Rob Pilatus (of Milli Vanilli):
Blame It On Cocaine, Yeeeah Yeah!

© Brandt Hardin at

Everyone knows Milli Vanilli, but no one knew the true Rob Pilatus.  In 1989, this dashing diva was proclaimed a lesser god of the retarded when Milli Vanilli broke with the most successful American debut since the Beatles.  The group’s name is an obvious reference to the fourteen million vanilla morons who purchased their records and cassettes that year.  Sorry, girl, you know it’s true.

Milli Vanilli was the deformed brain child of German producer Frank Farian.  Frank was already infamous for masterminding the 70s disco group Boney M, whose records feature Farian’s voice singing over Farian’s music, with the supposed singers miming along to recordings in their live shows.  As if disco wasn’t fake enough already.

In 1988 Farian plucked the model/dancer duo Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan from the streets of Europe to front quasi-musical Cheez-Whiz composed by three unsightly singers. Farian proceeded to cram his money-grubbing hands into these two dreadlocked dupes like Buffalo Bob relentlessly fisting Howdy Doody.

Farian’s cynicism is staggering.  That he convinced Pilatus and Morvan to become ersatz pop zombies is unconscionable, but the music he ironed their faces onto is so absurd, you have to wonder if there is nothing so stupid that people will not believe it.

Like their other three major singles, Milli Vanilli’s ”Girl You Know It’s True” sold over a million copies.  The storyline is familiar: A streetwise young man tries to convince a goo-goo-eyed girlie to give him some booty, drawing her into some parallel universe where all inhabitants exhibit the discernment of an earthworm.  The lyrics are brain-scrambling—just the way she likes it.

Although Frank Farian published alternate lyrics to cover his tracks, if you start listening to the song—posted below—at about 1:00 min., you clearly hear:

Don’t you understand, girl,
This love is true

Your soft, sickly hand all sweet and thin
That’s kind of like abortions upon your skin
And I can suck my dick, and that’s also true
Together we are One, separated we are two

To make it all mine, all mine, is my desire
The super-tail mullets that I admire…

On and on, waves of nonsensical phrases, disjointed dance moves, shiny shoes running in place, barely concealed homoeroticism, matching motorcycle jackets—a classic recipe for brain-washing detergent.  The ladies’ man repeats his four-letter magic word again and again—”This love is true,” “I’m in love this time,” “Girl, you know it’s true, my love is forever”—and by the end of the video he’s got her down on a cheap motel bed, where she presumably chooses to stay.

This sequence of events is such a depressingly believable portrayal of the human condition, it’s no wonder Milli Vanilli won a Grammy in 1990.  Every night, a substantial proportion of human beings get  their groove on by means of exaggeration, outlandish promises, and bald-faced lies. Milli Vanilli may have been stripped of their award after the dubbed vocal track started skipping during a live performance, but the chilling insight of their living metaphor remains poignant.

Rob Pilatus couldn’t handle the shame and ostracism that followed this debacle. He took to hoovering mountains of cocaine, acting a fool, and frequently threatening to commit suicide.

On one occasion he was pulled from a hotel balcony by the police.  In 1990 he was charged with sexually assaulting a 25 year-old woman.  In 1996 he spent 90 days in jail for bashing a man with a metal lamp-stand, assaulting another guy, and breaking into a car.

Despite Pilatus’ desperate condition, Frank Fabian arranged for a Milli Vanilli comeback in 1998.  But on the eve of the tour’s beginning, Pilatus disappeared into the German fog.  He was found dead in his hotel room on April 3, 1998, having overdosed on prescription pills and alcohol.

Despite rumors to the contrary, it is fairly certain that the man in his coffin was indeed Rob Pilatus and not a studio musician.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Milli VanilliGirl You Know It’s True

Special Thanks to Glen Brazell

Randy Rhoads and that
Damned Beechcraft

Courtesy of Brandt Hardin at

It is questionable whether humans were ever meant to fly. The instinctive, white-knuckle terror which grips the average person at great heights is proof to many that we should just stay on the ground. Desperate prayers are uttered, pills are swallowed, lifetimes reconsidered, armrests torn from their hinges. Then the gears ease down for a smooth landing, and the Universe becomes a safe place once again—for now, anyway. While it is arguable that the laws of physics would not allow us to become airborne if we were not intended to be, gravity and high velocity are unforgiving judges of performance. Just one false move, and you’re an Icarus-splat on the dirt.

Randy Rhoads was acutely conscious of that fact, and terrified of flying. So it is curious that he came to be in the passenger seat of a Beechcraft light airplane on March 19, 1982, with the pilot executing daredevil dive-bombs over Ozzy Osbourne’s tour bus.

