vernon_19972During the pant-wetting tumultuous anticipation of the imminent birth of the Royal Sperm Tumour this week I was informed via Twitter that the child would be named Spencer (in homage to Princess Diana Spencer). I posted on Facebook that that was okay by me as my grandfather was named Spencer (after his mother’s family). My Dad and my son’s middle names? Spencer. My Dad’s sister married a James Spencer.

BabyMy Facebook wall filled up with people either wondering where I’d gotten the info – as the official name had yet to be announced – or just took it on faith that I knew something no one else did. Soon people on my friends’ list started reposting my message. Similar conversations were springing up faster than you can sing the chorus to Stan Boreson’s “The Telephone” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Mbv3FwgWvA. Someone even went as far as suggesting a Wikipedia page be created to scoop the remainder of the interverse. I was able to debunk my own post within minutes just using Google. Apparently, no one else knows this top secret trick about confirming information on the internet.

Jimmy SmitsAbout an hour later another of my friends joked on his Facebook wall that the new Doctor Who replacement had been announced and exclaimed Latin actor Jimmy Smits would star as the titular time traveler. I reposted this to my Facebook wall next thinking everyone would get a good laugh out of it. Very few people got the joke and were curious to know why the BBC would pick him over any number of British actors who are, ostensibly, more qualified and better suited for the role. I was astounded. How could anyone believe this? It would be like saying that Oprah had been chosen…but I guess there was just enough legitimacy to Smits’ asking skills that people were willing to accept it. And besides, it would be politically incorrect to publicly state that a Latino as the Doctor is just….well….wrong.

Now, as flattering as my friends’ belief in what I write, and me in general, it’s also a little alarming to think I could post something and it would be accepted as fact with (almost) no question. I decided, consciously, and with forethought to hoax my feed.

Honest Ed
And so my next post was based on the recent news item about retail and real estate mogul Ed Mirvish’s iconic flagship landmark dollar store Honest Ed’s. Mirvish’s son David wants to sell the place and the properties the family own all around it for $100 million. Toronto media was up in arms over this announcement and ran with ‘man on the street’ reactions all week – many wanting the 60 year-old junk store to stand forever and not be turned into condos. Speculation was rampant about who would buy the property and redevelop it. The biggest finger was pointed at Wal-Mart who are currently getting cock-blocked by Torontonians in their bid to put a retail outlet in the multi-cultural tourist neighbourhood of Kensington Market.

I decided to fuel the fire. My Facebook post read as follows:
“Honest Ed’s has been purchased by Goodlife Fitness”
The reactions from my fanbase were fast, furious and ranting. Everyone accepted this statement as rote and proceeded to voice their displeasure with the choice, David Mirvish’s integrity, etc. Truth is, the property still hasn’t been listed for sale. Mirvish hasn’t even said what the fate of the store is yet. Only that the property is for sale.

SheepleNo one challenged my post. Not a single dissenting comment. But why? Is it because the statement could be true? Is it because it confirms the worst fears of the reader? How is it we’re quick to accept a hoax but readily dismiss some things that are actual facts?

I have endless fascination with hoaxes – the real ones and the conspiracy fuelled fake ones. The Wild West was grown on a healthy diet of snake-oil salesmen, charlatans and hucksters which live on in the America we all know and fear. The back-alley field of mediums, crystal ball gazers and clairvoyants soon invaded and crystalballtogether the stupidly gullible, the religiously meek and ignorantly superstitious replaced  those with common sense. Fear and hate mongering grew too and was soon met by a new, educated movement of the enlightened, scholarly and scientific. But humans still favour the ‘true lie’. It’s far more interesting and harder to prove/disprove. It gives people something to talk about while smoking and drinking their chaotic lives into a perpetual comatose.

