This week in rock history, John Bonham and Cliff Burton passed away, George Harrison and David Crosby visited Springfield, Courtney Love was sentenced for her assault on Kathleen Hanna and Don Henley received an award from President Bill Clinton.
September 25, 1980: John Bonham dies
The accidental death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham left the band in ruins and the music world inconsolable.
Bonham was no small factor in Led Zeppelin’s arena ferocity. His controlled speed and heaviness were the clever force of their rock anthems. His keen sense of dynamics and his rhythmic adeptness carried many of the band’s more experimental grooves, such as “Fool in the Rain” and “Immigrant Song,” and his percussive ideas were inexhaustible: his infamous drum solo in “Moby Dick” was known to clock in around 30 minutes in concert.
On the day of Bonham’s death, the drummer drank vodka heavily throughout breakfast and continued imbibing during the band’s afternoon rehearsal for their upcoming American tour. After practice, the band decamped to guitarist Jimmy Page’s house in the South of England. By nightfall, Bonham had consumed an estimated 40 shots of vodka; he passed out and asphyxiated on his vomit. He was 32. Led Zeppelin formally disbanded a few months later.
In 2011, Rolling Stone readers voted Bonham the greatest drummer of all time.
September 27, 1986: Metallica bassist Cliff Burton dies in a tour bus crash in Sweden
Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, whose virtuosic runs helped redefine the instrument’s place in thrash metal, died at the height of his musical glory.
Burton, who lent his aggressive strings to Metallica’s first three albums – including the impassioned solo track “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” on their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All – was traveling through Europe with the band on their commercial breakthrough Master of Puppets tour. On the road after a show in Stockholm, their group’s bus crashed in southern Sweden; Burton was flung from the vehicle and crushed underneath it. He was just 24 years old.
The driver of the bus claimed that he hit “black ice” on the road; Metallica singer James Hetfield has vehemently contested this, claiming that no ice was found at the scene. After the band’s mourning period, Burton was replaced by Jason Newsted.
In 2009, Metallica was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Burton received posthumous honors.
September 30, 1993: George Harrison and David Crosby make cameos on The Simpsons
The Season Five premiere of The Simpsons was a predictably zany undertaking: a fond skewering of the Beatles delivered via the tale of Homer Simpson’s barbershop quartet, the Be Sharps.
The Be Sharps’ trajectory was clearly plotted after the Fab Four’s career milestones. From the group’s modest origins to their early teen idol hysteria, to their second album title (Bigger Than Jesus) and the friction that arose when Barney Gumble dated a Japanese conceptual artist, the episode included scores of ingenious Beatles in-jokes by staff writer Jeff Martin.
The biggest draws of the episode, however, were cameos from George Harrison and David Crosby. Their scenes were excellently droll: Harrison directed Homer toward a plate of brownies and derided the Be Sharps’ farewell rooftop concert, a là the Beatles’ Let It Be-era performance on top of the Apple building. Crosby presented a Grammy to the Be Sharps and shared a befuddled moment with his biggest fan, Barney.
September 25, 1995: Courtney Love receives a one-year suspended prison sentence for assaulting Kathleen Hanna
The first day of the 1995 Lollapalooza Festival was a combative one: Courtney Love punched Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna in the face, resulting in a legal case between the two.
After Hanna allegedly made a heroin joke about Love’s daughter with Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean, Love threw herself onto Hanna, as well as pelted her with hard candies and a lit cigarette. Bodyguards intervened before the fight could escalate, and Hanna pressed assault charges. Love received a one-year suspended prison sentence and was forced to enroll in anger management classes.
Hanna’s interaction with Love may have been contentious, but she had a much more creative past with Love’s late husband: she once spray-painted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the Nirvana frontman’s wall, inspiring the band’s seismic hit.
September 29, 1997: Don Henley is awarded a National Humanities Medal
President Bill Clinton must’ve really enjoyed “Life in the Fast Lane.” In the fall of 1997, he honored Eagles singer Don Henley with the National Humanities Medal for contributions to American popular culture.
Henley was honored at the White House for his contributions to rock music and also for his work with two environmental organizations, the Walden Woods Project and the Thoreau Institute. He shared the Humanities prize with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, Latin percussionist Tito Puente and jazz singer Betty Carter.
The National Humanities Medal may have proved an unexpected catalyst for Henley’s political future. In 2000, the raspy singer co-founded the Recording Artists’ Coalition, which later caused him to testify on behalf of musicians’ rights at California State Senate hearing – with, of all people, Courtney Love.
LAST WEEK: Jimi Hendrix Dies