Rock Music and Insanity
It cannot be disputed that a spirit of insanity accompanies rock & roll music more than any other in modern times.
Since the 1950s, rockers have thumbed their noses at God’s holy laws, proclaiming, “I’m free to do what I want, any old time.” The reality has been anything but freedom.
Consider the turmoil that envelopes the lives of a large percentage of rock and roll musicians, the countless untimely deaths, the broken marriages, and the mental instability, even pure insanity, that has accompanied this music.
While it is true that the following cases are often associated with drug and alcohol abuse, it is the rock & roll philosophy of “don’t let anybody tell you what to do” that is the underlying culprit.
The following examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of other members of the blues, jazz, and rock & roll industry have been incarcerated in psychological institutions, undergone psychological counseling, and in other ways demonstrated serious mental imbalance.
G.G. ALLIN was arrested more than 50 times for attempted murder, assault and battery, public lewdness, inciting a riot, indecent exposure, endangering lives, etc. (Pamela Des Barres, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon, p. 293). He treated his audiences to nudity, assault, defecation, urination, sexual acts with dead animals, eating feces, bashing out his teeth, eating his own flesh, breaking his own bones, setting himself on fire, slicing himself up with broken bottles, knocking himself unconscious, and other insane things. When Allin died in June 1993 at age 36 of a heroin overdose, his brother, Merle, said G.G. would have been disappointed to die that way because he was planning to die on stage and kill many people in the audience at the same time.
GRAHAM BOND, one of the pioneers of jazz-rock in Britain, was often “abusive, cruel, and self-destructive” (Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll, p. 28). He claimed to be the son of Satanist Aleister Crowley. Together with his first wife, Diane Stewart, he formed a band called Holy Magick, named after Crowley’s sorcery. He was incarcerated briefly in a mental hospital. A biography by Harry Shapiro, The Mighty Shadow, says Bond’s’ life was characterized by wild mood swings and obsession with the occult. In May 1974, he committed suicide at age 3 by throwing himself under the wheels of a London underground train at the Finsbury Park Station.
In the mid-1970s, DAVID BOWIE became a drug-crazed recluse. His life at that time was described in the following terms: “Friends who visited Bowie in Los Angeles reported that he was living in a room with the curtains permanently drawn, a bowl of cocaine prominently displayed on the coffee table. Scattered around the floor were books of occultism and mysticism. On the walls he’d scrawled magic pentagrams as protection against the curses he believed had been uttered against him. So convinced did he become that black magicians were planning to destroy him that he hired a white witch to perform an exorcism involving the burning of blue and white candles and the sprinkling of salt” (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 93).
The late “Soul Man” JAMES BROWN spent many years storming about in a drug-crazed rage. In the 1980s, for example, he threw his third wife, Adrienne’s, fur coats on the lawn and blasted them with a shotgun (Moser, Rock Stars, p. 33). In 1988 Brown was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder Adrienne, though she later withdrew the assault charge. In September of that year, Brown allegedly threatened a group of people with a shotgun, then led police on a high-speed interstate car chase that resulted in a six-year prison term. He was paroled in 1991 after two years behind bars. In January 1998, he was in a hospital under treatment for addiction to painkillers (Bill Harry, Whatever Happened to, p. 38). Brown was arrested eight times, convicted thrice, and spent a total of five years in jail.
In 1972 RANDY CALIFORNIA (Randolph Wolfe), who was given his name when playing in Jimi Hendrix’s band, had a nervous breakdown (Whatever Happened to, p. 221) and tried to commit suicide by jumping off the Waterloo Bridge in London, England (Nick Talevski, Encyclopedia of Rock Obituaries).
