Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Myth, Legend, and Gossip

The Observer Music Monthly is out with a list of the 10 Greatest Rock and Roll Myths. Death, drug abuse, rape--Graeme Thomson's list has a little bit of everything decadent, plus a few surprises. Mama Cass Elliott did not choke on a ham sandwich (so I guess it isn't true that if she'd given it to Karen Carpenter, they'd both be alive today). Keith Richards didn't get all of his blood replaced. Members of Led Zeppelin did not rape a groupie with a shark. (Turns out it was their road manager and a red snapper, which is a distinction without a difference, particularly to the groupie involved--although she's never been identified.)

I had to do a bit of research on one of the myths--the case of Richey Edwards, who, it turns out, was a member of Manic Street Preachers just before the group hit the bigtime in the UK. He vanished in 1995, but has reportedly been sighted several times since, and his bandmates still set aside one-quarter of their royalties in his name. Nevertheless, Thomson says, all signs point to his being dead.

What, no Elvis sightings? Thomson also omits the Paul-is-dead legend, but otherwise, the list seems pretty comprehensive, if pretty grim.

The one that's toughest to debunk is, ironically enough, the wildest one--that blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his talent, or was taught to play by Old Scratch himself. All the parties involved are long since dead, so nobody really knows. Thomson says Johnson was taught by another bluesman, one Ike Zimmerman, and got good by practicing a lot--but one version of the legend claims that Ike may have been Satan himself. As myths go, the Johnson story is truly mythic. The rest--Stevie Nicks' cocaine enemas or Sid Vicious' mum spilling his ashes in Heathrow Airport--are merely glorified gossip. But like gossip, they're plenty damn interesting.


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