September 24, 2021

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Rebel, rebel: music’s greatest outlaws

11 min read

Call them villains, anti-heroes, outlaws: there’s a fine line between a loveable rogue with a streak of the devil and a menace to society.

To celebrate the release of The Suicide Squad, the DCEU movie that puts the baddies in the frame (and often quickly out of the frame again, having dispatched with them), we look at music’s great outlaws. Is it just us, or is too long since we heard about a pop star shooting up a telly?

Barry White

The tyre baron of Galveston, Texas

Barry White performs during the Diamond Awards Festival, Sportpaleis, Antwerp, Belgium, 28th November 1987. (Picture: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Who: The self-styled “walrus of love”, Barry White epitomised the 1970s lothario: his deep baritone voice, spoken-word intros and swirling strings probably skewed birth rates higher in several western nations.

Peak outlaw moment: At 17, White stole $40,000 worth of Cadillac tyres – a caper that hit the skids when he was caught and sent to jail for four months. It was in prison that Barry was inspired to aim for a career in music after hearing Elvis’s ‘It’s Now Or Never’ on the radio. When he made it big, White bought his dream car – and no, it was a 1979 Stutz IV-Porte, not a Caddie.

Jim Morrison

The lizard king with an errant ding-a-ling

Jim Morrison will be the subject of a new documentary centred on his extensive career in the arts
Jim Morrison (Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Who: As the acid-fried face of drop-out culture, the establishment were never going to look too favourably on Jim Morrison, frontman of LA psych-rock band The Doors. But while his band were trying to open the doors of perception, Morrison’s exhibitionism meant he was instead pushing against the doors of county jail.

Peak outlaw moment: “Do you want to see my cock?”: six words that landed Jim Morrison in a whole heap of hot water, being that he said them on stage to 10,000 fans at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium on March 2, 1969. While it’s never been confirmed whether the cosmic Doors singer did whip out Lil’ Jimmy for the crowd’s delectation, the Florida State Attorney’s Office issued a warrant for his arrest and, a year later, Morrison was sentenced to six months in prison. He died in Paris waiting for his appeal.

Travie McCoy

Tagging a memento mori near you

Travie McCoy
Travie McCoy performs at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on December 18, 2013 in Tampa, Florida (Picture: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Clear Channel)

Who: The teenage antics of Gym Class Heroes frontman Travie McCoy would qualify him as the loveable badboy type in most high schools: he was a skater, graffiti artist, tattoo artist and functioning painkiller user. He also wasn’t shy of a fight, as he proved in 2008 when he bopped a racist audience member on the head with his mic – then summoned him to the stage for a public shaming. However, McCoy’s outlaw cred comes from an audacious bit of tagging.

Peak outlaw moment: A grim piece of history it may be, what’s left of The Berlin Wall serves as a stark monument to the division that war causes. In other words, it’s a site for contemplation, not for the singers of passing punk bands to add their tag to. On October 28, 2010, McCoy did just that – literally spraying “Travie McCoy” in blue bubble writing onto the macabre monument, making him fairly easy to catch and arrest. Especially because he also tweeted his intention to do it and a picture of the finished work.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Caught out by a Mac attack

ol' dirty bastard
Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan speak at The Source Awards on April 26, 1994 in New York City, New York. (Picture: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.)

Who: The phrase “troubled genius” could easily be applied to the Wu Tang Clan’s most famous son, whose talent for hit-making features with artists including Kelis and Pras Michel was matched by his talent for getting into bother with the boys in blue.

Peak outlaw moment: In 2000, ODB busted out of court-mandated rehab and went on the lam like an old-school outlaw, even popping up at a Wu-Tang record release party in New York City. He was finally caught at a Philadelphia branch of McDonald’s, where he was signing autographs for fans in the car park.

Keith Moon

The one-man hurricane

Keith Moon
Keith Moon in 1973 (Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Who: Brainless Tasmanian devil or situationist artist exploring the beauty of destruction? Whichever way you view the hellraising behaviour of The Who’s late drummer, “Moon the Loon” had an appetite for destruction that you can’t help but admire.

Peak outlaw moment: Moon celebrated his 21st birthday on his 20th birthday, August 23, 1967, as a small white lie meant he’d be allowed to drink in Flint, Michigan, where he found himself that day. And drink he did, reaping havoc on a Holiday Inn in a $24,000 rampage that began with a food fight and climaxed with a Lincoln Continental car being rolled into the swimming pool with Moon, naked, behind the wheel. Moon broke a tooth in the mayhem and the police escorted him to the station via a dentist. Legend has it that Moon was so blitzed he didn’t require any additional painkillers. He did, however, pick up a lifetime ban from Holiday Inn motels.

