By Emily Carney
1. Jefferson Airplane, two nights in Germany, 1978
Grace Slick earned the sobriquet “the Liz Taylor of rock” during the 1970s due as much to her propensity for Liz-like excess as her attractive appearance. Her heights of Babylonian overindulgence climaxed with two wacky nights in Germany in 1978, during which Ms. Slick single-handedly managed to alienate an entire European nation and change the lyrics to much of her band’s back catalogue, both tasks equally momentous in scope. Some “highlights” of the performances: Grace, who appeared to be completely wasted and was drinking throughout the show from a Dixie cup, changed the lyrics of “White Rabbit” from “Feed your head” to, inexplicably, “Give more head.” It probably didn’t matter what she sang, given her throat sounded completely mangled anyway; she had probably also smoked about 100 Kools that day.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of these performances was Grace’s baiting of the German crowd. Apparently she hadn’t yet forgotten the lessons of World War II, even in her drunken stupor, and repeatedly shouted at the crowd, “WHO WON THE WAR?” The crowd obviously was not amused and began to leave in droves, leaving Grace to sip whatever it was she was drinking (Cheap red wine? Mint Scope? Moonshine? Anything with “xxx” written on a jug?) from the edge of the stage with some seriously runny eyeliner. Curiously enough, the band still played throughout this total meltdown. Grace reportedly was so mortified by her own behavior she quit Jefferson Airplane the next day. Unfortunately for us, it appears that no clips of this performance exist on YouTube.
2. John Cale, on Spanish television, 1981
John Cale, ex-viola player from the Velvet Underground, more than established himself as an eminent performer in his own right after producing many superlative albums of his own and of other artists in the 1970s (for example, Nico and Patti Smith). Despite his brilliance, Cale’s struggles with alcohol (I imagine him drinking Heineken for some reason, although I probably am totally off the mark) and, more distressingly, Peruvian flake, manifested themselves publicly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most famously, he decapitated a chicken onstage during a late 70s performance, causing most of his band to walk offstage in protest. Cale later said drolly in a television interview, “The band cared more about that than the audience did.” This came years before Ozzy Osbourne even thought about killing animals onstage in drug-fueled stupors. In other performances, Cale took to wearing ski masks on stage, effectively freaking out entire audiences because he looked like Jason from the Friday the 13th films.
In 1981, Cale treated Spanish television audiences to a completely incomprehensible performance of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” The highlights of this performance are almost too numerous to count. John is first spotted sitting on the side of the stage, looking vaguely like Hugh Laurie from House, M.D., wearing a trucker hat and a disgusted expression on his face. He is also wearing shades (probably because his eyes were bloodshot), is clad in all black, and is rocking a yellow bow tie. Andy Summers of the Police is the guitarist in this clip, and does his best to “look serious” even though he was probably completely pissed off.
You can tell from the beginning something is terribly wrong from Cale’s jerky “dancing.” At about the 1:15 mark, one realizes that Cale is holding a piece of paper in one hand (most likely a lyric sheet, because you know he forgot the lyrics), and a credit/ATM card in his other hand. (Note that there is no Automatic Teller Machine on the stage.) At approximately the two-minute mark, Cale attempts to do the then-popular robot dance. He fails pretty badly at this, and then returns to glaring at the camera. At 2:28 it sounds like he is spitting into the microphone.
Very soon, he starts totally freaking out and screaming the lyrics, especially the part that goes “AND WE COULD DIEEEEEEEEE!” Cale then decides to take a nap on stage for about a minute while the band plays on, seemingly oblivious to the completely wasted mess on the floor. Cale finally awakes from his short nap, and heroically tries to get the band to finish the song. This doesn’t work. The band plays for about 30 more seconds. In the meantime, Cale looks like he’s having a seizure, and then looks rather confusedly at Andy Summers, as if to say, “Hey, where are you guys going?” End of clip.
3. Marvin Gaye, Sexual Healing Tour, 1983
By 1983 Marvin Gaye, who arguably remains the best R&B singer of all time, was in a hell of a mess. Despite winning Grammy Awards for his hit “Sexual Healing,” Gaye owed back taxes to the U.S. government, was terrified for his livelihood, and was battling depression, paranoia, and a nasty cocaine habit. His problems began to become publicly apparent during the Sexual Healing Tour in 1983, which sadly would prove to be his last tour.