Ever since Orson Welles scared America into believing that Martians had taken over the planet in the 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, we’ve been willing to believe the worst and most outrageous human scenarios. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs0K4ApWl4g

Apollo 11By now we’ve heard a lifetime’s worth of manipulated, plausible facts to doubt everyone and everything. It’s become an industry unto itself: Walt Disney is frozen in a vault to be re-animated once a cure for his disease is found, Area 51 houses dead aliens, Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy for JFK’s assassination, the Airplane Hoaxmoon landing was faked, 9/11 was a set-up, Richard Gere likes small rodents inserted up his ass, Mikey from the ‘Life’ Brand cereal commercial died from Pop Rocks exploding in his stomach, and Elvis still lives…in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Prior to the internet The National Enquirer was the go-to source for far-out fake and nearly fake stories about celebrities, alien sightings and National Enquirergrandmothers being impregnated by amorous alligators. The paper was a humourous glimpse at the surreal and sublime (“Houdini’s Ghost Returns For One Last Stunt!”). Sadly, people began to recount these stories to friends and over time the tall tales became urban myths. And these urban myths became viral once the internet was invented to give them new life for new generations. And now for every true lie and make believe story comes people in the know having to sweep up behind the mess and debunk it all. I usually refer to http://www.Snopes.com for my quick reference guide to all things bogus.

AbrahamlincolnFacebook is the current proving ground for memes posing as fact and Snopes is running double duty both trying to confirm and deny shit that people either blatantly make-up or twist to whatever personal or political agenda they lean toward. It is here that we learned that a matador in South America did not, in fact, give up bullfighting after having a mid-ring epiphany; There is no missing 3 year old child who was abducted by a grey pick-up truck sporting Quebec license plates; and the Facebook Graph App will not sodomize your account and steal all your duck-face photos (it will, however, marry your sister).

I come from the music industry and we too have had our share of hoaxes that still resonate with fans. Here are the classics:

Billy_TiptonOklahoma City native Billy “Tippy” Tipton began his professional piano career (he also played saxophone) in 1936 performing with his own band on radio station KFXR. 1938 saw Tipton joining Louvenie’s Western Swingbillies who performed on KTOK and at Brown’s Tavern. By 1940 he was touring the Midwest with Scott Cameron’s band followed by a two year stint starting in 1941 at Joplin, Missouri’s Cotton Club with George Meyer’s band before moving on to Texas for two years with Ross Carlyle, then played for two years in Texas.[1]

TiptonStarting in 1949, Tipton was touring the Pacific Northwest with George Meyer and recorded several 78RPM records. As Meyer’s band became more successful they were able to performing with the likes of The Ink Spots, the Delta Rhythm Boys, and Billy Eckstine.

Eventually Tipton took to being a solo piano act and would form the Billy Tipton Trio to back him. The trio recorded two albums of jazz standards for Tops Records. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3JAAxFYEws

Despite the success of the records he turned down an offer to headline a house gig in Vegas and record four more albums for Tops. Instead, tipton_licenseTipton moved to Spokane, Washington, to become a talent broker and settle in as a weekly house band at Allen’s Tin Pan Alley with his trio. Later, he mentored young musicians at the Dave Sobol Theatrical Agency. But by the late 1970s, worsening arthritis forced Tipton to retire from music completely.

In 1989, at the age of 74, a hemorrhaging peptic ulcer, which he refused to have treated killed him. While ambulance attendants were trying to Tipton_Splitrevive Tipton with son William looking on, it was revealed that Tipton was a woman. Tipton was pronounced dead at Valley General Hospital after which the coroner shared Tipton’s life-long secret with the family. Tipton’s wife, Kitty, had the body immediately cremated to keep his secret quiet. But one of Tipton’s other two adopted sons ran to the media – leading to the revelation that Billy “Tippy” Tipton had, in fact, been born Dorothy Lucille Tipton and had identified as a man since the 1930s.

masked-maraudersLPBeginning in the Summer of Love (1967 for all you youngsters out there) a growing trend had developed in the music community of major artists spending inordinate amounts of time jamming together. San Francisco and Southern California, for example, were hot beds for musicians from Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, and even The Monkees hanging out with the likes of Hendrix, Clapton, Santana, Steve Miller et al consuming mass amounts of narcotics, communing with nature (i.e. engaging in raging unprotected sex with multiple partners simultaneously…hell they were orgies) and creating ‘super sessions’. Some, like The Rolling Stones’ 1968 film ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ even became worthy of public consumption.

