This week in rock history, John Lennon apologized for “blasphemy,” Janis Joplin performed live for the last time, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran almost drowned, fans rioted after a disastrous Guns N’Roses/Metallica show and Jerry Garcia passed away.
Aug 11, 1966: John Lennon apologizes for his controversial “the Beatles are more popular than Jesus” remark
For their first U.S. tour, the Beatles were greeted by throngs of shrieking girls and eager television crews. For their last one, they were forced to deliver a very public mea culpa.
“I’m sorry I opened my mouth,” said John Lennon stiffly, addressing reporters at the Astor Towers Hotel in Chicago. “I’m not anti-God anti-Christ, or anti-religion. I wouldn’t knock it. I didn’t mean we were greater or better.”
He was apologizing for his infamous interview about the Beatles that appeared in the London Evening Standard in March of that year. In it, he told journalist Maureen Cleave, “Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink . . . We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”
The droll line made no impact when it was published in Britain, but it provoked quite a different reaction in the United States when reprinted in the teen magazine Datebook. Beatles records were destroyed in bonfires, radio stations accused Lennon of blasphemy and the Ku Klux Klan burned the group in effigy. The backlash against the Fab Four was so aggressive, manager Brian Epstein made an 11th-hour flight to the States to decide if the Beatles’ tour should be cancelled; he decided that it could go on, but only if Lennon ate his words first. So Lennon did, sullenly, and the tour carried on. Yet after the tour concluded, the Beatles receded from public concerts almost entirely.
August 12, 1970: Janis Joplin performs live for the last time
At what would become her final live performance, Janis Joplin caused a stampede at Harvard University.
For her performance at Harvard Stadium in Boston, capacity was strictly enforced at 10,000 fans. However, almost 40,000 people appeared that evening, clamoring to see the 27-year-old soul belter, jostling and arguing at the gates.
Joplin’s final show was less than seamless: she was extremely drunk and slurred her lyrics. Also, her backers, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, played through inferior and hastily assembled sound equipment; their amplifiers had recently been stolen.
Joplin died less than two months later, on October 4th, from a heroin overdose. She was 27.
Aug 10, 1985: Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran is rescued at sea after his boat capsizes
A watery grave almost claimed the life of Duran Duran’s lead singer, Simon Le Bon.
In the 1980s, the New Wave pop star was quite the nautical enthusiast – he owned a multi-million dollar yacht, which he named Drum, and entered it occasionally in sailing races off the coast of England. While competing in the prestigious Fastnet race, his boat capsized off the shores of Cornwall, leaving the singer and his crew trapped in the vessel for approximately 40 minutes as the hull flooded. The crew was rescued without fatalities and the accident did not deter Le Bon from participating in another race shortly afterward, though he later sold Drum.
Le Bon’s seafaring ways, as well as his brush with death, were captured in the 1989 film Drum – The Journey of a Lifetime. In 2005, he borrowed back his original vessel and entered it in the Fastnet race – this time, finishing the journey.
August 8, 1992: A riot breaks out after a Guns N’Roses and Metallica show after singer James Hetfield is injured during Metallica’s set
When it comes to Murphy’s Law concerts, none can beat the Guns N’ Roses/Metallica debacle in Montreal in 1992: near-fatal stage accidents, faltering equipment and full-fledged street rampaging.
The two bands’co-headlining tour was a communion of giants: Guns N’ Roses were in the thick of their top-selling Use Your Illusion Tour (in support of both albums I and II), and Metallica were enjoying similar fervor for their “Wherever We May Roam” Tour for the Black Album. However, their spliced-together road trip met disaster when they stopped by Montreal’s Olympic Stadium: Metallica singer James Hetfield suffered second-degree burns when he crossed paths with the show’s pyrotechnics display, and the band’s set was cut short. After a long delay that aggravated the crowd, Guns N’ Roses took the stage and immediately complained about the inferior sound equipment; frontman Axl Rose was so upset about the sound and his sore throat that the band stormed off the stage early.
Short-changed by both headliners, the 50,000-plus Montreal audience exploded: They flooded the streets surrounding the amphitheatre, looting stores and trashing cars. Montreal police struggled for hours to reign in the mob. Back in Seattle, Kurt Cobain surely breathed a sigh of relief: Nirvana had been asked to open the tour, and they’d refused.
August 9, 1995: Jerry Garcia dies of a heart attack
Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia was on the mend when he met his untimely death. The bearded figurehead of the freewheeling psych-jammers had checked himself into a California rehab center to kick his persistent drug addictions, but he succumbed there to a heart attack. He was 53.
Garcia was a fleet guitarist – who, ironically, lost part of his right middle finger in a childhood accident –and one of the lead singers of the Dead. (He usually fronted their more melodic tunes.) His languid playing served as the crux of the band’s legendary live performances, and he was a galvanizing figure of the band’s nonstop touring ethos, the so-called “endless tour” that kept the band on the road for thousands of shows from their formation in the mid-Sixties through the next four decades. He also fronted the Jerry Garcia Band, a rock-based side outfit that released 1978’s amiable Cats Under the Stars.
After Garcia’s death, the Grateful Dead formally disbanded.
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