Before rock ‘n’ roll reached its full stride as a key component of the 1960s counter culture, music was generally enjoyed peacefully at concerts or clubs where increased intensity would only lead to faster dancing. During the 1960s, a youthful counterculture bubbled into a frenzy alongside political and societal disorder and disillusionment in the western world as the war in Vietnam wore on and civil rights remained a pipe dream.
The baby boomer generation began to find a release in rock music that unshackled them from the traditional values of generations past. This new wave came with a sense of freedom that led to good, bad and sometimes ugly occurrences. The hippies of the 1960s brought a change in popular music and fashion that often pushed avant-garde over the invisible line into the downright bizarre.
The increased popularity of drug abuse brought the wonders of psychedelic rock music and abstract creativity to most art forms. But on the darker side, it brought a growing problem of dangerous substance abuse within the arts industry, with famous casualties including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. This burgeoning trend of destructive, law-bending lifestyles began to firmly attach itself to rock music and to this day has created an image of rock stars as erratic troublemakers.
Of course, this image isn’t a fair representation of rock musicians, but over the years, there have been a number of iconic rock stars who fit the stereotype perfectly. Below, we revisit some of the most questionable and controversial offences committed on stage. The motivations behind such acts can vary; in some, it seems that mental illness or substance abuse may have been the overarching factor, while in others, it could be a simple case of narcissism or a longing to stand out from the crowd.
The five craziest on stage offences:
Jim Morrison’s indecent exposure
In March 1969, Jim Morrison, the enigmatic frontman of US psychedelic rock group The Doors, exposed himself while performing at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. At the time, Morrison had been in a downward spiral as he struggled with addiction and fame. The infamous concert is widely considered the beginning of the end for The Doors. Morrison had been drinking heavily during the day and missed a connecting flight to Miami.
As Morrison turned up an hour late, the poorly ventilated venue was packed out with frustrated fans. Throughout the poor drunken performance, the crowd appeared disinterested, and so Morrison reacted by addressing them: “You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots!” The temperature began to rise in the room, both literally and figuratively, as fans took to the stage. It is alleged that Morrison exposed himself to the madding crowd in his dazed state. Following the events in Miami, Morrison was sentenced to six months imprisonment. While appealing the court ruling in 1970, he decided to move to Paris, where he would sadly die under strange circumstances a year later.
Iggy Pop’s drug-addled self-mutilation
Iggy Pop’s early performances with the proto-punk group The Stooges were known for their outrageous antics. On one occasion, Iggy encouraged an audience to rip apart a wooden fence between the crowd and the stage that had been installed to prohibit stage diving. On another, he threw a watermelon into the audience, leaving a female fan with a concussion.
In attempts to shock the audience, The Stooges would also hit the stage wearing questionable attire. On a couple of occasions, some of the band emerged wearing Nazi uniforms. However, Iggy usually opted for nudity where possible. Frequently, he would expose his genitals to the audience, and he would sometimes feel the need to self-harm, slicing into the flesh on his bare torso with an array of sharp implements.
Sid Vicious’ battle axe
Sid Vicious was notorious as the boisterous embodiment of British punk in the late 1970s as he performed with his group, the Sex Pistols. While he couldn’t play his bass properly, he had little trouble finding other uses for it. During the Sex Pistols’ first tour of the USA, the group primarily played in the roughest bars that their manager Malcolm McClaren could scout out. As an anarchist punk group playing in a southern state, where many traditional values were still intact, it wasn’t long before things got out of hand.
One angered member of the audience threw a beer at Vicious during a 1978 performance in Texas. The bassist swiftly retaliated by raising his four-string over his head, bringing it down upon the skull of the man responsible. Frontman Johnny Rotten added insult to injury quite literally by goading the infamously homophobic “Bible-belt” with statements like “all cowboys are f*cking f*ggots”.
Keith Moon’s overcooked on stage explosives
The Who were well known for their destructive on-stage antics. As one of the original British rock ‘n’ roll groups, they had an example to set and a world to shock. Guitarist Pete Townshend would often be seen smashing his guitars to smithereens toward the end of their performances, while drummer Keith Moon would get stuck in pummeling his kit to a pulp.
While in Los Angeles in 1967, the eccentric Moon felt that manual destruction wasn’t going to cut it. The Who performed live on CBS’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on September 17th. Towards the end of an energetic performance of ‘My Generation’, Townshend began smashing his guitar into the floor. Suddenly a thunderous explosion roars with a billow of smoke emanating from Moon’s bass drum towards Townshend. Allegedly, Moon had added extra gunpowder to his theatrical flash cannon lifting it ten times higher than the legal explosive limit for on-stage pyrotechnics. The explosion singed Townshend’s hair and left him permanently deafened in one ear while Moon was cut on the arm by airborne cymbal shrapnel – it doesn’t get much more rock ‘n’ roll than that.
Axl Rose’s camera snatch riot
The hot-tempered Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose is no stranger to a tantrum during his performances. In Rio de Janeiro in 2001, he requested that security kick out a fan for wearing a Slash T-shirt. In Newcastle, in 2008, he ended a set early because a penny hit bass player Tommy Stinson. But the worst of all of his fan feuds was during a 1991 performance in St. Louis.
Rose asked security to confiscate a camera from someone in the audience halfway through a song. “Get that guy!” he yelled. When his request wasn’t immediately fulfilled, he said, “I’ll take it, goddamn it!” He then launched himself into the audience in a fit of rage. Tackling the photographer, he snatched the camera from him and lashed out at other members of the audience before security grabbed him and lifted him back onto the stage.
Rose yelled, “thanks to the lame-ass security, I’m going home.” He dropped the mic and walked offstage. The rest of Guns N’ Roses followed swiftly, with Slash finally addressing the audience, “He just smashed the microphone. We’re out of here.” After the band vacated the stage, a riot broke out where dozens of fans were injured and property damaged. Rose was later arrested for triggering the riot, but he was ultimately cleared of charges.