When Wild Musicians Attack!
Look out, Houston! Ryan Adams is on his way to town. The troubled troubadour is slated to play the Verizon Wireless Theater on June 15, and early reports of his current tour say that his antics are still up to his Replacements-like standard: disaster one night, sublime wonder the next. Shades of 2002, when a drunken Adams fielded a silly request for Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69" by stopping the show, whipping out his wallet, digging out $30, handing it to the fan and then having him removed from the building. (The fan was let back in and got to keep the money.)
A netizen from Philly, posting at Velvetrope.com, reported a train wreck of a show in which Adams took long breaks between songs, bitched ad nauseam about the sound system and battled hecklers -- whom he has started to attract in relatively large numbers -- from beginning to end. Days later, another correspondent reported that Adams's D.C. show was excellent and that the singer's stage patter was hilarious. Which Ryan will show up in Houston?
In honor of the impending appearance of one of popular music's great meltdown artists, I've decided to compile a list of five of the greatest onstage meltdowns in music history. As you can see, Adams and his brother in abuse-the-audience-banter, Conor "Roping Steers and Roping Indians" Oberst, have a ways to go to catch these greats. Enjoy, and as always, send in recollections of others you have seen to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Star: Jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard
Specifics: Circa 1967 at an unknown venue, probably in Europe
Meltdown: On a bootleg tape that has been passed from collector to collector for close to 40 years, Hubbard can be heard unleashing some torrential trumpet riffs and then uncorking the following tirade to a jeering audience: "Fuck you white motherfuckers! Fuck you white motherfuckers! [Voice in crowd: 'Go home!'] Well, okay, I'll go home. If you don't like me, kiss my ass! That's right, 'cause you jive, you jive, you jive! You white motherfuckers! You the ones who started this shit! Lemme show you -- you the ones -- fuck you! fuck you, you white motherfuckers! [Hubbard starts to weep.] If you don't like me, kiss my black ass! You motherfuckers! [The drummer tries to launch into the next song.] Fuck it, I won't do it!"
Aftermath: Unknown, though this was not to be the last of Hubbard's meltdowns, nor the last to be caught on tape. Another was at Cleveland club the Front Row, where, in 1977 he stormed off the stage screaming, "Miles Davis, Miles Davis, Miles Davis. I ain't Miles Davis, motherfuckers!"
Star: Charlie Rich
Specifics: 1975 Country Music Awards, Nashville
Meltdown: On stage to announce his successor as CMA Entertainer of the Year, Rich opened the envelope, announced that his "good friend John Denver" had won, and then set fire to the envelope and results card. Earlier in the evening, Rich had been spotted backstage swilling gin and tonics and autographing a woman's bare breast.
Aftermath: Rich's spin doctors went into overdrive: His gaffe, they said, came as a result of a negative reaction to a pain medication he was taking to overcome an agonizing spider bite he had incurred while mowing his lawn. (Yeah, that's the ticket.) Rich was pretty much finished by this incident, and the CMA continues to hold a grudge long after his death -- despite being both a critical fave and the biggest artist in country music for a few years in the early '70s, he is still not a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Star: George Jones
Specifics: 1979, the Exit-In, Nashville
Meltdown: For much of 1979, George Jones wallowed in severe whiskey and cocaine addiction. Eventually, his whole personality cracked, or perhaps "quacked" is a better word, into two distinct beings. One was George Jones, washed-up country singer. The other was Donald, or sometimes Deedoodle Duck, who spoke in quack-talk. Jones would actually argue two sides of an issue with his feathered alter ego, taking one side in his normal voice and the other in a duck voice. During this time Jones often would forget his own lyrics, but Donald/Deedoodle wouldn't, so it was perhaps inevitable that Donald/Deedoodle would be making a concert appearance sooner or later. The duck's debut came at Nashville showcase venue the Exit-In before an audience of industry insiders, at what was supposed to have been a comeback show. As recalled by Jones's then-manager Shug Baggott in the Jones bio Ragged But Right, Jones "came onstage and announced that George Jones was washed up, a has-been, but that on that night a new star was born who was going all the way to the top. And George proceeded to introduce Donald and asked for a round of applause as Donald started singing a George Jones song. As George stood onstage, face drawn, with his pants falling down because he had lost so much weight and looking ridiculous singing like a duck, you could see tears in most of the people's eyes."
