the others face forward, and George points to a line in “She’s Leaving Home” that goes “Wednesday morning at five o’clock,” the supposed time of Paul’s accident.
(An interesting sidelight to this whole affair also centers around Wednesday morning at five o’clock, The Beatle myth that immediately preceded the death ruse also involved Paul, who has supposedly left the group sometimes between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, and is now living on an island paradise. If you were to call Billy Shears in London, whose number is spelled out by the stars in the word “Beatles” on the front of Magical Mystery Tour, at five a.m. Wednesday, and say—get this—”turn me on, dead me,” you would get a one-way ticket to Paul’s island. People who tried calling this number, or checked it with London information to see to whom it was listed, found that a Billy Shears was involved somewhere, whose name was familiar to London operators and who only accepted calls from the States at certain times. The number has been changed, though, and the only people who ever claimed to have gotten through are not now available for comment. Many of the “clues” involved in this fantasy were used interchangeably by the death theorists, but in this business ambiguity is no liability at all. I kind of like the paradise island story better, though.)
Magical Mystery Tour gave the investigators twenty four pages of pictures to play with, and they went to work with a vengence. The cover shows three white animals and one black one, a walrus, whose arms are spread in a crucifixion pose: and “we know from “Glass Onion” that ‘the walrus was Paul’,” don’t we? Walrus, it was also learned, is Greek for “corpse.” Mmmmmmmmmm. And the predominant walrus teeth were vaguely connected with Paul’s supposed head injury. Page five, where the walrus is seen playing the piano while a white hippo plays Paul’s customary bass, didn’t throw the theorists. They explained simply that the hippo is not Paul, but is holding Paul’s axe, a clue in itself. (My mistake here is perhaps in looking for internal consistency: “Glass Onion” can stand on its own, establishing no more than that Paul really is what the walrus seemed to be: crucified, a corpse. It’s not necessary that Paul actually was the walrus, and “Glass Onion” can by saying only “well, pretend that the Walrus actually was Paul; do you understand now?” I hate to give aid and comfort, but this construction has an irresistible obtuseness that I had to set out.)
Once inside the cover, clues abound. On page two, George plays a sinister death figure that keeps appearing. Hands over Paul’s head again; in this picture alone there are two. On page three, Paul playing army recruiter, with lip scar and eyebrow line unlike any other picture of Paul. And the sign on the desk: “I YOU WAS.” On page four, Paul holds a writing stick in his right hand; Paul is left handed. Page five shows four policemen guarding a fantasy involving a line of surgeons, a black walrus playing a white, operating table-like piano, and, as already mentioned, Paul’s bass being played by another. Page six has John in disguise in front of a sign which reads “the best way to go is by M&D coach.” It was suggested that M&D might mean M.D. or the like. On page ten, Paul wears black trousers and no shoes, which is the way corpses are dressed for burial. Also, the moustache is gone and no scar is visible on his lip. On page thirteen, Paul is again pictured shoeless, while empty shoes turn up next to Ringo’s drums. Empty shoes, we are told, were a Greek symbol of death. Page twenty shows three Beatles wearing red carnations, while Paul’s boutonnière is black, and on page twenty four Paul is again pictured with arms raised and a hand over his head.
The double album, The Beatles, is sleeved in pure white, which somehow reflects on the nature of the plot, and the fold-out contained within was discovered to contain a wealth of clues. The picture of Paul in a bathtub “might well indicate a brain splatter.” The moustached death figure is back, and Paul’s head is cut off in one picture, as it was in his death. Toward the lower right hand corner, a pair of ghostly hands appear to reach out for Paul as he plays. Hands are raised, faces are distorted, there is a welter of confusion.
The cover of Abbey Road brings the visual aspect of the inquiry to a peak, with the symbolic resurrection. John as savior in white, leading Ringo the undertaker, Paul the corpse, dressed in business suit and shoeless, out of step and carrying a cigarette in his right hand, and George the gravedigger. They are leaving a cemetery and heading in the direction of Paul’s house. The white Volkswagen bears the license number 281F, and if Paul had lived, he would have been 28 this year. A police ambulance (?) is on the other side of the street. Is this the road to the Abbey? Where.