Ozzy had recognized Rhoads’ genius upon hearing the first note of his two-minute audition in 1980. The “Prince of Darkness” immediately invited Rhoads to record on Blizzard of Ozz. Over the course of two years, the young guitarist would ride a rising tide of permed headbangers to become a heavy metal legend. Besides his mastery of blistering metal riffs, Rhoads was also a proficient classical player, as evidenced by his elaborate solos. In fact, he remained an eager student to the end, scheduling lessons with various classical instructors on each stop of the Diary of a Madman Tour—down to his last gig in Knoxville, TN.

The band stopped for tour bus repairs on their way to Orlando, FL. As it happened, the depot was next to a small airstrip, and the wily tour bus driver knew how to get a plane off the ground (though his license had been revoked.) As the rest of the band slept on the bus, three thrill-seekers gaffled a Beechcraft Bonanza for a quick joyride: 25 year-old Randy Rhoads; the band’s hairdresser and costume designer, Rachael Youngblood; and the bus driver, Andrew Aycock, who snorted a sackful of magic pilot dust before jumping into the cockpit.

It isn’t hard to imagine what Aycock was thinking as he buzzed the tour bus like he was the rock n’ roll Red Baron. Aycock’s ex-wife, whom he’d fought with all the way from Tennessee, was down there. One can assume that the moniker “Gaycock” had been dropped on him at least once, now that she was free of his surname. Perhaps he just wanted to impress his former soulmate—or else put the fear of God into her. One way or the other, it’s clear that Aycock got cocky and his gak-fueled lunacy got the best of him.

But what were his passengers doing? Had they known they were in for a wild ride? Was Randy trying to overcome his flight phobia? Was he laughing at the gods? Screaming for his life? We will never know. On the third or fourth pass, the Beechcraft’s wing clipped the tour bus, tearing off its roof. The plane spun out, lobbed off the top of a pine tree, and smashed into a nearby mansion, exploding on impact. Everyone on board was incinerated.

Ozzy was overcome with grief for his close friend. “He was a saint,” the singer said of Rhoads, “He was an angel, and too good for this world. His death is always on my mind.” Although Randy Rhoads is pretty much unknown outside of heavy metal circles, his California gravesite still attracts scattered throngs of shredder devotees on his deathday.

The Mr. Crowley EP quickly became the best-selling picture disc of all-time, but sadly, Osbourne’s subsequent albums would never have the same bite after Rhoads’ passing. The band’s mullets would never be so skillfully feathered after the loss of Rachael Youngblood, either. That Ozzy did not follow them to the grave directly is a striking testament to his pact with the dark gods of this world. He later joked: “Had I been awake, I’d have been on that plane—probably sitting on the fucking wing.”

It seems that a rock star’s natural impulse is to defy gravity. High on drugs, high-dollar whores, high society, traveling at high altitudes—it all just comes with the territory. Rigorous tour schedules and stunning wads of pocket money put successful musicians on the next flight to somewhere, day after day. It’s no wonder that some crash to the ground—particularly those flying in light private planes.

The Beechcraft was the martyr-making death machine in early rock n’ roll history. Its first victims were claimed on February 3, 1959—the Day the Music Died. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson boarded a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza—the first in the Bonanza series—departing Clear Lake, IA. Taking off in the fog and snow, their plane barely made it five miles before disappearing from radar. Of course, all three artists reappeared at the top of the pop charts.

On July 31, 1964, “Gentleman” Jim Reeves hit a thunderstorm ten miles out of Nashville, TN and crashed his Beechcraft 35-B33 Debonair into the woods—just a year and a half after Pasty Cline had come to a similar end. In fact, Jim Reeves had taken pilot lessons from the same instructor as Patsy’s manager, Randy Hughes, who flew the plane she died in. Predictably, Reeve’s country ballad “I Love You Because” became the best-selling single of 1964 after his death.

On December 10, 1967—three days after recording the aqueous tune “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”—Otis Redding was plunged into the freezing waters of Lake Monoma outside of Madison, WI. His death machine was a twin-engine Beechcraft H18, which made it less than four miles from the runway before spinning out of control. All but one of the passengers either drowned or succumbed to hypothermia. Redding’s memorial drew 4,500 people, and his posthumously released R&B record sold 4 million copies.

