False facts about classic rock artists you always thought were true
It’s pretty easy for a rumor to become fact in the public eye, especially if that rumor involves somebody famous—like a classic rock star—and it might have been even easier before the internet, when we had the good folks at Snopes to help us debunk the bad stuff. Think about it, and it’s easy to understand why so many false facts about your parents’ favorite rockers persist. All the following stories have one thing in common: none are the slightest bit true.
Keith Richards, heroin vampire
Of all the rock stars you’d expect to have died long ago, Keith Richards has to be tops on the list. He’s taken seemingly every drug there is, yet he survives and thrives at 74 years young.
That’s utterly baffling to a lot of people, so some have concocted their own theories as to how. One of the more popular (and inane) posits that in 1973, the Rolling Stones guitarist needed to kick heroin in time for a major European tour, so he traveled to Switzerland and had all of his blood–as in, every single drop–replaced, immediately curing himself of his addiction in the bargain.
This is, of course, completely asinine. Yet as Snopes explains, the crazy myth spread thanks to the most official of sources: Richards himself. Apparently, the rocker had gone to Switzerland for an experimental blood purification process—not blood replacement—but quickly grew tired of reporters asking him about it, so he chose to play with their heads, telling them he just got all-new blood and asking them, “How do you like my blood change?” He apparently played the joke too straight, because enough people bought into it that decades later, Richards still has the reputation of a guy who changes blood as easily as Dracula moving on to a new victim.
Stevie Nicks, all about that (cocaine) bass
Stories of rock stars abusing drugs are almost as old as drugs themselves, and while plenty are true, others are pure conjecture. The story of Stevie Nicks’ backside meeting cocaine is 100 percent the latter.
As the story goes, Nicks, a heavy cocaine user, had snorted so much of the stuff it had eaten a big hole through her nose. Unable to snort properly anymore, she did what any true addict would: find a new way to get her fix. According to legend, the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman started having cocaine shot up her butt by a presumably very well-paid assistant. It’s perhaps the ultimate in rock star excess—if it were true, anyway. And Nicks herself has gone on record as saying it isn’t.
In a 2001 interview with Q, Nicks refuted the coke-bum myth, saying “Of course that never, ever happened. That is an absurd statement. It’s not true.” At the same time, she did admit to the hole in her nose, which she quipped was big enough for her to slip a belt through.
But while the myth had her refusing to quit cocaine in spite of the hole in her nose, the truth is…she refused to to quit cocaine in spite of the hole in her nose. She just kept on snorting—at least until she finished her 1986 Rock a Little tour, at which point she finally hit (ahem) bottom and went to rehab.
Gene Simmons, beef licker
Even people who can’t stand Kiss are at least impressed with Gene Simmons’ super-long tongue. He can flick it well below his chin—which, combined with his “Demon” makeup, makes him look plain otherworldly. Surely such a monstrous liquid-lapper couldn’t be natural, right? Thus was born the myth that Simmons once had a normal human tongue, but underwent an operation to have it replaced with a cow’s.
As Snopes points out, there isn’t one part of this rumor that isn’t absolutely ridiculous. For one thing, a tongue transplant wasn’t really possible in the 1960s or ’70s, which is when Simmons would have needed to get it done. Besides, even if it were, a cow’s tongue would look preposterous in a human mouth. As you can see in this cooking video, a cow tongue can weigh well over a pound and a half and stretch to the length of a good-sized cutting board. If this rumor was true, Simmons would probably have broken his neck decades ago.
Simmons is aware of the rumor and appears greatly amused by it. Really, who wouldn’t be? But in his autobiography Kiss and Make-Up, he set the record straight: it’s a human tongue, and it’s served him well. Clearly, cows are only required when Gene craves a burger.
Pink Floyd and the (yellow brick) road not taken
Dark Side of the Moon is one of the greatest albums ever. The Wizard of Oz is one of the greatest movies ever. And according to popular legend, their powers combined make both even greater: Apparently, if you play Moon and Oz at the same time by starting the album at the MGM lion’s third roar, they sync up perfectly, because Pink Floyd is just that incredible of a band.
As it turns out, Pink Floyd is only kind of incredible. The Wizard of Oz thing (popularly called “Dark Side of the Rainbow”) has been tested many times, and they don’t really sync up at all. Maybe a few moments work, like when (as Goldmine reports) Dorothy has a vision of Kansas as Floyd’s “Time” sings “Home, home again/I like to be there when I can,” but it’s entirely coincidental. Drummer Nick Mason officially debunked the myth in 2010, telling the BBC, “The Tin Man, and the Straw Man, and all the rest of it, had absolutely zero to do with [Moon].”
