John Lennon is an easy man to track down, but he’s a hard man to pin down. He hasn’t released a record of new music since 1980, thus he’s not affiliated with a label, so there isn’t a publicity manager you can call to set up an interview. He doesn’t give a damn what people say about him in the press, so he has no need or desire for a PR person. He’s a hermit who doesn’t answer his phone, return emails, or leave the house. The only difference between him and fellow zombie recluse J. D. Salinger is that everybody knows where Lennon lives: The Dakota on 72nd and Central Park West, Apartment 72, New York City, America.
But if you make nice with the Dakota’s concierge, and slip him a few sawbucks, he might deliver John a package. If you load the package with several boxes of Corn Flakes and ten pounds of Kopi Luwak—a painfully bitter coffee from Indonesia that costs almost six hundred bucks a pound—John might ring you on your cell. If you can persuade John that you don’t have an agenda other than finding out the story behind the Beatles, and you don’t have an axe to grind, and you’ve never touched a diamond bullet in your life, John might invite you over to share a bit of that Kopi. And then maybe, just maybe, after a while, he’ll talk to you on the record about his life and career.
It took me two years of rambling cell chats, bottomless bowls of Corn Flakes, and horrible java to get John to submit to a formal taped interview, but once I fired up the recorder, the guy was an open book. For the first two weeks in November 2005—while his wife, Yoko Ono, was out of town, natch—John talked. And talked. And talked some more. He was sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes infuriating, and sometimes violent (my doctor told me that with regular physical therapy, I will someday regain full motion in my left shoulder), but for those fourteen days, John Lennon was There. And thank God for it.
JOHN LENNON: At this point, nobody wants to hear about my childhood. I don’t even want to hear about my childhood. My mum died, I brought her back to life, I went to Quarry Bank High, I drew cartoons, I mucked about with rock ’n’ roll, I killed a bunch of people, and zombified eight of ’em. Big fookin’ deal.
People probably don’t want to hear about the skiffle days either, but sod ’em. If there’s no skiffle, there’s no Beatles.
Me and my mate Eric Griffiths took guitar lessons out in Hunts Cross, but the teacher wasn’t teaching us anything we couldn’t have taught ourselves. And the teacher—I forget his name—treated me like a leper. In retrospect, I can understand his reaction, because during my first lesson, my left pinkie fell off while I was trying to shift from an F chord to a D sus 4, but that doesn’t give him the right to look at me sideways, for fook’s sake. That’s racism, pure and simple. I bet if Big Bill Broonzy or some other black man walked into his studio, he wouldn’t have said a damn thing, but show him a zombie, and ooooooh, we’ve got an international panic. He was a right bastard, that one.
Anyhow, I got fed up with his attitude by the seventh lesson, so that night, after I packed up my guitar, I ate the teacher’s brain, then threw his body into the River Mersey. The man weighed twelve stone, and getting him from his studio to Wirral Line and all the way down to the river was rough. If Eric hadn’t helped, I would’ve had to leave the corpse on the train.
I started my first band in 1957, and I suppose my initial concern was our name. The biggest skiffle unit around was called Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group, and musically, we weren’t nearly as good as they were, so we had to do something to make ourselves stand out until we learned how to play our instruments … like come up with a better name than Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group, which I figured wouldn’t be that difficult, because Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group is a fookin’ boring name.
First, we were the Blackjacks, but Pete Shotton, who was our washboard player for a while, didn’t like it, and wanted us to change to the Quarrymen, which, of course, referred to our school, Quarry Bank. I pushed for the Maggots, but Eric nixed that because he thought it would draw too much attention to what he called my “situation.” Then good old Lenny Garry piped up and said he thought calling ourselves the Maggots would frighten people—but Len was scared of his own shadow, so he wasn’t the best gauge. I did see Eric and Len’s point, however, so the Quarrymen it was. But I wasn’t happy about it. I thought the Maggots was a brilliant name. Still do, actually.
The two Quarrymen gigs everybody talks about were in ’57, at the end of June and the beginning of July, but the one that I personally remember the best—and the most important one, as far as I’m concerned—was that May, I think the fifteenth. It wasn’t a gig, really, just me and the guys muckin’ about on the street in front of Mendips, which is what we used to call my aunt Mimi’s house over on Menlove Avenue. But that’s when the brilliant stuff happens, when you’re muckin’ about.
I knew none of the local mortals would want to spend a beautiful spring day listening to a batch of local rugrats stumble through “Rock Island Line,” so I telepathically summoned all the undead within brain-shot to come to Mendips and watch us do our thing. Even though they were only a few dozen meters away, those bloody shufflers took a good half hour to arrive. I know for certain they could’ve moved faster, because they were zombies of the higher-functioning variety (I guess they weren’t motivated enough) but that was fine, ’cause it took me a while to figure out how to keep my left pinkie attached. Shotten suggested I tie the finger to my hand with some twine. It worked, and off we went. Cheers, Pete.
Our first tune was “Worried Man Blues,” not exactly a number you can dance to, but that didn’t stop our audience from trying. It was the first time I’d seen a gathering of undead try to dance, and it wasn’t an impressive display—only about half of them could bend their knees, which made it tough for them to do the Mashed Potato. I will say they were an appreciative crowd, though; so much so that they begged to turn our bass player Bill Smith into one of their own. I told them no way, he was my friend, and if anybody was gonna transform him, it would be me.
