If you’re like us, you’re sick to death of hearing about Charlie Sheen and his appetite for seven-gram rocks. And anyway, while Hollywood has had its fair share of drug-fueled idiocy over the years — remember Gary Busey snorting cocaine off his dog? – the world of music is still the home of the world’s greatest narcotic-powered nutjobs (as Sammy Hagar’s recent insistence that he’d been abducted by aliens reminded us). Rock ‘n’ roll and drugs have long been associated with one another, and some of the tawdriest moments of the last few decades have come when the two have combined to disastrous effect. Here, then, is a catalog of 10 of the most memorable moments of drug-related lunacy in rock. Some are hilarious, some are tragic, and none should be tried at home.
Ozzy Osbourne bites the bat (1981)
He claims it was all an accident, but for better or worse, Ozzy Osbourne’s career will always be defined by the moment in 1980 when, at the height of his rampaging drug and alcohol abuse, he bit the head off a bat. The bat was thrown onstage by a fan; stunned by the impact and the lights, it lay motionless on the stage. Apparently believing it to be a toy, Osbourne picked it up and put it in his mouth. It was at this point that the unfortunate creature started fluttering frantically, and the startled singer bit down instinctively. The rest is history.
Happy Mondays go to Barbados (1991)
Happy Mondays were one of Britain’s most notorious bands throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s -– they named their third album Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches , and their most famous NME photo shoot involved them sitting in spa with a cadre of naked women. By 1991, their drug intake had spiraled way out of control, so in an attempt to wean singer Shaun Ryder off heroin, their label, Factory, sent them to record in Barbados. Barbados may indeed have been heroin-free, but it was unfortunately also the crack cocaine capital of the Northern Hemisphere. Oops. The disastrous sessions that ensued have become the stuff of legend: Ryder sold his clothes and the studio couches for crack, then tried to ransom the master tapes back to the record company. The resultant album, Yes Please! , was a disaster, bankrupting the record company, not troubling the charts, and giving rise to the greatest two-word album review ever (published in Melody Maker): “No, thanks.”
Pete Doherty burgles bandmate Carl Barât’s flat (2003)
Ex-Libertines singer/guitarist Pete Doherty deserves an entire chapter in the history of rock ‘n’ roll drug abuse, but if one moment could be nominated as his daftest, it was this one. Having just been thrown out of the band for his consistent abuse of crack and heroin, Doherty broke into bandmate and best friend Carl Barât’s flat out of “spite,” stealing a guitar, computer, and various other items. Doherty was jailed for two months for his trouble, and the long-suffering Barât met him at the prison gates on his release. The two made one last attempt to make the Libertines work, but it was all in vain, and Doherty went off to raise baby mice with Amy Winehouse. The inevitable Libertines reunion, meanwhile, showed that you can’t recapture the magic once it’s gone.
The Birthday Party scare Butthole Surfers (early 1980s)
Butthole Surfers weren’t exactly the cleanest-living band on the planet -– they used to amuse themselves at early shows sprinkling the crowd with piss, and allegedly once camped out on Michael Stipe’s lawn (accompanied by a van that had “Michael Stipe, despite the hype, we’d still like to suck your big long pipe” spray-painted on the side). But they got more than they bargained for when they went on tour with The Birthday Party and Swans during the ‘80s. Apparently, the scene in the dressing room was so depraved that they asked to be taken off the tour. The Quietus asked Nick Cave and Jim Sclavunos about the veracity of this story last year, with hilarious results: “We were only experimenting with drugs,” Cave protested. “It was a very big, far reaching experiment that took place over a long period of time,” added a smirking Sclavunos.
Mötley Crüe, generally (1980s)
Oh, to have been in a band in 1980s LA. Endearingly absurd spandex-clad metallers Mötley Crüe carved a trail of unparalleled drug-fuelled debauchery throughout most of the decade, living out every imaginable rock ‘n’ roll cliché -– groupies, hotel-trashing, Playboy girlfriends, intra-band hatred, arrests, car crashes, and drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. The results were alternately hilarious and tragic, and the gory details are all cataloged in their 2001 collective autobiography The Dirt (key excerpt: “Once we had stolen clothes from a homeless man, there were no taboos left”), one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll books ever. Somehow, they’re all still alive.
Funkadelic search the Bermuda Triangle for aliens (mid-1970s)
Funkadelic have rightfully attained a place in musical history for almost single-handedly inventing funk. A more dubious distinction is their astonishing drug intake. The stories are legion, but surely the best is the one documenting the time when the band loaded themselves up on LSD and took a boat into the Bermuda Triangle to search for “aliens.” Years later, singer George Clinton told an Australian journalist that the trip had been a fruitful one: “We don’t worry about no triangle. We control that situation.” And what did they find there? “Nothing that we didn’t already know about,” chuckled Clinton.
James Brown takes his shotgun for a drive (1988)
The late, great James Brown will sadly always be remembered for the morning in 1988 when, high as a kite on PCP and toting a shotgun, he marched into an insurance office and lambasted staff for “using his private restroom.” Having given the bewildered suits a piece of his mind, he then set off for a drive, blissfully unaware the police had been summoned the minute he left the building. On seeing the flashing police lights in his rear view mirror, Brown decided to try to outrun the cops. The result: a car chase that spanned two states and only ended (in a six-year jail sentence) when the police shot the wheels out of the singer’s truck.
Primal Scream discuss the menu (1990)
There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about an NME journalist meeting Primal Scream in the late 1980s and finding them arguing passionately about whether to get “Vietnamese or Chinese.” When the writer suggested a burger, the band explained that they were talking about heroin, not food. When the Observer asked Bobby Gillespie about this years later, he couldn’t remember if it was true or not, but he did relate another food-related story: apparently, circa Screamadelica , the band were due to meet various record company VIPs at a restaurant. Unfortunately, the opiates arrived shortly beforehand, with predictable results: “People were just collapsing face down into their food,” he recalled ruefully. “This was not a good advert for Primal Scream.”
Britney Spears gets a haircut (2007)
By the start of 2007, former celebrity virgin Britney Spears had been well off the rails for quite some time. At first, it all seemed both harmless and inevitable -– teen fame, a Bible belt childhood, and a dictatorial mother is hardly a recipe for being well-adjusted. However, when a tearful Spears wandered into a hairdresser and demanded that her head be shaved, doing it herself when the hairdresser refused, it became clear that all was not well. The unfortunate singer checked herself into a rehab clinic shortly after, while celebrity-chasing parasites reached a new low by auctioning her hair on eBay. Classy.
Lee “Scratch” Perry burns down his own studio because “they” told him to (1979)
Lee “Scratch” Perry was rightfully a legend in the Jamaican music industry by the late 1970s. His own work (both as a solo artist and with The Upsetters) was massively influential, and his pioneering production techniques more influential still -– a virtual who’s-who of reggae recorded at Perry’s Black Ark studio, which he had built in his backyard in 1973. However, for all Perry’s undoubted musical genius, he was also as mad as a barrel of monkeys. Among other things, he was often seen walking backwards around Kingston, tapping the ground with a hammer and muttering to himself. Shortly afterward, he confirmed his status as one of music’s most certifiable lunatics by burning down his own studio, for reasons which have never been entirely clear. To this day, Perry will only say that he set fire to the studio to rid it of “unclean spirits.”