MaskedMarauders_RSRolling Stone magazine editor Greil Marcus was becoming tired of the trend and in October 1969 wrote a fake review of a fake super session album featuring members of The Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan he dubbed The Masked Marauders. It was tongue in cheek and featured enough facts to fool the average reader…and retailers as it turned out. Letters and phone calls began pouring in from people wanting to hear the album. Marcus found himself backed into a corner so he and fellow Rolling Stone editor Langdon Winner recruited the anonymously obscure Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band from Berkeley, California, group to record three of the fake songs from the album review: “Cow Pie”, “I Can’t Get No Nookie” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aXvQ6cg9Vs, and the Dylan-esque take on “Duke of Earl”.

CowPieThe songs were debuted on a San Francisco radio station to wide acclaim. The hoax was then elevated to expert level when the Rolling Stone staffers had the faux band signed to Warner Brothers to the tune of a $15,000 cash advance – which was used to record the remainder of the songs to complete a full LP. In November 1969, the self-titled Masked Marauders LP was released and spent twelve weeks on the Billboard album chart (peaking at #114) and selling 100,000 copies. All because no one read the liner notes dotted with clues – particularly the one from Greil Marcus that exclaimed: In a world of sham, the Masked Marauders, bless their hearts, are the genuine article”.

PaulIsDeadProbably one of the most famous and enduring hoaxes in music is the 1969 “Paul Is Dead” rumour. On  September 17, 1969, the Drake University in Iowa student paper published a piece with the headline, “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” based on campus speculation that he had, in fact, expired. The article included ‘clues’ to McCartney’s demise including the backwards message “turn me on dead man” from the Beatles’ White Album track “Revolution #9”.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F-t8BuGmZ0

Following a newswire item from Beatles press officer Derek Taylor denying yet another rumour concerning the Fab Four, on October 12, Beatle article1969, a caller to Detroit radio station WKNR-FM brought the rumour to the attention of DJ Russ Gibb who then discussed it on air for the next hour. Two days later, The Michigan Daily newspaper published a satirical review of the newly released Beatles album ‘Abbey Road’ written by Michigan University student Fred LaBour under the headline “McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light”. LaBour peppered the piece with clues to McCartney’s death from Beatle lyrics, album covers and more. The story was picked up within days by national newspapers across the US followed by a WKNR-FM two-hour in-depth special called the ‘Beatles Plot’ on October 19, 1969.

Abbey Road IFDuring the October 21, 1969, over-night shift on New York radio station WABC DJ Roby Yonge discussed the rumour on the air for over an hour and was subsequently pulled off the air for breaking format. However, the rumour was now airborne as the station’s late-night signal could be heard in 38 states and overseas. The reaction was immediate and forced the Beatles’ Apple Records press office to issue statements denying the rumour which had spread internationally in newspapers and in the news.

The hoax presumed the following scenario: On November 9, 1966, McCartney, after a rather raucaus falling out with the other Beatles during an Abbey Road recording session, had left the studio in his car in a rage. The car crashed – killing him instantly. To spare the public from mass grief, the Beatles replaced him with one “William Campbell” who was picked as the winner of a Paul McCartney look-alike contest.