But it wasn’t.
I don’t know who turned Bill, but if I ever find out, that arsehole’ll get a diamond bullet right up his bum. See, I hated it when my mates got turned by somebody other than me—still do, matter of fact. Think about it: it was me who started the modern Liverpool zombie movement, and if a friend of mine needs to be finished, then restarted, I deserve to do the finishing and the restarting, d’you know what I mean?
Bill left the band soon after his transformation, and I never saw him again. I remember in ’61, Paulie told me he’d heard some bollocks that Bill was living underground. Even though I despised being anywhere near the sewers, I went looking for him. No luck; all I got out of the trip was a load of cack under my fingernails. I hated the fookin’ sewers, and I wouldn’t go underground for just anybody, but Bill was a good man, the kind of guy you’d walk through filth for.
Bill’s gone now, mate. You’ll never find him. I tried hard, man. Really, really hard.
Considering Lennon’s swift and horrifyingly violent attack upon my person—a shockingly fast attack that I’ll always consider myself lucky to have survived more or less intact—after I contended that George Martin was just as important to the musical success of the Beatles’ final three albums as George Harrison was, I hesitate to question to his face the veracity of any of his claims, for fear of my life. That said, thanks to a tip from one James Paul McCartney, it took me a grand total of three minutes to track down Bill Smith, so one has to wonder how hard Lennon really looked. According to Paul, Smitty’s always been an accessible zombie, always armed with smiles and jokes, always eager to gossip about his days as a Quarryman.
A cheerful sewer dweller who doesn’t like to come aboveground for any reason other than to dine, Smitty would speak to me only on his home turf, so on August 3, 2007, I donned a biohazard suit and made the first of my three forays into the Liverpool sewers.
The local undead populous has done wonders with the place—there’s a lovely Internet cafe, a well-stocked trading post/general store, and velveteen sofas and soft recliners wherever you turn—and if the ground wasn’t covered with a two-inch layer of liquidized shit, decades-old piss, clotted blood, and chunky brain matter, it would be quite an enjoyable place to visit.
Like the majority of those who’ve undergone the Liverpool Process, Smitty is a gracious, gregarious sort and was more than happy to spend several hours regaling me with tales about what he called, “Me first band, me first life, and me first death.”
BILL SMITH: Me mate Pete Shotten brought me into the Quarrymen, and Johnny and I got on right away. Even though Johnny was smarter and more popular than I was, we clicked. He was funny, and I was funny, and he liked the blues, and I liked the blues, and when you’re a kid, sometimes a mutual love for music and similar senses of humor are enough to form a solid friendship, regardless of social status. Over the years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t always happen that way. The cool kids gravitate toward the cool kids, the uncool kids be damned; that’s certainly the way it is down in the sewers. The irony is that now, because of my association with the Quarrymen, I’m just about the coolest kid in the sewers … or, at this point, the coolest old wanker, I suppose. But none of your readers give an arse about my philosophy of life; they want to know the good stuff about me and John Lennon.
Okay, I remember in the summer of 1957—right after that first Mendips concert—Johnny and I were messin’ about in Calderstones Park, eating sandwiches, watching the girls, and working out vocal harmonies on some Buddy Holly songs. Then out of nowhere, right while I’m singin’, “Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue,” he turns to me, smiling, and says, “Smitty, you’re me best mate.”
Back then, not too many sixteen-year-old males would show such affection for a mate, so I was a bit of surprised. But this was, oh, four years before he became prone to random bouts of violence, and the Johnny Lennon of 1957 was a sweet sort, the kind of guy who was so talented and funny that, well, let me just say, when a guy like that tells you you’re special, you have to be flattered. So I told him he was my best mate, too.
Then he says, “I want to be best mates forever, Smitty.”
Again, I was surprised, but remember, this was Johnny Lennon, man, Johnny fookin’ Lennon, and when he gave you a certain look, you couldn’t help agreeing with everything he said. Everything. If he gave me that look, then told me to climb to the top of St. Saviour’s Church over on Breckfield Road and jump off, I’d have said, “You bet, mate. Shall I go headfirst?” (I now realize that’s less of a charisma thing and more of a hypnosis thing.) So naturally, I told him I wanted to be his best friend forever, too.
I remember exactly what he said then: “I’m gonna do it. Right here. Right now. In Calderstones.”
Those thin eyes of his were making me feel squiffy. I said, “Do what, Johnny?” My tongue had become thick, and I could barely get the words out.
He looked down, and when he broke eye contact, I snapped back to myself. I still think it was very gentlemanly for him to have stopped hypnotizing me and let me make my own decision. “Your brain, man,” he said. “I’m gonna eat a bit of your brain. Just a bit. What d’you think about that?”
I didn’t think much of it. See, I’d always wanted to find a wife and raise me a houseful of kids, and reproducin’ would’ve been a difficult proposition if me Jolly Roger could produce only dustmen, so I told him, “I don’t think that’ll work for me, mate.” He looked like he was gonna burst out crying then, so I said, “It has nothing to do with you. If I wanted to be undead, there’s nobody I’d want to kill me more than you. You know that.”
