It’s a poorly kept secret that rock stars and their bands don’t exactly view themselves as normal people. To paraphrase Christopher Walken: Sure, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us, but once their pants are on they make hit records, rock auditoriums full of people, and dodge mountains of groupies who are all trying to get their pants off again. Just imagine being on tour: Everybody allowed to come into contact with you is there to cater to your every whim, thousands of people show up every night in different cities just to hear you rock, and you get paid obscene amounts of money for this. You could be the Dalai Lama, and that would still go to your head.
This is why, every time one of these artists have come to town, you can bet there was a healthy contingent of people — police, security guards, stagehands, etc. — who hoped against hope that that fleet of tour buses would just rumble on by. Many of them are older acts who engaged in the fine, sadly lost art of trashing hotel rooms, some place insane demands upon the venues and cities lucky enough to be blessed by their presence, and some can’t seem to quit antagonizing their own fans — but all of these bands are absolute freaking nightmares on the road.
Lizard King wants to show you his Lizard Prince
The Doors were the dictionary definition of a legendary band, and lead singer Jim Morrison was the prototypical rock god — but if you caught them live, you never knew exactly what you were going to get. Morrison could be an intensely charismatic and borderline otherworldly stage presence, but he could also be a complete drunken madman prone to the type of jaw-droppingly inappropriate behavior that sounds like urban legend but somehow is not. Forgetting the lyrics to his own songs in an alcoholic haze was just the tip of the iceberg, and every time he made the news for some insane reason, he seemed to be trying to top himself.
For example, during a 1967 show, a cop who failed to recognize Morrison (who was making out with a groupie at the time) maced the singer after he refused to vacate the area. Morrison recovered in time to take the stage — where he decided to forgo performing in favor of a profane rant against the police, which got him arrested. Then there was the time in 1969 he allegedly exposed himself onstage to earn another trip to the slammer, or that other time in 1970 when a lamb somehow ended up onstage, prompting Morrison to exclaim he’d sure like to have sex with it. These are far from the only examples, but you signed up for a short, entertaining article, not a 10,000-word treatise.
Airplane crashes and burns
Even if you prefer new music to classic rock, you’d have to admit these older bands could really teach these young whippersnappers a thing or two about partying so hard that everything gets weird and possibly illegal. Take Jefferson Airplane, whose lead singer Grace Slick was a boozy force of nature (a. boozicane?) rivaled only by her onetime boyfriend Jim Morrison for sheer volume of consumption and subsequent extreme awkwardness. When she wasn’t wantonly humping anything in her path — “I pretty much nailed anybody that was handy” — she was boozing, attempting to perform while boozing even more, or getting arrested for booze.
In 1978 alone she was arrested twice before the summer even began, then kicked off the sunny season by causing a riot after canceling a concert in Germany due to illness. She made it up to them the next night, however, by getting utterly plastered before even setting foot onstage and tearing into the locals over Germany’s Nazi past. “Who won the war?!” she implored, as the crowd booed and threw things; she then adroitly tried to win them back over by shouting “Heil Hitler!” and giving Nazi salutes. This, of course, led to her dismissal from the band. Fortunately, though, she would rejoin the revamped Jefferson Starship three years later, in plenty of time to contribute to one of the worst songs anyone has ever heard: “We Built This City.”
When the going gets tough, Axl Rose starts a riot
Guns N’ Roses has always been a hit-or-miss live proposition for one shaggy, screeching reason: front man Axl Rose, who quickly developed a reputation for being an enormous jerk who loves to tussle with fans and only deigns to perform if and when he feels like it. The world got a sneak preview of these tendencies in 1991, when GNR rocked the brand-new Riverport Ampitheatre in St. Louis. At least they did until Rose took issue with something some fan was doing in the front row. When security failed to remove the guy within three seconds, Rose decided to handle it himself and leaped into the crowd. One riot, 65 injuries and thousands of dollars in property damage later, the band was facing multiple lawsuits and Rose’s reputation was cemented.
Feeling like he could do better, Rose managed to anger pretty much all of Montreal during the Guns’ joint tour with Metallica. When the latter had to cut their set short after lead singer James Hetfield was seriously burned by pyrotechnics, Rose and the boys could have calmed the crowd and saved the day by putting on a blistering set — so of course, they didn’t. They played a cursory few songs before Rose exclaimed “This will be our last show for a long time,” and bolted. Presto, instant riot — but Rose, having learned his lesson, somehow made Canadians riot again by canceling a Vancouver show a full decade later.