Apparently Marvin would cap the night off with a version of “Sexual Healing” in which he would be dressed as the Consummate Ladies Man in a satiny, short robe. This later led to Marvin stripping off completely to his underwear. While this was probably exciting to Marvin’s lady fans, apparently this “striptease” act didn’t go over uniformly well with his audiences.
Hearing perhaps the greatest singer ever say, “I want all you women to say SEXUAL” is a bit anticlimactic; one feels that a pilled-out R. Kelly would be more comfortable with this kind of banter. While Marvin does not look altogether healthy in this short clip from the concert tour, you have to hand it to him: at least he does sound better than ever. Fortunately for his prodigious legend, no film clips exist of the more insane parts of his stage show. . . at least none that can be found on YouTube.
4. Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols’ American Tour, 1978
Sid Vicious remains the most famous (or infamous) non-musician ever to hit the stage with a famous band. While he wasn’t much of a bassist, his antics (including. . . well, murder, I suppose) will certainly live on in the annals of the Inebriated Hall of Fame. By the time the Sex Pistols made it to the States in early 1978, Sid was nurturing a relationship with both smack and groupie Nancy Spungen (who obviously was no stranger to smack herself). It appeared that the Pistols’ American fans were more fascinated with the band’s “crazy” image than the actual music, as many of the fans tried to encourage the notoriously self-destructive Sid to be even more “Sid-like.”
Some highlights of this tour: Sid, who was covered in track marks and sores by this point (HOT!), was head-butted on stage by a fan in one show, and smeared blood all over his body, turning his bad habits into a kind of performance art. In addition, in the same show he revealed some self-administered cuts on his arm, which had been previously covered by a gross pus-covered bandage.
. . . But Sid’s behavior didn’t stop on stage, as anyone who has ever seen Sid & Nancy can attest. Although this incident didn’t make it to the movie, one story goes as follows: apparently Sid was being taunted by some hillbillies at a truck stop, who said something to the effect of “So if you’re so vicious, can you do this?” to Sid. One of the hillbillies then put out a cigarette on himself. Challenging Sid to a “batshit crazy duel” was probably an ill-advised idea, and Sid then proceeded to stab his own hand with a steak knife. Due in part to Sid’s “problems,” the Sex Pistols broke up at their last American tour stop. Sid had a couple of solo shows, which proceeded precariously when audiences realized he couldn’t play bass and/or sing. And stay sober.
Here is a clip of a clearly baked Sid singing his cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else.” You have been warned: Sid is wearing little else other than what looks like a thong in this clip, and his physical deterioration is decidedly un-sexy. One of the comments for this clip on YouTube goes:
“It’s a shame he died, he was so damn sexy.”
What the fuck?
5. Courtney Love, The David Letterman Show, 2004
I’ll keep this short, since I will probably be sued if I write about Courtney negatively in any way. This performance comes after Courtney’s shenanigans with Dave himself: talking about Nicole Kidman (that bitch!), flashing her middle-aged, surgically enhanced boobies about a million times; and being asked about her weight by Dave (hilariously enough, this is the only question that stopped her in her tracks). Courtney was at the time allegedly nursing a nasty crack cocaine habit (See a trend here people? DON’T DO COCAINE), and during the week of this taping had been arrested for making a microphone stand into a javelin at one of her “comeback” shows.
This clip is notable for many things: Courtney’s shagged-out, tuneless vocals (clearly cocaine is not a voice enhancer); her hanging on rather sadly to her guitarist (she was probably quite dizzy); her use of the guitar as a decorative necklace until she throws it to the side of the stage rather dramatically; her sitting down (John Cale style even!) on the edge of the stage and looking rather dejected while singing/screaming the lines, “I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE;” and her screaming gibberish while variously looking confused, etc.
Honorable Mention: Serge Gainsbourg, “Le billet de 500 francs”
While this is not a musical performance, this is still a runner-up in the Inebriated Hall of Fame. Serge Gainsbourg can be credited with turning French music into something fantastic and almost literary, but in the 1980s he acquired a reputation for appearing drunk on French TV on a regular basis (hence the now-infamous “Whitney Houston” incident).
In another one of Serge’s 80s “episodes,” his lack of sobriety began to involve fairly large sums of money: he burned a 500 Franc note (roughly equivalent to $100 American) on French TV. People were outraged—since this gesture represented a rich man wasting money—although he possibly meant to illustrate the corniness of capitalism, or something equally deep. In reality, he was probably just wasted at the time.