The world of rock ‘n’ roll is riddled with strange, unnerving, and frequently shocking stories. While it might be tempting to take them at face value, the truth is that rock owes much of its enduring legacy to a process of self-mythologisation. To put it in plainer terms, don’t believe everything you hear. Music history is a fragile thing, formed from a jumble of stories told by people who may not have even been present, and written down by people with a taste for tall tales.
Musicians have a tendency to riff on our belief that the world of music is full of people who do nothing else but have sex with each other on yachts and smoke joints on Monday mornings. The most enigmatic rockstars have frequently exploited our desire to believe such things for their own benefit; crafting a mythos for themselves that transforms them into gods in the eyes of the public. Keith Richards, for example, has successfully embedded the idea in our minds that he is indestructible – having survived so many near-death experiences.
Our strange need to believe that musicians are somehow different from us has also led music fans to come up with a host of conspiracy theories surrounding rock music. Take ‘The 27 Club’ or the legend about Robert Johnson meeting the devil at a crossroads. Both of these tales suggest that musical excellence is something supernatural and that those who are bestowed with the gift of virtuosity are bound to meet a supernatural end.
Here, we’ve gone about debunking ten of the most famous rock ‘n roll myths. You might call us party-poopers, but the truth behind some of these tales is far more shocking than you’d expect.
Join us, then, as we put ten pieces of rock ‘n’ roll lore under the microscope.
10 rock ‘n’ roll myths debunked:
Jimi Hendrix is responsible for London’s Parakeet population
Anyone local to south-east London knows that this particular area of the capital is swarming with bright green Parakeets. The ill-suited birds can be seen perching in trees, fending off pigeons at bird-feeders, and flying overhead in fighter pilot formation.
The bird’s origins have been the subject of a number of urban myths. One such legend proposes that the birds were released by none other than Jimi Hendrix. The story goes that the guitarist released a pair of Parakeets – Adam and Eve – while wandering around Carnaby Street in a hash-induced stupor. It was, believers argue, intended as a symbol of peace. However, a recent study found that the likeliest cause of the bird’s arrival in Britain was the Great Storm of 1987, which damaged a number of aviary’s and led to the birds escape.
Keith Richards’ blood transfusion
According to lore, Keith Richards had his blood replaced with a fresh supply in a Swiss clinic in 1973. However, the likelihood is that the Rolling Stones guitarist received Hemodialysis.
After shooting up with a group of fellow users – some of whom he knew, many of whom he didn’t – Richards passed out with a needle still hanging out of his arm. “Someone put strychnine in my dope,” he later told The Guardian. “I was totally comatose but I was totally awake. I could listen to everyone, and they were like, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead!’ waving their fingers and pushing me about, and I was thinking, ‘I’m not dead!’”.
Rod Stewart’s Navy Seal orgy
This particular myth came to my attention via somebody who will remain nameless (Ehem, Far Out‘s Tom Taylor). The alleged story goes that, having performed fellatio on no less than nine Navy Seals (sometimes it’s just sailors), Rod Stewart had to have his stomach pumped. Why? because he’d ingested too much semen – I’m reaching for a nautical sex joke here, but it’s eluding me.
The truth is, the rumour was started by Tony Boon, a publicist that Rod Stewart fired during a tour. Boon had bought a man back to the hotel room in which Stewart’s seven-year-old son was staying. Stewart subsequently fired Boon, who then invented the nine sailors orgy story and sold it to the media to get revenge.
Alice Cooper bit off a chicken’s head live onstage
Allegedly, Alice Cooper decapitated a live chicken during his performance at the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival concert in 1969. Having gained a reputation for their wild antics, Alice Cooper and the band went about their usual theatrics: disembowelling pillows and throwing around the feathers. However, when a live chicken wandered onstage, things got a lot darker. Cooper, or so it goes, grabbed the defenceless bird and bit its head off.
While this never actually happened, the real story isn’t much better. In truth, the chicken was thrown onto the stage by Cooper’s manager, Shep Gordon. Cooper promptly picked it up and threw it back into the crowd, where it was pulled to pieces by a swarm of sweaty hands.
Stevie Nicks had cocaine blown up her bum
While Stevie Nicks’ love of Peruvian marching powder certainly may well have burnt a hole in her nose the size of a penny, she never became so depraved that she had cocaine blown up her bum.
In 2001, Nicks finally addressed the rumour: “That’s absurd,” she began. “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.'”
White BIC lighters made the 27 club
In a striking example of stoner logic, the pro-marijuana website HighDeas proposed that Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain all died because the white BIC lighters they were all carrying must have been bad luck.
It’s a great story, but alas, obviously untrue. The myth was debunked when it was discovered that BIC didn’t actually start selling disposable lighters until after Joplin, Morrison, and Hendrix died. Whatsmore, Morrison died in a bathtub and didn’t receive an autopsy. It’s true that lighters were spotted at the scene of Cobain’s suicide, but they weren’t white.
Robert Johnson met the devil at a crossroads
One of the oldest pieces of rock ‘n’ roll lore out there, the story goes that blues guitarist Robert Johnson’s talent for guitar playing was the consequence of a satanic deal with Lucifer himself.
Johnson is said to have met the devil at the crossroads and bartered his soul in return for his musical gift. In truth, he learnt to play the guitar without the devil’s help; receiving tuition from blues player Ike Zimmerman. It’s not as cool, I admit, but I guess the truth hurts.
The Beatles smoked marijuana in Buckingham Palace
Next, one of my own personal favourites. For many years, it was believed that when The Beatles went to Buckingham Palace to pick up their MBEs, they found a quiet spot (I like to imagine them crouched inside one of those guard’s big fluffy hats) to smoke what I imagine members of the royal family still describe as a ‘jazz cigarette’.
The rumour was started by John Lennon himself, who once happened to claim that he wrote ‘Eleonor Rigby’ – which is also a lie. Lennon was later forced to come clean, revealing that he and his fellow Beatles had been too scared to get high in the presence of Queenie, although they’d discussed the idea before their arrival.
Michael Jackson owned the remains of The Elephant Man
Certainly one of the weirdest tales on this list, it was once said that Michael Jackson was the owner of the grisly remains of Joseph Merrick, AKA The Elephant Man. The rumour began in 1987 when reports began to surface that Jackson had purchased the remains of the Victorian sensation for $50,000.
It’s possible that Jackson made the offer, but he certainly never owned the remains – he couldn’t have. The bones and organs of Joseph Merrick were in fact destroyed in an air raid on the Royal London Hospital during the Blitz. Apparently, his head, one arm, and one foot were saved from the rubble, but they’ve never been up for sale.
Led Zeppelin and the Mudshark incident
This is surely the most infamous and controversial tale from the dark annals of rock ‘n’ roll history. While staying at The famous Edgewater Inn in Seattle, Led Zeppelin apparently caught a Mudshark from the nearby bay and used it in a range of sex acts with a female groupie.
The truth of this story is still the subject of debate, with other band and crew members offering alternate versions of events. It is generally believed that while Led Zeppelin did catch a fish during their stay at the Edgewater, it was a red snapper. The person committing the sex act, meanwhile, was most likely Richard Cole, the group’s road manager – and not Led Zeppelin themselves. However, it remains unclear how complicit the band were in the events that night.