He said, “Yeah, I do know that,” then started picking individual blades of grass from the ground and throwing them over his shoulder, one by one. We were both silent for a while, then, after a few minutes, he finally said something like, “Who’s gonna help me get to the Toppermost of the Poppermost?” I asked him what the hell he was talking about, and he said, “Nothin’, nothin’, don’t worry about it. Listen, Smitty, if I’m gonna be on this fookin’ planet forever, I need to have people whose company I like, and that means transforming blokes, and how’m I gonna make that happen without gettin’ all of England in an uproar? And if folks start thinking of me as, I dunno, the Killer from Menlove Avenue, or John the Ripper, nobody’ll come to our shows. And how’m I gonna take over the world?”
Johnny was prone to exaggeration, so I let the comment about taking over the world pass. I told him, “I guess when you transform somebody, you’re gonna have to pick your spots carefully. And it’d probably make more sense, instead of asking people, to just do it.” The second that left my mouth, I realized I might’ve pulled a cock-up. John’s eyes flashed red, and there was a small part of me that thought he’d consider just doing it to yours truly. He was a zombie, after all, and even if an undead individual has good intentions, they sometimes can’t help being irrational. They get hungry, after all.
But he was a top geezer, Johnny was. He nodded and said, “You’re right, Smitty.” That’s all. Just, “You’re right, Smitty.” Johnny Lennon, if you’re reading this, you were the best. I suppose you think I’m a liar and an arsehole, but I think you’re aces. Always have, always will.
Listen, don’t get me wrong: I know and understand why Johnny wants bugger-all to do with me. See, I got turned in the fall of ’57, a mere three months after those Quarrymen gigs, and he didn’t do it. Her name was Lydia. If you’d have gotten one look at her back then, you’d have let her turn you, too. I’d introduce you, but she’s hideous now, simply hideous. She oozes some kind of green shite from her ears, mate, and it ain’t pretty.
Anyhow, long story short, I feel like I planted the seed. I was the guy who suggested Johnny take who he wanted, when he wanted. It probably would’ve happened sooner or later anyhow; there’s no way a guy like Johnny Lennon would’ve gone through his life politely asking if he could turn you instead of just doing it … especially after he got famous. So yeah, wasn’t all my fault, but I still feel bad.
A dapper gent who perfectly illustrates the Liverpool Process’s “stop physically aging at fifty” axiom, Paul McCartney was sixty-four during our interview sessions in May 2003, but he could’ve easily passed for thirty. The guy was the Cute Beatle, is the Cute Beatle, and always will be the Cute Beatle … this despite the shiny green kiss-size scar beneath his left earlobe. What with those dewy eyes and apple cheeks, it’s easy to see how, at the height of his musical and other-wordly powers, had he so desired, he could’ve hypnotized and sexually enslaved legions of teenage and twenty-something girls throughout the world. The key phrase there being “had he so desired.”
As an interview subject, Paul was a toughie. Lennon was a compulsive truth teller, unconcerned with whose feelings he might hurt, what murders he might uncover, or which interviewer he might injure. Honesty wasn’t the best policy for John; it was the only policy. McCartney, on the other hand, oftentimes seemed evasive—especially when it came to the subject of mass murder—and was hesitant to look me directly in the eyes. (Two friends of mine floated the theory that McCartney was avoiding eye contact in order to keep from accidentally hypnotizing me. A good theory, but Paul McCartney doesn’t do anything by accident.)
But here’s the weird part: about half of what Paul told me sounded as if it was pulled almost verbatim from Harold Misor’s controversial—and very poorly written—unauthorized biography from 1988, Macca Attack: James Paul McCartney Uncovered. Beatleologists feel much of the book’s biographical content was invented, and experts on the undead dismissed the zombie portions of the book as conjecture. Despite McCartney’s numerous protestations, the public ate the book up, and it became a bestseller, and many of Misor’s suppositions have been embraced as fact—possibly even by McCartney himself.
Taking all that into consideration, my interviews with Paul raised numerous questions: Was McCartney’s brain permanently altered by his LSD and marijuana consumption, and thus did Misor’s tall tales became McCartney’s memories? Was Misor’s reportage actually on target? Did Paul calculatedly want to use my book as a platform to shape the Beatles myth the way he saw fit? Or was Macca simply messing with me for his own enjoyment?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Paul’s word is Paul’s word, and we have no choice but to take it as gospel.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I died on July 7, 1957, and it was John Winston Lennon who killed me. When you say it black-and-white like that—or in ebony and ivory, if you will—it sounds ugly, y’know. Imagine that as a London Times headline, in bold, capital letters: LENNON MURDERS McCARTNEY. But that’s what happened. And I suppose when you think about it, it was ugly.
We met the day before, John and I did, on July 6. The Quarrymen were doing a show at St. Peter’s Church, and our mutual friend Ivan Vaughan told me they were a nice little band, and there weren’t too many nice little musicians, let alone nice little bands, in Liverpool, so I hopped the Woolton bus and made my way over.
Now, I’d seen a few undead individuals before—one of our neighbors over on Forthlin Road was a Midpointer, as a matter of fact—but never one as young or healthy-looking as John. The zombies I’d met had horrible complexions, just horrible, y’know; some reddish, some greenish, some with permanent blue tears dried on their cheeks. But not John. He glowed. Granted, it was a grayish glow, but it was impressive nonetheless.
