Chris Rock has a famous bit about the circus tiger that attacked Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy saying “that tiger didn’t go crazy, that tiger went tiger!” In another wild animal metaphor, Sloane Peterson – Ferris Bueller’s savvy girlfriend – said: “Once in a while, everyone goes to the zoo.”
Everyone temporarily loses it, acts a little crazy, goes a little nuts, and rock and rollers specifically seem to have this “dumb-ass gene” built into their DNA. Because they’re on the world stage, we are all able to witness their occasional slips into insanity. Whether this trip to the zoo indicates a deep personality flaw or a momentary lapse of reason, it reveals the porousness of the line that divides our rationality from our irrationality.
These slips are fun and entertaining: they’re dumb-ass moves that we enjoy precisely because they humanize our musical gods and bring them, often hilariously, down to earth.
So here’s a list of the “Top 11 Dumb-Ass Moves in Rock.” Enjoy.
1. Axl Rose Starts a Riot in Montreal in August of 1992
From finagling the exclusive use of the Guns N’ Roses name from his former bandmates, to writing the song One in a Million (in which he proclaims, “Immigrants and faggots / They make no sense to me / They come to our country / And think they’ll do as they please”), to delaying the mediocre Chinese Democracy album for what seemed like forever, Axl Rose has a long and varied history of dumb-ass moves.
But, to semi-quote Prince, nothing compares to the Rose riot that ensued in Montreal on August 8, 1992.
The tour, as announced, was unprecedented. The world’s two biggest metal bands—Metallica and Guns N’ Roes—would co-headline a late-summer and early-autumn jaunt across North America.
But when Metallica (about whom more later) took the stage in Montreal early on in the tour, the shit hit the fan – or, rather, the fire hit the frontman. Singer-guitarist James Hetfield almost died, suffering second-degree burns as a result of a pyrotechnics malfunction. The leonine metal god was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught on fire like Michael Jackson in a Pepsi commercial, and Metallica had to cancel their set.
So how did Axl respond? He was late to the show, making the already disappointed and pissed fans even more disappointed and pissed. He then complained of voice problems and left the stage only 55 minutes into GNR’s set.
The result? Over $400,000 in damages, as drunk and enraged fans rioted in downtown Montreal.
2. Courtney Love Auctions Off Kurt Cobain’s Journals
Courtney Love is a practicing Buddhist. But she doesn’t act like one, right? From shooting up heroin when she was pregnant to her seemingly unquenchable thirst for money, she clings to the stuff of this world like there’s no tomorrow. Buddhists are supposed to realize that life is transient and the stuff of this world doesn’t matter all that much. Try telling that to Love.
The thing about Kurt’s Journals is that they’re not journals. They’re disjointed ramblings, lists of favorite bands, and accounts of his fears of seemingly everything. They’re the scribbles of a very depressed man.
In a particularly inspired dumb-ass move, Love took the desperate jottings of a fatally depressed human being and made them available to the highest bidder. What’s more is that this man was her husband and the father to her daughter.
The Journals aren’t art. There’s no continuity in them. They just make money that fills the wallet of a rock star who, let’s face it, seems permanently dumb-assed.
3. David Crosby Steals Gene Clark’s Guitar
In 1964, when folk singers Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark decided to start the band that would become The Byrds, they wanted to model themselves on The Beatles and perform as a quartet.
McGuinn, inspired by the 12-string Rickenbacker that George Harrison plays in A Hard Day’s Night, would be the band’s lead guitarist; Gene Clark, the best songwriter and singer in the group, would play rhythm guitar; and David Crosby, inspired by Paul McCartney, would play bass and sing high harmony. The band would simply have to find a drummer, which they did in the person of Michael Clarke, who couldn’t really play but looked as good as Dennis Wilson.
The problem? Crosby couldn’t figure out how to play bass and sing at the same time. So he made a dumb-ass move. He used his overbearing personality to snag the emotionally fragile Clark’s hollow-body 6-string Gretsch away from him – a guitar that Clark had bought with his own money, before The Byrds made it big.
It’s a pretty dumb-ass move to take a new guitar out of the hands of your band’s best songwriter, reduce him to playing tambourine, and force your band to hire a fifth member.
Crosby still wasn’t playing an instrument at that point, and without anything in his hands he began to shake his body to the beat of the drums in a manner that looked, shall we say, rather awkward. His friends in the crowd chided him about it later, and Crosby felt really embarrassed. This incident is viewed as the reason Crosby decided he needed to take the beautiful red guitar away from Clark and play it himself. Crosby never intended to go onstage without an instrument in his hands again. Unfortunately, his tactic was to bully Clark during rehearsals, telling him repeatedly that he had a poor sense of rhythm. The truth was, as a player Crosby wasn’t much better than Clark, but Clark eventually, begrudgingly, handed the guitar over to Crosby and picked up the tambourine instead. — Excerpt from The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Brothers (33 1/3); Ric Menck
Of course, it’s terrific that then Chris Hillman became a part of The Byrds. We wouldn’t have the country-tinged Byrds albums and the Flying Burrito Brothers without him.
