This Week in Rock History: Bruce Springsteen Breaks Into Graceland
This week in rock history, Bruce Springsteen trespassed on Elvis’s property, Joy Division played in concert for the final time, rock critic Lester Bangs died, the Eagles reunited in style and TLC diva Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes passed away.
April 30, 1976 – Bruce Springsteen hops the fence at Graceland
Anyone who’s attended a Bruce Springsteen show knows that the man can talk a blue streak: his legendary three-hour sets are littered with long anecdotes, and there’s no story the Boss loves telling more than the time he got booted from Elvis Presley’s front porch.
In 1976, while in Memphis on their hugely successful Born to Run tour, 26-year-old Springsteen and his E-Street Band cohort Steve Van Zandt decided to pay a 3 a.m. visit to Graceland. When he saw lights blazing inside the mansion, Springsteen climbed over the wall and ran to the front door; just as he was about to ring the doorbell, he was intercepted by security. Explaining his newfound rock fame and his recent covers of both Time and Newsweek, Springsteen poured on the charm and begged to be let inside – but instead, the unimpressed guards told him that Presley was out of town (which was true) and escorted him promptly to the sidewalk.
Elvis died at Graceland the following year. Regardless, he is united forever with Springsteen on the cover of Born to Run, where the Boss’s guitar strap proudly bears an Elvis fan club button.
May 2, 1980 – Joy Division play their final concert
The meteoric rise of young English post-punks Joy Division reached its untimely end when singer Ian Curtis committed suicide on May 18, 1980, the eve of their first American tour. Two weeks prior, the band played Birmingham University in what would become their final show. The concert was taped and released as the second half of Still, Joy Division’s 1981 double album of previously unreleased studio sessions and live recordings.
Joy Division formed in Manchester in 1976 and released their first record, the seminal Unknown Pleasures, in 1979. Their follow-up, Closer, was released in July of 1980, two months after Curtis’s death. The surviving members of Joy Division – guitarist-turned-singer Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris—regrouped later that year as New Order, and their 1981 debut single, “Ceremony” was an unreleased Joy Division cut that the defunct group performed just once: at that very last Birmingham University gig.
April 30, 1982 – Lester Bangs dies
“The difference here…is in the hype, the thick overlay of teenage-revolution and total-energy-thing which conceals these scrapyard vistas of clichés and ugly noise,” Lester Bangs wrote of rockers MC5 in Rolling Stone in 1969. Just as easily, the passage could have been describing his own complex, self-deprecating genius: Bangs, a widely influential music critic, analyzed rock & roll with verbose, acidic passion, lauding the raw intensity of punk and railing against what he perceived to be the growing sterilization of rock in the late Seventies.
A prolific writer, Bangs was infamous for writing all night in cough syrup-infused, gonzo benders. His work appeared in Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, NME and Creem (where he was an editor) before he died from an overdose of painkillers in his New York City apartment at age 33. He remains the subject of numerous article compendiums and biographies, including Jim DeRogatis’s Let It Blurt, and was portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous.
April 25, 1994 – The Eagles perform their Hell Freezes Over reunion show
In the Eighties, whenever pressed about an Eagles reunion, frontman Don Henley always retorted, “When hell freezes over” – to no great surprise, because bad blood ran deep in the L.A. rock band’s breakup. Their 1980 live album, Eagles Live, credited numerous attorneys alongside the terse liner notes, “Thank you and goodnight” – and after its release, the group split and each band member embarked on solo careers for the next decade and a half, to varied success.
The last active lineup of the Eagles (singer Don Henley, guitarist/singer Glenn Frey, guitarist Joe Walsh, guitarist Don Felder and bassist Timothy Schmit) reunited in 1993, in presence at least, for the music video for country singer Travis Tritt’s cover of “Take it Easy.” One year later, they reformed to record the Hell Freezes Over set on MTV, which was quickly released as a live album and debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts. The companion tour was also a runaway success, as were the album’s two Top 40 singles, “Get Over It” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive.” Hell Freezes Over has now sold over six million copies.
April 25, 2002 – Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes dies
The spitfire rapper and “L” of iconic R&B trio TLC, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was a flashy fixture of Nineties hip-hop. Her rhymes brought both humor and poignancy to the trio’s many hit singles, including “What About Your Friends” (on 1992’s Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip), “Waterfalls” (on 1994’s CrazySexyCool) and “No Scrubs” (on 1999’s FanMail). Lopes was easily the most controversial member of TLC: she picked feuds with her bandmates in the press; burned down the house of her boyfriend, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison; and often wore condoms over her left eye (in homage to her nickname and also safe sex). She was the founder of the Lisa Lopes Foundation, a charity for neglected and abandoned youths.
Lopes died in a car crash while vacationing in Honduras. She was 30. Her grave at Hillandale Memorial Gardens in Lithonia, Georgia is visited annually by hundreds of fans, many of whom leave coins at the base of her the sculpted likeness – for reasons that have never been explained.