The whole thing started with “number nine” played backwards, and the idea of tampering with recordings was so intriguing that by the time they were ready to produce their program, the WKNR investigators had received a good deal of help from technology oriented listeners in reversing, phrasing, isolating, patching, boosting, interpreting and doing all manner of strange and wonderful things to Beatle music, all aimed at uncovering more of this heady stuff. Of course, they didn’t do so bad on their own.
Attention centered on “Revolution 9,” where it all started. Gibb, Small and Carlisle presented the following transcription of the mélange toward the end of that cut: He hit a light pole; we’d better get him to see a surgeon. (A scream) So anyhow, he went to see a dentist, who gave him a pair of teeth that weren’t any good at all. (A car horn) My wings are broken and so is my hair. I’m not in the mood for words. (Gurgling. Sounds of war) Find the night watchman. (Something about a suit) It must be a louse. A fine natural imbalance. Must have got it between the shoulder blades. The twist. The Watusi. Eldorado. “Take this, brother, may it serve you well,” says John. Well, OK.
At the end of “I Am the Walrus” is a passage from King Lear, taped, according to Beatles Press Officer Derek Taylor, off a radio play, replete with references to burial and untimely death. According to LaBour, this is recorded simultaneously with the announcement of Paul’s death which was never broadcast, but investigation did not disclose same. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a passage which, when played at 45 rpm, sounds like “I buried Paul.”
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” put on one track, equalized and played backwards can sound like “hahaha I think we did it.” “Your Mother Should Know,” backwards and rephrased, through creative listening, comes out as: “why, why doesn’t she know me/I shed the light/why doesn’t she know me/dead/why doesn’t she know me/dead/I shed the light/why don’t they ask my mind/I don’t know why/why doesn’t she know more/if I shed the light.” Getting further and further out, more abstruse, more surreal. Hey, Popular Science, can you dig it? “Blue Jay Way,” also done to a turn: “find me/find me my body/please God, please/find my body/find me/find me.” Comments the creative young engineer: “it’s like a chant; the resurrection, y’know?”
The clues contained in lyrics when played forward are many but fragmentary. From the foolish (deathlike?) grin of “The Fool On the Hill” to John struggling with Paul’s body on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (Paul was gay, remember?), the automobile accident passage in “A Day In the Life,” John beseeching Paul (who, according to a rumor started by LaBour and since accepted as fact, was called Prudence since the days of the Nurk Twins) to “come out and play.” You can find references in virtually every song which can be made to correspond with death. Or with sleep, or bowling, or mashed potato eating. This part can be left to the creative reader’s imagination.
Astrological charts were consulted, rationalized, reported. Stevie Winwood was called; he verbally shrugged, stammered, demurred. Eric Clapton got out record jackets and puzzled. Derek Taylor denied all: “They’re not as subtle as you suppose.” Rationalized: “We cannot see the symbolism, because there is none. Because we live far more spontaneously than anyone supposes. What you have here are four Beatles who are acting their lives out in a spontaneous way and having read into that acting out something that isn’t there.”
Would Paul care to make a statement to WKNR about his death? Said Taylor: “It would certainly be great to have a tape of Paul saying he’s not dead, but it gets very grotesque. If people don’t believe that the man who married Linda, or the man who sang “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” or the man who’s on the Abbey Road cover is Paul, who’s going to believe that his voice on the air is Paul?” More people than you might think, Derek. Two days later, Gibb received a phone call from London from someone who identified himself as Paul McCartney. For half an hour the caller very brusquely explained that he was alive, that none of the supposed clues meant anything like what WKNR was saying they did (that their were no clues at all), and that he resented what he thought to be a cheap publicity stunt. When asked whether the conversation, which was taped, could be broadcast, he answered rather angrily that WKNR had reaped enough benefits from the hoax already, and that an exclusive Paul McCartney interview would not be added thereto. The tape was, however, turned over to a voiceprint specialist, Oscar Tossi of MSU, who stated that he was pretty sure it was really Paul on the phone. But a phone call to Derek Taylor brought yet another denial. Paul, it seems, was in Scotland when the call was made from London, and so it couldn’t possibly have been he. On the other hand, McCartney’s secretary said that Paul did make the call. The answer to that was that one of Paul’s assistants, after a “trying day,” decided to have a bit of a joke and put the colonials in their place at the same time. Well….
