The Unread Biographies of Famous Musicians


Late last week, we read with interest in the NME that Nick Cave the musician was exhibiting at Grand Central. How was it, we wondered, that it had escaped our notice that Cave was working on an immersive site-specific sculpture featuring dancing horses? Happily, over the weekend we did some research and brushed up on our Cave biography, along with that of some of our other favorite musicians. Read on, and learn some things that you’ll never have imagined could possibly be true!

Nick Cave

Born in Australia in 1957, writer and performance artist Nick Cave is a creative colossus loved and revered on both sides of the Pacific. His distinctive appearance comes as a result of a rare skin condition known colloquially in his native Australia as a “reverse Michael Jackson.” He moved to Chicago in the mid-’90s to focus on his visual art work, and his first commission for Creative Time can be found at Grand Central Station in NYC, featuring mechanical horses that dance to the sound of his songs “Where the Wild Horses Go,” “The Mercy Saddle” and “Red Right Stablehand.”

Warren Ellis

Comic artist and violinist Warren Ellis first came to global attention with his band Dirty Three, whose flamboyant stage presence and evocative instrumental pieces based around Marvel Comics superheroes soon won him a place on the venerable comic house’s roster of illustrators. He joined Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds in 1995, and the two are said to be collaborating on a comic book about horses.

Brett Anderson

UK-born singer Brett Anderson shocked the world in the late 1990s when, after the creative decline of his band Suede, he underwent a sex change and reemerged as the singer of US neo-garage punks The Donnas. Anderson’s flamboyant style and new blonde hairdo carried the band to new heights, cementing a multi-album deal with Atlantic Records and allowing the band to set out on an extensive world tour. Sadly, the Atlantic partnership foundered, although Anderson has been enjoying something of a critical renaissance with a recently reunited Suede, prompting her erstwhile bandmates in the Donnas to describe her as a “fucking sellout” and a “bitch.”

John Maus

Prior to reinventing himself as a post-millennial pop philosopher and compelling live performer, John Maus was best known as the guitarist for UK-based baroque pop trio The Walker Brothers. Under the pseudonym John Walker, Maus provided a foil for the eccentric talents of singer Scott Walker, and enjoyed a measure of chart success with albums like Introducing the Walker Brothers and Take It Easy With the Walker Brothers. With Scott Walker’s critically acclaimed 2012 album Bish Bosch bringing his work to the attention of a whole new generation of fans, there’s talk of a Maus/Walker collaboration on the former’s new album. Tentative titles include “There Goes My Baby, Or At Least That’s What the Empirical Evidence Suggests” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (While the Epistemological Questions of Kant’s Categorical Imperative Remain Unresolved).”

Scott Walker

Walker’s own creative renaissance is all the more unlikely given that he’s combined it with a burgeoning political career in Wisconsin. He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1993, a period that coincided with the recording of The Drift, his first album in over a decade. The songs on The Drift reflected Walker’s experience in the Republican party — they reference subjects like the the party’s foreign policy (“What do Seoul and Sudan have in common? Both start with an S”) and its stance on gay marriage (“Can’t turn from a crotch in the darkness”), proving just why Walker is hotly tipped as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

Davy Jones

Fans of the Monkees were shocked when the career of Davy Jones took a rather unconventional turn in the late 1960s. Formerly known as “the kind of cute one who isn’t Peter Tork,” Jones stunned fans when he moved to the UK, started wearing dresses, and reinvented himself as an intergalactic rock star by the name of Ziggy Stardust. Jones’ new image brought him a huge amount of critical acclaim, much to the chagrin of the rest of the Monkees, whose career nosedived dramatically, so much so that they couldn’t even convince Bowie Jones to join them for a reunion tour in the early 1990s — the singer famously chose to remain with his spectacularly successful new project Tin Machine.

Brian Wilson

Epochal genius and Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson emerged from a long period of seclusion in the mid-2000s when he signed a contract with the San Francisco Giants, shocking many who expected him to instead join his local team (and the Giants’ great rivals), the LA Dodgers. Still, Wilson’s rookie season vindicated his decision, and he has since become one of the most respected pitchers in the major leagues. His baseball career has coincided with a return to music, with Wilson crediting his awesome orange cleats (and his training as a ninja) for finally being able to finish Smile.

Jean Simmons

Venerable British actress Jean Simmons had already enjoyed a long and fruitful career on screen when she made the unconventional decision of swapping Hollywood for a career in rock ‘n’ roll. Her onstage antics and flamboyant makeup, as well as her forceful bass playing, made her an integral part of KISS’s success, although she attracted controversy in her later years for her support of Mitt Romney and her continued insistence on spitting blood on stage well into her 80s. She died in 2010.

Michelle Williams

Beyoncé went on to world domination, but it’s arguably Michelle Williams who’s had the most respected post-Destiny’s Child career. She won critical plaudits and an Oscar nomination for her work in Brokeback Mountain and has since appeared in acclaimed films like Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn. She also found time to appear on Broadway in Chicago and Fela!, and despite the onstage reunion with Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland at this year’s Super Bowl, has no plans to participate in any Destiny’s Child reunion.

James Dean

And finally, he’s not a musician, but we thought we’d take this opportunity to put to rest one of the great myths of US culture. You thought James Dean died in a car crash in 1955? Oh, no. No, no, no. The story of the actor’s death has been an enduring legend, but it was proven false in the late 2000s when Dean reemerged, still startlingly youthful, as a star of “adult films.” He’s best known for his boyish demeanor, his willingness to film pretty much any sort of scene, and also for his massive [OK, that’s enough — Ed.].