CRAIG BROWN: The noise, the explosions, the bloodshed… Welcome to strop ‘n’ roll’s classic hits
Rock star memoirs are easily confused with memoirs of World War I: the noise, the explosions, the bloodshed.
The author of the latest is Chris Frantz, who was the drummer with the classy 1980s band Talking Heads. Like so many drummers, Frantz seems to have spent years nursing resentments at having to sit at the back of the stage in semi-darkness, sweatily thumping away while the others grabbed all the attention.
He portrays the group’s lead singer, David Byrne, as an egotist who took all the credit for other people’s work. Determined to steal the limelight, Byrne apparently tricked other band members into wearing muted colours for a big show, only to turn up on stage in ‘the biggest white suit anyone had ever seen’.
For the rest of us, there is something very pleasing about these onstage battles. Twenty years before Talking Heads, 16-year-old Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson signed to Motown as the Supremes. No one thought that with her rather bulbous eyes and reedy voice Diana would take centre stage.
Rock star memoirs are easily confused with memoirs of World War I: the noise, the explosions, the bloodshed. Pictured: David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads
But she was the mouse that roared, ruthless at elbowing her way to the front. The three Supremes were meant to wear identical dresses, but Diana slipped into a different dress immediately before going on, leading the audience to assume that the other two were her backing singers.
Another of Diana’s ploys was to switch wigs at the last moment, leaving Florence and Mary with old-fashioned big hair, while she sported a flashy bob. And in TV studios, she would fling her hands out in the final chorus, so that they blocked the faces of the other two.
Simon and Garfunkel were equally at odds. They first performed together at the age of 11, in a school production of Alice In Wonderland. By the age of 15, performing as Tom and Jerry, they had a song in the charts. But then things began to fray.
Aged 16, Paul Simon signed a deal to make solo records, but kept the news from Art Garfunkel for two months. Garfunkel never forgave him. Twenty years later, halfway through a major European tour, Simon asked Garfunkel why he was being so moody. Garfunkel said he still felt betrayed by that early deception.
‘I was 16 years old!’ said Simon. ‘How can you punish me for a mistake I made when I was a teenager?’
‘You’re still the same guy,’ replied Garfunkel.
Simon and Garfunkel (pictured) first performed together at the age of 11, in a school production of Alice In Wonderland
The Who’s Roger Daltrey recalled in his recent memoir how their loopy drummer Keith Moon was making such a drug-induced din onstage that Daltrey left the stage, found Moon’s drugs, and flushed them down the toilet
In terms of combustibility, Britain beats the U.S. hands down. In 1995, Liam Gallagher, lead singer with Oasis, refused at the last minute to perform in a Live Unplugged show.
His brother Noel dutifully told the audience that Liam had a sore throat, and proceeded to sing the songs himself. The grand finale was wrecked by heckling from the audience: it turned out to be Liam, sitting in a box, bottle in hand.
One of my favourite groups, The Kinks, regularly got into fights. Once, Dave Davies got into an argument with the drummer Mick Avory about why he hadn’t supported him in an earlier argument with Dave’s brother Ray.
Dave and Mick then started punching each other, and had to be pulled apart. The next day, Dave went onstage in Cardiff wearing dark glasses, to hide his two black eyes. Halfway through their second number, he spat at Mick. Mick duly hit Dave over the head with a drum pedal. Dave collapsed, and Mick ran offstage, fearful of arrest.
Drummers are particularly volatile: when The Doors’ singer Jim Morrison fell asleep on stage, their drummer John Densmore kicked him awake. This caused Morrison to go into a frenzy, smashing the floor into splinters and breaking his microphone in two.
The Who’s Roger Daltrey recalled in his recent memoir how their loopy drummer Keith Moon was making such a drug-induced din onstage that Daltrey left the stage, found Moon’s drugs, and flushed them down the toilet. In response, Moon ‘came slashing at me with the bells of a tambourine’.
It later emerged that Moon’s parents had bought him his first set of drums hoping they might channel his aggression. Might a little ukulele have been a better bet?
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