In 1977, ALICE COOPER (real name Vince Furnier) committed himself to a psychiatric treatment facility to gain control over his drunkenness. He had sung about insanity and gloried in insane subjects in his music and concerts, and it is not surprising that he ended up in an insane asylum, unable even to write his own name. After three months of therapy, it was determined that he had to put aside the Alice Cooper character. The following is how Furnier described his transformation into the demented Alice Cooper persona portrayed during his rock concerts: “I get all my Alice drag [female clothing] on, and then nobody’s allowed in for an hour before I go on stage. That’s when I do my transformation into Alice. Nobody knows where he comes from, but he shows up every night in my dressing room” (Alice Cooper, Concert Shots, November 1987, p. 10). He later said, “When I assumed the character I had no idea what I’m gonna do, because it was not me.”
DEF LEPPARD’s drummer, Rick Allen, was arrested for grabbing his wife around the neck and dragging her in a violent drunken rage. In an interview with VH1’s “Behind the Music,” Allen said he has to keep busy days (1998) because otherwise he hears voices that tell him to do bad things. Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark was found comatose in a gutter in 1989 and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Two members of DEPECHE MODE have undergone psychiatric treatment. Andrew Fletcher had a nervous breakdown in 1993, and Dave Gahan attempted suicide and entered a psychiatric ward for a week in 1995.
NICK DRAKE, influential songwriter and recording artist whose songs have been recorded by Elton John and many others, suffered severe depression much of his life. After the production of his third album in 1972, he became more withdrawn than ever and spent time in a psychiatric facility. He began taking anti-depression medication in 1973, and in November 1974 he committed suicide by an overdose of this drug.
ROCKY ERIKSON of 13th Floor Elevators was incarcerated in the Rusk State Hospital (Texas) for the criminally insane in 1969 at age 22. He spent three years there. “Some years later, interviewed on radio, Erikson claimed to be interested only in horror and the Devil and denied ever having been in the Elevators” (Harry Shapiro, Waiting for the Man, p. 143). In 1982 he proclaimed himself inhabited by a Martian, though he later said he didn’t mean it. In 1984 he ceased recording. “He may not have died, but his mind, to most outward appearances, was fried” (Richie Unterberger, Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll, p. 124).
Insanity has pursued FLEETWOOD MAC guitarists. Peter Green “took LSD and went on a 25-year trip. He was sent to a mental hospital after attacking his manager with a gun. He was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and spent 10 years under psychiatric treatment. He wore white robes and fought to give all the band’s money away to charity” (Margaret Moser, Rock Stars Do the Dumbest Things, p. 74). By the end of the 1980s “tabloids were reporting that the former guitar god was sleeping without a roof over his head” (Unknown Legends, p. 121). He also lived with his parents and “was sleeping for up to 20 hours a day” (Whatever Happened to, p. 76). In the 1990s Green returned to playing in a low-key fashion. Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan was admitted to a psychiatric institution in 1972 after bashing his head against the wall, smashing his guitar, and being unable to perform his music.
By 1984 “periods of deep depression and thoughts of suicide haunted MARVIN GAYE” and continued to do so “for the rest of his life” (Nikki Corvette, Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, p. 57). At one point he locked himself in his apartment with a loaded gun and threatened to kill himself or anyone who entered the room. He had squandered his music fortune and fled from the IRS to Hawaii, where “he lived for a time in a converted bread truck” (Davin Seay, Stairway to Heaven, p. 105). Gaye finally had a complete mental breakdown and moved back to his mother’s house. “He stayed in bed all day, frozen with fear, waiting for the Devil. He wanted his mother to sleep by his side every night. Strange people kept coming by, selling him drugs and all kinds of guns. He spent hours sitting against the wall holding a pistol. . . . His mother, Alberta, told David Ritz that Marvin roughed up a couple of women who came to pay him a visit. . . . With the shades always drawn, Marvin snorted coke and watched pornography” (Rock Bottom, p. 116). Marvin Gaye died on April Fools Day, 1984 at age 44. He was shot to death during an argument with his father, with whom he had quarreled since his teenage years.
Two members of the gangsta rap group GETO GOYS have had psychological problems. Scarface (real name Brad Jordon) is “a suicide-prone manic-depressive who spent two of his teenage years in a mental ward.” In May 1991, Bushwick Bill(real name Richard Shaw) talked his 17-year-old girlfriend into shooting him by threatening to kill their child if she didn’t. She shot him in his eye, which he lost.
