This week sees the release of the utilitarianly titled Banks, the first solo release under his own name by Interpol singer Paul Banks. It’s not his first solo release, though — Banks has already put out an album and an EP under the pseudonym Julian Plenti. He appears to have retired the alter ego now, which only makes the whole thing more bizarre — despite the fact that Julian Plenti’s records sounded awfully like Interpol, Banks even insisted on being interviewed in character, reputedly refusing to answer questions that weren’t addressed to “Julian.” In memory of Julian Plenti, then, here are a selection of music’s most strangest and most memorable alter egos.
See? Totally different! Um…
There’s an argument to be made that conceptual coke hoover The Thin White Duke was the weirdest of Bowie’s alter egos, but still, it’s easy to forget just how outlandish Ziggy must have appeared in the early’ 70s — an androgynous, sexually ambiguous space being with silver platform boots and a ginger mullet — and how much of a fit he must have given straight-laced parents. As Bowie noted in the last verse of “Starman”: “Don’t tell your papa/ Or he’ll get us locked up in fright.”
Ziggy Stardust photo credit: Henry Diltz
Joni Mitchell does blackface. Yep, that’s her on the right. Um. So… “Big Yellow Taxi,” eh?
Joni Mitchell photo credit: Henry Diltz
By the early ’90s, even Bono was sick of Bono, and for the 1992-93 Zoo TV tour, he’d retreated from white flags and grand political statements toward a more oblique take on pop culture and celebrity. He also adopted several personae for the tour — the most curious was devil-horned prank caller Mister Macphisto, in which guise Bono was trolling celebrities way before doing so was apparently considered a conceptual art form.
In which Kevin Barnes deals with a breakup by metamorphosing into “a black man who has been through multiple sex changes… he’s been a man and a woman, and then back to a man.” Well, we all have different coping mechanisms. Sadly, Barnes never went the whole hog and dressed up as a 40-year-old black transsexual, but the Barnes/Fruit transformation is played out in full during 12-minute epic of Montreal classic “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” (above).
The persona that defined an entire genre of hip-hop personae: the Tyler, the Creator/Roman Zolanski/Brook-Lynn-style “I’m just venting my dark feelings” alter ego, the one that raps about rape and murder and swears a lot. Of course, the whole idea of a sociopathic persona gives the “real” artist a get-out-of-jail-free card for being generally offensive or obnoxious — that doesn’t exactly seem to have hurt its commercial potential, though.
If you didn’t know that Norah Jones fronted a punk band called “El Madmo” and had a song called “Girls Gone Wild” long before Madonna (sample lyric: “Don’t you puke on my dress!”), well, you’re not the only one. This alter ego was news to us, too.
The Mr. Hyde to Kings of Leon singer Caleb Followill’s Dr. Jekyll, “The Rooster” was apparently the name given to the version of Followill that’d emerge after enough whiskey to reduce a normal person to drooling insensibility. “Rooster is a dick,” Followill told Contactmusic in 2005, a remark that we’ll just leave here without any further comment.
Snatch and the Poontangs
An, ahem, “risqué” side project for blues legend Johnny Otis, Snatch and the Poontangs recorded just the one self-titled album. Released, inevitably, in 1969, it featured songs with titles like “Two Girls in Love (With Each Other)” and also included contributions from Otis’s 16-year-old son Shuggie, who was presumably at exactly the right stage of his life to make what remains a strong contender for the title of Most Adolescent Album Ever.
And finally, no, we weren’t going to forget Chris Gaines. Garth Brooks’ curious reinvention as an eyeliner-wearing Australian alt-rock singer called Chris Gaines will go down in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history as one of the stranger episodes of the 1990s. The thing that gets lost in all the hullabaloo is that Brooks’ work as Chris Gaines was a whole lot more palatable than his tiresome mega-selling chart-country schtick. Bring back Chris Gaines, we say!