But it’s too bad that Chris had to arrive this way. Just take a listen to the self-indulgent Crosby-penned Mind Games and Triad and you’ll bemoan the fact that songwriting ace Clark left The Byrds after their second album, supposedly because he, ironically, was afraid to fly. At least he wrote Eight Miles High before he left!
4. Decca Records Rejects The Beatles
On January 1, 1962, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best auditioned for a record contract at Decca Records in London. Manager Brian Epstein had selected 15 songs for the band to perform, 13 of which were covers and two of which were early Lennon-McCartney compositions that didn’t appear as singles or on any of the band’s studio albums.
In a reversal of John’s famous statement at the end of the Let It Be album, however, The Beatles didn’t “pass the audition.”
Even though Decca producer Mike Smith said that he didn’t see any problems with The Beatles’ performance, he and the rest of the men at Decca made a dumb-ass move: they rejected The Fab Four! Making one of the worst prophesies of all time, the company collectively thought that guitar music was on its way out and that The Beatles had no future in music.
Fortunately, Decca didn’t make the same mistake twice: they made amends by signing Brian Jones’ rhythm and blues combo, The Rolling Stones, in 1963.
5. Gene Simmons Goes All Sexist on Fresh Air with Terry Gross
In 2002 National Public Radio’s Terry Gross interviewed KISS’s Gene Simmons on her show Fresh Air. But “interviewed” is really the wrong verb to use here.
Whenever Gross asked a question about Simmons’ heritage, music, makeup, love of comic books, and financial success, Gene responded with a dumb-ass move. He pummeled Gross, who gave back as good as she got, with blatant insults and braggadocio. A few choice nuggets from the program:
“. . . as a woman . . . you have the ability to sell your body, then get the money, and then, with that, get food.”
“The notion is that if you want to welcome me with open arms, I’m afraid you’re going to have to welcome me with open legs.”
“I believe in my heart that anyone who [is in a rock band] and says what they’re doing is art is on crack, and is delusional, and that in point of fact . . . was to get laid and makes lots of money.”
6. Lou Reed Pretends to Shoot Up During Mid-1970s’ Performances of Heroin
So it’s 1974, and you’re Lou Reed. The halcyon days of Velvet Underground creativity, when you wrote All Tomorrow’s Parties, Femme Fatal, Venus in Furs, I’ll Be Your Mirror, Pale Blue Eyes, Rock & Roll, and Sweet Jane are five years behind you. You’ve become David Bowie’s glam rock creature and just released Sally Can’t Dance, your worst record to date, whose songs are throwaways and on which you don’t even play guitar. Do you even remember Sister Ray?
Heroin is still probably your best song – if not one of the best songs ever written. So what do you do, knowing full well that you’ve become a glitter gimmick, a parody of Bowie, who, initially, was himself a self-aware pastiche of you and Iggy Pop?
You make a dumb-ass move by cheapening your best song. You tie off and pretend to shoot up as you perform it. You take your ode to universal existential despair, your commentary on the unrecognized nihilism of the hippie generation, your best Beat street poetry, and mock it.
7. Metallica Testifies Against Napster
If we talk turkey (and the man you’re about to meet is one of the biggest turkeys in the history of rock), this dumb-ass move isn’t really about three of the members of Metallica – singer-guitarist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and former bassist Jason Newsted. It’s really about drummer Lars Ulrich, protégé in tennis and money lover extraordinaire.
You see, in 1999, Shawn Fanning, John Fanning, and Sean Parker started a peer-to-peer file sharing service called Napster. The website was very popular, especially among college students who wanted to share music with each other. Intellectual property, of course, was an issue, but many bands simply didn’t care that their fans could listen to their music for free. They realized – and statistics bore out – that fans were more likely to buy their albums and attend their concerts after a Napster preview.
Lars didn’t share these beliefs. His band was already one of the biggest in the world, and he didn’t need three nerdy kids to threaten his take. Metallica didn’t need the Napster preview.
It was prime time for Lars to make a dumb-ass move. The drummer, who’s mentioned on camera that Metallica’s 1991 eponymous album helps finance his pool, went after Napster in April of 2000 in the Senate Judiciary Committee after he got wind that a demo version of I Disappear was available on Napster. Needless to say, Lars was pissed.
The result of Lars’ testimony? Over 300,000 fans – many of them Metallica devotees who had given Lars plenty of lucre for his pool over the years – were banned from Napster, which eventually shut down as a free service.
8. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Don’t Attend Brian Jones’ Funeral
In all the fanfare surrounding the Jagger-Richards partnership, it gets lost that Brian Jones actually started The Rolling Stones and was, by far, the most musically talented member of the group. Brian could play guitar, slide guitar, sitar, marimba, recorder, dulcimer, piano, harpsichord, trumpet, saxophone, oboe, mellotron, autoharp, harmonica, and various percussion instruments. He could even hold his own as a singer.