Jim Croce, whose rock hit “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was the baddest tune in the whole damn town, had recently lost his luggage on a major air-carrier. Sick of the hassles, he hired his own Beechcraft E18S to fly him and his band out from Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 20, 1973. They may have over-packed a bit, because the pilot failed to gain sufficient altitude while taking off. The plane clipped some trees at the end of the runway and smashed into the ground. Released after his death, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” seems strangely poignant in light of the accident.

The Beechcraft’s ferocious appetite eventually subsided after Randy Rhoads died in 1982, giving way to a variety of other star-hungry vehicles. In 1985, teen idol Ricky Nelson’s DC-3 went down in a ball of flame. In 1990, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s helicopter crashed into a ski slope. In 1997, John Denver crashed his Rutan Long-EZ into the Monterey Bay. And in 2001, up-and-coming star Aaliyah was killed when her coked-up pilot couldn’t get the overloaded Cessna 402-B to the end of the runway before crashing.

Statistically, flying is supposedly sixty times safer than traveling in an automobile—except for rock stars. You’d have to be suicidal to cut a hit record—or, err, upload a widely pirated MP3 album—and then step on board a small plane. Sure, you might take heart knowing that aircraft fatalities have fallen steadily in developed countries since the early 1970s. It may relieve some anxiety to hear that 2010 was the third year in the last four in which there were no U.S. airline fatalities.  For nearly ten years now, no major star has died in an air crash. It is possible that as aviation safety technologies continually advance—and rock stars avoid ultralight planes—the Gods of Death have become more merciful. You’d better hope so, Mr. Superstar. Otherwise, the Ancient Ones are getting plenty thirsty for the next martyr’s blood.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

“Mr. Crowley”1980

Biggie Smalls Said You’re Nobody
‘Til Somebody Kills You

Courtesy of Randy Key

It is dawn on Biggie Small’s deathday, and I’m sitting in the safest place in St. Louis, MO—just in case you care. I’ve been climbing in an unfamiliar arena ceiling for days now, 100′ in the air.  Steel beams and rough company.  Most people consider this to be a dangerous occupation, but apparently my walk to the hotel was the riskiest move I’ve made all night.

The television blares in the hotel lobby—the news shows a S.W.A.T. team kicking in doors in south St. Louis. A well-dressed, effeminate white man talks about how the neighborhood is really coming together through “community activism.”  Thugs wave guns at the news crew.  The two hotel security guards shake their heads in disdain.

I point to the screen and ask the motherly night clerk, Kay, “What would happen if I took a pleasant evening stroll down that street?”

“Boy, you betta not let the sun set on yo’ white ass down there.”

According to my guardians—two large black men with big flashlights and security badges—St. Louis has the # 1 murder rate in the U.S.A.  “Why do people kill each other so much?” I ask.

“You know.  Fool ganstas.  Drugs. Husbands killin’ wives.  Wives killin’ husbands.  Stoopid shit.”  My sleepy-eyed protector shrugs and sips his coffee.

This #1 status is a slight exaggeration. According to FBI statistics, St. Louis is actually just behind New Orleans in the bloody competition for “most bullet-sprayed city.”  However, East St. Louis—when considered as its own entity—is leaps and bounds beyond NOLA in the murder race, with 101.9 people murdered for every 100,000 in 2006.  (The national average is about 6 in 100,000.)  Morticians must get a lot of overtime around here.

“Yeah, people take fools to tha East Side to kill ‘em,” the security guard explains, ”and they bring they dead bodies and dump ‘em ovah here.”

“That’s what happened to my nephew,” says the night clerk, Kay. “He thought he was livin’ the life.  Drugs, gangs, you know.  They drove him into East St. Louis.  He felt that hot lead and he jumped out that car—right outta his shoes.”  Kay shakes her head sadly.  “He can’t see no mo’. Shot seven times in tha face.  But he still with us.”

Kay is paid to be nice to me, but after a couple of hours of conversation, I’m pretty sure she would be nice to me anyway.  She brings me my own urn of coffee, which is not bad for hotel brew.  She knows I have to go to work after I write this, and tells me, “Stop chattin’ and get typin’!”

It’s hard to end a conversation with Kay.  She knows more about dead rock stars than anybody I have met in months.  We talk about Sid Vicious’ murderous temper tantrum, and the brutal shooting of squeaky clean (accused rapist) Sam Cooke.  Kay talks about the Day Michael Jackson Died, and how shocked she was that the late Farrah Fawcett was immediately booted out of the spotlight the moment the King of Pop hit the hospital.  And of course, Kay is well-versed in the canonical teachings of the patron saints of the East and West Coasts, whose lyrics meet like ram horns in the Midwest.

