April may be the cruelest month for taxpayers, but for rockers, the month of purported peace on earth, goodwill toward man, and the birth of Jesus (the young and hip son of God) also happens to be the goddamned worst month for rock ’n’ roll tragedies. Buy yourself a generic calendar and fill in these sad turns o’ events from Decembers passed!
Dec. 1: Dead Beatles Month begins with the passing of George Harrison in 2001. The art of dying gets complicated when his cancer doctor forces his weak hand to autograph a guitar and makes him endure an impromptu concert by his 12-year-old son.
Dec. 2: When Mariska Veres, lead singer of The Shocking Blue, turns not so shockingly blue and dies of cancer in 2006, the Dutch are inconsolable. Rest of the world remains neutral just to maintain balance.
Dec. 3: Festival seating at a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati, Ohio, causes a stampede where 11 Who fans lose their lives and countless Who fans lose their sneakers.
Dec. 4: Frank Zappa dies of prostate cancer in 1993. The following year, Fred “Sonic” Smith dies of heart failure. His widow returns to using her maiden name, Patti Smith. On the lighter side of the news, at a 1965 Sacramento concert Keith Richards is knocked unconscious by an ungrounded microphone. It’s the first public demonstration of his ability to continually cheat death.
Dec. 5: The day after Zappa dies, former Gin Blossoms guitarist-songwriter Doug Hopkins fatally shoots himself in 1993. File under new miserable expiration.
Dec. 6: Free 1969 concert at Altamont Speedway kills off any lingering Woodstock goodwill. And Roy Orbison’s overworked heart finally gives out in 1988. Here’s a less acknowledged tragedy— Huddie William Ledbetter dies of Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 1949, knowing that if he’d only died before 1941, it might’ve become “Leadbelly’s Disease.”
Dec. 7: Dee Clark, who had a huge hit with “Raindrops” in 1961, suffers a heart attack in 1990. Warned not to perform by his doctors, he ignores them to appear as a contestant on Star Search. In other pathetic-loser news, Darby Crash, lead singer of the Germs, overdoses on heroin in 1980 as a tribute to his fallen idol Sid Vicious. Tribute goes unnoticed when someone happens to shoot a Beatle the very next day.
Dec. 8: John Lennon killed by a disappointed autograph seeker in 1980. In 1984, Vince “Vehicular Manslaughter” Neil, on a beer run with pal Razzle from Hanoi Rocks, collides with two other cars. Razzle is killed and two other people are seriously injured. Not a good way to commemorate National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.
Dec. 9: Sonny Til of the Orioles dies of a heart attack in 1981. Much “Crying in the Chapel” ensues. In 2004, a crazed gunman kills Pantera founder “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three audience members at a Columbus Ohio show before police can kill him back. And in 1967, The Rolling Stones release Their Satanic Majesties Request in the U.S. Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed.
Dec. 10: Otis Redding’s plane crashes into a Wisconsin lake, killing him and most of the Bar-Kays. Shortcut to the dock of the bay hardly seems worth it. Opening act at Redding’s next show — The Grim Reaper! Really!
Dec. 11: Sam Cooke shot in LA motel in 1964. Last words? “Hey lady, you shot me!”
Dec. 12: Hoping that the third time down the aisle (and the first time without a shotgun) will prove lucky, Jerry Lee Lewis secretly marries his 13-year-old cousin in 1957. His career is ruined. Should’ve just kept his teen bride under wraps and made Kissin’ Cousins like Elvis did.
Dec. 13: Dinah Washington overdoses on alcohol and pills in 1963 and Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin’ Spoonful dies of a heart attack in 2002. Bet neither knew that December is also National Preparedness Month in the UK!
Dec. 14: Mick Taylor quits the Stones in 1974. Might as well have died. The Stones, I mean.
Dec. 15: Glenn Miller’s plane crashes in 1944. Guess the Army’s Special Services didn’t apply to the plane he was in.
Dec. 16: Ian Hunter quits Mott the Hoople in 1974 and the rest of the band drags the Mott name into the mud. Apple-juice lovers also not pleased.
Dec. 17: This spot reserved for future dead rock star.
Dec. 18: A rock first — Kirsty MacColl is killed by a speedboat in 2000. Rod Stewart quits The Faces. Continues to drag his own name through the mud to this day.
Dec. 19: Roebuck “Pops” Staples dies of a heart attack in 2000 at the age of 85. Why is February National Heart Attack Awareness Month?
Dec. 20: Bobby Darin dies in 1973. Yep, heart attack.
Dec. 21: In 1992 bluesmam Albert King dies. No relation to bluesman Freddie King who dies December 28, 1976. Bluesman B.B. King (no relation to either), watch your ass this month!
Dec. 22: Bad day for punk. Dennis Boon of the Minutemen, dies from injuries sustained in a van crash, 1985. Joe Strummer of The Clash dies of a heart attack, 2002. Someone ought to check into the cardiovascular dangers of, I dunno, eggnog.
Dec. 23: Brian Wilson has his infamous nervous breakdown on a plane in 1964 and quits touring soon after, forcing road replacement Bruce “I Write the Songs” Johnston on the world.
Dec. 24: First death ruled a rock ’n’ roll suicide — Johnny Ace shoots himself playing Russian roulette backstage in 1954. In 1972, police provoke a two-hour riot in Miami, Florida after disconnecting the power during a Manfred Mann’s Earth Band encore because of a noise complaint. In any other year, they’d probably start a riot for re-connecting the power.
Dec. 25: Dean Martin passes in 1995 and James Brown dies of pneumonia in 2006. “Santa Claus Come Straight to the Ghetto” still not a holiday standard.
Dec. 26: Magical Mystery Tour airs on BBC-TV in 1967 and is panned by critics as the Beatles’ first flop. Beatles console themselves that at least it isn’t Satanic Majesties.
Dec. 27: Chris Bell of Big Star dies in a car crash in 1978. In a just world, there would have been big headlines. In 1983, Walter Scott of Bob Kuman and the In-Men, who sang lead on “The Cheater” in 1965, is killed by his own cheating wife and neighbor!
Dec. 28: In 1983, Dennis Wilson, the only Beach Boy to surf, becomes the only Beach Boy to drown. Unless you wanna count Mike Love — for drowning in the cesspool of his own mediocrity.
Dec. 29: From the cruel irony department: In 1980, Tim Hardin overdoses on morphine and heroin bought from the songwriting royalties for “Reason to Believe.”
Dec. 30: In 1962, Brenda Lee’s poodle Cee Cee perishes in a house fire. In 1967, Bert Berns, the co-author of “Twist and Shout,” dies suddenly. No word on whether he twisted or shouted during his heart attack.
Dec. 31: Bad day for Ricks. Rick Allen becomes “that one-armed guy in Def Leppard” in 1984. In 1985, Rick Nelson and eight other people crash and burn in a DC-3 plane they bought from the man nicknamed “The Killer.” And the plane was en route from a lonesome town called Guttersville.
Happy New Year! •