Brent Swancer August 3, 2017
Among the many musicians of the world, rock bands and rock stars seem to have drawn to themselves an extraordinarily impressive number of strange stories and odd legends. There seems to be no end to the amount of bizarreness surrounding them and their often rather eccentric, decadent lifestyles. Among the many, myriad tales of rock star madness and weirdness are those bands and musicians who seem to have been cursed by some evil, dark force that haunted them and clung to them to bring about misery, tragedy, and dire misfortune. Whether these stories are just odd coincidence, the result of a lifestyle fueled by drugs and excess, or something more is unclear, but there are certainly a lot of sinister curses that have supposedly targeted these mysterious musicians.
One of the more notorious supposed curses that seems to have hung over a popular band is that of the British-American rock group Fleetwood Mac. Although the band got its start in London in 1967 as a blues band, they are by far most well-known for their worldwide smash hit 1977 album Rumours, which was more mainstream and has sold over 40 million copies so far, at the time remained on the US Top 10 Singles Chart for 31 straight weeks, is the 8th best-selling album of all time, and which propelled the group into mega-stardom and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group has also become rather known over the years for its spooky string of bad fortune that seems to target all of their guitarists.
Fleetwood Mac in 1977
The first guitarist to suffer from the “curse” was the one who actually started the band in the first place, Peter Green, who already had a history of substance abuse, in particular heavy usage of LSD, a powerful hallucinogenic drug also widely known as acid. By 1969, Green was well-known for his acid usage and deteriorating mental instability and odd behavior, growing a beard, wearing flowing robes, and going around proclaiming that he was Jesus, as well as constantly suggesting that the band give away their earnings to charity. Things would all come to a head when in March of 1970, Green was at a party at a commune in Munich, Germany, and overdosed on a batch of bad LSD, giving him a profoundly bad trip, in which he claimed to see potent visions of angels. After this unfortunate episode, his mental health diminished dramatically, he left the group, and was eventually diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, which would cause him to be institutionalized.
Green would spend years moving between mental institutions and undergoing electroshock therapy, and those who went to see him were shocked to see that he was a washed-out, dazed and decrepit shell of the great guitar hero he had once been. After he was finally released, Green found various odd jobs, even working as a gravedigger, but his bizarre behavior did not abate. In one incident in 1977, Green stormed into the home of the band’s accountant, David Simmons, and threatened him with a shotgun because he was disgruntled that he was still receiving royalty checks. In 1995 he would return to music by founding the band The Splinter Group, but he never did achieve even a fraction of the fame or glory he had once enjoyed, and he was mostly forgotten, regulated to a sad footnote in musical history.
Fleetwood Mac’s slide guitarist, Jeremy Spencer, would also become embroiled in a weird incident as well. Spencer, who despite his wild and flamboyant demeanor on stage was actually deeply religious, overdosed on mescaline during a tour of Los Angeles in 1971 and would never be the same again. At one point he apparently casually told the other band members that he was going off to a book store to buy a magazine, and the next time anyone saw him again he was part of a strange cult called “The Children of God,” which had been formed in the 1960s by the self-proclaimed prophet David Berg. Although roughly based on Christianity, The Children of God deviated wildly in that they promoted free-love and open sex, notoriously including underage girls. Spencer would remain with the cult and would never come back, although he has continued to make music, and from as recently as 2006 released the album Precious Little, 2012’s Bend in the Road, and in 2014 the album Coventry Blues.
Next to join the ranks of the cursed guitarists of Fleetwood Mac was Danny Kirwan, who in 1972 had a strange meltdown during a US tour. Kirwan allegedly became inexplicably and irrationally furious while trying to tune a guitar, after which he began smashing and head-butting the walls and throwing his guitar into a mirror, and after that he bizarrely climbed down into the audience and began ruthlessly taunting and heckling the band from the crowd as they awkwardly tried to keep the show going without him. Although Kirwan had had a history of rather odd behavior and rampant drug and alcohol abuse, this incident would be the last straw. He was kicked out of the group and would go on to live the rest of his life destitute and homeless after spending time in a mental institution.