WKNR finally obtained an interview with John Lennon (though not through Russ Gibb, who went to England and spent some time hanging around Apple, but never got to talk to John)—or with someone who looked, sounded, acted and smelled like John Lennon—who dismissed the possibility of Paul’s death with: “It’s a joke, isn’t it? Paul isn’t dead: if he were, we would have told you. I don’t understand at all.” He couldn’t comment on the clues, because “I’ll tell you, I’m not aware of any of them; I only read about them this morning in the paper and I can’t remember them. If you play anything backwards you’re gonna get a different connotation because it’s backwards. I’ve got no idea what Beatles records sound like backwards; I never play ’em backwards.” He claimed not to think of himself as Christ-like, or Paul’s appearance on the Abbey Road cover as corpse-like: It’s the most stupid rumor I’ve ever heard. Sounds like the same guy that blew up my Christ remark, where the remark had been out for six months in England before anybody said anything about it, and this guy just blew it all up. Paul walks barefoot across the road because Paul’s idea of being different is to look almost straight, but have one ear painted blue; something a little subtle. We all were a bit like that. We used to go on stage with, say, one polythene bag on one foot, and nobody might notice it. Just us would be laughin’. So Paul, he decided to be barefoot that day, walkin’ across the road, but when you first glance at the album it looks like four Beatles or whatever fully dressed.”
WKNR’s presentation was done on thirty six reels of tape, edited down to two hours by John Small, broadcast once, updated, and broadcast again a week later. After the first show, according to Carlisle, “we thought that was it, we had done our number and it would cool off. That was a week after the whole thing started on Russ’ show. But we had forgotten that that Monday, a week later than we had started working on it, it was like the next day to the rest of the world that was just getting the story. So it was reaching epidemic proportions in the rest of the country, while it was just cooling off here. So then we were caught up in that, and we had to go through that whole number again with the rest of the country.”
Time magazine, which has something to do with the rest of the country, called just as they were going to press, on information from the Detroit Free Press’ Mike Gormley. They published a short, garbled account of what was going down in Detroit. Life magazine was there the night of the first broadcast, and a story appears this week, including (of course) new and exclusive pictures of Paul, whereby it is hopefully demonstrated that reports of his death have been grossly exaggerated.
Meanwhile, sales of Beatles albums are, as they say, booming. “Almost instantaneously after Russ got the initial calls, and the pyramid began on Sunday,” says Tom Gelardi of Capitol Records, “the E.J. Korvette chain, who probably are the best barometer in the Detroit area of record sales and movement, by Monday or Tuesday were wiped out of Beatle product. It was significant not only because of the fantastic sales of Beatle catalog (past releases), but also because of kids opening packages that were sealed and examining covers for maybe a half hour before buying the package. And it has developed off the last few weeks in sale of Beatle product, particularly their catalog, like we have not experienced since the group has been in existence and had a catalog of any consequence. As the newspapers and radio stations in individual cities pick it up, the record sales do the same thing that’s happened here.” Picture thousands of kids, all over the country, spending hours in record stores, passing up comic books and haircuts to buy these collector’s items, taking them home and ruining their record players trying to play them backwards, trying to figure out some new way in which Paul can be officially pronounced dead.
