Dying young used to be a compulsory sacrifice for rock and roll ambassadors. Within a melting pot of torment, swimming pools, sex addiction and peanut butter, Pf’s lead singer John Pinching discovers the large consignment of pharmaceutical drugs that helped usher many of our most notorious hell-raisers into the abyss.
Hot damn it, what was God up to between 1969 and 1981? Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Keith Moon, Sid Viscous, John Lennon and Bob Marley – the greatest rock stars of all time – were condemned to exist as ‘footage’ for eternity, meanwhile Cliff, Rod and Elton all reached well over 100 years of age. What the hell were you thinking of, big guy? While we wait for God to return my call, let’s see which of our long-departed friends checked-out with their fingers in the medicine cabinet...
Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
A guitar player from, not god, but ‘the gods’. Tartarus, Eros, Neptune and friends combined to produce the most naturally-gifted, dirty, flaming, freaking-red-hot guitarist in the history of mankind.
The instrument wasn’t an entity – it was an extension of his being. Consequently, Jimi’s story is one of pure rock and roll. Put it down to experience; the Jimi Hendrix experience, if you will. Even today, hits such as, ‘All Along the Watch Tower’, ‘Voodoo Child’ and ‘Hey Joe’, have a much more contemporary, exciting and gnarly edge than the current torrent of anodyne pap music.
The coolest thing my mum ever did was to watch Hendrix play live. It doesn’t matter how many tenuous links to Jimi Hendrix I make in Pf, I’ll never top my old lady’s boast. Cruel, cruel world. Cruel, indeed – by the time mum had removed the daisies from her hair, Jimi was gone, forever. Not even one of his wonderfully elongated guitar solos could stave off the eternal dance of Dr D.
The year was one thousand, nine hundred and seventy. Hendrix was in London, with companion Monika Dannemann, and had spent the last day going into drug-induced orbit. When Jimi finally decided it was time for bed – still wired from the relentless conscience-rousing amphetamine – he ingested a massive dose of sleeping pills, using a fatal ‘balancing out’ theory. The combination of barbiturates and red wine ensured he eventually went to sleep, but also that he would never play the guitar with his mouth, or any other part of his body, ever again.
Exactly how he came to pass remains the subject of fierce debate, as Dannemann’s version of events has always been considered unreliable. She claims that, when riding in the ambulance, on the way to hospital, Hendrix was alive. Paramedics, however, insist that she wasn’t even with them in the first place.
Hendrix had been in the prime of his musical life burning brightly, like one of his ignited guitars, before disappearing in a purple haze.
It should be noted that, by the late seventies ‘The King’ was way past his sell-by date, and eating a dozen cheeseburgers every hour (lovingly prepared by a full-time chef who, in addition to a deep-fat fryer, travelled everywhere with him).
Bloated, sweaty, and attired in truly horrendous ‘jump suits’, Elvis was now being paid a fortune to sing ballads on the ‘hotel circuit’. He had become a shadow of the young, handsome and dangerous rock star of years gone by, and it was almost impossible to believe that the same person had once belted out ‘Jail House Rock’, while leaping around a mocked-up state penitentiary.
As he tried to wrestle control of his life, and come to terms with an extraordinarily passionate and global fan base, Elvis took solace in calorie-rich junk food; once consuming 150 deep-fried peanut butter sandwiches in 24 hours. His other bad habit came in the form of a gargantuan dependence on prescribed drugs, and he frequently indulged in polypharmacy, which refers to an individual abusing a cocktail of substances. In his case it was a relentless orgy of self-medication.
For a man who had once performed with such electrifying and groundbreaking energy, the spiral into dependency was as long as it was pitiful. The early to mid-seventies were punctuated by barbiturate overdoses and Demerol addiction, while his short concerts became ‘freak shows’ during which Elvis was static, badly dressed and incoherent.
As he became increasingly reclusive, Elvis was only able to consistently numb himself by relying on a rogue doctor who, during 1977, lavished him with a whopping 10,000 doses. On August 16 of that year he was, unsurprisingly, discovered dead in his bathroom.
It is widely accepted that the staggering pharmacopeia of 14 substances found in his system, had resulted in a massive heart attack*. Although he was religiously worshipped until the bitter end, it is perhaps best to remember Elvis as the snake-hipped, velvet-voiced Memphis master, largely responsible for creating modern rock and roll.
*Some particularly deluded fans insist that Elvis is very much alive. Sightings include, ‘on a mobile phone in a Milton Keynes branch of Burger King’ and ‘perusing the adult section of a library in Alabama’.
Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
He died as he lived... with a fully operational fairground in his back garden. Boy, those electricity bills can be a killer. It’s not just pensioners in Dundee that fall into fuel poverty, you know.
Michael Jackson was part of the ‘Jackson Militia’ of the 1970s. They were a finely trained, finely tuned, finely choreographed battalion of infantile pop professionals, known as The Jackson 5 or The Jacksons (depending on whether their number had decreased or increased above or below the ‘5’ threshold).
When ‘Jacko’ decided to leave the Jackson barracks, his siblings; Tito, Jermaine, Glenda, Marlon, Janet etc, were left to fend for themselves, as the most talented performer in the history of pop went hit-single crazy. His holy trinity of albums, Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, were bought by every man, woman and child on the planet, making the Jackson allowance of old look like pocket money (which, of course, it was).
Meanwhile, however, Michael was doing strange things. Indeed, he became, perhaps, the greatest ever example of success going to someone’s head (or in Jacko’s case, his face). Friendships with primates, sleeping in an oxygen tent, frequent visits to the plastic surgeon, wearing gold pants over his trousers, marrying Elvis’ daughter and exorbitant shopping sprees crystallized MJ’s status as pop’s number one curiosity.
After Bad, however, Michael’s odd behaviour started to impinge on hitherto reliable musical sensibilities. His unsettling penchant for ‘sleep overs’ were beginning to get press attention and inevitably stories of improper pyjama parties began to emerge. Several court cases followed and money – lots of money – changed hands.
With huge legal bills, and his reputation in tatters, MJ still managed to command a huge legion of disciples, many of whom went to extreme lengths in order to replicate their hero’s bizarre appearance; moonwalking around in bubbles of unconditional devotion.
After years of living in his own reclusive fantasy, MJ’s days were spent spinning around (quite literally) on a carousel of mind-blurring, creativity-dampening medication. Finally, while bed-ridden and under the influence of benzodiazepine and propofol, he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. The physician that administered the deadly dose is currently serving a four-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, which is nice.