The crazed rock world, from pink toilet roll to pyramids

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In 1978 the American rock band The Grateful Dead played a concert at the pyramids in Egypt. It was a striking venue for a gig but the band's motives were nobler than just having a good backdrop: they expected their music would send out vibes to mellow the surrounding peoples and end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Those were the days: when rock stars' egos were as big as their wardrobes, and they didn't know how to spell hubris. Not that the days of lunacy and outrage are over. The new edition of Q magazine details the 100 most outlandish examples of "When Rock Stars Go Crazy". And several present performers make the grade.

There is Mariah Carey for insisting on a cat and a dog she can stroke while giving interviews; the seemingly down-to-earth Manic Street Preachers, who demanded their own suite of private toilets at Glastonbury and who were challenged to a debate on socialism by Billy Bragg; Sinead O'Connor becoming a priest and saying she would specialise in work with "the dying and those labelled insane, like myself".

Spice Girls past and present get into the list: Geri Halliwell for becoming a UN ambassador, Posh Spice for her outlandish wedding, Mel C for her attempt to go punk. But such matters pale into insignificance compared with the true masters of lunacy and pomp.

Rick Wakeman set the template in 1975, staging King Arthur on ice at Wembley with an orchestra, a 48-piece choir and 26 knights on hobby horses and skates. But the dry-ice fog was denser than intended, the skaters blundered into each other, the narrator was overcome by a coughing fit and the band disappeared in swirling mist. "It was also bloody freezing," recalls Wakeman.

Some of the more outlandish moments were in a good cause. Manfred Mann gave away a square foot of Welsh mountainside to every purchaser of his eco-minded album The Good Earth. Sting tried to save the Brazilian rainforest and befriended a Kayapo Indian chief who built a "sweat lodge" in the star's garden and wandered through north London in a loin cloth. The best touring excess came from ZZ Top, who took a herd of buffalo along, with assorted rattlesnakes. They called it "taking Texas to the people".

Q's attempt to be exhaustive inevitably fails. There are more than 100 moments of self-aggrandising lunacy in rock's history. Sadly, there seems to be no space for Neil Young, whose record company delayed the launch of his 1972 album Harvest for six months while he tried to persuade them to put grains of corn into every sleeve, which would spill on the floor when opened.

Yesterday Andy Pemberton, Q editor, said: "The Seventies were the peak for 'excess all areas' ... Liam Gallagher now can behave outlandishly, but it lacks the romance and sheer silliness of those years."

Comments