The curse then lay in wait until 2012, when it would come back with a vengeance. In January of 2012, former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Weston, then 64 and most famous for having had an affair with drummer Mick Fleetwood’s wife in the 1970s, was found dead at his North London flat of an apparent brain hemorrhage. Later that same year, tragedy struck another former guitarist from the band, Bob Welsh, who had been suffering from complications from spinal cord surgery and told that we would never walk again. Despondent and not wanting to burden his wife, Welsh wrote out a suicide note and killed himself with a deadly gunshot to the chest. Indeed, the only Fleetwood Mac guitarist who hasn’t been plagued by death and misfortune seems to be current frontman Lindsay Buckingham, although it could possibly just be a matter of time.
Another rather sinister curse apparently long menaced the legendary English rock group Led Zeppelin, which formed in 1968 and disbanded in 1980, and is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential rock bands in history, as well as the pioneers of the heavy metal genre of music. Much of the supposed curse has been said to have its root in Guitarist Jimmy Page’s obsession with the occult, and in particular the infamous English occultist Aleister Crowley, whom he deemed “a genius.” Page was apparently quite open and extravagant with his esoteric interests, owning an occult bookshop and publishing house, participating in the making of occult films, owning a vast trove of Aleister Crowley paraphernalia, and even buying Crowley’s own castle on Loch Ness, Scotland, called Boleskin House.
This connection to the mystical and arcane has generated a lot of spooky rumors, such as the well-known supposed backwards message hidden in the group’s song Stairway to Heaven, but perhaps its most sinister iteration is the persistent curse that is said to have haunted the group. The legend goes that Page somehow convinced the rest of the group that all of his mystic beliefs were real, and managed to get them to engage in an arcane ritual with the purpose of selling their souls to the Devil gain stardom. It is said that this was the point that was to mark the beginnings of a relentless streak of mysterious bad luck and tragedy, beginning in 1975, when lead singer and lyricist Robert Plant was driving along with his wife and three children when they were involved in a terrifying car accident, specifically literally driving off of a cliff, that left his wife and two of kids seriously injured and which shattered Plant’s ankle and elbow, causing the cancellation of the band’s 1975 Physical Graffiti Tour. Oddly, Plant’s 4-year-old daughter, Scarlet, was completely untouched and uninjured in the horrific accident.
When Plant was back on his feet and the band tried to get their 1977 North American Tour rolling they were besieged by myriad problems. Violent fans revolted, rioted, and gatecrashed the event when there were not enough tickets to go around, resulting in 19 arrests and 50 injured, Plant got sick to the point that he could barely play, and on top of all of this, band manager Peter Grant and John Bonham got into an altercation with a member of concert promoter Bill Graham’s staff and practically beat him to death. Among the various other examples of misfortune were a thunderstorm and numerous conflicts within the band itself. All things considered, it is amazing that any of the shows went ahead as scheduled at all.
The purported curse would rear its head again during the concert in the most sinister of ways when Plant’s 5-year-old son, Karac, died after contracting a mysterious stomach virus, cutting short the band’s concert and signaling the beginning of the end of days for the group. In 1980, drummer John Bonham then went on an epic all-day drinking binge which saw him pass out and die after choking on his own vomit. In the wake of this tragic death, the once great Led Zeppelin disbanded. Indeed, the only member of Led Zeppelin who seems to have remained relatively unscathed by the “curse” was bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, who is rumored to have had no part in the dark pact that had brought all of this upon them.
Interestingly, it has been said that not only was Led Zeppelin cursed, but that Page lashed out to curse another group for disrespecting his hero Aleister Crowley. A band of Essex rockers called Eddie And The Hot Rod were also fascinated and influenced by Crowley, and decided to feature the occultist on their cover for their chart-topping 1977 single Do Anything You Wanna Do. The problem was that instead of just simply plastering a picture of Crowley on the cover, their manager Ed Hollis insisted on altering the photo so that the great mystic was sporting a pair of comic Mickey Mouse ears. This comedic jab supposedly greatly displeased Plant, who placed a curse on the upcoming band that brought all kinds of negative effects upon them. Supposedly as a result of this curse, Eddie And The Hot Rod were dropped by their label, their manager became hopelessly addicted to heroin, they lost their creative drive, and they never did achieve their potential, losing any hope that they would ever reach the charts again. The band’s bassist has said of this curse:
Weird shit happened after that. A lot of people said we shouldn’t have fucked about with Crowley.
