Is there anything better than a good pop culture rumor? In an era during which the public knows and cares way too much about celebrities, it’s amazing there are still rock and roll rumors that persist long after the facts have been laid out. False rock star rumors cover anything from a band murdering a model, making an audio recording of it, and turning it into a hit, to one of rock’s most enigmatic stars maybe getting in an accident. And, of course, there’s all that glorious stomach pumping.
Untrue rumors about rock stars are hard to disprove because there are a bunch of similar wild stories that are spot on; separating fact from fiction can be nearly impossible, especially now that everyone involved is either dead or has a failing memory. In some cases, such as that of monsieur Bob Dylan, there are probably personal reasons for not revealing the truth behind the rumor.
Even if these rock star rumors proved to not be true, they’re all fun. Some of the stories are so rock and roll the rock stars involved never denied they happened, because they didn’t want to ruin their cred. Of course a rock star wants everyone to think all they do is shove drugs in their body and crashing cars in pools; it’s much cooler than having a cup of tea and going to bed at a sensible hour.
Keith Moon is the quintessential rock and roll wild man. He collected Nazi memorabilia, may have bitten Steve McQueen's dog, and blew up his drums when The Who played on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. But he never drove a Rolls Royce into a pool at the Holiday Inn in Flint, MI, on his 21st birthday (imagine being that famous at 21).
According to The Who guitarist Pete Townsend, the story is a combination of two stories:
"Keith Moon driving a Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool is an erroneous conflation of two incidents. In one, he left the handbrake off, and the car rolled into a pool, which was under construction and waterless. In the other, he charged a new car to the band, who refused to foot the bill, so Moon drove into a muddy pond in his garden and called the dealer to pick it up."
Following a series of sold-out gigs in London, Mama Cass retired to her apartment, where she died of heart failure on July 29, 1974. A rumor quickly spread that she died from choking on a ham sandwich, a vile thing to say.
Where did the rumor start? It's believed Dr. Anthony Greenburgh, the physician who first examined Cass after her death, started it when he wrote: "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.”
In fact, her autopsy showed "A heart problem leading to heart failure; there was no sandwich or any other item lodged in her throat or trachea; and she had had very little to eat the day before she died.”
This rumor about two musical luminaries is great, awful, and oddly specific - oh, and it's probably not true. The story is, David Bowie's first wife, Angela, found Bowie and pal Mick Jagger in bed nude, lookin' like a couple fellas who just finished an intense game of Hide the Salami.
In Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger, Christopher Andersen wrote the following:
"Angie had been out of town for a few days when she returned home one morning and went straight to the kitchen to make some tea. The Bowies’ maid, who had arrived about an hour earlier, approached the lady of the house with a peculiar look on her face. 'Someone,' she told Angie, 'is in your bed.'
Angie went upstairs to her bedroom, slowly pushed the door open, and there they were: Mick Jagger and David Bowie, naked in bed together, sleeping. Both men woke up with a start. 'Oh, hello,' said Bowie, clearly taken by surprise. 'How are you?'
... Angie 'felt absolutely dead certain that they’d been screwing. It was so obvious, in fact, that I never even considered the possibility that they hadn’t been screwing.'"
It's totally fine and very rock and roll if this happened, but without confirmation from a source who isn't an ex quoted in a book the National Post called "Hot tub reading at its very tingliest," it's nothing but a rumor. Also, to reiterate, who cares if Bowie and Jagger were shagging? Anyway, everyone knows they couldn't have been lovers because they used all their erotic energy in the video for "Dancing in the Street."
One of the most interesting rock and roll stories involves Bob Dylan getting in a motorcycle crash, maybe to escape fame, maybe to switch bodies. It might have never happened. No one's ever going to get a straight story out of Dylan so here are the "facts":
On July 29, 1966, Dylan was riding his 1964 Triumph T100 on the back roads of Woodstock, NY, when he lost control and crashed. Maybe. There's no record of the accident, no ambulance was called to pick up Dylan's mangled body, and he never went to the emergency room or checked into a hospital.
Some believe Dylan died in the accident, or suffered a brain injury, and this is why his post-Blonde on Blonde material isn't very Dylany (although John Wesley Harding is pretty damn Dylany). Some folks believe Dylan was trying to avoid media scrutiny while kicking a drug habit, and thus invented the accident story.
In his 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan wrote
"I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on. Outside of my family, nothing held any real interest for me and I was seeing everything through different glasses."