Reviewed by by Joel Patterson
The Memoirs of Billy Shears
by Thomas E. Uharriet
ISBN: 9781475145885, 2016, 666 pages, $33.33
If you grew up with Beatles music as the soundtrack to your life, this is a very disturbing read. It’s presented as the confessional of the man who replaced the original Paul McCartney at the end of 1966, and who drove the group on to its greatest glories from 1967 until the their disbanding in 1970. This concept has been an urban myth since at least 1969, when fans and commentators began to notice what seemed like “clues” scattered throughout the group’s songs and album artwork, all pointing to this scenario: the original Paul perished in a car crash in September of ’66. A double was brought in to play his part. All these “clues” were plenty vague and open to a variety of interpretations, but to the initiated they were inescapable and all together spelled out the story conclusively, if a little cryptically.
Clocking in at a massive 666 pages and exhaustively jam-packed with dates, remembered conversations, detailed summaries of the traumatic impact and repercussions of Paul’s death and the somewhat improvised strategies to pick up the pieces and move forward, this work really challenges the “myth” part. Where it might be said that song lyrics are essentially ambiguous, or at most universal sentiments, the author specifically describes almost every song from the massively successful genre-defining album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band onward as a tribute to, celebration of, and memorial to the original Paul. The guy is not shy about lionizing his own genius and frankly declares himself a better songwriter and singer than his predecessor. He faults his bandmates as lazy and declares that it was his relentless, workaholic attitude that eventually alienated them and portended the band’s eventual demise. He gives his first name as William and alludes to an earlier stage name, Billy Pepper, and decrees that the lyric at the end of the opening track of Sgt. Pepper, “let me introduce to you the one and only Billy Shears,” was an undisguised declaration, shrouded as it was in the playful chicanery and artifice that defines the entertainment world.
For all the shocking revelations, this reviewer senses that layers of the tale are left obscured. On the one hand, supposedly the original Paul had dreams anticipating his death and worked to ensure his replacement so that his band could continue, and yet he never met the author, who was only interviewed and auditioned by the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein in the harried aftermath of the fateful crash. These threads seem to be at odds with each other, but the contradiction is never addressed. Suggestions that the original Paul was getting a little too big for his britches, that his interests were veering into subversive areas and that he was considering using his notoriety and influence to confront some of the bedrock pretenses of the world he lived in, abound on internet forums devoted to this topic. Perhaps one day even this stunning tome will be superseded by yet another more revelatory dissertation that tells the whole truth. It could well be that a still more unimaginable, mind-blowing story is waiting in the wings.
About the reviewer: Joel Patterson has been interested in music and the process behind it since he was a small child, recording his favorite television theme songs with a small reel-to-reel tape recorder, taking piano lessons, and learning about the delights and limits of the whole universe of audio recording and playback equipment. He would ride his bicycle and dream of a portable cassette player, perhaps not much larger than the cassette itself. These days he does audio and video production in the Albany, New York area. Just exactly what you might have expected? Find out more at: www.joelpatterson.us