Q: Is the novel dead?
A: Oh yes. Very much so.
Q: What replaces it?
A: I should think that it is replaced by what existed before it was invented.
Q: The same thing?
A: The same sort of thing.
Q: Is the bicycle dead?
Donald Barthelme, “The Explanation”
On 9th November 1966 Tara Browne and Paul McCartney went riding mopeds while stoned on cannabis, as a result of which the latter crashed, cutting his upper lip (an injury he hid by growing a mustache). Luridly reported–some versions claimed he’d been decapitated–this episode sparked a rumor that McCartney had died. (The contention was that he had been replaced by an actor, though who was supposed to be doing the singing and songwriting during the Beatles’ last four years was never explained). Partly because of the group’s fondness for “random,” clues supporting this theory were discovered in abundance. For example, John Lennon was thought, in the fade-out of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” to mutter “I buried Paul,” whereas (apropos of nothing) he really says “Cranberry sauce.” His similarly meaningless mumble at the end of “I’m So Tired” was interpreted as “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him,” while the line “Bury my body” in the fade-out of “I Am the Walrus” was inevitable grist to the rumor mill, despite having been written by Shakespeare. A dozen other song references were recruited to the myth while further “clues“ were discovered on the Beatles’ LP covers, with Sgt. Pepper supplying a particularly rich fund of coincidences. There, McCartney (the only one holding a black instrument) wears a badge on his sleeve bearing the letters O.P.D., supposedly an abbreviation of “officially pronounced dead” (in fact it stands for Ontario Police Department); he is likewise the only one facing away from the camera on some shots, while the cover shows an ominous hand above his head and the Beatles apparently clustered round a grave. The singer’s black carnation in the “Your Mother Should Know” sequence of Magical Mystery Tour kept up a mad momentum brought to a climax by his barefoot appearance on the cover of Abbey Road and the adjacent number-plate 28 IF, supposedly signifying that he would have been 28 had he lived. (Actually he would have been–in fact, was–27 at the time.)
Ian McDonald, Revolution in the Head