Of course, the point that Gibb, Carlisle and Small are most insistent about driving home is that they never actually said that Paul McCartney was dead. Rather, they point out, they have suggested that that message is contained in Beatle artifacts, and that the conclusions that can be drawn therefrom are variable. Says Carlisle: “I think it’s obvious that the Beatles were doing a riff on the people and we caught them before they were ready to tell us about it. And they’re trying to keep us off. They’ve been victims of rumors for years, and they’ve always ignored them; this one they’re not ignoring. We noticed that on Magical Mystery Tour they got outrageous with their clues, and they sort of hung back and then came out again. They underestimated the public. They underestimated people in the media who were trained from Meet the Beatles to understand the Beatles. We just got so deep into them we became like one of their minds.” He does not believe that Paul is dead, but rather that the Beatles have been pretending that he is and had set next Easter as the date for the denouement of their hoax. What the denouement might be, he’s not sure, but there seem to be only two possibilities: that they would “resurrect” Paul from his paper and vinyl grave, or join him in it.
Small and Gibb for the most part agree. “Either they’re milking us,” says Small, “they’re milking the press, they’re milking the public, or there’s something desperately wrong. There’s still the possibility that Paul really is dead; I’m vacillating back and forth. There’s just too much incongruity to the story. Listening and talking to Derek Taylor, phony Paul McCartneys, the availability of Lennon, Ringo, and Harrison—it’s just unprecedented in terms of media people like ourselves getting to them. They were just not available, and now all of a sudden they’re so congenial. Something smells yet.”
“I think that Paul McCartney is alive,” says Gibb. “I think that the Beatles have gotten themselves involved in a charlatan game. I feel that they have been hot and cold on this game, and that what started out as the rebuttal to John’s comment about the Beatles being more popular than Christ started John thinking, and he rapped this out with the other fellas, and they proceeded to play the game. I think that in the near future we will see a resurrection of Paul McCartney. I think that we’ve blown their cover a little bit early, but there is still some kind of conspiracy, in a gentle sort of way, to put the world on.”
Whether or not that’s right, the fact that the hoax, whoever originated it, can work the way it has, says a good deal about what it means to be a culture hero in the USA. The thing that struck me most about the people that took the possibility of Paul’s being dead most seriously was the glee with which they went about proving their case. The young engineers who recited a supposed dirge with what was obviously great satisfaction at having dredged it out of its surrounding electronic complexities, for example. The callowness with which the matter of the death of a human being was approached was incredible, and on the part of those who didn’t relate to is as just a macabre Beatle joke can only be explained by saying that the people didn’t think they were dealing with a human being. Paul McCartney was never real to them, so his death couldn’t be approached the way you would approach the death of a real person.
I can’t blame this depersonalization on the Beatles’ withdrawing themselves from their public, because it was other manifestations of the same phenomenon of depersonalization which brought them to take that step. If you think of Paul McCartney as a human being, you don’t jump him on the street in order to touch him, to get a piece of his clothing or his hair. You only do that to objects. But the Beatles aren’t objects, and it was to escape the physical and mental effects of being so treated that they stopped touring. They’re still not thought of as human beings, but at least now they don’t have to spend three months at a time sitting around in hotel rooms, afraid to go out for fear of being torn apart like so many Barbie dolls in a rush of pre-adolescent enthusiasm for a new toy.
I think that the death hoax is purely a figment of the public’s imagination; I don’t believe there was ever a plot on the part of the Beatles to propagate any such story. But if there was, the point has been made. The Beatles are human beings who are thought of as objects, as outlets for the unsatisfied needs of millions of people. Ironically, Russ Gibb hit upon it: “There’s only so much of any man that you can give to the public. If you can’t keep something to yourself, you might as well be dead.” True enough, but it goes farther than just maintaining a sphere of privacy; it means that everyone has an essential humanity that cannot be humanly denied or exploited to satisfy needs that although human, are less than worthy. Fuck me for a pompous asshole, but it’s true.