“There’s two kinds of people: those who love 2Pac, and those who love B.I.G.”

I would have said, “And then there’s me,” but that’s not completely true.  My first deathday article was about the Notorious B.I.G., entitled “The Death Day of Biggie Smalls.”  Man, what a clever headline.

Biggie was a bright kid—an honor role student who made his mother proud.  Then he started hawking hubs, sporting furs and fedoras, and spittin’ dope rhymes.  Smart, ambitious, and fat as all hell, he soon metamorphosed from Christopher Wallace to the Notorious B.I.G.  Harlem star-maker, Sean “Puffy” Combs, got a hold of him, and B.I.G. became 350 pounds of bold lyrics and brash suicide trips.

Maintaining the morbid themes of his debut album, Ready to Die, Biggie’s posthumous release features a number of precient songtitles, such as “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” “Last Day,” “Niggas Bleed,” and of course, “You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You)”. At 24 years-old, Biggie became a self-created emblem for ghetto violence.

Biggie represented Brooklyn at the height of the East Coast-West Coast rap wars during the 1990s. On March 9, 1997, he was killed in a hail of bullets at an L.A. intersection—six months after his friend-turned-rival Tupac Shakur was gunned down in a similar fashion. While accusations have been hurled at everybody from Suge Knight to the FBI, his murderers remain at large.  Maybe thugs were hired by Deathrow Records.  Or maybe his murder was the result of composing too many death songs—a manifestation of his morbid imagination, like in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, but bloodier.

I ask Kay what she thinks happened to Biggie.

“I think Puffy Combs had him killed.  That’s just my opinion. But Puffy be sleazy, the way he continued to capitalize on Biggie’s death.  Then he got caught up in that club shoot-up with Shyne [one of Puffy's rapper protégés, who was convicted of the shooting while Puffy walked free].  Puff Daddy probably just had Biggie popped fo’ tha money.”

She has a point. Perhaps Biggie was just a big, black piñata full of dollar bills, and Puffy came swinging a stick with no blindfold.

I don’t know if it took a bullet to make Biggie a legend, but his death certainly seems fated in retrospect.  Even orchestrated.  I recently saw his image displayed at the acclaimed “Who Shot Rock n’ Roll?” exhibit when it passed through Columbia, SC.  Taken a few weeks before his death, the photograph features B.I.G. in silvery black-and-white, standing in funerary attire among a hundred thousand anonymous tombstones.  The message: Everyone dies, but celebrities get to keep their faces.  Would Biggie have faded into a featureless grave if his life had been spared?

Kay snatches up my printout of last year’s Biggie Smalls article and starts reading.  I’m apprehensive at first, but she loves it.  She even reads this passage aloud:

“Released two weeks after his death, Life After Death sold over ten million copies.  P-Diddy crawled out from that blood-splattered Californian intersection like an Alien chestburster and grew into a hype-spinning monster that still stalks the earth in search of more dollars.”

She especially loves the ending, and I’m thinking, thank God somebody does.

“As long as there are fools, they will imitate their heroes.  And as long as their heroes portray braggadocious murderers, fools will continue to kill each other like morons with sharp sticks.

“So I’m throwing on my cream suit and hat, and heading out to the club.  I’ll love it when you call me Big Poppa.  And if you point a gun at me, I suppose I’ll throw my hands in the air, like I’s a true player.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Del Shannon: Another Dead White Man with an Itchy Trigger Finger

Del Shannon: February 8, 1990

On February 8, 1990, one-time teen idol Del Shannon sat down in his rocking chair, removed the toupée from his graying skullet, and shot himself with a .22 rifle. He was 55 years old.  That most young readers won’t know Del Shannon’s name shows the difference between a rock star martyr and a troubling statistic.  However, anyone who has listened to a Golden Oldies station should know his one and only #1 single, “Runaway.”

Shannon’s cartoonish falsetto and keyboardist Max Crook’s space age Musitron gripped the youth of that black-and-white era by their gonads and applied a jarring electrical current.  At its peak in 1961, Del’s runaway hit (I had to say it) was moving more than 80,000 records per day. Considering the Dyonysian affection he received from groovy girls in the wake of “Runaway” (as seen below,) I hope Del went out with a satisfied smile on his face.

Statistically speaking, blowing your own brains out is a Caucasian activity.  More specifically, it is the domain of middle aged-to-elderly white men.