No article about cursed musicians would be complete without mentioning the late, great John Lennon and the curse he allegedly bore. In Lennon’s case, the whole dark ordeal seems to gravitate around the number 9 for some reason. The list of weird cases of synchronicity between Lennon and the number 9 is long. For starters, Lennon was born on October 9, 1961, and his first home was 9 Newcastle Road, Wavertree, Liverpool, with the three main words of the address each having 9 letters. His band The Beatles first appeared at the Cavern Club on February 9, 1961, and were later pushed into stardom on November 9, 1961, when they were discovered by their manager, Brian Epstein, after which they would go on to perform on the famous Ed Sullivan Show on November 9, 1966. Lennon would have a child with Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, who was born on October 9, 1975.
In Lennon’s solo career, his 1974 album Walls and Bridges, which was his 9th solo outing, featured a song called #9 Dream, which was released in September (the ninth month of the year), and features on its cover an illustration of a footballer with the number 9 printed on his back. The single of this song debuted at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. Curiously, the two albums released before and after Walls and Bridges were Mind Games and Rock ‘N’ Roll, both of which have nine letters.
So far, so weird, but things get more menacing when Lennon left the Beatles after spending 9 years together and on December 8, 1980, which was actually December 9 in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool, he was shot and killed by lone gunman Mark David Chapman. This would not even be the end of the curse of 9 that seems to have been orbiting him. In the aftermath of the shooting, Lennon was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, which is located on 9th Avenue, Manhattan, and both the words “Roosevelt” and “Manhattan” have nine letters. John Lennon was apparently well aware of how the number nine seemed to follow around and haunt him, thinking it had some deep numerological significance, but it is unclear if this was all just a spooky series of extreme coincidences or if there is something more to it all.
Curiously, one of Lennon’s closest friends, and a successful musician in his own right, also seems to have carried a curse with him. Singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson was a good friend and frequent creative collaborator with Lennon, and enjoyed some amount of fame and success in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with songs such as Everybody’s Talkin’, Without You, Coconut, and Jump Into the Fire, all of which were hits at the time, and his album Pussycats was produced by none other than John Lennon himself.
Nilsson’s curse didn’t affect him directly, unless you call rampant, unrepentant alcoholism a curse, so much as it did a band he covered to incredible effect. In 1971, Nilsson covered a song by the relatively minor group at the time, Badfinger, called Without You. The cover song became a runaway hit and music sensation, but while this was great for Nilsson, things with Badfinger were not going nearly as well. Earning little royalty payment for the Nilsson cover of their own song, they fell on hard times and would then be plagued by a series of odd deaths within their ranks. Badfinger singer, songwriter and guitarist Pete Ham hung himself in his own garage, after which bassist Tom Evans would follow suit and hang himself as well, and in 2005 the band’s drummer, Michael Gibbins, would die in his sleep at the age of 56.
The curse would continue to spread out its claws into others who had any connection to Nilsson. In July of 1974, the American singer and actress Cass Elliot was borrowing Nilsson’s small, one-bedroom Mayfair flat right after her successful performance at the Palladium when she dropped dead of heart failure at the age of 32. Then, in 1978, legendary rocker Keith Moon also died at the age of 32 in the very same flat on the very same bed after an overdose of Heminevrin tablets which had been prescribed to him for combatting alcohol withdrawal symptoms, taking a total of 32 tablets when 6 would have been enough to kill him. Nilsson would go on to die of heart failure on January 15, 1994, although at the age of 52.
There is certainly a dark allure to the life of rock stars and their unfettered excesses, and it seems natural that such stories should take off and revolve around them, but are there also curses that settle down over them as well? Are these just simple coincidences and myth building or something more sinister? It seems that this is something that will always lie beyond our ability to fully understand, but there is no question that the world of rock has spawned its fair share of legends and that ominous curses are definitely among these.