Deday LaRene

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Adele – “19” (2008)

November 24, 2008 at 3:38 am (Adele, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Written by Ron Hart for PopMatters, July 1, 2008 – Adele is my newest find. I would definitely say she is the best new singer to come along since Amy Winehouse (who she resembles vocally and in her sense of phrasing) and could end up have the staying power that Amy unfortunately might not have (due to her vices). This girl has a bright future ahead of her. Let’s hope there is more where this came from… 


I’m not even going to front on you readers here and pretend I’m this all-knowing expert on the new wave of R&B songbirds who seem to be hemorrhaging out of the UK the past couple of years.

As a matter of fact, it has always been my MO as a writer to steer clear of any kind of overblown trend, be it emo or electroclash or the ridiculously-titled “raw rock” or pop-punk or grime or freak-folk or whatever flavor-of-the-month genre music journos seem to have flocked to at one point or another over the last ten years.

British diva R&B has certainly been the hot point for a while now, and given its representation, it looks as though its time in the limelight should have come to pass somewhere between Lily Allen’s Visa denial and Amy Winehouse’s recently YouTubed crack session. I never paid much mind to any of it, really. Winehouse’s Back to Black has been slowly growing on me as a perfectly okay retro-soul LP, but her tragic life is a total turn-off, regardless if she put out an album that rivals Aretha’s Spirit in the Dark. Allen is very, very nice to look at, but that music is way too cutesy for my tastes, although I’m sure my 22-year-old cousin loves her. Leona Lewis, well, I was never much for those Top 40 belter types. Corinne Bailey-Rae is waaay too bland for a black girl, while Kate Nash and Duffy are essentially riding the coattails of the hype and will be as relevant five years from now as one-time Lilith Fair-era one-hit-wonders Meredith Brooks and Merrill Bainbridge are today.

Twenty-year-old Adele Adkins, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the tabloid fodder who have inundated the mainstream in that she actually seems to have a good head on her shoulders. Sure, the London native is brash, having rendered the Arctic Monkeys as “fucking idiots” in a recent article in the May 2008 issue of the British music magazine Q after they dissed her (and Winehouse’s) alma mater, the prestigious BRIT School of performing arts, during this year’s Brit Awards ceremony, where she herself took home the Critics’ Choice Awards. “Think they’re working class,” she continued in her anti-Monkey rant. “They’re mums are art teachers, ain’t they?” And she likes to party just like any other 20-year-old girl as well, as mention of her love for lager in the same article seems to indicate.

But her vices come with an air of confidence that give her a precocious, Artful Dodger-esque quality that makes the idea of her chugging pints and flipping off British indie royalty charming, not tragic. She’s the kind of girl you could see yourself settling down with in your 30s, which for her at her age, is not exactly something you want to hear. And therein lies the concept of her astounding debut album, 19, a collection of songs that ache with the longing of the perfect would-be girlfriend who just can’t seem to find the right bloke her own age to recognize that she’s such a major catch. She’s a buxom beauty with “a little more to love,” as it would say on her own private MySpace page. But given that most guys, especially in England, seem to prefer anorexic Kate Moss clones who just smile and wave their way through life than real girls, one can see where Adele is coming from in her music, especially on tracks like the vibrant first single, “Chasing Pavements” and her heartbreaking, seemingly Randy Newman-inspired rendition of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.”

This is music, mind you, that clear blows the roof off any other blue-eyed R&B album that has come out of Great Britain since Macca got down with Stevie Wonder. Boasting a trio of producers that includes Mark Ronson, Eg White and Jim Abbiss, 19 indeed boasts several distinct sounds by which Adele is given to do her thing. These are utilized quite harmoniously to fit her powerhouse vocal delivery, a stirring combination of her diverse influences ranging from the Cure’s Robert Smith to Philly soul queen Jill Scott to legendary rhythm ‘n’ folk chanteuse Karen Dalton.

Ronson delivers his proto-soul power to but one track here, the album’s second single, “Cold Shoulder,” which rivals anything on Back to Black and makes one wish he harbors more of a creative presence on her next album. However, Abbiss, known for his board work on albums by the likes of such new school UK rockers as Kasabian, Editors, and Adele’s fave, those pesky Arctic Monkeys, offers up beautifully spare arrangements, using nothing more than bass, acoustic guitars and piano, that really bring out Adele’s voice to peak performance, particularly on 19’s one-two punch pair of opening tracks, “Daydreamer” and “Best for Last.” One can possibly hear the crackle of old vinyl copies of Carole King’s Tapestry and Roberta Flack’s First Take being played in the background if you listen hard enough through a good sound system.

Meanwhile White, known for his work with such pop luminaries as Kylie Minogue and Yaz singer Alyson Moyet as well as extensive work on Duffy’s Rockferry, drapes Adele’s voice in lush string arrangements here on songs like “Chasing Pavements” and “Melt My Heart to Stone,” which helps punctuate the power of her enormous voice more effectively, but also feel a little too gaudy when sitting beside the production of Abbiss and Ronson. But don’t be surprised if White’s songs on 19 are the ones you will most likely hear over the PA the next time you get dragged to Bed, Bath and Beyond with the missus.

Adele Adkins is certainly the real deal, standing before what could potentially be a monster career with worldwide crossover, one that could prove that her staying power is far more plausible than those of her tabloid-driven contemporaries. So long as she doesn’t start hanging out with Pete Doherty or finds true love and then starts to get all sappy, that is.

Ron Hart

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