Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. As we celebrate Jim Morrison's December 8th birthday, join us in dissecting some of rock and roll's most notorious urban legends.
Jim Morrison Is Alive—and So Is Elvis!
Urban Legend: It's just a hoax. To pull a disappearing act and escape the limelight, the Doors frontman faked his death—as did Elvis Presley several years later—and some other guy is buried in his grave in Paris.
Kernel of Truth: What do you think?
Paul Is Dead
Urban Legend: Paul McCartney was killed in a car crash in 1966, but the Beatles kept it secret, replacing him with the winner of a Paul look-alike contest.
Kernel of Truth: McCartney's Mini Cooper was involved in a collision, but Paul wasn't in it. Yet fans found many clues of his demise, from the "funeral procession" on "Abbey Road" to John Lennon saying "I buried Paul" in "Strawberry Fields Forever." Lennon's actual words: "Cranberry sauce."
Debbie Harry Met Ted Bundy
Urban Legend: In the early '70s, the future Blondie singer accepted a ride from a stranger in New York, but became alarmed when she saw his car had been stripped of inside door and window handles. She managed to escape and realized later that the driver was serial killer Ted Bundy.
Kernel of Truth: Harry, the source of the story, remembers the ride in terrifying detail. But Bundy was nowhere near New York at the time.
Gene Simmons's Tongue Was Surgically Enhanced
Urban Legend: The Kiss frontman had the tongue of a cow grafted onto his own tongue to extend its length.
Kernel of Truth: Simmons' trademark tongue is indeed unusually long—about seven inches, according to one report. In the band's heyday, he had it insured for $1 million.
This Is Frank Zappa's Dad
Urban Legend: Frank Zappa's father was Hugh Brannum, the singer-actor better known as Captain Kangaroo's sidekick Mr. Green Jeans.
Kernel of Truth: "Hot Rats," Zappa's 1969 solo album, includes a song called "Son of Mr. Green Genes." Its lyrics ("Eat your greens / Don't forget your beans and celery") appear not to be autobiographical.
The Night Rod Stewart Had His Stomach Pumped
Urban Legend: After an evening at a San Diego gay bar packed with sailors, Rod Stewart landed in an emergency room, where doctors pumped quarts of semen out of his stomach.
Kernel of Truth: None. The story was invented by publicist Tony Toon after Stewart fired him. In Stewart's 2013 autobiography, the singer called it an "absolutely inspired" act of revenge.
Now About That Mars Bar
Urban Legend: When British police raided Keith Richards' home in 1967, they found Mick Jagger eating a Mars bar out of Marianne Faithfull.
Kernel of Truth: Faithfull, who'd just taken a bath, was draped in a fur bed cover but otherwise naked when the cops showed up. In her 2012 autobiography she dismissed the persistent Mars bar rumor as "a cop's idea of what people do on acid!"
The 'Rollercoaster' Scream
Urban Legend: The scream in Ohio Players' 1976 hit "Love Rollercoaster" is the sound of the model on the album cover being murdered.
Kernel of Truth: There is a piercing scream in the middle of the song—made by keyboard player Billy Beck. A DJ noted sardonically that it sounded like the band killed the cover model (Playboy Playmate Ester Cordet), and the story grew from there.
Manson and the Monkees
Urban Legend: Notorious cult leader Charles Manson auditioned for "The Monkees" a few years before the Manson Family went on their killing spree.
Kernel of Truth: An aspiring singer-songwriter, Manson did a failed audition for record producer Terry Melcher. Much later, the Monkees' Micky Dolenz noted that "everybody auditioned for the Monkees—Stephen Stills, Paul Williams and Charlie Manson!" It was a joke.
Jimi Hendrix Put LSD in His Headband
Urban Legend: The legendary guitarist wore an LSD-laced headband so the drug would seep into his pores. Some say he made cuts in his forehead to facilitate the process.
Kernel of Truth: Hendrix did take a lot of acid but ingested it in the conventional way.
The Mudshark Incident
Urban Legend: In 1969, at Seattle's Edgewater Inn—a hotel where guests can fish from their rooms—Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham caught a shark, which he used as an impromptu sex toy in an encounter with a groupie.
Kernel of Truth: Something involving a fish (not a shark) and a groupie went down at the Edgewater, but road manager Richard Cole later admitted that he (not Bonham) was at the center of the incident.
The Beatles Toked Up at Buckingham Palace
Urban Legend: When they received M.B.E. medals in 1965, the Fab Four smoked weed in Buckingham Palace, where strict rules govern every bow and curtsy.
Kernel of Truth: Although John Lennon said it happened, George Harrison called this a fantasy: "Because what's the worst thing you could do before you meet the Queen? Smoking a reefer! But we never did."
Keef Snorted His Dad's Ashes
Urban Legend: After the 2004 death of his father, Keith Richards blended his dad's ashes with cocaine and then snorted them.
Kernel of Truth: Richards planted an oak tree and spread the ashes around it. When he opened the box that contained them, a bit of powder fell to the table. "I couldn't just brush him off," Richards wrote, so he wiped up the residue and sniffed it. "Ashes to ashes, father to son. He is now growing oak trees and would love me for it."
Pete Townsend Smacked Abbie Hoffman With a Guitar
Urban Legend: At Woodstock, the Who guitarist smashed a Gibson SG over the head of '60s activist Abbie Hoffman.
Kernel of Truth: Hoffman did take over the microphone while the Who were on stage, and denounced the idea of holding a festival while fellow radical John Sinclair "rots in prison." Townsend shouted at Hoffman to get off the stage. Maybe there was some shoving.
The 27 Club and the White Lighters
Urban Legend: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison had a white Bic lighter in their pocket when they died, at age 27.
Kernel of Truth: That age is correct, but when Joplin's body was found, she was wearing a short nightgown, and Morrison died in the bathtub of his Paris apartment (or did he? See the next legend). Bic introduced its disposable lighter in 1973, by which time all three rockers were dead.
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