Before his death of a heroin overdose at age 31 in 1995, DWAYNE GOETTEL, of the Canadian punk rock group Skinny Puppy, had “became erratic and self-destructive, sometimes cutting himself up with strings of barbed wire” (Alan Cross, Over the Edge, p. 158).
Drummer JIM GORDON, a member of Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos and one of the most famous rock session drummers, murdered his 72-year-old mother in June 1983 by hitting her with a hammer and then stabbing her. He was heavily addicted to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol and had heard voices for years. He claimed that the voice of his mother tormented him day and night, and he had threatened to kill her previously. He had checked into psychiatric hospitals 14 times seeking help. He claimed that he killed his mother at the urging of voices that told him how to silence his mother’s voice in his head. In 1984 he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. He continued to play drums in prison.
On a tour with the Beastie Boys in 1994, H.R. HUDSON of Bad Brains “showed signs of instability, due possibly to anxiety, drugs, or a more serious mental condition” (Roni Sarig, The Secret History of Rock, p. 250). During a performance in Kansas, he smashed the base of a steel microphone stand over a fan’s head. The youth sustained severe head injuries and barely survived, and H.R. spent a month in jail for this vicious act.
The strangeness of MICHAEL JACKSON, the King of Pop, is the stuff of legend. Until he had to move out for nonpayment of his debts he lived on a 2700-acre ranch in California, “complete with Ferris wheel, an exotic menagerie, a movie theater, and a security staff of 40 (Eric Barger, From Rock to Rock: The Music of Darkness Exposed, p. 16). For awhile Jackson kept six mannequins in his room; each had a name, and he conversed with them. Through the years, he has changed his facial appearance by surgery to create a sexually ambiguous appearance. He has “had at least six nose jobs, several face lifts, fat suctioned from his cheeks, bone grafted onto his cheekbones, a ‘forehead lift’ to raise his eyebrows, and several eye jobs” (Moser, Rock Stars Do the Dumbest Things, p. 94). In 1993, Jackson was charged with child molestation, and the case was eventually settled out of court with the payment of a large amount of money. Jackson protests his innocence, but his sister reported that he used to spend the night with young boys in his room (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia, p. 486).
RICHEY JAMES of the British punk band Manic Street Preachers disappeared in February 1995 at age 26 and is assumed dead. “The alcoholic and anorexic James kept his word and vanished, perhaps affected by Kurt Cobain’s suicide” (Penguin Encyclopedia). It is probable that he jumped off the Severn Bridge into fast-moving currents. His car was found near the bridge. One of James’ last songs is about a photographer who killed himself. James had been very sick for a long time. He frequently mutilated himself with knives. “While most people are content to pass the time watching TV or reading a book, Richey would absent-mindedly carve up his arms with a knife” (Alan Cross, Over the Edge: The Revolution and Evolution of New Rock, p. 232). During an interview in May 1991, he carved the words 4REAL in his arm with a razor blade. He would also extinguish burning cigarettes on his skin. He was admitted to the Cardiff Hospital in the summer of 1994 because he feared that he was going insane.
In the late 1960s, after playing in the rock band Attila, BILLY JOEL attempted suicide and committed himself to a mental hospital for three weeks.
Rocker DANIEL JOHNSON, a cult figure in rock music circles (Kurt Cobain wore a Johnson T-shirt) who has been described as “a manic depressive genius,” was suffering severe bouts of depression and “demons of mental illness” by his high school years. He began writing rock songs while in college. By 1986 he followed in the footsteps of his heroes, the Beatles, and began using the powerful hallucinogenic drug LSD. He suffered a complete mental breakdown and had to return home to his parents. By 1990 he believed he was on a mission of world salvation. He “became combative with his label and incoherent in concert.” He then spent more time in a psychiatric hospital. A biography on the internet says, “The 90’s were difficult for Daniel, but will probably be regarded as the years when medical relief was achieved. Modern medications eventually achieved stability.” This “stability” is debatable.
