Beatles fan’s novel gets back to ‘Paul is dead’ craze

“Octopus’ Garden” by Aaron Mermelstein; 356 pages, Salami & Eggs Publishing LLC, $14.99. 


Aaron Mermelstein is a Beatles fan. His grown daughters are Beatles fans, and his grandkids  are Beatles fans. With his feisty novel “Octopus’ Garden,” Mermelstein, 64, reaches far beyond his immediate family to Beatles fans everywhere. 

The book is about the “Paul is dead” phenomenon, a conspiracy theory circulating in the late ’60s that claimed Paul McCartney (you remember, the cute Beatle) had died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike. By 1969, college students across the country had built a case supporting the theory, based on so-called clues on Beatles’ album covers and in song lyrics.  

As a student radio disc jockey  at the time in Columbia at the University of Missouri, Mermelstein was chasing down those clues, interpreting them and talking with listeners on the air about Paul’s alleged untimely demise. The main character in the book relives some of Mermelstein’s true-to-life experiences.

“People who worked in college radio go absolutely nuts for the book,” said Mermelstein, of Richmond Heights, a writer and producer with an extensive background in network television news, cable programming, radio, newspapers and online media.   

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Others go nuts for the book, too, of course, getting sucked back into the thrilling mystery that surrounded the Fab Four back in the day and gaining vicarious entry to Pepperland, the Beatles’ short-lived utopia built under the sea, in the shade. 

Wait – did you hear that? That lyrical allusion to “Yellow Submarine”?

That’s what happens when you read “Octopus’ Garden.” Your mind cues Beatles songs, providing a built-in soundtrack for a fun read. The paperback writer – er, Mermelstein – made time recently to talk about the book.

What is your history with the Beatles? 

Except for a night on campus radio in October of 1970 – that part of the book is absolutely true – my history with the Beatles was probably no different than anybody else who was a young person at that time. 

When did you first hear a Beatles song?

I was 13 or 14 when they first hit, and I remember thinking how absolutely different their music was, and especially what genuinely likeable and attractive and charming and charismatic personalities they were. Through high school and college, I evolved with them – except without the really good mustache – and thought the albums became more and more interesting.

What led you to write the book?

The whole “Paul is dead” mystery never left my head after that night in college.  I don’t know why the whole “Pepperland” thing came to me as a logical explanation for the “Paul is dead” thing, but when it did, it wouldn’t go away.

What was the process?

Truly, I couldn’t type fast enough.  Once I started telling the story of that night on the radio, I knew exactly where the book was going to go and couldn’t wait to get there.  It was a classic case that writers talk about when their stories and characters become genuinely alive and lead them to new places.

Were there any specific surprises along the way? 

In more than a few cases, things happened that were absolutely serendipitous and lucky and crazy coincidental, including learning about the submarine USS Scorpion, the brandy made at Aguas Caliente in Mexico and the fact that longtime fugitive Katherine Power’s nickname in high school really was “Number Nine.” 

I also found an interview with John Lennon and Buckminster Fuller – that was 100 percent true.

What came easily and what was a challenge?

Like I said, I was freaking possessed.  It was all easy.  And it was all a challenge.

Did you hear Beatles music in your mind the whole time you wrote?

I don’t think that’s uncommon for people who grew up with the Beatles.  That music is in our heads forever. 

What has been the response?

Even people who aren’t Beatle crazy but who grew up with them get it.  The Beatles truly redesigned our generation in a lot of ways, and there are no bad memories.  I think the book not only brings back a lot of the memories of Beatlemania, but the feelings, which are more lasting and maybe more important.