DMX

Played cops and robbers – with himself

DMX
DMX performing live (Picture: Getty)

Who: The outpouring of grief following the death of DMX on April 9 this year showed what a folk hero the New York rapper was – and how the establishment had come to accept him, with plans recently announced to erect a statue or name a street after him in his native Yonkers.

Peak outlaw moment: In what must rank as one of the wildest celebrity benders of all time, DMX went on the rampage on June 24, 2004, speeding around a JFK Airport car park with a police light and siren, pulling a vehicle over and pretending to be an FBI officer. He was ordered to pay $240,000 in damages to the driver, Sergei Priporin, but was unrepentant. DMX said: “[Priporin] was just totally disrespecting my authority. Not that I really had any authority… but what if I really did have the authority?”

Jimi Hendrix

The draft-dodging guitar god

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix (Picture: Getty Images)

Who: Hendrix electrified the wailing heart of the blues and became a totem of anti-establishment expression when he mangled and reconstructed America’s national anthem at Woodstock, where hippies gathered to turn the generation gap into a canyon.

Peak outlaw moment: Plenty of US musicians of the 1960s lived in fear of the draft and expressed ethical oppositions to the Vietnam War. But Jimi Hendrix – who was a soldier in the US Army – was a shoo-in for a trip to Saigon, and would have been sent to fight had he not declared his homosexuality to the forces in 1962 and been discharged from the 101st Airborne, such was the policy at the time. The small matter of him not being gay didn’t seem to matter. Hendrix buggered off to Britain, formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience and set about changing the face of rock music.

Ian Brown 

The conspiracy kid

Ian Brown
Ian Brown (Picture: Ross Gilmore/Redferns)

Who: The frontman of beloved British band The Stone Roses has always cut a mercurial character, but it was a surprise to most when the peace-loving singer was arrested for air rage in 1998 after reportedly threatening to “chop the hands off” a flight attendant. His prison stint took place at Strangeways, in the heart of his hometown of Manchester, where by all accounts he got the full folk-hero treatment and was revered by the inmates. Of late, he’s drifted further towards the fringes of society with views on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines that differ from the mainstream narrative.

Peak outlaw moment: Declaring that the pandemic was “planned and designed to make us digital slaves” on the digital platform Twitter, one of a clutch of statements that’s seen him branded a “Covidiot”.

Ozzy Osbourne

Pissed on the Alamo, pissed off Texas

Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne (Picture: Getty)

Who: The Black Sabbath frontman has always given the impression of being a man who’s just woken up in the middle of a hurricane, quietly trying to figure out what’s happening as all around him chaos rules. Mostly, his hellraising has harmed him more than others.

Peak outlaw moment: The State of Texas sees itself as being a place slightly removed from the Union, a contested territory that won its independence the hard way – and The Alamo, in San Antonio, is the sanctified site that represents their struggle. It is not, therefore, a place that most Texans are amused to find a pissed Brummie heavy metal singer taking a slash on, as Osbourne did in 1982, leading to his arrest.

Cardi B

Does the B stand for Bandit?

Cardi B
Cardi B (Picture: Getty)

Who: Cardi B’s creds as rap’s favourite bad girl are indisputable, but even her fans were shocked when video surfaced of her describing how she would lure men to hotel rooms, drug them and rob them for the money. Cardi was unrepentant, explaining that extreme poverty pushed her into it.

Peak outlaw moment: A 2018 arrest for brawling in a strip club. It doesn’t get more badass than that.

GG Allin

Part-performer, part-petri dish

GG Allin
GG Allin performing (Picture: Frank Mullen/WireImage)

Who: New York was the crucible for the earliest wave of punk, but even in the time of gobbing on the mosh pit, punk provocateur GG Allin pushed audience sensibilities too far for most with his mix of nudity, injury, blood and faeces-flinging. In essence, it’s the kind of behaviour that the Jackass crew turned into family entertainment, but the people weren’t ready – Allin claimed to have been arrested over 50 times.

