Today would be the the Elephant Man's 149th birthday. Born Joseph Merrick (sometimes erroneously listed as John Merrick), the Elephant Man suffered from an illness that, although still inconclusively proven, caused enlargement of various parts of his body. His grotesque appearance led to his only being able to work as a sideshow freak until a doctor took pity on him and had him committed to the Royal London Hospital.
Merrick lived quietly in the hospital until he died. His visitors included Princess Alexandra of Wales, who gave him a signed picture of herself and wrote him every Christmas for the rest of his life. Merrick was, by all accounts, and sad but lovely man who spent his time building models and hoping to one day find a blind woman who would be able to overlook his appearance. He died in his sleep at age 27 on April 11, 1890.
Over the years, many musicians have penned tributes to Merrick, and today we thought we'd give some of them a spin.
Truth be told, we've never really gotten into Buckethead. As a singer, we're always waiting for lyrics that never come when we listen to his songs. However, even we can get behind the desperate sadness of "The Elephant Man's Alarm Clock" off 2006 album of the same name. Because of Merrick's enlarged skull, he had to sleep sitting up, and often expressed a desire to rest like a normal man. Many believe that attempting to recline while sleeping is what ultimately killed him. Such a notion turns Buckethead's tune into a frenzied attempt to save Merrick's life.
While not a song strictly about Merrick, he does make an appearance of sorts in the official video. Jackson was plagued by rumors for years that he had attempted to buy Merrick's skeleton. He vehemently denied having done so; indeed, Merrick's remains are part of the pathology collection at the Royal London Hospital and have never been on public display.
Even though Jackson said he hadn't tried to purchase the skeleton, he did say he empathized a great deal with Merrick. The persistence of the rumor led to Jackson dancing with an animated version of Merrick in the video for "Leave Me Alone," from 1987's Bad.
We don't know what it is about the Elephant Man that speaks so eloquently to practitioners of instrumental metal, but whoo boy, are there a lot of them who have made songs in Merrick's honor. Tides From Nebula are an up-and-coming Polish metal band with a string of critically acclaimed releases and successful European tours. This heart-rending tune comes from 2009's Aura.
We have absolutely no idea who the Robinsons are, but you would have to be made of stone not to feel the despair and beauty of their song for Merrick. This may be the most chaotically alluring thing we've seen since the Irrespressibles teamed up with Roy Raz to do The Lady is Dead. One thing is for certain, we are definitely going to have to find out more about these people because their music is brilliant.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
For our money, Mastodon is the best thing happening in metal now, and they sure do love the Elephant Man. How exactly "Joseph Merrick" ties in with the album's concept of retelling Moby Dick we don't know, but we think that Mastodon just likes ending their albums with tunes in Merrick's honor. Remission also finished out with a song called "Elephant Man," and Blood Mountain ends with a song called "Pendulous Skin," which Merrick had as a result of his growths.