If you can't trust people in the music business, who can you trust? But not all of them have been Honest Abes over the years. Some have pulled playful one-time pranks, others obfuscations or outright hoaxes that have gone on for years. Fans can't be trusted with the truth, either, as attested to by any number of undying urban legends. It's all fodder for an April Fool's Day look at some of rock's greatest lies:
The New York Times gets punked on a grunge "lexicon." On Nov. 15, 1992, the Times weighed in on the phenomenon that had crossed over from Seattle to the entire nation with an article by Rick Marin titled "Grunge: A Success Story." Unfortunately, Marin made the mistake of trusting an employee at Sub Pop Records to provide him with a list of grunge slang, which ran as a sidebar to the main story. Amazingly, it is still online on the Times' website, with no correction or other notation that the paper of record had the flannel shirt pulled over its eyes. Among the insider terminology credited to Sub Pop's Megan Jasper: "lamestain" means "uncool person"..."cob nobbler" means "loser"...and "swingin' on the flippity-flop" is grunge-speak for "hanging out."
"Paul is dead." The Beatles didn't start this one--honest. But for a couple of years in the late '60s, every lyric and every inch of cover art seemed to confirm that the three surviving Beatles were desperately yet covertly trying to tell us all that the Cute One was, in fact, the Dead One, who had blown his mind out in a car. The first person to discover these "clues" was apparently a writer for a student newspaper in Iowa, and by October 1969, the Beatles' plot to keep Paul's death three years earlier a secret--yet somehow leak it--was the talk of FM radio jocks everywhere. Never mind that John Lennon was actually saying "cranberry sauce" in the coda of "Strawberry Fields Forever," not "I buried Paul." Who could listen to the spooky "Revolution 9" forward, let alone backward, and not feel they'd heard a ghost? McCartney finally put the kibosh on rumors of his demise by addressing the controversy in a Life magazine cover story. Yet, if you held the cover up to the light, the automobile ad on the flipside created the appearance that Paul was...in a car! Chills.
Jack White and Meg White: siblings. It's still not clear why Jack White spent years perpetuating the fantasy that he and his drummer were brother and sister instead of exes, long after the press had produced marriage (1996) and divorce (2000) certificates. But avoiding a lifetime of questions like "How does it feel to spend months at a time on the road with your former old lady?" seems like near-legitimate reason enough for the ruse, all high-concept rationales aside.
The Masked Marauders: Dylan, Jagger, Lennon, and McCartney form the worst supergroup of all time. It was the fall of 1969, and not anywhere near April 1, when Rolling Stone ran a fictional review of a fictional album by a fictional band called the Masked Marauders, who were supposedly Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and possibly George Harrison operating under a pseudonym. The obviously satirical review was written by famed rock critic Greil Marcus, himself using a pseudonym, taking a dig at the "supergroup" phenomenon that was producing acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash. But it wasn't just rubes who fell for it; some of the musicians' own business associates became angry that their clients were recording and releasing secret projects while under contract. The hoax was taken a step further when Marcus hired some musicians to actually record an album, imitating the supposed participants' voices. Once Warner Bros. released it, it was pretty hard not to get the joke, with the fake Jagger singing "I Can't Get No Nookie" and the non-Dylan crooning "Cow Pie." Perhaps the best gag on the record had Dylan covering Donovan.
Nine Inch Nails make an all-star record with Timbaland, Chris Martin, and Sheryl Crow. This was Trent Reznor's own snarky April Fool's joke in 2010. Anyone who had been following his recent snide remarks about Chris Cornell making an album with Timbaland immediately got it when the NIN mastermind announced that the group was about to release Strobe Light, which would include the Bono/Jay-Z/Chris Martin collaboration "Everybody's Doing It."
Keith Richards's bloodstream is made up of someone else's blood plus his father's ashes. Richards is not above having a good laugh at the expense of a gullible rock press. In the early '70s, he went to Switzerland to deal with his heroin addiction, but rather than tell all, he put the story out that he was engaging in a complete blood transfusion. Decades later, he told NME he'd snorted his late father's ashes. Clearly he was having one over on us all, but when he wrote his memoir, Life, a few years ago, the Stone seemed to want to keep at least a little of the myth alive. Or perhaps he was telling the slightly more reasonable truth when he recalled what happened when he'd finally gone out to scatter his father's ashes under a tree: "[When] I took the lid off of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out on to the table. I couldn’t just brush him off so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue.”
A fake Fleetwood Mac goes on tour with an all-ringer lineup. It's hard keeping track of some of the transitions in the FM lineup over the years, but there was one version of the band that had no overlap with any other edition of Fleetwood Mac. You can thank former manager Clifford Davis for that, although some have continued to believe that Mick Fleetwood was somehow involved in the ruse. Guitarist Bob Weston had been fired from the group for getting involved with Fleetwood's wife, so the band canceled the tour. But, as Bob Welch recalled, Davis sent them a letter saying that he "was not going down because of the whims of irresponsible musicians" and that he would be sending a "star-quality, headline act" out on the road, which they could either choose to be part of or not. Much to the real band's disbelief, a faux Mac was sent out on tour, to the outrage of thousands of fans demanding their money back...as well as the indifference of about as many attendees too wacked-out to tell the difference. Some of the musicians recruited for the fake group eventually went on to form a real band called Stretch, and they addressed the controversy in a single called "Why Did You Do It."