So how did this absurd rumor even start? Well, according to Little White Lies, it appears to have originated on a ’90s Internet forum dedicated to Floyd. That, combined with a viral 1995 article that details how to access the synchronicity, gave the myth enough life to survive the band laughing it off, and years of people trying it out and learning nothing except that Oz is a better film when you can hear Dorothy speak.
Phil Collins' fictitious quest for justice
When song lyrics go vague, fans are forced to come up with their own meanings. The prevailing interpretation of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” might be the most bonkers theory ever dreamed up, but its sheer implausibility hasn’t stopped people from believing it to this day.
As described by Snopes, the myth goes that Collins wrote “Tonight” after witnessing a man who could’ve saved someone from drowning, but didn’t. Disgusted, Collins spent years tracking the man down—and once he did, he sent the guilty party a free front-row ticket to one of his shows. Once he saw the man, Collins started playing “In the Air Tonight,” which called out the non-hero with the lines “Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand / I’ve seen your face before my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am / Well I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes / So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been / It’s all been a pack of lies.”
Eventually, Collins supposedly even had a spotlight aimed at the guy, exposing and humiliating him in front of thousands. That’s pretty hardcore, especially for the man who gave us “Sussudio.”
An interesting story, but it’s totally false. Such a scenario would basically be impossible, and even if it did happen, how would everybody else at the show even know what was happening? Collins discussed the real meaning behind the song during an appearance on The Tonight Show, and naturally, it wound up being completely unrelated to drowning. Basically, Collins was going through a divorce, he was angry, and the song was a reflection of his anger. That’s all, folks. Eminem lied to you.
Mama Cass and the fateful ham sandwich
Mama Casa of the Mamas and the Papas died in 1974, at age 32. She’s been humiliated ever since, as an erroneous doctor’s report–combined with our knack for accepting the first thing we hear as the truth–has sentenced her to more than 40 years of posthumous fat-shaming.
The prevailing story–that Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich–is just that: a story. It’s also a particularly cruel one, painting the picture of the overweight Cass dying while inhaling food she didn’t need. The myth came about thanks to a doctor screwing up, according to the Cass biographyDream a Little Dream of Me. Dr. Anthony Greenburgh examined Cass after her death and reported, “she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down—a very dangerous thing to do … She seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich.”
Dr. Greenburgh was made to choke on those words shortly after–a detective investigating the scene noted there was indeed a sandwich, but Cass hadn’t so much as nibbled on it–but the damage had been done. The “ham sandwich” theory was off to the races, with the baton eventually being passed off to Austin Powers so a whole new generation could be wrong.
Obviously, Mama Cass is dead, so what did kill her? As per Snopes, the coroner concluded she’d had a heart attack, likely brought upon by years of dangerous crash dieting. Far from eating herself to death, Cass actually starved herself into an early grave.
Roy Orbison and the secret of the shades
Amazingly ethereal voice aside, Roy Orbison looked less like a rock star and more like a rock star’s dorky dad. One thing that did help his aura was his trademark extra-dark sunglasses, which were so big and hid his eyes so well that some fans concluded, with no real evidence, that he was blind—and Orbison, ironically, secretly couldn’t spot a pretty woman even if she were right next to him.
Even more than 30 years after his death, the myth of Orbison’s blindness won’t go away. But it’s total hooey–Orbison could always see. It’s true that he had astigmatism, meaning his vision wasn’t crystal-clear. His dark glasses, however, only became a part of his identity by accident. As The ’60s Official Site recaps, Orbison was naturally timid, and going onstage frightened him. One day, he left his regular glasses on an airplane and had to perform wearing his dark prescription sunglasses; the darkness helped him with his stage fright, and fans immediately dug them. That, plus his knack for wearing black, suddenly turned him into a mysterious, morose, probably-blind man in fans’ eyes. As Orbison himself put it, “the image developed of a man of mystery and a quiet man in black somewhat of a recluse, although I never was, really.”
He kept that image up, though, sunglasses and all, because it made him famous and paid the bills. It was the difference between “Only the Lonely” and surviving only on food stamps.
The Beatles' high royal hello
The Beatles and marijuana go hand in hand for a lot of people, especially if they’ve just listened to “Revolution 9.” This has contributed to a few erroneous stories about the Fab Four and their favorite leaf—perhaps the silliest being the one about the time they visited Buckingham Palace, smoked a few joints in the bathroom, and met Queen Elizabeth while higher than their falsettos on “Help!” If you like your rock stars rebellious and edgy, you can’t do much better than “drug it up before chilling with the Queen.”
