The sordid history of Rock ‘n’ Roll is full of mysteries and rumors, facts and fictions about all of our favorite artists who have become cultural icons. In general, it’s difficult for celebrities to remain unscathed by the media powered gossip mill, but there are always a few tales that are practically believable. These crazy rumors go from almost joke status, to gaining evidence and reason, to full-fledged conspiracies and some make such an impact that people remember them for decades.
There are a few particularly good ones that stick out in rock history. Sure, Robert Johnson may have sold his soul to the devil for his blues skills, Ozzy Osbourne may have bit the head off a bat (oh wait, that really happened), but some of these stories have just enough evidence or believability that they might actually be real.
Starting small, there were rumors flying around for years that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones did two particularly outlandish things. This seemed reasonable considering the wild life that Richards led, but snorting his father’s ashes and having a complete blood transfusion seemed one step too crazy. He did, in fact, ingest his fathers ashes in a line through a straw. He admitted it in 2010 to CBS reporter Matt Lauer and that case is now closed. The blood transfusion, however, is still a curiosity in our minds; did he really need a completely new body of blood to quit his heroin addiction, or was he just brushing reporters off like he says? An operation like that is risky, but could break the addiction, so we may never know the truth of the matter.
Many people honestly believe that Elvis Presley is still alive today, and frankly, there is some evidence to back that claim up. Not tabloid mockery or crazed fanfare, but some actual things that seem, at the very least, unusual. For one, the misspelling of his name on his tombstone, Elvis Aaron instead of the correct Elvis Aron. The tombstone is set where his body lays, next to his father and not his mother like he insisted. Finally, his rushed funeral, which happened a day after his death and featured a 600+ pound casket, are a few questionable occurrences. His obsession with numerology and the significance of his death date are interesting (and complicated, but see link for explanation), his odd behavior and unfortunate circumstances shortly before his death (mysteriously contacting friends, not preparing for his reported upcoming tour, millions of dollars lost, and obesity), and his strong connection to the government give the claim a little more solid support. The hugely questionable and pretty much erased blip of career that “Orion” had a few years after Elvis’ death is fascinating, however negligible, but the real twist on this tale is that, while his whole organization and family have financially benefited from his death, no one has collected his life insurance.
If Elvis Presley is alive, could Paul McCartney be dead? There’s a conspiracy out there with as much support as the Elvis theory that claims this to be fact. The cute, bubbly Beatle is actually an impersonator who won a Paul McCartney look-alike contest (this is not necessarily that impersonator) before his supposed fatal car crash in 1966. The first curious indicator is how much he stands out on the Abbey Road cover, which came out 3 years after his “death.” Fans started to find other images where Paul stood apart from the band, and then began finding cryptic meanings in lyrics. WKNR DJ Russel Gibb received a tip that when “Revolution 9” was played backward, it sounded like “Turn me on, dead man, etc,” and he shared this with his listeners, adding fuel to a quickly spreading rumor. Even stronger evidence points to lyrics off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album they were recording when he “died,” for example, “he didn’t notice that the lights had changed,” in “A Day in the Life.” As time has gone by, the question has come up again and again and was repeatedly dismissed by The Beatles’ alumni. Frankly, if this is a fake Paul McCartney, he’s turned out just fine and makes a wonderful cultural icon.
Other rumors and conspiracies are floating around, and it’s not just about older musicians either. Lady Gaga battles tales of being a hermaphrodite, though she says it’s not true (see 5:30), and people still don’t know if Ashlee Simpson ever actually sang, but these mysteries will have to remain so.
It is also widely known that the brain creates patterns and symbols where there are none. We look for congruency because it’s comfortable and natural for us to do. We put meaning to things that originally came out of thin air, and we convince ourselves of truths that do not exist. It’s in our nature as beings with the power to the think and imagine the way we do, and that’s possibly where all these stories come from. However, it’s also quite possibly not.