After the Quarrymen show—which, erm, wasn’t too bad, really—I borrowed a guitar (I believe it was John’s) and played him a tune by Eddie Cochran called “Twenty Flight Rock.” He stared at me and said, “Wow.” That’s all. Just “Wow.” It was about the only time I’ve ever seen him at a loss for words. And I still believe that if we hadn’t been in public, he probably would’ve murdered me on the spot.
I don’t know if he was thinking of giving me a straight-up transformative bite, or tearing me limb from limb, but that look in his eyes told me, I want you dead fast, mate. What makes me say that? Well, erm, I was dead fast. Very fast. Eighteen hours later, to be exact.
JOHN LENNON: Of course I wanted Paulie dead. Anybody who played guitar that well should either be in my band, or sucking on maggots six feet under. Or both.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: When I finished up the Cochran song, John invited me to bring my guitar over to Mendips the next day, and I said yes. I mean, he seemed like a good chap, y’know, and Ivan’d vouched for him, so why not? I figured we’d play some tunes, have a few laughs, and I’d be on my way. I never even considered an attack. A whole lot of people heard John give me the invite, and if I disappeared, everybody’d know who did it.
I went over after breakfast. John answered the door wearing a blue-and-white-plaid shirt and those thick, clunky government-issue glasses of his. He pulled me in by my elbow—almost dislocating my shoulder in the process, y’know—and dragged me and my guitar to his bedroom.
After that, things happened fast.
JOHN LENNON: Rod Davis didn’t want me to Process him. Neither did Lenny Garry or Colin Hanton or John Duff Love or Eric Griffiths or any of those other blokes who drifted in and out of the Quarrymen. Pete Shotten got so offended when I asked him if I could Process him that I thought he was gonna quit the band and get a job, just so he could afford to buy himself a gun and a handful of diamond bullets. None of the Quarrymen wanted it, none of my friends at school wanted it, and I was gonna be alone. It was disheartening, because I knew that, come the year 2040, when I’d be one hundred years old and not even in the prime of my undeath, there wouldn’t be a single one of my Liverpool mates around to jam with. Paul wasn’t a mate yet, but seemed like a good chap, and he was a helluva guitar player, better than anybody around, and Ivan’d vouched for him, so why not?
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John didn’t tell me the full details of my transformation until, erm, I believe 1962, but I’m not sure how good his reportage was, because when you’re in the throes of brain-sucking, things can get hazy. To this day, I don’t know how much of what I know about that afternoon is true.
JOHN LENNON: I wasn’t going to muck about. I wasn’t going to take any chances. No casual bites. No half-arsed fluid transfer. I decided Paul was the guy who could help me take over the world, and if I was gonna do him, I was gonna do him right. I suppose I went a bit overboard, but I knew I’d get only one chance, and like they say, better safe than sorry. In the end, it turned out brilliant anyhow.
With the Liverpool Process, when you’re transforming someone, you don’t need to take that large of a bite; the entryway only has to be big enough to fit your tongue, and since we Liverpudlian undead can make our tongues as skinny and as long as spaghetti, that’s not a problem. You don’t even need to take any of the victim’s skin with you, but with Paul, like I said, I didn’t want to take any chances, so my thinking going in was to take skin and veins and muscle, and lots of it.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: The last thing I remember for certain was John jumping onto his bed, and then leaping off like he was diving into a swimming pool. And in this instance, yours truly was the swimming pool, an’ that.
JOHN LENNON: I leapt off the bed, parallel to the floor, and landed right on Paulie. Of course, I went for his neck first, because from everything I’d heard, the neck-first approach had worked for over a century, so why mess with success?
I opened my mouth as wide as it would go, then bit off a chunk of his neck about the size of a scone. I wanted to keep the scone intact so I could slap it back over the wound; that way, none of the zombie cocktail could escape. I spit out the sconey thing into my hand and placed it gently on the floor—moving very quickly, of course, so Paul wouldn’t bleed out—then did the usual tongue up past the ear and to the brain, and get the brain juice, blah, blah, blah. I kept all the liquid in my right cheek, which wasn’t altogether pleasant, but it wasn’t unpleasant, either. Then, after I spit a bit of my goo into Paulie, I picked up Mr. Scone, jammed it back into the gouge, and sealed it shut with my tongue, as if I were licking an envelope. I’d never done the licking thing before—I never knew of anybody who did it, for that matter—but somehow, deep down at a gut level, I knew it’d work.
But I still had some goo left. Thus, the business with the arm.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Not too many people know this, but I was a right-hander before that day in John’s bedroom.
JOHN LENNON: My thinking was, better safe than sorry, so why not take the leftover goo and spit it up into his arm socket?
It’s fair to say that by ’61, I’d become an expert at removing and reattaching limbs. But this was ’57, and it was my first time taking off anybody’s arm other than my own, and looking back on it, aesthetically speaking, I did a crap job, just dreadful. Part of it was indecision: I couldn’t figure out whether to yank off his arm at the elbow, by a joint, or in the middle of a muscle. After a minute or two of deliberation, I tore off Paul’s black jacket and went for an elbow tear. No idea why, really. Instinct, I suppose. Zombie nature, I guess. Who fookin’ knows? Anyhow, it turned out to be the ideal choice for my purposes, but really, it was dumb luck; I could’ve just as easily gone for the shoulder.
