Musicians are just as corruptible as the rest of us. It is commonplace now to see your favorite musicians in trouble with authorities for drug charges or drunken stupors. Drug- and alcohol-related arrests have become something of a staple of the music industry.
However, in rare circumstances, musicians get into trouble for the unlikeliest of transgressions. These strange criminal blunders are undoubtedly rare among musicians, but they are so puzzling and hilarious that they deserve a light shining on them.
In 1960, former Beatle Paul McCartney was arrested in Hamburg, Germany, for attempted arson. McCartney and then–Beatles’ drummer Pete Best pinned a condom to the wall of the Bambi Kino, their accommodations while playing in Hamburg, and set the condom on fire.
After living in filthy conditions during the early string of shows, Paul’s arson was a boyish act of protest against the Bambi Kino owner Bruno Koschmider. Renowned for beating customers with a chair leg, Koschmider had put up the Beatles in the back of his porno cinema while they tirelessly played for him in his run-down strip club known as the Indra.
As George Harrison, then 17, was already being deported from Germany for flouting Hamburg’s curfew laws for minors, the Beatles were ready to go home—but not before McCartney and Best set the condom alight.
Koschmider subsequently rang the police, who arrested and detained Best and McCartney before deporting them.
Before he had a music career and was nicknamed the “Walrus of Love,” Barry White was something of a criminal in his teens (by his own admission). However, White was hardly a master criminal as evinced by his arrest in 1960 for the theft of car tires which led to subsequent jail time.
As a teenager, White often got into trouble with his brother, Darryl. Barry stated that they were a “two-man gang, respected and feared [who] ran and ruled the streets of our neighborhood.” However, the theft of $30,000 worth of Cadillac tires landed him in prison.
Barry White served four months in prison in 1960. While incarcerated, the seeds of the Walrus of Love were sown because White vowed to do away with his minor criminal past and focus on music.
D’arcy Wretzky, former bassist for the Smashing Pumpkins, was arrested and eventually imprisoned in 2011 due to her horses escaping her home. Wretzky’s neighbors contacted the police after her horses were left to wander from her farm onto their land. Although she was notified of the offense in 2009, it took until 2011 before her antics led to prison time.
Michigan has an “animals running at large” law that Wretzky breached. However, the law is only a minor offense. It was Wretzky’s repeated absence from four consecutive court dates related to the incident that eventually landed her in jail.
Otherwise, Wretzky would have only had to pay a fine. Nevertheless, she was sentenced to six days imprisonment.
New wave singer and songwriter Gary Numan found himself on the wrong side of Indian police in 1981 when he was arrested on suspicion of smuggling and spying. As an air display pilot as well as a musician, Numan was flying with a friend over India. After the plane’s engine gave out, they were forced to land.
The pair sought help in a local Indian village but instead were arrested on suspicion of smuggling and spying. As the two men were wearing two watches each, the police thought they were smuggling. Worse still, the pair had cameras on them which gave the police grounds to believe that they were spying.
Little did Numan know, there was actually a Russian submarine base 32 kilometers (20 mi) from where they had landed. Therefore, the Indian police thought that they were taking photographs of that base.
Both Numan and his friend were arrested and detained for four days. Eventually, the pair contacted the Home Office, and they were duly released.
Rapper (sort of) Vanilla Ice got in trouble with authorities in 2004, albeit for something far less sinister than his arrest for burglary in 2015. In fact, it was animal control officials that landed Vanilla Ice in difficulty.
Vanilla Ice’s pet wallaroo, Bucky Buckaroo, and his pet goat, Pancho, decided one day to escape Vanilla Ice’s domicile in Florida. Pancho managed to headbutt open the latch of the gate of their enclosure, and the two went for a ramble in Florida.
The rebellious animals actually scratched one woman and kicked her car after she tried to feed them. Animal control officials eventually captured the two, and their days on the lam were cut short.
Animal control officials caught Vanilla Ice with an expired permit and duly fined him $220. Pancho and Bucky were eventually reunited with their owner.
REM’s guitarist Peter Buck was arrested for an air rage incident in 2001, but the story was far sillier than it sounds. After allegedly making the mistake of mixing a sleeping pill with alcohol, Buck went on a drunken rampage, much to the chagrin of his fellow passengers.