GEORGE JONES spent a few weeks in an Alabama mental hospital because of drug abuse, and it was not his last visit to such institutions (Nicholas Dawidoff, In the Country of Country, p. 196).
There were many evidences of insanity during JOHN LENNON’S final years. The following information is from two biographies: Lennon in America by Geoffrey Giuliano (New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000) and Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon by Rosen, Robert (New York: Softskull Press, 2000). In the early 1970s, Lennon and Yoko underwent psychological therapy at the Primal Institute in California. Dr. Janov testified: “John was simply not functioning. He really needed help” (Giuliano, p. 18). The therapy consisted of giving oneself over to hysterical outbursts in an attempt to purge the psyche. Lennon would scream and wail, weep, and roll on the floor. “John eventually confessed to several dark sexual impulses: he wanted to be spanked or whipped and he was drawn to the notion of having a spiked boot heel driven into him. . . . Later in his life, John gathered together a collection of S&M-inspired manikins, which he kept tucked away in the bowels of the Dakota. These dummies, adorned with whips and chains, also had their hands and feet manacled. John’s violent sexual impulses troubled Yoko” (Giuliano, p. 19). Lennon was plagued by nightmares from which he awoke in terror (Giuliano, pp. 83, 137, 142). Lennon was obsessed with his weight and when he found himself overeating he would hide in the master bedroom and force himself to vomit (Giuliano, p. 92). After the couple moved into the Dakota apartments in New York City in 1973, Lennon spent most of the time locked indoors. He referred to himself as Greta Hughes, referring to Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes, famous recluses. “More and more, the increasingly reclusive Lennon began to shun his friends. . . . Lennon’s anxieties were rapidly getting the better of him. . . . Everybody’s working-class hero was sliding steadily into a morass of hopelessness and solemnity” (Giuliano, pp. 84, 97, 105). He “quietly slipped into a dark hibernation,” spending entire days in bed (Giuliano, p. 129). To help him conquer his $700 per day heroin habit, Yoko introduced him to a form of therapy involving self-hypnosis and “past-life regression.” He thought he was actually traveling back into his past lives. In one session he discovered that he had been a Neanderthal man. In another, he was involved in the Crusades during the Dark Ages. Lennon was so paranoid that when he visited Hong Kong in 1976, he did not leave his hotel suite for three days. He thought he had multiple personalities, and he would lie down and imagine that his various personalities were in other parts of the room talking to him. “In doing so, Lennon was in such a state of mind that the slightest noise or shadow would terrify him” (Giuliano, p. 122). When he went out into the crowds he would hear “a cacophony of terrible voices in his head” which filled him with terror. When he returned to New York, he became a virtual hermit, “retreating to his room, sleeping his days away, mindlessly standing at the window watching the rain. Once Yoko found him staring off into space groaning that there was no place he could go where he didn’t feel abandoned and isolated…” (Giuliano, p. 142). In 1978 Lennon “locked himself into his pristine, white-bricked, white-carpeted Dakota bedroom. Lying on the bed, he chain-smoked Gitane cigarettes and stared blankly at his giant television, while the muted phone at his side was lit by calls he never took. . . . he stayed in a dark room with the curtains drawn…” (Giuliano, pp. 173, 174). By 1979, at age 31, “John Lennon was already an old man haunted by his past and frightened by the future” (Giuliano, p. 177). He swung radically “from snappy impatience to bouts of uncontrolled weeping” and could only sleep with the aid of narcotics. Yoko talked Lennon into visiting their Virginia farm in 1979, but he became so paranoid and shaken from the brief excursion into the public (they rode a train) that when they arrived back at their home in New York he “erupted violently, reducing the apartment to a shambles.” The man who is acclaimed as the towering genius behind the Beatles had “all but lost his creative drive and confessed he’d sunk so low he had even become terrified of composing” (Giuliano, p. 130).
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