Legend of the Loon
When Keith “The Loon” Moon was manning the skins for British rock band The Who, hospitality employees trembled at the mere mention of their name. This is because Moon, one of the greatest drummers of all time, is arguably less famous for that than he is for constantly destroying his accommodations as if a hotel room killed his father. Every one of his exploits sounds like a wild tall tale — but not according to the great Alice Cooper, who once said, “Everything you’ve ever heard about Keith Moon is true. And you’ve only heard a tenth of it.”
For starters, there’s the legendary incident on Moon’s 21st birthday in which he drove a Lincoln Continental into the swimming pool of a Flint, Michigan, Holiday Inn. This was apparently not an isolated occurrence, as he also once drove a car straight through the floor-to-ceiling glass of a hotel lobby and up to the reception desk, then got out and calmly asked for his room key. A limo driver once reported that a panicked Moon asked him to turn around and return to the hotel they’d just left, saying he’d forgotten something — which was to hurl the TV out the window. (“I nearly forgot,” he said upon returning.) He attempted to steal a hotel waterbed, which burst, so he was relocated to another suite — which he trashed. All this, plus a consistent fondness for the old cherry-bomb-in-the-toilet trick — and if Cooper is to be believed, this only scratches the surface.
Might as well jump right over the edge
Despite their fun-loving, party-hard image, Van Halen has to be one of the most stressful bands in the world to be in, because the guys kind of can’t stand each other. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen and lead singer David Lee Roth in particular have been known to butt heads constantly, which is perhaps one of the reasons the outfit has always been sort of like the Murphy’s Law of live bands: If there’s something weird, stupid, or awkward that can happen, it probably will.
In the band’s early days, they were just as hotel-room-trash-y as the next guys, unless the next guys happened to be Journey. In 1978, Van Halen were opening for the arena rock kings when they became displeased with the headliners’ lavish catering and bevy of groupies, amenities the boys felt deprived of. So, they utterly destroyed their hotel room, chucked TVs out the window (known as “pulling a Moon”), and had a fire extinguisher fight in the hallway, and blamed it all on Journey. But that’s nothing compared to their bizarre stage antics — from Roth challenging a fan to a fight in 1984, to Eddie smashing guitars and storming off stage in 2004, to the mangled mess they made of their signature hit “Jump” at a 2007 show. It’s their crackerjack live performances that made Van Halen legendary, and when they’re on, they’re on. When they’re not, David Lee Roth might threaten to kick your ass.
Nothing taxes an infrastructure … like Metallica
Metallica rose from scrappy thrash-metal gods to become the biggest band on the planet, and the problem with becoming the biggest band on the planet is that at some point, you start to act like it. Largely sober and straightened out by the time they achieved their greatest success, the band doesn’t blow up Best Westerns or start brawls with fans — they simply place an unreal burden on every venue at which they perform, as outlined extensively in a 24-page (!) tour rider.
First things first: The band requires a $5 million insurance policy for each performance, or no deal. Parking space must be cleared, in close proximity to the venue, for seven full-size buses and fourteen 48-foot tractor-trailers. The venue must provide separate rooms for dressing, “food and schmooze,” tuning, wardrobe, crew quarters, pyrotechnics, and three business offices. An unarmed security staff of five dozen or so must also be provided, and we haven’t even gotten to the catering yet: hot breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 100, along with an insane assortment of beverages, deli platters, fresh fruit, and such to be replenished throughout the day. Also: bacon. This is made very clear by the language “BACON VERY IMPORTANT THAT BACON BE AVAILABLE AT EVERY MEAL AND DURING DAY,” which appears no fewer than three times. Basically, if you want Metallica, be prepared to cater to every need of a small army and slaughter every pig in your state.
Wayne’s Army ready to deploy
Lil Wayne is a very popular rap guy, to be sure, but while Metallica insists that their security be unarmed, Wayne demands a phalanx of armed guards suitable for a head of state. His tour rider begins with the requirement of a two-vehicle police escort from the airport to the hotel, which will be joined by an additional squad of four armed, off-duty officers to accompany Wayne from the hotel to the venue, then back to the hotel, and anywhere else he might need to go. Sounds pretty secure, right? Not secure enough!