The Stones were so much Brian’s band in the early days that he received more money than the rest of the group for being their leader. But things changed when producer and manager Andrew Loog Oldham arrived on the scene and, wanting to capitalize on Jagger’s charisma and Richards’ songwriting ability, removed Jones from his leadership role. He encouraged Jagger and Richards to write songs together and made them the focal point of the band. Jones was pushed aside, as was the blues that he preferred playing, with the result of the Stones becoming pop stars.
Prone to depression, Jones became a loner within the band, developed a bad drug habit, and faced open hostility from Jagger and Richards, which culminated when the latter stole his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg. Eventually, in June of 1969, Jagger and Richards fired Jones.
When Jones died in his swimming pool on July 3, 1969, the coroner ruled “death by misadventure.” But perhaps the death was really a suicide. Brian was self-medicated, to say the least, in ill health (he had an enlarged heart and liver), and depressed.
Quoth Mick Jagger, who, along with Keith Richards, made the dumb-ass move of not attending the funeral: “[W]e picked on him. But, unfortunately, he made himself a target for it; he was very, very jealous, very difficult, very manipulative.
[Although the above youtube video has Keith Richards' name in the title, only Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts actually attended.]
9. Mike Love Sues Cousin Brian Wilson for Songwriting Royalties and Control of The Beach Boys’ Name
Nasal-toned Beach Boy Mike Love practices Transcendental Meditation. With all the dumb-ass moves he’s made against his own cousin – Beach Boys’ mastermind and musical genius Brian Wilson – over the years, he’s probably very glad that he does.
Just how many times has Mike sued Brian (you know, the guy behind all the songs that made him all his money)? Twice. Here’s an account of one of the lawsuits:
In 1994, a Los Angeles jury ruled that Mike Love deserved credit as the co-author of 35 of The Beach Boys’ most memorable hits.
Co-author? Mike did indeed write the lyrics to many of The Beach Boys’ biggest hits, including California Girls and the version of Good Vibrations that appeared as a single in 1966 and on the Smiley Smile album from 1967. But on many occasions, he would simply vet lyrics that Brian had already written or make small contributions, such as the “Good night, baby” fade on Wouldn’t It Be Nice.
But Brian came up with all the melodies, lyrical ideas, and instrumental and vocal arrangements for all said songs. He also produced the songs, directed the musicians in the studio, and taught the rest of the Boys how to sing their parts.
In fact, by 1965, Brian knew that his music was so sophisticated that he could no longer work with Love (he of the fun but sophomoric lyrics), choosing instead to co-write with Tony Asher on Pet Sounds and Van Dyke Parks on SMiLE.
But what really makes Mike’s 1994 lawsuit such dumb-ass move is that it indemnifies not just Brian as being a greedy fraud but fellow Beach Boy, Al Jardine (who had nothing to do with the lawsuit), as having a long “history of mental and emotional problems.”
With its pronouncement of Al as incompetent, Mike’s lawsuit, it turns out, was really also about getting the exclusive rights to The Beach Boys’ name. What a dumb-ass move!
10. Oasis Singer Liam Gallagher Decides Not to Perform Minutes Before the Band’s MTV Unplugged Appearance
(Click here to head to YouTube and watch the clip, featuring Liam pouting as he sits in the rafters while Noel tackles Wonderwall.)
During the promotional tour for Oasis’ excellent 1995 album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Liam decided to make his dumb-ass move. Just minutes before the band was set to appear on MTV Unplugged on August 23, 1996, he decided that he couldn’t sing that night, blaming a sore throat.
Forced to take over as lead singer, Noel responded like a pro. He’d already sung his first lead vocal on Don’t Look Back in Anger, and now he had to sing everything while performing his usual duties leading the band. He sang like a champion – better, some might say than Liam (who actually sat up in the rafters and heckled his brother throughout the set).
11. Keith Moon Blows Up His Drum Kit on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
We have a soft spot for Keith Moon and his crazy antics. The Who’s drummer, after all, was known as Moon the Loon.
But Moon got a bit too out of control, even by his own standards, when The Who performed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. Click here to watch the original clip on YouTube (Note: it opens in a new window).
The Who’s appearance on the show was extremely important because they hadn’t yet broken into the American market as a major act on the same level as The Beatles and The Stones (they wouldn’t reach this level until the release of Tommy in 1969). But they were an amazing band and had many strong Pete Townshend-penned songs under their belt, many of which had been major hits in England.
Despite being two years old, My Generation was still the song that Townshend felt could best intrigue American fans. It was more radical than anything The Beatles or Stones had produced up to that point and had huge theatrical potential.
After joking around with Tommy Smothers, The Who gave a smoldering rendition of My Generation, with Roger Daltrey singing away in full stutter, John Entwhistle thudding out a tremendous bass solo, and Townshend generating tons of feedback.
After Townshend had smashed his guitar at the end of the performance, Moon made his dumb-ass move. Without the band’s knowledge, he’d loaded his bass drum with explosives, which he set off just after Townshend had finished demolishing his guitar and was walking past Keith’s kit to talk to Tommy. The ensuing explosion caused Pete’s hair to catch on fire and contributed to his long-term hearing loss.
Again, we all love Moony for his zany behavior. But The Loon made a dumb-ass move when he almost killed The Who’s main man and one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.