Did you know Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were briefly known as Nick Cave – Man or Myth when they formed in 1983 out of the detritus of The Birthday Party? And since that time Cave has done nothing but increase the mystery surrounding himself even when he tries to convince us that he’s actually quite normal.
For instance, the Australian songwriter toils from nine to five in an office like many of us, but he composes tunes or piano parts or writes scripts or novels (or whatever else the polymath gets up to). Perfectly normal… and yet weird. And when he moved to Brighton we all said “Brighton? What?!” like it was the strangest thing a man could possibly do, and yet why wouldn’t Nick Cave move to Brighton to be with his wife beside the seaside? Quite normal… and yet somehow freaky that he walks among us. And then back in 2005 a story broke on Popbitch that Cave had been spotted with his child at a pantomime starring X Factor quarterfinalist Chico (who had his 15 minutes in the mid noughties). Cave was apparently seen holding up a foam hand and mouthing the words ‘It’s Chico Time!’ along with everyone else in the theatre. The scenario seemed so unlikely that it sent shockwaves. Quite normal… that one isn’t particularly normal actually, scrub that from the record.
Here are other artists who have, for whatever reason, ingeniously created myths around themselves.
Richard D. James seems to inhabit the hinterland of our dreams – or nightmares – and there can be few artists who thrive on legend and subterfuge like Aphex Twin. The tank ownership, the living in a bank vault under the Elephant and Castle roundabout, the DJing with just some sandpaper and a food mixer… Richard James opens his mouth in an interview and you never know if the Cornishman is telling the truth or taking the piss. The macabre story behind the name goes that he briefly had an older brother, also named Richard, who was stillborn. Then he came along and took his place, hence the “twin”. It’s not one of those stories you’d feel comfortable challenging as an interviewer…
Tom Waits is fond of employing the famous Mark Twain quote “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and it’s easy to see why. The San Diego legend has been spinning yarns about himself since he was able to pull himself onto the piano stool, and the Tom Waits that exists in the public consciousness is surely more myth than man. Interestingly Waits has been sober a long time now partly thanks to his wife and musical collaborator Kathleen Brennan, and yet the character he plays has become more deranged over time, like some hobo Dorian Gray. It’s a win-win situation where the real Waits retains his privacy and his fans only hanker to know more.
Robert Zimmerman does things his own way and always has. In the 60’s he was a folk troubadour who was accused of being a ‘Judas’ when he went electric, and in the 70’s he wrote some of his most beautiful songs and became a recluse. Since then he’s been a lauded painter, a born-again Christian, a radio disc jockey, an Oscar winner, an ever-constant itinerant musician and an advertising salesman par excellence. Bob keeps putting himself out there, and yet the more he does, the less we seem to know about him.
The Walkers Brothers singer and mid-60’s heartthrob turned his back on being a teen idol and his output has become increasingly avant-garde as a solo artist across the decades, with a Guardian writer likening the change to ‘Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen’. Noel Scott Engel from Hamilton, Ohio has undergone many changes since he was born in 1948, and not just from child actor to pop phenomenon to enigmatic recluse; the American notably moved to England in 1965 and became a British citizen in 1970 and he’s been here ever since. His career has been full of intrigue and mystery, and highlights include his dazzling recordings of enigmatic Belgian crooner Jacques Brel’s songs, producing Pulp’s ‘We Love Life’, and most recently coming together with drone metal pioneers Sunn O))) for a much-anticipated collaboration.
So much mystery surrounded Marilyn Manson back in the day that he inspired one of the great urban myths of rock: that he had in fact been the child star who played Paul Pfeiffer in the early 90’s TV comedy drama The Wonder Years. In those pre-internet days it wasn’t easy to ratify, and it was such a preposterous claim that it had to be true! Brian Warner (for that is his real name) has made a few appearances as an actor of late, including a surprise cameo on Eastbound & Down without the makeup, proving once and for all that he didn’t star in The Wonder Years at all. Fear not, there are plenty of other myths about the superstar left to debunk.
Lady Gaga is the rarest thing, a truly fantastic popstar enigma whose music is a bit underwhelming. You might beg to differ. Her zany persona and total immersion in fashion and art makes her rife for rumour, and plenty of febrile nonsense has sprung up about her by the usual internet sickos, including the claim she’s an hermaphrodite and that she intends to amputate her leg as a fashion statement! Gaga is yet to chop off any limbs, and to be honest, her genitals are her own business. The internet is a beautiful thing, but it’s a shame that so much derision and hate is reserved for female artists like her and the always excellent Lana Del Rey. It’ll be something this generation will look back on in shame in decades to come.
Axl is an egomaniac and control freak driven crazy by jealousy and prone to prolonged bouts of procrastination and dizzying hissy fits that make Miss Piggy look like the Dalai Lama, but underneath it all he’s a nice guy. Well apparently, if you can get close enough to him, though most people don’t. Axl, like Prince, lived in an impermeable bubble, though Prince was nice and would play for you all night. Axl may not turn up til midnight. Nobody knows why.
Julian Cope is one of pop’s most enduringly eccentric characters, though the former Teardrop Explodes singer certainly has depth. The stories are myriad, though here are just a few things to think about. Living in Avebury with his family far away from the maddening crowds, Cope has become a prolific writer of both fictional and nonfictional work, and regarding the latter he is a respected authority on all things neolithic and megalithic. Among the many insane things the shamanic Arch-Drude has done includes attacking himself brutally with his own mic stand at a show in Hammersmith in 1984, and turning up at the Poll Tax riots as his ‘seven-foot alter ego’ Mr. Sqwubbsy. They don’t make popstars like that anymore.
Few artists of such stature have managed to call the shots like Kate has – the singer and mum has disappeared for many years at a time in order to bring up her child and live a normal life, keeping a dignified silence in the face of rumours or theories.