13 Rock Stars Who Disappeared - Rolling Stone
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13 Rock Stars Who Disappeared

From David Bowie to D’arcy Wretzky, a guide to musicians who have left the spotlight behind

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Six years ago, Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett died after spending nearly 40 years as rock's most famous recluse. Countless fans and journalists had flocked to his hometown of Cambridge, England over the years, hoping to catch a glimpse of the famously troubled musician, but most left with nothing. Aside from an occasional paparazzi shot, he managed to avoid the press (not to mention the recording studio and the stage) for decades.

Barrett is perhaps the most extreme example of a rock star who chose to drop off the grid after achieving fame, but he's far from the only one. Some artists, like David Bowie and Abba's Agnetha Fältskog, continue to make public appearances even after they stop making new music and granting interviews. Others, like former Queen bassist John Deacon, seem to all but vanish altogether.

Here's a guide to 13 rock stars who have voluntarily left the spotlight over the years – each one graded on a scale of one to 10 Barretts. A one means the artist is merely inactive and prone to long media absences; a 10 means a full-scale disappearing act à la Syd Barrett. Extra points are awarded to anyone who chose not to show up at his or her own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

By Andy Greene

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Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell started threatening to retire around the late 1960s, but by the end of the 1990s, it seemed like the great singer-songwriter had finally gone and done it: Her 1998 LP, Taming The Tiger, was billed as her last album. This turned out to be a false alarm. Two years later, she returned with the jazz covers set Both Sides Now, and a similar orchestral LP devoted to her own material followed in 2002. Mitchell dropped out of the spotlight again for a while after that, until her 2007 album, Shine. Things have been very quiet since then, aside from a notorious 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times in which she described her experience with Morgellons syndrome and ripped into former collaborator Bob Dylan. "He is not authentic at all," Mitchell said. "He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I."

Barrett Scale: 4. Giving the occasional weird interview is a textbook recluse move, so Mitchell gets a point for that. She gets three more for skipping her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1997, although she had a good excuse – she had just re-connected with the daughter she gave up for adoption decades earlier. But despite her complete lack of concert appearances or new music in recent years, we can't go higher than a four. Mitchell still attends public events, like the time she sat with old friend Neil Young at his pre-Grammys tribute concert earlier this year. That's just not recluse behavior.

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The Everly Brothers

The Everly Brothers were more or less retired in 2003, when Paul Simon managed to lure them back onto the road for a Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour. "They hadn't seen each other in about three years," Simon said. "They met in the parking lot before the first gig." Their brief sets in the middle of Simon and Garfunkel's headlining performances were transcendent. Fans got very excited when the Everlys announced their own tour of England in November 2005, and there were even dates on the books for an American run in February 2006. Sadly, those were cancelled with little explanation, and Don and Phil Everly haven't played together since. The brothers are rarely seen in public these days, although Don did perform "Bye Bye Love" with Paul Simon in Nashville last year, and Phil sang at a Buddy Holly tribute show a few months after that. 

Barrett Scale: 4. The Everly Brothers lead very private lives, and it's extremely difficult to get them to agree to an interview. (Believe us, we've tried.) Both still seem to have pretty strong voices, and they could probably tour if they wanted to. But for whatever reason, they're opting not to.

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Izzy Stradlin

Even at Guns N' Roses' height in the late 1980s, guitarist Izzy Stradlin was a bit of a mystery. Everyone knew he played a major role in writing their hits, but he shied away from the press and let Axl, Slash and Duff do most of the talking. Stradlin quit the band in 1991, during the Use Your Illusion tour, launching a long solo career. (His last few albums have been iTunes-only; the most recent one was two years ago.) In 2006, Stradlin shocked Guns N' Roses fans when he got onstage with the band at a New York gig, then did a bunch of shows with them in Europe. But the man likes to keep people guessing. Like Axl, he was a no-show when GNR made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring.

Barrett Scale: 5. He's appeared many times with his former band, and he's still putting out new solo material occasionally. We give him three points for the Hall of Fame snub, one for avoiding all press and a bonus point for a lifetime of elusiveness.

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Meg White

White Stripes drummer Meg White was always content to stay in the background and let her ex-husband Jack White speak for the band. Things started to get weird on the group's 2007 tour, when they cancelled a string of dates due to Meg's acute anxiety. Jack spent the next two and a half years focusing on his side projects while the Stripes went silent; their last public performance was in February 2009, when the duo reunited to play "We're Going To Be Friends" on the final episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In February 2011, the group formally announced their split.

Barrett Scale: 6. Meg's disappearance has been pretty absolute over the past few years. Her husband, Jackson Smith (Patti's son), is a well-known guitarist who is always out and about. But where's Meg? Jack White, meanwhile, has played lots of White Stripes classics at his solo gigs this year. Most bands eventually reunite, but this may be an exception.

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David Bowie

David Bowie's disappearance eight years ago was swift and sudden. He had worked pretty consistently from the mid-Sixties up through the world tour for 2003's Reality, which was cut short when he had to undergo emergency heart surgery in 2004. He made a few onstage appearances after that, guesting at David Gilmour and Alicia Keys gigs, but a 2007 comeback show in New York was called off with little notice. Bowie's near-silence since then has led some fans to speculate (without much evidence) about further health problems. "I'm not thinking of touring," he told the New York Times in June 2010. "I'm fine." That short quote is pretty much the extent of Bowie's public comments about his retirement. While he's often photographed walking around New York City looking just fine, there is no hint of any  upcoming activity.

