This week in rock history, John Lennon began filming his only non-Beatles movie, the Rolling Stones were banned by the BBC, friends-turned-rivals David Bowie and Marc Bolan dueted on TV, Keith Moon passed away, and Simon and Garfunkel announced their reunion tour.
September 5, 1966: John Lennon begins filming How I Won the War in Germany
John Lennon gave his only non-Beatles film performance in How I Won the War, a darkly humorous riff on World War II. He played Gripweed, a member of the hapless “fourth Musketeers” regiment, in the ambitious but narratively disjointed film. (It jumped wildly among filmmaking approaches – documentary, farce, absurdist and more.)
Gripweed was a fittingly anarchistic character: he was revealed midway through the film to be a former member of the British Union of Fascists, which his commander shrugged off. Released in 1967, How I Won the War was a moderate success in England, though American audiences failed to connect with the heavy British Army slang peppering the dialogue. Beatles fans regularly cite the movie for its offscreen impact: Lennon reportedly composed “Strawberry Fields Forever” during a shooting break, and a photo of Lennon in costume was printed on the front page of the first issue of Rolling Stone.
September 10, 1973: the Rolling Stones’ track “Star Star” is banned by the BBC
“Star Star,” the last track on the Rolling Stones’ 1973 album Goat’s Head Soup, is an impressively lewd song. It charts singer Mick Jagger’s lust for a girl in New York City, progressing from innocent longing and a simple blues-rock lick into continued chanting of the phrase “starfucker,” as well as less-than-polite name-dropping of Steve McQueen and John Wayne.
The BBC banned the song from airplay. Atlantic Records was also displeased with the track, but they only managed to convince the band to change the title from the profane hook into the less contentious “Star Star.”
Goat’s Head Soup is better known for containing the hit single “Angie,” a veiled farewell to heroin.
September 9, 1977: David Bowie and Marc Bolan duet on Bolan’s television show
Though they began as friends in the London underground art scene, David Bowie and Marc Bolan became rivals once they both achieved glam-rock success. Mutual friends attributed this to Bolan’s ego; in his autobiography Bowie, Bolan, and the Brooklyn Boy, producer Tony Visconti noted that Bowie was happy for Bolan’s success, while the jealous T. Rex frontman pushed Bowie into petty arguments and derided his Ziggy Stardust persona.
The two musicians reunited amiably, to unintentionally hilarious results, on Bolan’s 1977 television series, Marc. On the show, Bolan performed original material and introduced up-and-coming bands; for the final episode, he welcomed Bowie to sing “Heroes” and join him for an unprecedented duet on a short new song called “Standing Next to You.” But before the pair could begin singing, Bolan fell off the stage and had to scramble back upright. The episode aired with that gaffe intact, and Bowie was seen giggling throughout their number.
Sadly, Bolan’s duet with his friend was one of his final appearances in public; he died one week later, on September 16th, in a car accident.
September 7, 1978: Keith Moon dies of a drug overdose
The drummer of the Who was an innovative drummer and an even more accomplished madman. His heavy, intense percussion managed to be suspenseful and tactful, and it anchored the rock band’s biggest hits in a momentum all their own; his enthusiastic abandon helped redefine rock & roll in the 1970s as a genre of experimental bombast and also of joy.
Moon was infamous for his debauchery: he fired explosives in hotel room toilets, smashed drum sets to pieces, smashed his front tooth while diving into an empty swimming pool and basically followed his id into danger countless times. He abused drugs and alcohol to the extent that they started unmooring his performances on the band’s 1973 Quadrophenia tour.
On the evening of September 6, 1978, shortly after the release of the Who album Who Are You, Moon accompanied Paul McCartney to a screening of The Buddy Holly Story. He then spent the night with his girlfriend at singer Harry Nilsson’s house in London and overdosed on a sedative that his doctor had prescribed him for his alcohol withdrawal symptoms. He was 32.
September 9, 2003: Simon and Garfunkel announce a reunion tour
Simon and Garfunkel had been disbanded for 20 less-than-amicable years when they announced their plans for a reunion road trip. Called the Old Friends tour, it was based on one of the most sentimental tracks on their resoundingly successful 1968 album, Bookends. The announcement followed their performance of “The Sound of Silence” at the Grammy Awards on February 23rd, 2003, their first appearance together in a decade; they also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award that evening.
The Old Friends tour spanned forty shows across the United States and Canada from October 16th through December 21st, 2003. The duo repeatedly played the rarities “Hey, Schoolgirl” and “Leaves That Are Green,” and the reception was so overwhelming (not least financially) that the pair reconvened for a European extension tour in the summer of 2004. The final show of that leg was held in the Coliseum in Rome, one of their largest audiences ever.
LAST WEEK: U2 Releases Debut EP