Looking back at some of the strangest cameos in film and TV history, Rolling Stone was struck by how many of them were by musicians. It makes sense. After all, musicians are already out of place among actors on a TV or film set. What they bring to the table is different from what actors bring, in terms of star quality, charisma, self-expression and established personae. If you're familiar with both the musician's work and the characters in a movie or TV show (and the actors who play them), then it's fun to watch the discharge of weird energy that takes place in the pop star's fish-out-of-water encounters with fictional characters and the stars who portray them. Here, then, are 14 of our favorites from over the years.
Tom Waits, Fernwood 2Night (1977)
The faux talk show hosted by Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) and Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) books Waits as a guest, since a tour bus breakdown has stranded the whiskey-voiced crooner in the Midwestern town of the title. It's weird to hear a laugh track over Waits' performance of "The Piano Has Been Drinking," with each of its wry little ironies prompting loud guffaws. And then Waits sits down for a surreal interview with the clueless small-town hosts. Mull and Willard are two of the funniest men in TV history, but they play it straight as city slicker Waits drops sly one-liners and cadges $20 from the pair. It's easy to imagine, back in 1977, an audience that was just as puzzled as the hosts were by Waits' shtick.
The Clash, The King of Comedy (1983)
They're just billed in the movie as "Street Scum," but among the gang of New York City street-corner punks who make fun of Sandra Bernhard's character in one scene are Clash mainstays Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Joe Strummer. (Director Martin Scorsese was reportedly a fan of the British punk pioneers.) Also present are the band's manager, Kosmo Vinyl, filmmaker Don Letts, singer Pearl Harbour and singer-actress Ellen Foley (Meat Loaf's "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" duet partner, and later a star of TV's Night Court).
Bo Diddley, Trading Places (1983)
The rock guitar pioneer shows up in this comedy classic as a Philadelphia pawnbroker who believes that down-and-out Dan Aykroyd is trying to sell him a stolen watch. The former commodities broker insists that the watch is worth thousands of dollars and tells time in several different world cities, including Gstaad. Diddley's delivery is priceless on the reply: "In Philadelphia, it's worth 50 bucks." The scene ends as the man behind the album Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger sells Aykroyd a pistol.
Lou Reed, Get Crazy (1983)
In this nearly forgotten comedy by Allan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School) about a New Year's Eve all-star rock concert, Reed plays Auden, who's an apparent gloss on Bob Dylan. It's an interesting casting idea – both Dylan and Reed were Sixties visionaries who expanded the artistic vocabulary of rock, then spent the rest of their careers exploring vastly different but occasionally overlapping territories. Still, given how much their paths diverged, Reed's take on Dylan seems surprisingly spot-on and hilarious. He's soft-spoken, deliberately obscure and enigmatic, endlessly fascinating, and (onstage) completely on fire.
Boy George, The A-Team (1986)
You probably never realized how much camp was behind the macho heroics of The A-Team until the flamboyant George O'Dowd showed up. At a time when both Culture Club and the A-Team were getting a bit past their prime, they joined forces in an unlikely episode where Face (Dirk Benedict) hits a snag as a music promoter when he mistakenly books CC into a country-western nightspot full of homophobic cowpokes. (See, he thought he was getting an act called Cowboy George, not Boy George.) Still, the British new-wavers save the day, first when they win over the country crowd, and second, when they help the team foil a robbery of the venue's till. At a key moment, Boy George shows how butch he is by kicking in a door. (Then he cracks up, unable to keep from breaking character.) "Totally awesome, Hannibal," George tells George Peppard. Indeed, totally awesome.
Miles Davis, Scrooged (1988)
The inventor of cool plays the leader of a band of street musicians performing Christmas carols in front of the midtown Manhattan office building where Bill Murray's bah-humbug TV executive rules with an iron fist. Davis and company (including fellow ringers Larry Carlton, David Sanborn and Paul Shaffer) barely get through a few bars of a muted, crackling, "We Three Kings of Orient Are" before Murray lashes out at them, calling the buskers amateurs who must have just learned the tune yesterday and who ought to take their collected change and use it on music lessons. Offscreen, one can imagine the two Zen masters, Miles and Murray, either bonding over their shared bad attitudes or else avoiding each other completely out of mutual alpha-male respect. Onscreen, one simply gasps at Murray's chutzpah – though, really, who else would have the balls to dis Miles Davis to his face?
The Flaming Lips, Beverly Hills 90210 (1995)
In the episode "Love Hurts," the alt-rockers give a fairly straightforward performance (by their standards – no animal costumes, for instance) of their then-recent hit "She Don't Use Jelly." Nonetheless, the Fox drama's resolutely unhip teens and twentysomethings seem thoroughly bewildered, even disappointed. Well, not Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), who admits that he's not much into alternative music, but these guys "rocked the house!" His date, however, grumbles that the Lips are no Michael Bolton. Nope, they're not.
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