The New York Times published “An Accounting of Daily Gun Deaths” five days after the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, putting the firearm-enabled tragedy into a national perspective.  Citing 2004 CDC statistics, Bill Marsh uses colorful graphics to show what a typical day of American gun fatalities looks like. 29,569 people died from gunshots that year.  Divided by 366 days, an average of 81 people died per day.  Each color-coded bullet represents one gun-related death on a generic day:

Pretty nifty, huh?  The graph breaks these 81 deaths down by age, sex, and race (Hispanics are dispersed across white and black classifications.) Assuming these trends have remained steady, four kids died today—two of which were murdered.

The gangsta-leaning folly of youth violence just put six young black men in their graves, while groaning depression prompted four young white men to turn their guns on themselves.

A black man is about as likely to get capped in full maturity as he was in his youth, while a white man becomes even more likely to shoot himself in his later years.  By midnight, seven paleface gunslingers approaching mid-life will have called it quits in their prime.  White men are also more likely to be murdered by guns later in life—perhaps because of their continuous belly-aching about the cruelty of a meaningless universe.

It comes as no surprise that if a black man has made it past 40, the last thing he’s gonna do is shoot himself. But today a whopping twenty-five middle aged-to-elderly white men cocked the hammer and followed the light to the end of the tunnel. We also see four sweet old white ladies tasting the blue steel, which doesn’t take into account those who emptied a bottle of pills or left the car running in the garage.

Catherine Barber – Harvard Injury Control Research Center

Suicide rates peaked in America during the 90s, when they began falling off in tandem with gun ownership until the around the year 2000.  Perhaps malcontents were waiting to see if the unbearable world would just end.  Well, it didn’t—and since 2000, suicides have increased steadily, at least among whites and Native Americans.

And I wonder…I wah wah wah wah wonder why so many aging white males choose to bite the flying bullet. I mean, we all know that getting old is tough but it beats the alternative.  As my grandfather was fond of saying, “At my age, you realize you’ve overestimated the pleasure of a good lay, and underestimated the relief of a good crap.” Time ravaged his body as it will everyone’s, and yet ol’ Pap took it like a man, keeping faith that the immortal soul is greater than this sack of shit and bones.

The pain starts in joints and old injuries. Before you know it, you grunt with every motion. You find yourself reading the news compulsively, balking at taxes, grumbling about politics.  And damnit to hell, these kids today!  They call that music?!  Of course, you’d diddle the cuties if you could, but you’re getting a bit long in the tooth for the young stuff.  Probably couldn’t keep it up, anyway. Not with that swollen prostate pressing against your bladder.  The mirror becomes your harshest critic.  Your hairs are hapless natives—your scalp is Manifest Destiny.  Those sexy suntans of years past have become deep lines and budding lumps of melanoma. Your torso is a ball of fur and sagging man-tits.

The best friends you ever had are either shells of their former selves or dead.  The workday brings a barrage of insults and indignity.  You’re just a number, and it ain’t Number One.  Maybe that’s why your kids never call and your wife cuddles the dog more than you.  Late at night, sodden with booze and regret, you caress old photos of the little runaway who wouldn’t stay.  The memories are fading.  The muscles atrophy.  Death wafts from gaping pores into your veiny nose.  Ascendant young lions are ready to take your wobbly knees out from under you at any moment.  So you decide to beat ‘em to it.  If you’re going to be a victim, why not be your own?  Click…bang.

I feel your pain—you vainglorious, self-absorbed asshole.   Sure, I’ll clean that up.  No problem.  Hope you feel better.

Del Shannon’s wife, Bonnie, found his body slumped in his bathrobe.  It was the pathetic end to a life of constant sorrow.  Del was big time #1—but only once.  After the British Invasion swept him off the map in the mid-60s, he fell into a dark depression that dogged him to the bitter end.  In 1964, he released his cover album Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams—one month before Hank’s sixth Death Day—which practically no one bought.  He turned to the bottle for support, famously saying, “I hated the taste of booze, but I liked where it got me—into oblivion.”

Del made repeated attempts at a comeback, to no avail.  You saw his face smiling, but his brow continued to frown. Still, he plugged away in earnest.  His last performance was five days before he died, at Buddy Holly’s 31st [Death] Anniversary Concert and Dance. Maybe the morbid romance of that event rubbed off on him, or perhaps there is a pharmacological explanation.  Two weeks before killing himself, Del began taking Prozac, which is now known to hurry chronic Eeyores along on their mopey race to the grave.  And of course, Del’s .22 rifle was there to provide instant gratification.

Considering the fact that someone, somewhere, commits suicide every 40 seconds, why should anyone care about Del Shannon?  Well, most people don’t.  But there is at least one person who was absolutely devastated.

© 2011 Joseph Allen