Chapter 15: Do You Want to Know a Secret? (Rock’s Great Imponderables)

During the years that I worked on the column that became this book, there were some questions I never answered. Some were too mundane, some were too specialized. But a few always seemed just out of my reach. The one I always regretted not being able to nail down to my desired standards of accuracy: “Which rock stars wear toupees?”

The question has an elementary beauty: with so many rock stars over sixty, of course there must be some whose youthful manes have long abandoned them. But although Elton John grinned his way through the public humiliation of getting new hair plugs, there are likely some trying to stay secretly youthful and vigorous. (This particular species of vanity can be found more in lead singers and guitarists; members of the rhythm section seem more inclined to let nature take its course.)

One source told me the (unconfirmed) story of an American folk-rock star touring England in the ’70s. A London barber was summoned to a hotel room to cut the star’s hair. At the appointed time, he showed up with his scissors and other accoutrements. When he knocked on the door, he was greeted by a road manager and told the star wasn’t present. “But I have an appointment to cut his hair,” the barber stammered. “Oh!” said the road manager. “His hair‘s here.” The barber was escorted inside and introduced to the star’s wig, which he relieved of a few stray hairs.

When David Bowie was touring with Moby on the Area2 package, I went to the Jones Beach Theater, just outside New York City, and interviewed him about the day’s events. He offered polite quotes about Moby and Busta Rhymes—but then, after I had the material I needed for my story, I asked him which rock stars wore hairpieces. For the first time during our conversation, his eyes lit up and he leaned forward. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

I explained my high-minded pursuit of knowledge. He grinned, and reflected. “Oh…” he said, clearly bursting with the desire to gossip, “I shouldn’t.” The toupee question will have to wait for another day—one of many questions that will get answered when Bowie finally spills all–but this chapter contains the answers to some of the other eternal mysteries of rock.

  1. Did Robert Johnson sell his soul to the Devil?
  2. His lack of compositional abilities aside, is Ringo Starr generally considered as a drummer: A. A very talented instrumentalist whose abilities are/were underestimated? B. A not-bad musician elevated by his good fortune in winding up a Beatle? C. A pretty lame musician by comparison not just to his bandmates but to most of his contemporaries in successful rock bands? I have thought both B and C at various points, but heard (possibly fulsome/insincere) testimony to A. Help me out!
  3. Did Mick Jagger get good grades at the London School of Economics?
  4. I was listening to Kid Rock’s “Cowboy,” and I wondered—what are the right reasons to open an escort service?
  5. What the hell did Billie Joe McAllister throw off the Tallahatchee Bridge?
  6. Doesn’t Pete Townshend hurt his hand when he does that windmill thing on the guitar?
  7. Did Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show ever make it to the cover of Rolling Stone?
  8. Did Bob Dylan really have a motorcycle accident, or was he covering something up?
  9. What do those symbols on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV represent?