INTERESTING BITS: The One Moment That Destroyed These Musicians’ Careers
It sometimes feels like musicians can get away with anything. Justin Bieber can get arrested and still keep cranking out mediocre music. Ozzy Osbourne can bite the head off a bat and still land a mediocre reality show. Johnny Cash can publicly confess to shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die, and still get to cut a record in Folsom Prison. Man, what would a musician have to do to get in some real trouble?
Depending on the musician in question, maybe not so much. While some can get away with near-murder, other crooners find themselves looking down the barrel of a ruined career just for having the wrong backup dancers. If you’re struggling with a hyper-successful music career and need to take the pressure off, take note. Any one of these could have you on food stamps faster than you can say “career suicide.”
Jerry Lee Lewis introduces Britain to his child bride
Britain might be a strange sort of place, what with its endless cups of tea and citizens’ insistence on talking about the weather like it’s an actual topic of worthwhile conversation, but there’s “strange to American eyes” and then there’s “so strange they’re totally down with the idea of incestuous child brides.” In 1958, rock ‘n’ roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis accidentally mistook the former for the latter and decided to take his underage wife with him on his tour of England. As History Channel details, career-destroying chaos ensued.
The Killer had neglected to tell anyone he was newly married, so when he rocked up with Myra Gail Lewis (pictured) in tow, the British press were naturally curious. A Daily Mail reporter, Paul Tanfield, happened to ask how old the newlywed was. Lewis said she was 15. His transatlantic career was over.
The truly shocking part is that Lewis was lying. Myra was actually 13. Worse, she was actually Lewis’ cousin. Let that sink in. Jerry Lee Lewis flew to Britain with the barely teenage blood relative he was (presumably) having massively illegal sex with and didn’t think this would somehow come back to bite him. Bite him it did. His British tour collapsed. Those that showed at his gigs went only to boo him. Concerts were canceled. His expensive hotel kicked him out. When he finally high-tailed it back home to the States, he found he’d been blacklisted by the music industry. Even America has [had] [not now, it seems] standards.
Marilyn Manson gets blamed for the Columbine massacre
On April 20, 1999, two kids named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their Columbine high school and started shooting. They kept shooting until 13 people were dead and over 20 injured. In the aftermath of the tragedy, America started casting around for someone to blame. Enter Marilyn Manson.
At the time, Manson was already seen by Middle America as the antichrist. When word got out that Harris and Klebold had listened to his music and were goths, the nation’s moms and pops went nuts. In an interview with The Guardian, Manson later said the massacre destroyed his “entire career.” His concerts were protested. He received hundreds of death threats. Bomb threats were called in to his gigs. The most aggravating part? As Manson later wrote in an article for Rolling Stone, Harris and Klebold weren’t goths. They weren’t even fans of Manson’s music. They were into KMFDM and Rammstein.
Manson would later tell NME (recounted here via CNN) that “When it comes to things like Columbine, it would have been different if [Harris and Klebold] had actually liked my music, but I think that I have had more blame accredited to me than any person in the history of music,” although, to be fair, he qualified this thoughtful take with the claim “there should be some sort of Grammy for that.” What’s that old adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity?
● Eric Clapton goes on a drunken anti-immigrant tirade
● Michelle Shocked tells San Francisco that God hates LGBT people
● Sly Stone gets busted for cocaine possession
● Lee Ryan responds to 9/11 by insisting people talk about elephants
● The Dixie Chicks say they’re ashamed the president is from Texas
● Rapper B.o.B claims the Earth is flat
● Alan Freed broadcasts a black man dancing with a white woman
DJ and songwriter Alan Freed’s name is obscure today, but he left behind one heck of a legacy. He’s credited with being the guy who coined the term “rock and roll.” He threw the world’s first rock concert. (The BBC has the full, fascinating story.) He helped write some of Chuck Berry’s hits. The guy was at least as instrumental as determining the course of postwar American music as Marty McFly. Between 1952 and 1957, he was the kingmaker of rock ‘n’ roll.
Which begs the question, what happened in 1957? At the time, Freed had a nationally syndicated ABC show, Big Beat, bringing his newfangled rock and/or roll to the entire country. One evening, something so unbelievably and unremittingly anti-American happened that the network had no choice but to immediately pull the plug. Big Beat showed a black performer dancing onstage with a white woman. Gasp!
It sounds ridiculous to 21st-century ears, but that one interracial dance was enough to get Freed’s show canceled. As the LA Times detailed, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Freed. His marriage was falling apart and his health collapsing. Two years later, the final blow came. While still on the ropes from his Big Beat controversy, Freed was investigated by the FBI for accepting cash to play records as part of the payola scandal. What was left of his career was over. He died in 1965 a penniless alcoholic. The good ol’ days, huh?