The 8 Ball 02.09.13: The Top 8 Rock and Roll Myths
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!
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Rock and roll is best when there is a certain level of mystique to it. Mystique breeds appeal and an inevitable desire to learn more. When we inevitably learn that our rock idols are more normal than we expect though, nothing stops us from making crap up about them. This, along with distorted versions of the truth, is how rock and roll myths get born. From Lady Gaga being a hermaphrodite to Rod Stewart needing to have his stomach pumped free of reproductive discharge (I’m trying not to be crass), there are no shortage of rock and roll myths. This week I thought I would look at my personal favorites.
Caveat: My only criteria for this was that the myth in question had to be a prevalent one and had to be false (or at least unlikely in the unprovable examples). Other than that, the sky was the limit.
• Led Zeppelin Used Shark Parts as a Sex Toy (It was the manager, not the band and it was a red snapper, not a mudshark)
• Mariah Carey Envies Ethiopians For How Skinny They Are (Spoof article circulated as fact)
• Gene Simmons Has a Cow’s Tongue (He just has a long tongue)
Robert Johnson is one of the most mythical figures in rock and roll history. Few people may be particularly aware of him today, but to those who know their rock history, he is one of the more important and influential people in the evolution of guitar playing as we know it. Sadly, even less people knew of him during his life; it wasn’t until a 1961 reissue of his recordings that he really reached any kind of an audience at all. Still, that reissue was instrumental (no pun intended) in shaping the way that blues and rock and roll would sound for decades. It is this kind of influence, and the amount of mystery regarding his largely-undocumented life, that helped give rise to the myth that he sold his soul to the devil. The story goes like this: Johnson had a grand desire to be a great blues musician growing up and was inspired to take his guitar to a crossroad at midnight. There he was met by a large black man who was the Devil in disguise. The Devil took his guitar and tuned it, then returned it to Johnson which gave him a mastery of the guitar in exchange for his soul. Johnson would die at an early age, which would only augment the legend. There are those that claim Johnson himself gave an account of the story, but most credible evidence suggests the theory rose up after his music was rediscovered in the early ’60s. Whichever is the case, it remains a vital part of rock legend.
While relatively few people give the Robert Johnson myth any true credence, the sad alleged story of “Mama” Cass Elliot’s demise is still quoted as fact by many people to this day. One of the core members of the legendary Mamas and the Papas, Mama Cass was a rather stout individual at 5’5″ and 240 pounds. Thus, when she passed away in July of 1974 three years after the group broke up and just as her solo career was really taking off, it was not difficult to believe that, as the legend states, she died choking on a ham sandwich. The myth came about not only because of her size though; police initially told reporters that a partially-eaten sandwich was found in her London flat (which, creepily, was the same room that Keith Moon died in four years earlier) and that it may have contributed to her death. That led the overzealous media to report that she had, indeed, passed away due to a chunk of ham and bread blocking her airways. Ironically, it was not food but the sudden deprivation of food that likely caused her death; the autopsy determined that Mama Cass had died of a heart attack, noting that the fact that she had lost almost eighty pounds in eight months by fasting four days a week had likely been the major contributing factor. Thus, in the end it was not swallowing a ham sandwich which led to her death.
Surely you’ve heard the story before. Everyone has heard the story. Hell, Eminem even made reference to the story in his track “Stan.” The mysterious and ominous origin of Phil Collins’ 1981 hit “In the Air Tonight” is one of the most famous legends in pop music. “In the Air Tonight” was the first single off of Collins’ first solo album Face Value and became a huge hit for the former Genesis drummer both in the UK and the United States; its music video was one of the big early hits on MTV. The dark theme to the song and the foreboding tone that both the lyrics and music take were particularly striking and, typically, had many people wondering where the song came from. I remember first hearing the “story” behind the song in college, myself. The tale went like this: some time in the late 1970s, Collins went camping in order to take a brief vacation from his heavy schedule touring as part of Genesis. He went hiking and set up camp near a river; later that night, he was awoken to hear someone yelling for help while drowning. Collins got up to try and help but stopped before revealing himself, as he saw what was going on and realized it was a murder by two men, who turned out to be from a local crime syndicate, drowning a third one. Collins wrote the song when he got back home the next day and set up the situation, sending the guilty parties tickets and notifying the police. Said police showed up after Collins performed the song live for the first time, singling the two men out who were promptly arrested. Great story? Perhaps, but rather unrealistic too. The truth is much more mundane; Collins wrote the song about the disintegrating relationship with and divorce from with his wife. People still quote the Phil Collins story as truth though, a sign that it has endured no matter how unlikely and plot hole-ridden it may be.