Life_PaulRumourIn reality 1969 saw the Beatles as a band and a corporate entity in its death throws. McCartney had run off to his Scottish farm for seclusion with his new bride Linda McCartney to avoid the media, the lawsuits from his former bandmates and to finish up the recording of his first solo album. It took a cover story by Life Magazine on November 7, 1969 to put the rumour to rest. Though some still believe that McCartney’s lackluster solo material proves he’s an imposter…

A little known trio out of Toronto named Klaatu (named after the lead character in the 1951 Sci-Fi film ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’) toiled Klaatu is Beatlesaway during downtime for nearly three years in a recording studio with future Rush producer Terry Brown. After several mildly British sounding 7” singles that were mostly ignored by Canadian radio starting in 1973, the band finally secured a major label deal with Capitol Records in 1975. In an unusual move, Klaatu was signed but with a special caveat. They had asked to never be identified by individual member’s name or be photographed and they refused to make public appearances including performing live. The faith in Terry Brown’s production was the key to the deal and Capitol agreed as long as they were given a series of album projects under the sobriquet ‘Klaatu’ as required .

347ESTThe band’s first album, 3:47 EST (also a reference from ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’) was released in August 1976 and received favourable reviews in Canada. The album came and went with little fanfare and only moderate sales from the debut single “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNBV5hofD_U getting exposure on FM radio. The group toiled on and soon began recording their 2nd LP in London, England in early 1977 as part of their contractual obligation.

billboard_KlaatuOn February 7, 1977 a fluff piece written by cub reporter Steve Smith in the Rhode Island Journal  hypothesized the notion that Klaatu’s debut album – now stale but making the rounds stateside – was either an homage to The Beatles, a Beatles solo side project, or the Beatles reunited. The following week a Rhode Island radio station grabbed the story and began spinning the album on air looking for clues.  One of the main focal points was a very McCartney-ish song called “Sub Rosa Subway” (a possible rejected alternate song and album title for McCartney’s 1973 solo album ‘Red Rose Speedway’) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiRUOzJ-FrE. Not long after the broadcast caught fire and other stations were now doing pieces about this mystery album that was possibly a reunited Beatles. Someone managed to track down Klaatu’s press agent Frank Davies who went on the air to neither confirm nor deny the rumour. His comment was merely to say “Klaatu is Klaatu”.

Ringo_nightviennaBy the end of February the rumour had spread across the entire American eastern seaboard with radio and print media working up variations of the story. Capitol Records’ sales reps were inundated by retailers to supply more copies of the band’s album – which featured a smiling yellow sun on the cover and no credits on the album whatsoever.  Across Capitol’s international offices memos were sent to promotional staff to jump on this rumour and fuel the fire – even offering new ‘clues’ that could be circulated to radio stations and print media to keep Klaatu in the news. Capitol’s record plants couldn’t keep up and copies that had been earmarked for deletion were pulled from warehouses and sent to stores. Even Australia found itself in the midst of Klaatumania – selling 700 copies of the album a day for 6 weeks straight.

Klaatu_bandNearly 1 million albums later, the rumour finally came to an abrupt halt when a Washington, D.C. disc jockey went to the Library of Congress and researched the album’s copyright registration information. It was there that he learned the names of the three band members, all from Canada: John Woloschuk, Terry Draper, and Dee Long.

Once the secret identity veil was lifted Klaatu was deemed persona non grata and blamed for pulling off one of the more prolific music hoaxes of all time. Beatle fans were enraged that they’d been duped.

Said Terry Draper of the rumour, “For one brief moment we were considered to be the greatest band of all time.  Not an imitation of The Beatles but the real deal. When people found out we weren’t them suddenly our music was considered inferior. Our music hadn’t changed but the public had become fickle overnight.”

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com



  1. Jaimie Vernon is a pseudonym, or nom de plume. The author is actually a retired political science professor (and former member, with Tommy Chong, of Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers ) living in Vulcan, Alberta. HTH

  2. Billy Tipton did not hoax anybody, nor was he a hoax himself. A hoax is “a humorous or malicious deception”. Tipton was born female-bodied and chose to live as a man — that choice probably had little to do with humor or malicious intent. By saying that his life was a hoax, you are presuming on Tipton’s intentions.

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