Paul started gushing like a bloody geyser—there was spatter on the ceiling that Aunt Mimi wasn’t too thrilled about—and I got kind of frazzled, so I didn’t do any tidying up at the tear point, and it ended up all zigzagged. If it’d been four years later, we’d have been looking at a straight rip and a barely noticeable reattachment line, but I was new at that sort of thing. (I should mention that just be cause I figured out how to tear neatly doesn’t mean I always did tear neatly. Sometimes neatness doesn’t count. Sometimes sloppiness is called for.)
I laid Paul’s forearm and hand where I’d put the scone earlier, then wrapped my mouth around his elbow and blew the rest of the juices up into his arm. For good measure, I snaked my tongue around his humerus bone and past his biceps, all the way on up to his clavicle. After all, I had to make sure that none of those precious fluids dribbled out, because I didn’t want a brilliant musician like Paul to be a good zombie—I wanted him to be a fookin’ great zombie.
I reattached his arm and licked it closed. Then I went over to the kitchen, tracked down a bottle of cooking sherry, threw down a big drink, which went straight into the hole in the roof of my mouth and into my brain, making me instantly rat-arsed, and I sat down at the table. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, I went back to my room, and there’s Paul, curled up in a little ball, snoring away, sucking his thumb, looking rested, content, and slightly grayish.
I felt his forehead. It was ice cold. Success. Paul McCartney was as undead as a fookin’ doornail.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John’s often claimed that he set up my guitar for left-handed purposes while I was down for the count, but I don’t believe that for a second, because I’m not entirely convinced he remembered I was right-handed in the first place.
JOHN LENNON: How the fook was I supposed to remember if he was right- or left-handed? I’d only seen him play one fookin’ song, and it was right after a Quarrymen show, and after most gigs, my head was in the clouds. Man, if Paul had an elephant trunk for a nose, I wouldn’t have noticed.
The fact is, I didn’t redo the guitar. Paulie did. And he did it the second after he opened his eyes. I could tell he didn’t have any clue what he was doin’ while he was doin’ it. His hands were working of their own accord, and they were workin’ blurry fast. It was a sight to behold. How he knew he’d become left-handed, I have no idea. The amazing thing was that he played even better as a lefty, so it turned out I’d made a solid decision.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John says that after I regained consciousness, we jammed on blues tunes for six or seven hours. That I can believe, because I remember when I woke up the next morning, both of my index fingers were lying under my pillow.
That’s the moment I realized I wasn’t alive anymore. And I wasn’t a damn bit happy about it.
Lennon claims he doesn’t remember killing any of his Mendips neighbors, but he doesn’t remember not killing them, either. I don’t disbelieve him: being that he’s eaten, transformed, or mortally wounded several thousand people, it’s understandable he’d forget (or block out) a handful of capricious childhood murders.
But the stats don’t lie: of the eighty-eight people who lived within a one-block radius of Mendips, circa 1957, eighty-two of them are dead. And of the seventy-nine death certificates I managed to track down, sixty-three of them list the cause of death as “unknown,” and in four of those cases, the only identifiable part of the bodies uncovered were the victims’ teeth. That’s undoubtedly the work of a very, very potent zombie. John Lennon wasn’t the only zombie in the area, but he was certainly the strongest. You do the math.
Three years younger than his former neighbor John Lennon, Lawrence Carroll is one of the Menlove Avenue men who survived to tell some tales. A loyal Beatles fan and self-professed “nosy parker,” Lawrence grew up on the corner of Menlove and Vale Road, a mere stone’s throw from Mendips. His family moved to Brownlow Hill early that fateful fall, which likely explains why he was still amongst the living when I spoke with him at Bramley’s Cafe in Liverpool during May 2002.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: I was kind of chunky and unathletic as a child, and I didn’t have too many friends, so I spent a lot of my time wandering around the neighborhood and watching. I was a lurker, I suppose you could say. I hid behind trees and bushes and cars, and liked to pretend I was a newspaper reporter, or a spy. I always took notes on a little pad of paper, but very rarely saw anything of interest. Aside from John Lennon’s periodic antics, the only thing that made an impression was the couple that I caught in flagrante delicto in the back of their silver AC Ace Bristol Roadster.
On July 8, 1957, a boy who I now know was Paul McCartney made his way down Menlove, to the Lennons’ house. He was trying to run, but he kept stumbling; it was like his legs couldn’t keep up with his upper body. It looked to me like the guitar case he was carrying was slowing him down, and I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just drop it if he was in such a rush. It wasn’t like anybody on our block would’ve bothered stealing it. Anybody except John Lennon, of course.
Paul was moaning so loudly that Mrs. Leary, who lived three houses down from the Lennons, stuck her head out her window and told him to stop that infernal racket. Once she saw he was undead, she slammed her window shut. I can’t blame her, as I was frightened myself. But a good newspaperman or an honest-to-goodness spy wouldn’t run away from a teenage zombie, so I held my ground. Granted, I was crouched down out of sight behind a thick bush, but at least I stayed.
Paul bashed his guitar case against the Lennons’ front door over and over again, and yelled, “You get out here, John Lennon! You get out here right now, y’know! You get out here and take your medicine!” And he yelled loud.