Peak outlaw moment: Every time he took to the stage, gigs would frequently end with a trip to the hospital or the police station. Allin died in 1993, a year after an arrest in Austin following a show in which an Austin police officer noted audience members “running away from the stage gasping and covering their faces”, according to the official report, which also had comment from a man who’d been struck by an airborne turd.

Foxy Brown 

Rage Against The Nail Bar

Foxy Brown
Foxy Brown attends the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center on August 25, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Picture: Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic)

Who: Foxy Brown – Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand by birth – had everything going for her as a Def Jam-signed rapper, but a fiery temper led to an incident that has come back to haunt her more than once.

Peak outlaw moment: In August 2004, a New York City nail bar overcharged Brown for a mani/pedi, having only completed the pedicure and forgotten the manicure. Brown, in a rage, assaulted two employees in the resulting altercation, resulting in three years probation and anger management classes. Brown broke the former and found herself in jail. Clearly, lessons were not learned: in 2011 she was kicked off a cruise ship following a rage incident over… a manicure. The same year, she was arrested for mooning her neighbour. The cheek of it!

John Lennon

The ‘national security threat’ one from The Beatles

John Lennon
John Lennon at a rally in Hyde Park in 1975 (Picture: Rowland Scherman/Getty Images)

Who: The Beatles legend was established as an agitator – rightly or wrongly – when an off-the-cuff comment in a British tabloid claiming the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus” (hey, they had more Number Ones, at least) caused not a raised eyebrow in the UK but became a Very Big Deal for the religious right in the US, who set about burning Beatles albums and memorabilia in funeral pyres. It was when Lennon chose to up settle in New York with his wife, the artist Yoko Ono, that the authorities started to take notice, not least because it coincided with the couple’s “guerrilla artist” period when they preached peace but dressed like militia in berets and fatigues.

Peak outlaw moment: Lennon’s life in New York was typified by reclusive stretches punctuated by big, public benders. His “lost weekend” with Harry Nilsson is the stuff of New York legend, a dadaist days-long pub crawl in which they for some reason rumbled around the city with tampons glued to their foreheads.

Tyler, the Creator

Banned by Theresa May; approved by us

Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator performs live on stage at O2 Academy Brixton on September 16, 2019 in London (Picture: Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

Who: The provocative frontman of Odd Future was winding up the British establishment right from the start, posing as a member of the Royal Family for a 2012 NME cover. It coincided with a chaotic tour that clashed with William and Kate’s wedding, an occasion Tyler told NME he “couldn’t give a shit about”.

Peak outlaw moment: It was his provocative lyrics that earned Tyler a ban from Britain endorsed by then-home secretary Theresa May who, in some kind of fountain of irony, misunderstanding or simply Tory hubris, said he was inciting homophobia and couldn’t come over to play. In the ensuing years, Tyler continued to celebrate and interrogate his sexuality in a series of acclaimed albums, while Theresa was briefly a Prime Minister, apparently.

Johnny Cash

Prison entertainer, condor killer

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash (Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Who: The self-styled “man in black” may have only seen the inside of a prison as a performer, not an inmate, but he certainly struck a chord with the men he went to entertain – his ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ must be one of the few songs written with an incarcerated audience in mind.

Peak outlaw moment: Cash was sued by the US government in 1965 for starting a forest fire with his burning truck in Los Padres National Forest in California, destroying 500 acres of land and killing 49 rare condors. Cash eventually settled for $82,000 – even if he insisted he didn’t care about “those damned yellow buzzards” he’d accidentally flame-grilled.

Elvis Presley

A man with a gun in need of a TV remote

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley performs on stage with his brand new Martin D-28 acoustic guitar on July 31, 1955 at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa, Florida. (Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Who: The face of rock‘n’roll rebellion, Elvis mostly stayed on the right side of the law – his one court appearance happened following a scuffle at a gas station in 1956 when his car was besieged by fans and the owners of the garage demanded he move on. Presley, it turns out, had a mean haymaker punch. Nonetheless, Presley lived a baller life: the car racing, burger-flying hootenanny he and his crew enjoyed is the stuff of legend. The FBI had no less than 683 pages of files on the star, mostly for his protection from extortion, and Elvis even toured the FBI headquarters with Richard Nixon.

Peak outlaw moment: That story you’ve heard about Elvis shooting his own TV set is, apparently, true. “Elvis just shot out things on a random basis,” a spokesman for Presley’s home and museum, Graceland, has said.

The Suicide Squad is out in cinemas on Friday, July 30.

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