Drug use is practically expected of rock stars. There’s probably something to be said about how sad that particular statement is, that we expect our rock stars to do drugs, but there you have it. One of those rock stars was Stevie Nicks of Buckingham Nicks, Fleetwood Mac and her own solo career, and she certainly did do drugs. Nicks has long been considered a musical and lyrical genius and rightly so; she has also not always been the most stable person. For example, when her best friend Robin Anderson died in 1982 she married Robin’s widower Kim Anderson under the belief that it is what Robin would want so that they could care for Robin and Kim’s infant son (they divorced eight months later). Nicks has said the marriage was the action of two people insane with grief but I have little doubt that some level of narcotic was involved, particularly since Nicks was a regular and habitual user of cocaine at that time. Nicks has said that at the height of her cocaine use in 1986, a doctor told her that she needed to stop using because she had gone to see a plastic surgeon about her nose and was told that the hole that had been burned into it was so large that “the next time you do a hit of cocaine, you could drop dead.” Rumors arose that, not wanting to die, she did cocaine an even more uncomfortable way than shoving it up her nose; specifically, she had a roadie with a straw administer it anally. When asked about it in 2001, Nicks scoffed and said, “That’s absurd. Maybe it came about because people knew I had such a big hole in my nose. Let’s put a belt through my nose, because that’s how big the hole is.” A bit too much information about her nose, but there you have it.
This one is actually one of my flat-out favorite myths in rock, just because of how sci-fi ridiculous it is. And yet, people somehow still believe it to this day. Not that you can blame them though as there is some element of fact in it, however small. Keith Richards’ drug and alcohol use is absolutely legendary. When he said in an interview once that kids should not do drugs, Denis Leary famously ranted for his No Cure For Cancer stand-up film and said “Keith, we can’t do any drugs, because you already did them all!” Not all that far from the truth, really. That’s why it wasn’t hard to believe the tale that, prior to the Stones’ 1973 Pacific tour, Richards had traveled to a clinic in Switzerland and had his blood completely replaced via transfusion. I suppose that explains why the man has never died; he stays young due to some medical version of vampirism. Sadly, this is not the case though and no such procedure exists. In truth, Richards did travel to Switzerland before the tour and did get his blood cleaned up a bit, but the process wasn’t a complete replacement of his blood supply. Rather, it was a procedure called haemodialysis, in which waste products in the blood are removed in order to help protect a damaged kidney. The myth began and people were constantly asking Richards about it in interviews; finally, in one he said it was true which granted the myth a certain level of credence. Or at least it would have, if anyone could ever understand what the hell Keith Richards was saying at any point. There’s a reason Mick Jagger is the lead singer of the Stones, ladies and gentlemen. That’s all I’m saying.