Aftermath: According to Baggott, Donald continued the quacky-tonkin' (only geese "honky"-tonk) until he was carted off the stage in a straitjacket. And as with Hubbard, this was far from the last meltdown for the Possum, but it just goes to show you: It may walk like a duck and it may talk like a duck, but it might not be a duck after all -- it just might be George Fuckin' Jones.
Star: Jim Morrison/the Doors
Specifics: March 1, 1969, the Dinner Key Auditorium, Miami
Meltdown: Drunk beyond even his own impressive norms, Doors front man Jim Morrison staggered onstage and berated the people of his native state for being too dumb to leave Florida and move to California. He moved on to encouraging the audience to strip naked. And then he started asking questions. "You didn't come here for music, did you? You came for something more, didn't you? You didn't come to rock and roll, you came for something else, didn't you? You came for something else -- WHAT IS IT?" A long pause followed, as the audience wondered what he was on about. Morrison had the answer. "You want to see my cock, don't you? That's what you came for, isn't it? YEAHHHH!" And then Morrison unleashed his love scud, or maybe he didn't. To this day, no one is sure.
Aftermath: Everybody went home. Nothing happened until the papers picked up the story the next day. The media pressured City Hall and the police to do something about Morrison's corruption of Florida youth, and eventually even President Nixon and the FBI got involved. Finally, four days after the show, six warrants were filed for Morrison's arrest, ranging from misdemeanors such as public drunkenness to a felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. This was to have been the first show on a long U.S. tour, but as word spread of Morrison's conduct, promoter after promoter canceled. Doors songs were dropped off radio playlists from coast to coast. Though Morrison did complete the L.A. Woman album after this incident, and his trial resulted in only two misdemeanor convictions, the Miami incident effectively ended his career. His life would end in a Parisian bathtub in July 1971. (Or would it? Just a couple of weeks ago, A Current Affair aired a segment that purported to prove that Morrison had faked his death. Apparently he's kicking it with Elvis and 'Pac at a Golden Corral in suburban Wichita or some such.)
Star: Grace Slick/Jefferson Starship
Specifics: June 1978, Lorelei Festival and Hamburg, West Germany
Meltdown: Jefferson Starship's European tour was not going well. At the Lorelei Festival, their first show in Germany, thousands of fans rioted when it was announced that singer Grace Slick was too sick to perform. The next night, in Hamburg, the band probably wished Slick was still ailing. As a child of the post-World War II era, Slick later admitted that she always had it in for Germans, and she told them so in no uncertain terms at this Hamburg show. Drunk as a skunk, she took the stage in a Nazi uniform and goose-stepped around the stage taunting the Germans about losing to America in the war, pausing occasionally to insert a finger or two up the nostrils of puzzled German men, whom she called a bunch of Nazis. Those in attendance reported a curious phenomenon: mass walk-outs of people who would get almost to the door and then think "I wonder what she will do next" and head back to their seats. "I'm in Germany and I'm gonna get back at them for Dachau or some dumb drunken decision," Slick said years later. "That's what that night was about, dumb, drunken decisions. So they started walking out but they kept coming back, like maybe she'll do something really hideous and we will have missed it. A freak show."
Aftermath: Slick quit the band immediately after the show. The band staggered on without her through the rest of the tour. "I think she created punk rock that night," recalled Jefferson Starship drummer John Barbata. If only that had been her swan song Sadly for Slick this gig proved to be just a midpoint on her transformation from hippie ice princess to corporate rock schlockateer. In 1981 she would rejoin the band, which dropped the "Jefferson" from its moniker and (along with other once-decent bands like Chicago and Heart) unleashed some of the worst and most unaccountably popular rock of all time in the mid-'80s. From "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" to "We Built this City" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" fairly defines the concept of creative descent.
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