Ten more armed guards must patrol the backstage areas, and for international dates, an additional four-man armed security team must be available to Wayne 24 hours a day. For his off-venue accommodation, Wayne requires nothing less than the presidential suite of a five-star hotel, and obviously, copious amounts of food, booze, energy drinks, and towels — 10 white hand towels and 10 white full-size towels — must be present in his room upon arrival. It’s a good thing Wayne is too huge to play smaller towns, or just popping out to McDonald’s before the show might require him to commandeer their entire police force.
Drunk Crue vs. Sober Crue
In the early ’80s, there was no band more notoriously hard-partying than Motley Crue, much to the chagrin of their manager Doc McGhee. Their destructive, drug-addled ways were and are well-known, but McGhee put life on the road with Crue into hilarious focus during an interview on the Talk is Jericho podcast: “They were more like a gang than a band,” he explained. “You apologized every day. We got thrown out of every hotel with them. … We had to put up $15,000 in cash just to get into a Howard Johnson’s.” He even described an incident in which the band was booted from their hotel after brawling with none other than Van Halen. (In the latter’s defense, an unidentified crew member started it by biting Eddie.) But these days, the Crue aren’t so much rowdy as they are a royal pain in the keister for venues.
Among the standard, still-excessive rock star requirements for backstage amenities, the Crue requires that each venue have on hand the location of any AA meetings taking place in the area since the boys are now mostly sober. But their newfound sobriety doesn’t mean they don’t know how to have fun: among their other requests are a jar of peanut butter (creamy, please), a jar of Grey Poupon mustard, a sub-machine gun, and a 12-foot boa constrictor. You know, the usual stuff.
Perks of the one-word name club
There are artists with demanding tour riders, and then there is Madonna, who as Queen of Madonnaworld must have everything just so if she’s to be ready to perform. Madge travels with a 200-person entourage (which includes 30 bodyguards, an acupuncturist, and a yoga instructor, of course) for which a strict vegan menu must be prepared, and that’s one of her least difficult demands.
For some reason, Madonna requires that the backstage area be equipped with 20 international phone lines, in case she needs to call twenty people all around the world all at once. Her highness also requires that all backstage furniture be “draped in a special fabric,” accompanied by “lilies and white and pink roses with their stems cut to exactly six inches” and a brand-new toilet seat for her bathroom, along with the standard backstage craziness. But it’s the requirements she has of her hotel that are truly nuts: To make sure she’s completely comfortable, Madonna likes her accommodations to have that lived-in feel. That is to say, she literally ships the furniture from her house everywhere she goes and demands that the hotel room’s furniture be removed and replaced with her own before she arrives. Hey, at least she stopped there — she could’ve gotten it in her head to bring along her actual house.
Maiden run of the S.S. Beastie ends predictably
The Beastie Boys went from frat boys of rap to beloved elder statesmen in an improbably short time. But during their tour in support of their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill, they were about as welcomed by the towns receiving them as a plague of locusts and caused nearly as many problems. These shows famously featured such family-friendly set decor as giant, inflatable dongs and scantily clad women writhing about in suspended steel cages, which went over about as well as you’d expect during the era of the PMRC. In advance of their Washington, D.C., date, the Washington Post ran an article that screamed, “BAN THE BEASTIE BOYS: Beware, parents! The Beastie Boys don’t do concerts; they do orgies.”
While this wasn’t exactly the case, their raucous shows and throwback tendency to demolish hotel rooms drew the ire of law enforcement agencies across the country. After having run out of people to annoy in the U.S., the Beasties departed for the U.K. leg of the tour, where a Liverpool audience unaccustomed to such rowdiness took umbrage when the band started chucking beer bottles into the crowd. A riot broke out, Ad-Rock was arrested, and the whole ugly incident led to the Beasties being dropped from the Def Jam label. They responded to the setback by moving to Los Angeles, hooking up with the Dust Brothers, and producing one of rap’s greatest masterpieces. So if you wanna kick-start your career, start a riot? Unless you’re Axl Rose. Three is enough, Axl.