Except that almost certainly didn’t happen. It depends on which Beatle you talk to, really. According to the book Men, Masculinity, and the Beatles, at least three of the Fab Four couldn’t agree on what happened. John Lennon insisted that they absolutely smoked marijuana in the Palace bathrooms, to calm their nerves over meeting the Queen. But Lennon was the joker of the group, so take his word for what you will. George Harrison, meanwhile, denied such shenanigans, claiming they actually smoked regular tobacco. Then there’s good old Ringo Starr, who can’t remember either way. (This is why everybody makes fun of Ringo.)
Considering the sources, it’s highly unlikely they would risk being high around the Queen. It’s far easier to believe that the media heard about the Beatles smoking in the royal boy’s room and turned it into something far more salacious. We’re not sure what Paul thinks, but we’d like to believe he likely finds the whole thing absolutely hilarious.
Ozzy Osbourne's leathery diet
You likely know Ozzy Osbourne as one of two things: a mumble-mouthed VH1 star, or heavy metal’s undisputed Prince of Darkness. The latter reputation is due in large part to a series of myths—like how he’d intentionally bite the heads off of live bats during concerts.
While this story is technically true, it was far from Ozzy’s intent to eat a living thing in the name of rock ‘n roll. According to his autobiography I Am Ozzy, he was playing a show on January 20, 1982 when a fan threw a live, yet unconscious, bat onstage. Ozzy, thinking it was a rubber toy, bit its head off. He immediately realized his mistake, as blood dripped down his chin and the head twitched in his mouth. As his wife Sharon panicked, Ozzy poetically mused, “oh f*** me, I didn’t just go and eat a f***ng bat, did I?” He was immediately rushed to the hospital for rabies shots, proving that sometimes, people really do suffer for their art.
Meanwhile, people were quick to believe Ozzy knew the bat was live and ate it anyway, because that’s what happens when you cultivate an image for yourself as rock’s “prince of darkness.” Since then, Ozzy’s had a reputation as a bat-meat aficionado, which certainly hasn’t hurt his record sales. Just don’t expect him to cameo in any Batman movies anytime soon.
Bob Dylan, stuck between clowns and jokers
A lot of casual fans don’t always pay attention to who performed any given song—they’re generally too busy enjoying the music. That’s why, for many people, the song “Stuck In the Middle With You” is a quintessential Bob Dylan classic. It’s acoustic-based folk rock, the lyrics don’t make much sense, and the singer sounds like a human kazoo. That’s totally Dylan!
There’s just one problem: it’s totally not him. Despite many music sites identifying “Stuck” as a Dylan song, it’s actually performed by a totally unrelated band, Stealers Wheel—and it sounds like a Dylan song because it was meant to be a poke at the man. According to the Telegraph, Dylan could be more than a little paranoid, and Stealers singer Gerry Rafferty wrote “Stuck” as a parody of said paranoia. He even made his voice sound like Dylan’s, which may have been one reason the song became so successful. If people think you’re a living legend, that tends to convince them to pay attention to you.
Rafferty, for his part, was completely dumbfounded by his silly little rib becoming a bona fide hit, and up until his death in 2011, was likely still flummoxed by all the people still convinced that one of the greatest rock stars in history wrote it. Looks like we know who the real clowns and jokers are.
The Ohio Murderers
You may not recognize the name “Ohio Players,” but you almost certainly recognize their biggest song, “Love Rollercoaster.” Unless, of course, your love isn’t like a rollercoaster, in which case we feel bad for you.
Mid-song, we hear a woman scream in the background. While most fans probably assumed she was riding a rollercoaster, because subtle metaphor, others theorized the worst-case scenario: she’d been brutally murdered, and the band recorded her screams to add a little spice to their pop-funk masterpiece. As Snopes points out, the details of the murder vary depending on who’s telling the story: sometimes, the model on the album cover (seen above) suffered burns during the photoshoot, confronted the band, and got stabbed for her troubles. In others, the song was recorded in an apartment, and a guy broke in and killed the woman. The stories are similar, however, in that they’re all bogus. Think of how quickly everyone would be in jail if that actually happened.
In truth, there was no woman screaming on the album: it was a man, and not a murdered one. According to Ohio Player Jimmy Williams, keyboardist Billy Beck supplied the scream, and later on a DJ (possibly Casey Kasem, whom AXS credits with spreading the myth on his radio show) suggested the possibility it was a murdered woman. The band could’ve denied it from the start, Williams admitted, but they chose to keep mum “because that makes you sell more records.” Cynical, but not inaccurate.