When 70s rock legend Gerry Rafferty died in January, thoughts inevitably turned not to his Reservoir Dogs classic “Stuck In The Middle With You” nor to his legacy as the writer and singer of hardy radio perennial “Baker Street”, but to a TV quizmaster. Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1980s knew Blockbusters host Bob Holness, and anyone with half a grasp on music trivia knew that Holness provided the deathless sax solo on the song “Baker Street.”
Except, of course, he didn’t. It was an oddly plausible story made up by — depending on who you believe — ex-children’s TV presenter Tommy Boyd or ex-NME hack Stuart Maconie. It doesn’t really matter. Rock’n’roll has been steeped in mythology, ever since Robert Johnson sold his soul at the crossroads to provide Eric Clapton with an album title 60 years later.
The myths haven’t been quite so dramatic since then — you can’t imagine the likes of Coldplay and Beyoncé making any pacts with the devil — but they sure as hell haven’t stopped coming. If you’re going to elevate an ordinary man or woman to iconic status, you want some character trait or significant past to justify the slavish expenditure, otherwise, you might as well wear a T-shirt with your mate’s face on it. Your rock hellraisers need a suitable backstory.
Just look at lugubrious Rolling Stones axeman Keith Richards. Of all the tales hanging around the hoary old dog, the finest must be that Keef regularly popped over to a Swiss detox clinic in the 1970s to have every drop of his blood replaced. People actually seem to have bought this, presumably taking Richards for some breed of vampire, but that would be ridiculous. Wouldn’t it? Anyway, Keef keeps his own legend ticking over, most recently with the claim he snorted his own father’s ashes. When the press understandably got upset at this revelation, Richards retracted it — before, erm, un-retracting it a few days later. It pays to keep ’em guessing.
Stories are also spread around to undermine the rock star image. This must surely be the reason for the old chestnut about shlock rocker Marilyn Manson starring as geeky Paul Pfeiffer in U.S. retro comedy The Wonder Years — how delicious for the self-styled God of F*** to have been a boyhood nerd. Sadly, the story wasn’t true – although the bit about him being a childhood nerd might well be. Nor was the macabre legend that Mama Cass of The Mamas & The Papas died after choking on a ham sandwich. Yes, there was a ham sandwich in the room — and, what with Cass being built for comfort not speed, the report bore a certain black humour — but cause of death was a rather more prosaic heart attack. As for those who believed that Phil Collins once refused to lend a drowning man a hand simply because he sang, “If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand” on “In The Air Tonight”, well – take a look at yourselves.
Then there are the flames fanned by the artists themselves. It surely gave The White Stripes a boost to pretend they were brother and sister before some spoilsport unearthed a marriage certificate. And Kiss’s Gene Simmons barely bothered quashing the absurd rumour he’d had a cow’s tongue grafted onto his own.
But perhaps no story has received more encouragement than the Paul Is Dead myth. Reputedly kick-started by a motorcycle accident Paul McCartney suffered in 1966, gossip really took hold when loons “discovered” John Lennon saying “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (he actually sang “cranberry sauce”), then found deep significance in an apparent “funeral procession” on the cover of Abbey Road. Other “clues” numbered in the hundreds, but there was just one certainty — some fans will swallow anything.
Legends of the groove
Dark Side of Oz
If you play Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon simultaneously with The Wizard of Oz movie, they spookily synchronise, according to a number of maniacs with too much time on their hands. It reeks of mild coincidence but is worth checking out, right?
Led Zeppelin toast Satan
If you play meandering rock classic “Stairway To Heaven” backwards, you can hear Robert Plant singing, “Oh, here’s to my sweet Satan”. That’s if you have a lively imagination and the strength to sit through it again.
Judas Priest made me do it
The parents of two Nevada youths who shot themselves after hearing the subliminal message “Do it” in Judas Priest’s “Better By You, Better Than Me”, sued the UK metallers for provocation. The case was dismissed.