Conspiracy theories: they’re as fascinating as they are maddening. For every ridiculous idea that the stoner in your life insists on telling you about every time you see him/her, there’s another theory that sounds like it could just be true. Here at Flavorwire this week, we’re investigating conspiracy theories in pop culture: yes, it’s Conspiracy Theory Week! Don’t tell the Illuminati.
We’re kicking off Conspiracy Theory week with a brief survey of a corner of the music world that’s always been inhabited by the sort of bold, outlandish personalities about which people just love to speculate: punk rock! Did the government really have it in for the Dead Kennedys? Did Sid kill Nancy? And were Japanese hardcore lunatics GISM really yakuzas? Read on to find out.
The government had it in for the Dead Kennedys
Credibility level: High
Jello Biafra has long had a talent for getting under people’s skin, and during his band’s heyday, he delighted in doing so as much as possible. So much so, in fact, that it seemed awfully like the establishment might just be getting sick of this snotty-nosed upstart and looking for a way to cut him down to size. The opportunity came with the release of Frankenchrist in 1985, which came with a poster of an H.R. Giger painting called “Penis Landscape.” The band were duly prosecuted for obscenity, and the album was banned in many stores. The stress from the ensuing court battle was at least partly to blame for their breakup barely a year later.
The early NYC punks ripped off Death
Credibility level: Fairly high
Recently reunited Detroit trailblazers Death have often been identified as trailblazers for the music that would come to be called punk. The thing is, though, they never made a record and hardly played out of Detroit, and it seems like a remarkable coincidence that a Xerox of their sound would magically arise in New York City a couple of years after their decline. It seems an even more remarkable coincidence when you discover that they recorded a demo tape that did the rounds of NYC-based record companies, who may well have seen the potential in the music, but may also have preferred that it not be played by three black men who called themselves “Death.” Hmmm.
The Sex Pistols were manufactured puppets of Malcolm McLaren
Credibility level: True
Although, in fairness, it depends on exactly how you define “manufactured.” But the Pistols’ lineup was certainly put together by the SEX svengali, even though Paul Cook and Steve Jones had been playing together since the early 1970s and were the ones who originally asked McLaren for his help. The manager’s first act on his return from NYC in 1975, flush with ideas based on the punk scene he’d seen on the other side of the Atlantic, was to fire unfortunate guitarist Wally Nightingale, move Jones to guitar, and look for a new frontman. Soon after, he spotted a skinny kid named John Lydon on the King’s Road, wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words “I HATE” scrawled above the band’s name. The rest, as they say, is history.
Japanese punks GISM were secretly Yakuzas
Credibility level: Uncertain
Japanese hardcore pioneers GISM were definitely terrifying — they played in balaclavas, their singer Sakevi was a fun guy known for chasing audiences around with a flamethrower, and their music generally sounded like someone taking to the inside of your head with an industrial drill. Scariest of all, however, were the constant rumors that Sakevi was either a full-fledged yakuza or had close links to the Japanese gangster fraternity. It it true? Who knows? Would you ask a dude with a fondness for chainsaws whether he was a real gangster or not? No, me neither.
GG Allin’s death was deliberate
Credibility level: Low
Allin always promised that he’d kill himself on stage, so his death from a heroin overdose in 1993 seemed… well, anticlimactic, really. So much so, in fact, that some fans have speculated that it was still somehow the final act in his ongoing performance art paean to nihilism. The truth, sadly, is somewhat more mundane: he took too many drugs.
Courtney killed Kurt
Credibility level: Codswallop
The theory that won’t die, despite the fact that the supporting evidence consists of a whole lot of nothing (unless you consider the testimony of a gentleman who fronted a self-described “rape rock” band and once recorded an album called Buttfucking Man to be conclusive proof). Nick Broomfield has a lot to answer for.
Sid didn’t kill Nancy/was murdered/etc.
Credibility level: Low
OK, so the Kurt-and-Courtney theory isn’t the only one that won’t die. Every few years, someone claims to have come up with new evidence that Sid Vicious — who was almost certainly to have stood trial for the murder of Nancy Spungen before he was found dead himself — didn’t in fact kill her at all. But if not, who did? The latest theory puts the blame on a mutual friend called “Michael” who disappeared after the murder. While the only people who really know the answer to this are long dead, Occam’s razor suggests that the accepted theory — that Sid killed Nancy in a drug-fueled stupor — remains the most credible one.