Barrett Scale: 6. Bowie has apparently ceased all recording and concert activity, and he largely avoids the press. But he continues to live in New York, where he attends the occasional concert and even appears at fashion and charity events with his wife, Iman. It's hard to be a true recluse while you're posing for red carpet photos with your supermodel spouse. Still, Bowie has gone remarkably quiet on the music front. "Bring Me the Disco King," the final song on his final album to date, seems prescient in retrospect: "Close me in the dark/let me disappear/Soon there'll be nothing left of me/Nothing left to release."

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Sly Stone

For many years, Sly Stone battled Syd Barrett for the title of rock's most notorious recluse. Sly and the Family Stone's brilliant, troubled leader battled drug problems through much of the 1970s; by the mid-Eighties, his career had ground to a halt, and he went off the radar. Stone shocked everyone by turning up at the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993, but he disappeared again right afterwards. In 2006, he popped up during a tribute to his music at the Grammys. We hate to be cruel to a legend, but he wasn't looking or sounding his best. Last year, a report emerged that Stone was virtually homeless and living in a van, but his team issued an immediate denial. 

Barrett Scale: 7. Stone has made a number of live appearances in the past six years, but they've been bizarre, unpredictable and erratic. The few interviews he's given have suggested that one of rock's great talents is in a sad, diminished state.

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Fats Domino

In 1949, long before Elvis and Chuck Berry hit the scene, Fats Domino released his debut single, "The Fat Man." Many consider it the first rock song. Hits like "Blueberry Hill" and "Ain't That A Shame" followed in the 1950s, and he toured the oldies circuit regularly from the 1960s through the 1990s. But things slowed down dramatically after that – largely due to Domino's reluctance to leave his hometown of New Orleans. He played around town about once a year in the early 2000s, including a few Jazz Fest performances, but that was it. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Domino was briefly reported missing; thankfully, it turned out that he was just crashing with Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell after being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. He's been laying low since then, aside from a 2007 show at Tipitina's in New Orleans.

Barrett Scale: 5. Much like Don and Phil Everly, Fats is more "retired" than "reclusive" – a fine distinction, but a key one. It seems very unlikely that he will get back to performing any time soon.

Agnetha Fältskog

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Agnetha Fältskog

Abba's four members have little incentive to do much of anything these days. Their catalog continues to pump tons of money into their bank accounts, and the musical Mamma Mia! packs theaters every night all across the world. Aside from that, the group consists of two divorced couples. So it's no wonder they've reportedly turned down offers of a billion dollars for a reunion tour. Of the four, Agnetha Fältskog keeps the lowest profile, reportedly rarely leaving Stockholm. She showed up at the premiere of the Mamma Mia! movie in 2008 – but only posed for photos on a balcony with the movie's cast, far away from her three former bandmates. And she was nowhere to be seen when Abba got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Barrett Scale: 6. Fältskog isn't seen very often, but she did release a solo LP in 2004. Still, skipping out on the Hall of Fame induction scores her some big points, as does her apparent reluctance to venture outside of Europe.

D'arcy Wretzky

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D’arcy Wretzky

Smashing Pumpkins bassist D'arcy Wretzky left the group in 1999. According to recent interviews with Billy Corgan, she said she wanted to become an actress. Corgan also infamously called her a "mean spirited drug addict who refuses to get help." The acting career never happened; instead, Wretzky moved to a horse farm in Michigan and totally disappeared. Pumpkins fans were stunned when she called into a Chicago radio station in 2009 for a bizarre interview in which she discussed Davy Jones, Marilyn Manson and the Silversun Pickups. Many fans felt that she didn't sound too healthy, and their concerns were seemingly confirmed when she was arrested for drunk driving last year.

Barrett Scale: 8. Wretzky is the kind of recluse whose photo only hits the web when it's a mug shot. The bizarre, random interview is another classic rock recluse behavior, and she lives in a remote place far from the music industry. All of this is enough to get her a solid eight. The Pumpkins will be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in just a few years. If Wretzky fails to show up at their induction, we might upgrade her to a nine or even a rare perfect 10.

John Deacon

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John Deacon

Queen bassist John Deacon wrote some of the band's most beloved songs, including "Another One Bites The Dust," "I Want To Break Free" and "You're My Best Friend." He participated in the Freddie Mercury tribute show in 1992 and he joined his surviving bandmates and Elton John to perform "The Show Must Go On" in 1997. After that, he basically fell off the face of the earth. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have performed as Queen numerous times in the past 15 years (even touring the world and releasing a new album with Paul Rodgers), but Deacon has declined to participate in any of it. There aren't even any recent photos of him that we can find.

Barrett Scale: 9. Deacon has done an extraordinary job of being a rock recluse.  He didn't attend Queen's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he seems to have decided that Queen died with Freddy Mercury. Maybe playing the bass parts to "Tie Your Mother Down" with Adam Lambert just isn't his idea of a good time.

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