JOHN LENNON: Paulie hadn’t even been undead for twenty-four hours, so there’s no way he could’ve known his vocal cords were considerably stronger than they were the previous day. I leaned out my bedroom window and chucked one of my school textbooks at his head, then told him to shut his gob and that I’d be there after I put on a shirt.
I never went outside without a shirt back then. Some zombies grow a lot of chest hair, and I was one of them, and it was embarrassing. It never dawned on me to lop it off until my first girlfriend, Thelma Pickles, gave me a straight razor for my birthday. It grew back faster than the hair on my head, so I had to shave it once or twice a week … yet another reason being undead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: When that textbook nailed me in the noggin, I felt rage, y’know. I’d never felt true rage before—maybe some very mild anger, or a bit of frustration—but I started seeing red, and then blue, and then purple, an’ that. Literally. If somebody came across my path right at that moment, it’s a guarantee I would’ve hurt them. Badly.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: It felt like Paul’s piercing screams were emanating from a pinprick in the center of my brain. If automobile alarms existed back then, every car within five kilometers would’ve been buzzing or beeping like nobody’s business.
John finally came out the front door, and thank God, because what with all the commotion, the next-door neighbor’s schnauzer sounded like it was gonna have a heart attack. Paul let out a wordless roar, then smashed his guitar case against the side of John’s head. Then—and if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I’d never have believed it—John’s head flew about ten meters in the air and bounced off a lamppost. He was screaming “Ahhhhhhhhhh” the entire time, and when his scream mixed with Paul’s roar, it was deafening, but also, in a weird way, lovely. Imagine the vocal outro of “Twist and Shout” being played through ten thousand stereos, all turned up to ten, and you’ll have an idea of what sweet yet terrible sounds I experienced on that hot summer day. My left ear started to bleed, and I yelled, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” but naturally, they couldn’t hear me over the sound of their own harmonized crowing.
John started running around like a chicken with his head cut off—or a zombie with his head cut off, I suppose. His mouth continued to shriek, so I suppose his vocal cords didn’t get severed, but I don’t know anything about undead science, so maybe zombies can’t have severed vocal cords. In any event, it looked to me like Paul was about to smash John with his guitar case again, but before he could even lift it up, the right arm of John’s headless body ripped off its own left arm and swung it wildly at Paul. Somehow, some way, headless John connected on the second swing, and Paul went down, and went down hard. John’s body felt around blindly on the ground until it found its head, then he ran inside, holding the head like it was a damned rugby ball. Paul was facedown on the sidewalk, clutching what looked like a pair of sausages.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I was carrying my guitar in my left hand, and my two index fingers in my right, and I was holding on to those fingers for dear life. I can look back at it now and laugh, y’know, because reattaching fingers—especially index fingers—is about the easiest thing you can imagine.
JOHN LENNON: I wanted to glue my head back on the same way I’d closed Paul’s wounds the previous day, but, as I immediately learned, when a Liverpool zombie’s head is detached from its body, it loses the ability to alter the size and shape of its tongue, until the extrinsic muscles fuse back into place. So after I went inside, I tracked down my aunt Mimi’s sewing kit and did some amateurish stitching, and voila, a working head for good ol’ Johnny, almost as good as new.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: When John came back out about ten minutes later, Paul was sitting on the ground with his legs folded like he was meditating or something, staring at his guitar case. I knew for sure he was undead at that point, because had he been an average mortal, there’s no chance he would’ve survived getting smacked upside his head by a zombie arm that’d been swung at one hundred kilometers per hour.
John hunkered down beside him and draped his arm around Paul’s shoulders. I crawled out from behind the bush a bit so I could hear what they were saying. John was doing most of the talking, because Paul was sobbing so hard. John said, “Listen, mate, I barely know you, and you barely know me, and who knows if we’ll even like each other next week, let alone next year? But you’re a fookin’ great guitar player and singer, and I can sing and play a little bit too, and the worst thing that can happen now is we’ll be able to jam together for all of eternity. When we take over the world, you’ll thank me.”
I assumed at the time that when he mentioned taking over the world, he meant taking over the record charts.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: He could’ve asked first. It would’ve been nice to have some time to mentally prepare. All John had to do was say, “Wanna live forever, mate?” I probably would’ve said yes.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: And then Paul let out this high-pitched, falsetto moan, which got the schnauzer in a lather again. Then John moaned even higher, and they held it for a good long while. It was almost hypnotic. The next time I heard that beautiful sound was when the two of them harmonized the second please in the first chorus of “Please Please Me.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: My family wasn’t too keen on having an undead boy at their breakfast nook, y’know, but they said I could keep on living at home, so long as I didn’t slurp out anybody’s brains in the middle of the night. I told them they had themselves a deal.
As he’s a man who has gone through numerous physical, metaphysical, and spiritual transformations, it’s little surprise that any conversation with George Harrison runs the emotional gamut. One minute, he’s waxing poetic about the joys of sitting atop a peak in the Zaskar Range, studying transcendental meditation with a translucent guru named Kamadeva Kartikeya (which, for those of you keeping score, translates to “God of Love/God of War”), then the next, he’s waxing sarcastic about his years as a Beatle, a period that he repeatedly—and, at times, grouchily—refers to as the Mania.