It’s perhaps one of the most referenced legends in rock and roll history. There were times that you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a “Paul is Dead” joke somewhere in pop culture. Hey, when you’re part of the most famous group in rock and roll history, rumors of your death are bound to get some play. The story seems to have originated from a 1967 car accident that McCartney suffered, which lead to a brief rumor that McCartney was killed. The rumors was shot down in the February 1967 issue of The Beatles Book, a fanzine, and stayed quiet until the Fab Four were on the verge of breaking apart in 1969 following the release of Abbey Road. An article then popped up suggesting that McCartney had died in a different car crash in 1966 when he stormed out of a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band session and that a look-alike has replaced him. The article referenced several “clues” hidden within the group’s work: there was the Abbey Road cover that allegedly symbolized a funeral procession with McCartney’s barefoot, out-of-step duplicate symbolizing the corpse, the belief that John Lennon says “I buried Paul” in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the fact that if you placed a mirror to the Sgt. Pepper’s cover you could supposedly read “1 ONE 1 X HE DIE 1 ONE 1” in the drum logo…the list goes on and on, allegedly woven through lyrics and album covers a-plenty. It would actually be intensely interesting if it were remotely true, but outside of conspiracy nuts reading way too much into misheard lyrics and backwards messages (if you play “Revolution 9” backwards some claim that “Paul is dead” can be heard), there’s nothing to support this. The above picture is supposedly evidence, but I see nothing to suggest that it is two different people. But just think about it…if this is the case, it means that Ringo Starr outlived all of the other Beatles. So much for being the weak link in the group, eh?
While the “Paul is dead” rumor is honestly the more entertaining one, the “Elvis is alive” rumor is the far more widespread one. You could probably put Tupac, Biggie and Michael Jackson in this category as well, but at this point any celebrity who dies gets an “X is alive” rumor, especially if posthumous albums start to come out and they all ultimately stem from the Elvis rumors anyway. The official story says that the King of Rock and Roll was found unresponsive on his bathroom floor by Ginger Alden on the afternoon of August 16, 1977 and was pronounced dead at 3:30 PM. The official cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia,” which basically means that the heart stopped beating. Pathologists from Baptist Memorial Hospital, where the autopsy was performed, suggested that drugs may have contributed to his death, though nothing was mentioned about this possibility by the medical examiner. That minor discrepancy between the two provided fans the doubt that they needed, and they were off to the races. Fans have pointed out that his gravestone reads “Elvis Aaron Presley,” which is a misspelled middle name (it was Aron). They alleged that it was a wax dummy in the King’s coffin and not a real body. They drew attention to multiple reports that Presley had considered some sort of diversionary affair so he could retire in peace. All of these were more than enough for people to claim (and still claim to this day) that Elvis is alive, and that was before people started confusing Elvis impersonators for “the real thing” around the nation. There are even people who claim to know him today and have offered circumstantial evidence, though nothing solid or frankly legitimate. But still, you can walk into almost any grocery store and probably find someone who believes that Elvis is alive and well waiting in line. It’s mind-boggling, but some people refuse to let go.
Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Robert Johnson. Jim Morrison. Brian Jones. Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse. Within those seven names you have an absolutely undeniable level of talent across the board. You also have seven members of the most mythical, mysterious and morbid club of all-time: the 27 Club. This club of musicians who passed away at the age of 27 has an awe-inspiring level of mystique to it, with websites galore, essays and whole organizations devoted to it. In truth, as many as forty-five people have been posited as members of the club, and as few as six (there are some who argue that either Winehouse, Taylor or Johnson don’t belong.) The first serious mention of a “27 Club” was brought up after Cobain’s suicide in 1994; while people occasionally noted the odd coincidence between the deaths of Hendrix, Morrison and Joplin (particularly considering they died within ten months of each other), no one had ever formalized the group as some sort of association until Cobain. Since then anytime some talented musician dies at a shockingly young age, the first thing that many people do is look and see how old they were. Obviously there is nothing to suggest that they are related; that would be fairly ridiculous. But is there a connection? Some people wonder. I do believe in coincidence and I imagine that is probably the case, but there are those who strongly disagree and I cannot prove them wrong, mostly because you can’t disprove a negative. Whatever the case, the 27 club not only remains the strongest in people’s minds, it is the one that is sure to continue as time goes on since sadly, there are always musicians who will die young and some of them will pass at that unlucky age.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
The subject of week’s Music Video A-Go-Go has had a variety of legends spread about him, from being Paul Pfeiffer on The Wonder Years (it was Josh Saviano) to removing two of his ribs so he can self-pleasure orally. None of them are true, but some of them are kind of funny. Check out Marilyn Manson “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.