After being refused any more alcohol, Buck in his already-drunk, loutish state overturned a flight attendant’s trolley and demanded to leave the airplane mid-flight. He had to be pulled away from an exit door. As a pilot attempted to calm the situation, Buck responded that “he was just a f—king pilot and [Buck] was REM.” Even stranger, Buck sprayed flight attendants with yogurt and tried to steal cutlery from the plane.
The guitarist was later cleared of all charges, and he did help to clean up the yogurt mess while on the plane.
New Jersey police detained poor old Bob Dylan in 2009 over a simple case of mistaken identity. The icon of folk music was set to headline a concert alongside Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. But it nearly didn’t happen thanks to New Jersey police officer Kristie Buble, who believed that Dylan was a mad pensioner who had escaped from a hospital.
Dylan went for a stroll around the Long Branch area on his own in the pouring rain when a concerned citizen rang the police about the suspicious-looking character. When Buble arrived to determine what was going on, Dylan told her that he was indeed Bob Dylan. But for the police officer, that just confirmed her suspicions of a madman on the loose.
Apparently forgetting that people age, Buble expected Dylan to look like her memories of him from his younger years. As a result, Buble believed that the man in front of her was a rambling lunatic and not Bob Dylan.
Detained by the police, the musician was taken to his nearby tour bus to confirm his identity. When they reached Dylan’s manager, he showed Dylan’s identification to the now-embarrassed police officer. In her defense, it was a little strange that Dylan was wandering around in the rain, but he’s never been one for conventional behavior.
Although two of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, were infamously arrested and charged with drug offenses in 1967, it was public urination that saw three of the Rolling Stones—Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones—arrested in 1965.
After being refused access to a petrol station lavatory in London, three of the Rolling Stones took it upon themselves to relieve their full bladders by urinating on the petrol station itself. The unsympathetic station owner had denied Bill Wyman the key initially. However, Jagger and Jones also took offense at this.
All three began chanting “we’ll p—s anywhere, man” to the station owner and a nearby mechanic who had witnessed the scene and was merely attempting to move them on. When the owner wouldn’t concede, Jagger, Wyman, and Jones urinated on the wall of the petrol station while still chanting.
After the trio was arrested, they were charged with public indecency and subsequently fined £5 each.
In the early years of Frank Zappa’s career, he was not too discerning about where his much-needed money came from. This became painfully apparent in 1962 when Zappa was duped into making porn for an undercover San Bernardino police detective in California.
After creating several scores for low-budget films, Zappa was offered work by a supposed used car salesman to produce a porn film. As the “used car salesman” knew of Zappa’s amateur film credentials, he turned to Zappa for help.
Though Zappa refused to outright make a porn film for the man, Zappa did offer to record audio-only porn with his friend Lorraine Belcher in a studio owned by Zappa. The recording was essentially a mock-up of a couple having sex.
After Zappa made the recording, the “salesman” refused to pay him. Instead, the police raided the studio and seized the tapes. Of course, the “used car salesman” was simply an undercover detective hoping to entrap an unwitting “criminal.”
Zappa was charged with conspiracy to make pornography and given a 10-day prison sentence. This made Zappa a lifelong cynic toward authority.
Yet more public urination from a beloved rock star. Throughout his lengthy career, Ozzy Osbourne has been a staple of the typical rock and roll antics that define the genre’s more reckless practitioners.
Ozzy is the epitome of the drunken, drug-induced wild behavior of rock stars. Some of his most outrageous behavior included biting the head off a bat and snorting a line of ants. But in 1982, a drunken Ozzy was arrested for urinating on a historic landmark.
In a drunken stupor, Ozzy stumbled around San Antonio, Texas, looking for a place to relieve himself. Unfortunately, he chose the city’s Cenotaph dedicated to the fallen soldiers in the Battle of the Alamo.
To make this story even stranger, Ozzy was wearing the clothes of his wife, Sharon, the whole time because she had denied him access to his own so that he could not go out and drink. Obviously, it didn’t work. The police arrested Ozzy for public intoxication. He was freed on $40 bond the same day.
Edward is a writer and musician.