That said, George is nearly as honest as John Lennon, albeit he’s less chatty and has a significantly lower level of angst. Another similarity he has to John: George made me jump through a few hoops before he deigned to chat on the record … except his hoops were—hmmm, how does one put this accurately?—sadistic. And I mean sadistic to the tune of making me drop a poker-chip-size tab of acid, then meditate while standing on my head for twenty-four hours straight while reciting the mantra, “Chiffons to hell, hell to the Chiffons.”
Fortunately, I passed George’s drug-and-meditation test, so in August 2006, he invited me to spend three weeks at Friar Park, his one-hundred-plus-room Victorian mansion near Henley-on-Thames. Unfortunately, for the majority of my stay, Harrison was off in India doing that whole head-cleansing thing, so I was able to get only about six hours of on-the-record material. Luckily, George had fallen off the vegetarian wagon and had recently feasted on the brain of two Bengal tigers and one Bengal fox, and with all that protein floating through his system, the aptly named Quiet Beatle was focused and energetic.
It should be noted that while I didn’t suffer any violence at the hand of Mr. Harrison, I was stabbed on three separate occasions by three separate intruders. (Apparently, knife-wielding intruders had been a problem at Friar Park since 1999.) My injuries were minimal, as I was able to retaliate with some ninja stars I’d recently been given as a gift. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Thank you, Ringo!
GEORGE HARRISON: For me, the Mania started fast. One day, I’m talking to Paul McCartney about how I’d learned to play the tune “Raunchy” by Bill Justis, and the next, he’s blowing brain fluid into the conical stump where my big toe used to be, and I’m in the Quarrymen.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: It seemed strange that John didn’t want to transform George, y’know. He knew George was a great guitarist, better than anybody else he’d played with, myself included. He also looked good onstage and was a nice bloke, but, erm, John wanted nothing to do with killing him. And he never really gave me a satisfactory explanation.
JOHN LENNON: George was too young. Plain and simple. After I reanimated Paul, I vowed never to transform anybody under the age of seventeen again. I was almost twenty at that point, and killing somebody in their teens felt wrong. Even if they asked for it.
And Georgie asked for it again and again and again.
GEORGE HARRISON: Yeah, I guess you could say I pestered John about it. My usual line was, “You killed lots of other people. Why can’t you kill me?” After a few months, I gave up and went to Paul.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I was happy to oblige George, and would’ve dropped everything I was doing to make it happen sooner than later … but I’d never transformed anybody. Never even considered doing it, y’know.
At that point, I was ambivalent about my undead situation. On one hand, the thought of being in a band with John until the end of time sounded cool, an’ that, but on the other, I rarely used what John liked to call my “zombie powers,” so I sometimes felt like there was no point to any of this. Oh, sure, I hypnotized a bird or two, but only girls who I knew wanted to be with me in the first place; it was more about speeding things along than taking advantage.
GEORGE HARRISON: Paul transformed me in my bedroom, and it was awkward, to say the least. It was like being on a blind date, complete with stilted conversation and elliptical innuendo.
He said, “So.”
Then I said, “So.”
Then he said, “So.”
Then I said, “So.”
That went on for, I dunno, five minutes or something, then I said, “Erm, d’you think we could get started?”
Paul said, “Starting would be a good thing to do. How would you like to begin?”
I said, “Well, Paul, I’m new at this sort of thing. How would you like to begin?”
He said, “Dunno. I’m new at this sort of thing, myself, y’know.”
That went on for another five minutes. At no point did either of us say the words zombie or undead.
Finally I said, “Come on, Paul, just bloody bite me already.”
He went after my neck first. He was very gentle. I barely felt it, and when I didn’t say, “Ouch” or anything, he said, “D’you think it took?”
I said, “No clue, mate.” I felt dizzy and strange, but that could’ve been from the blood loss.
He said, “I don’t want to take any chances, so I’m gonna try something.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John may have told me about the toe thing, but there’s also the chance it came to me in one of my many dreams about scrambled eggs.
GEORGE HARRISON:The world started closing in on me, and the last thing I recall before I woke up undead was Paulie saying, “Take off your shoe, mate.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: By the time I began work on George’s big toe, he was at least somewhat undead, because it came off in my mouth like it was a Mars bar—and when I compare George Harrison’s toe to a Mars bar, I’m only referring to the consistency, not the taste. Tastewise, it wasn’t anything close to nougat and caramel. Fact is, a half-zombified toe tastes like a combination of rancid sweat socks, burnt asafetida powder, and, naturally, rotting human corpse.
In the end, it all came out fine—as everybody knows, George became a great zombie, an’ that—but I never again bit off a toe, zombie or otherwise.
GEORGE HARRISON: Nobody was shocked when I turned up undead, and everybody assumed John did it, because all of Liverpool thought of him as the kind of guy who’d kill and reanimate his bandmates at the drop of a hat. I didn’t dissuade anybody of that notion, and neither did John. Even then we realized the value of mystique.
For a few weeks, I had the same problems every zombie guitarist has immediately after transformation—randomly detaching fingers. I’d switch from an E-minor to an A-major, and next thing I know, plunk, my left ring finger’s lying at my feet. I’d take a tricky solo, and plop, off’d come my right thumb and index finger, still clutching my plectrum. It took some messing about, but I got it mostly under control; still, once in a while, I’d forget myself and strum a hard chord, and my whole hand would take a swan dive. That happens even today. Old habits are hard to break. Clapton has the same problem.
