This week in rock history, the first couple in ABBA separated, Nikki Sixx died and was revived, the Smiths took the stage for the final time, Joe Strummer passed away and Jack White turned himself into Detroit police.
December 24, 1978: ABBA‘s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog separate
ABBA, one of the top-selling pop groups of the 1970s, had enough inter-band romantic drama to rival Fleetwood Mac. The Stockholm group was comprised of two married couples – Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus, then Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson – who came under strain at the height of their success and ultimately divorced.
From 1972 to 1982, ABBA had a stream of hit albums, most notable 1974’s Waterloo (“Waterloo,” “Honey, Honey”) and 1977’s Arrival (“Dancing Queen,” “Money, Money, Money”). Both couples were increasingly stressed during this lucrative period, though. In 1978, after seven years of marriage, Fältskog and Ulvaeus announced their imminent divorce.
Lyngstad and Andersson would also split three years later. Some consolation to the broken lovers in ABBA: they’ve sold over 370 million records worldwide.
December 23, 1987: Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue overdoses on heroin and is pronounced dead, then revived
There’s a reason that Nikki Sixx, the libertine bassist of Mötley Crüe, named his memoir The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. The drug was once so predominant in his life, it temporarily killed him.
In 1987, the same year the band released their hair-metal hit Girls, Girls Girls, Sixx shot up so much heroin that he was actually declared dead. He was loaded into an ambulance and then pumped with two adrenaline shots by paramedics (one of whom, Sixx recalled later, was a Crüe fan). The rocker came to instantly . . . upon which he immediately escaped from the ambulance, coerced a ride back to his home, promptly took more heroin, and passed out.
This wasn’t an isolated event, either. As he recalls in his book, he was the only heroin-addicted member in the band, and he overdosed “about half a dozen times.” This instance, however, inspired the band’s riotous anthem “Kickstart My Heart” and prompted Sixx to go into rehab shortly thereafter. Focused and healthy, he was able to lend killer basslines to the group’s next album, the seminal Dr. Feelgood.
December 22, 1988: The Smiths perform their farewell show without Johnny Marr
When the Smiths couldn’t go on any longer, it was old news to guitarist Johnny Marr; he’d taken a break from the emotive band in June 1987, preferring instead to focus on his alcohol and exhaustion issues (and, presumably, restrain himself from killing Morrissey). The Smiths as a whole announced their disbandment by way of their leader’s new career: Morrissey’s first solo show served as the official end to the Smiths.
In December 1988 – three months after the release of their fourth and final album, Strangeways, Here We Come – the band convened for the last time. They chose the historic Wolverhampton Civic Hall in England. Marr wasn’t present, as he had already been replaced by Easterhouse guitarist Ivor Perry, but members Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke took the stage. The concert was free to any fans wearing Smiths or Morrissey T-shirts, and nearly 20,000 fans showed up in them. Many had lined up for days outside the music hall.
The next year, Morrissey looked back fondly on the farewell evening, telling England’s Record Mirror, “It was nice. I did enjoy it. It was nice to be fondled.”
December 22, 2002: Joe Strummer dies
The most righteous punk of his generation, Joe Strummer lived a teenage adolescence that befit his music: he dropped out of school, busked in London Underground stations, and hopscotched between rock bands. By the time he formed the Clash in 1976, he was a seasoned pro with ties to all the vibrant subcultures – early rock, reggae, counterculture and racial politics – that would make his band legendary.
Born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, the guitarist played prominently on all the hit albums in the Clash’s catalog. His parts were melodic but suffused with urgency; he exuded life even in the band’s quieter moments. Their barbed, intelligent London Calling, on which he was the primary writer, had an immediate effect on the international music scene and was voted the best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone.
After leaving the Clash in 1986, Strummer stayed active, performing with the Mescaleros and the Pogues and contributing to soundtracks. He was also socially active as a fundraiser for numerous charities and an organizer of the Future Forests ecological program. He died from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect in 2002, at age 50.
December 24, 2003: Jack White turns himself into police on aggravated assault charges against Jason Stollseimer of the Von Bondies
Jack White, the cheerily eccentric maestro of the White Stripes, shocked his fans when he finally showed a darker side. On December 13, 2003, White brawled with Jason Stollsteimer, singer of the Von Bondies, at a Detroit rock club; several witnesses claimed later that White had initiated the fight after Stollsteimer refused to speak to him. Stollsteimer filed a police complaint that evening, then White filed a cross-complaint insisting that he had not acted aggressively.
However, White turned himself into Detroit police approximately a week later, on Christmas Eve. Faced with a charge of aggravated assault, he pleaded guilty to assault and battery and paid approximately $750 in fines and court fees. He was also ordered to attend anger management classes.
When the sentencing was complete, White’s lawyer, Wally Piszczatowski, snarked to the press: “We’re very happy with the result and we’re happy that the most highly celebrated bar-scuffle in the history of the city of Detroit has finally come to an end.”
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