For the most part, things went on as they always did: school, friends, family, music. Yeah, I ate a few folks here and there—I had no choice; brains were the only thing that filled the raging, burning hole in my belly—but trust me, I didn’t kill anybody who didn’t deserve to be killed.
In 1958, John entered his second unhappy year at the Liverpool College of Art. He was frustrated because his band wasn’t taking off as quickly as he would have liked, and the LCA faculty and student body were less than thrilled with his state of being. It was a rough time for John, but, resourceful as always, he made the best of it.
In July 1998, former classmate William Norman and ex-painting instructor Dr. Forrest Stephens discussed with me Lennon’s hardships with understandable sympathy.
WILLIAM NORMAN: It wasn’t like we weren’t fully aware he was undead. Hell, the bloke wore his zombieness on his sleeve, shuffling and moaning about the campus like he was William Baskin or Robert Cherry. We all knew full well he could speak normally and walk quickly, but he insisted on rubbing it in our faces. It was almost like he wanted us to be scared of him.
John was a skilled illustrator, but his choice of subject matter was a bit on the limited side. Most everything he drew was morbid: cemeteries with elaborate headstones, mutilated corpses, human heads with insect bodies, and the like. Once in a while he’d doodle a music- or history-oriented picture, and I seem to recall him slapping together a comic book of some sort, but the majority of his work was gruesome, simply gruesome.
DR. FORREST STEPHENS:When it came to painting, young Lennon had more talent in his little gray finger than 95 percent of my students, but he had difficulty focusing. During class, he had a tendency to go off into the ozone for minutes at a time. I have a distinct memory of him standing motionless in front of an easel, staring out the window, and still holding his wet brush, with red paint splattering on his shoes: drip, drip, drip, drip, drip. It was such a brilliant tableau that I wondered if he was pretending.
JOHN LENNON: Of course I was pretending. Each and every one of those ponces at school was a racist. They all grew up in nice neighborhoods, in nice houses, with nice parents, and nice friends, and nice bank accounts, and heaven forbid they socialize with the likes of me. Heaven forbid they get their hands a little bit dirty. I was different. I was the other. I was an alien, and you can’t forget that alien is the first half of the word alienated. So yeah, I spent most of my four years at that fookin’ school all by myself.
The only good thing that came out of the entire experience was meeting Stu.
Lennon’s college chum Stuart Sutcliffe died in 1962 of a brain hemorrhage. Or did he?
Considering how much the two budding artists respected and—let’s just go ahead and say it—loved each other, and considering John Lennon’s habit of murdering and reanimating those closest to him, it’s little surprise that Beatleologists worldwide have long theorized Sutcliffe continued to shuffle about this immortal coil post-1962. Unfortunately, none of them had the wherewithal, connections, or financial means to do the legwork. That’s where I came in.
Lennon was uncharacteristically evasive when I asked if Sutcliffe was still around, saying, “No comment, mate. You’re on your own with that one.” When I pressed the issue, John gave me a backhand to the noggin that sent me flying across his living room. After I wiped the blood from my face and sloppily taped up my broken nose, I changed the subject and made a mental note to never again mention Sutcliffe in Lennon’s presence.
So in the fall of 1999, it was off to Germany for the first of my three meetings with Astrid Kirchherr, photographer/stylist/early Beatles worshipper, and Sutcliffe’s fiancée at the time of his supposed death. When the talk turned to Stu’s current, shall we say, situation, Astrid was polite but vague; she insinuated that there was a possibility he was still around but provided no concrete leads. Realizing Lennon was right—that I was on my own with this one—I followed a hunch and made what some might construe as a questionable decision: I flew to Liverpool, bought myself the biggest shovel I could find, took a taxi out to the Huyton Parish Church cemetery, and dug up Stu’s grave.
Turned out my hunch was on target: Stuart Sutcliffe’s death was a nondeath, an elaborate piece of performance art. His casket was empty, save for an index card that said, “Probably in Ibiza, living the eternal nightlife. Ta-ra!” Based on the two-sentence note, my gut told me that Stu had been turned into a vampire; after what I’d seen over the previous several years, somebody Stokerizing Sutcliffe seemed like a logical conclusion. My gut, it turned out, was right.<
Paul Is Undead
For John Lennon, a young, idealistic zombie guitarist with dreams of global domination, Liverpool seems the ideal place to form a band that could take over the world. In an inspired act, Lennon kills and reanimates local rocker Paul McCartney, kicking off an unstoppable partnership. With the addition of newly zombified guitarist George Harrison and drummer/Seventh Level Ninja Lord Ringo Starr, the Beatles soon cut a swath of bloody good music and bloody violent mayhem across Europe, America, and the entire planet.
In this searing oral history, discover how the Fab Four climbed to the Toppermost of the Poppermost while stealing the hearts, ears, and brains of smitten teenage girls. Learn the tale behind a spiritual journey that resulted in the dismemberment of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Marvel at the seemingly indestructible quartet’s survival of a fierce attack by Eighth Level Ninja Lord Yoko Ono. And find out how the boys escaped eternal death at the hands of England’s greatest zombie hunter, Mick Jagger.
Through all this, one mystery remains: Can the Beatles sublimate their hunger for gray matter, remain on top of the charts, and stay together for all eternity? After all, three of the Fab Four are zombies, and zombies live forever. . . .