While authenticity in pop is not the hard currency it used to be, eyebrows are still raised when the supposed backgrounds of famous musicians don't exactly corroborate with facts. Everybody loves a good story - and that’s never been truer than in the internet age. If every minstrel needs a narrative then does it really matter that artists get a little creative with their biographies? As the old aphorism usually attributed to Mark Twain goes: never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Here are six artists who some have claimed were loose with the truth about their pasts, and they follow six others we've featured before...
"You're born with, you know, the wrong name, the wrong parents," said Dylan in 2004, according to Classic Rock. "I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself."
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Wyoming in 1941, it purportedly wasn't just his name that Bob Dylan changed. According to Rolling Stone, he went through a period during the mid-60s where much of what he said had the faint whiff of fabrication about it. On a plane trip from Nebraska to Colorado he told the New York Times journalist Robert Shelton that he'd kicked a "$25 a day habit" and turned tricks when he first moved to the Big Apple two months before he switched to the Greenwich Village. And in earlier interviews he liked to claim he worked for six years on-and-off as a clean-up boy for a travelling carnival.
In a 1984 Rolling Stone interview, Dylan said, "I never got hooked on any drug." Regarding working as a prostitute, Rolling Stone believe the story is "complete fiction", and other experts have cast doubt on Dylan's ability to get his own backstory correct, even in his 2004 autobiography Chronicles: Volume One. "I enjoy Chronicles as a work of literature, but it has as much basis in reality as [Dylan's 2003 film] Masked And Anonymous, and why shouldn't it?" Dylan biographer Clinton Helyin said in 2011 (via Rolling Stone). "He's not the first guy to write a biography that's a pack of lies."
Vanilla Ice was the first MC to have a No.1 single in America; his To the Extreme album sold 15 million copies; and he even made a cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. The biog of Ice, real name Robert Van Winkle, purported that he enjoyed a "colourful teenage background of gangs, motorcycles and rough-and-tumble street life in lower-class Miami neighbourhoods", according to a 1990 story in the LA Times. Some digging revealed he actually spent his high school years living in an affluent suburb in Dallas.
His backstory also included claims he went to school with Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew, who is seven years older, and that he had won three national motocross championships for Team Honda, none of which the press could find evidence of and which Team Honda denied. When challenged by the New York Times in 1991, he backtracked on some claims, saying, "I never said I went to the same high school as Luke," but repudiated having beefed up his street credentials: "I'm from the streets. That's where I learned to dance and rap. It should be obvious to anybody's eye that a white guy doing what I'm doing had to be exposed to the streets."
"Yeah, he may have exaggerated a little..." his publicist Elaine Schock says in the LA Times story. "I've known artists who have done much worse. A lot of artists do this."
It has been argued that bad boy rapper Akon may have embroidered the truth regarding some of his past misdemeanours when he first tasted commercial success in 2004. Aliaume Damala Badara, whose second album Konvicted went triple platinum in the States, claimed he was the "ringleader of a notorious car theft operation" and had spent four-and-a-half years doing bird. But the website the Smoking Gun discovered he'd once been arrested for possession of a stolen car, and was then held at the DeKalb County jail for several months before all charges were dropped. The article concluded that he'd spun "a fictionalised backstory that serves as the narrative anchor for his recorded tales of isolation, violence, woe, and regret".
"It's [just] an article," the musician told MTV. "Everyone's entitled to their own opinions and views. At the end of the day, the Konvict movement is keeping me out of jail. It's nothing I want to glorify or go back to. Honestly, I'm glad something like that came out, because it opens the minds of other people who're thinking positive."
The famous oedipal monologue in the song The End certainly suggested The Doors' frontman Jim Morrison's relationship with his parents might be precarious. Morrison’s father, an admiral in the Navy, was persona non grata, and his mother became a strict disciplinarian when Jim's father was away (which was often) according to David Comfort's The Rock and Roll Book of the Dead. The singer, nicknamed the Lizard King, refused to receive them after shows and told journalists they were dead. That claim even made it into Elektra records' official biog, according to Legacy.
"We look back on him with great delight," said George Morrison in the book The Doors by The Doors in 2006, two years before his own death. "I had the feeling that he felt we'd just as soon not be associated with his career. He knew I didn't think rock music was the best goal for him. Maybe he was trying to protect us."
"He liked mystique, too," added his sister Anne, reported by the Houston Chronicle. "He didn't want to be from somewhere."
The Nirvana frontman was another musician who had a difficult relationship with his parents, admitting to strong feelings of alienation from the age of seven, a year before their divorce. The biographer Charles R. Cross in his book Heavier Than Heaven posits that Cobain fabricated stories about his past, so obsessed was he with his own mythology (via MTV). He was apparently also prone to exaggerating his struggle, claiming he lived under a bridge when he left his mother’s house, with the experience immortalised in the Nirvana song Something In The Way.
"Cobain claimed that he lived under the bridge for a time," wrote the New York Times, "and while most who knew him don't think he did, it was clearly one of his preferred hangouts." A park called Kurt Cobain Landing now sits at the foot of Young Street Bridge in Aberdeen, Washington, inaugurated by the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation in 2011.
The Queens hip hop pioneer, who engaged in a flow battle with the Real Roxanne as part of the legendary Roxanne Wars in the mid-1980s, turned out to be less than real herself after an exposé by Slate. Shanté claimed that after a protracted disagreement with Warner Bros. the label had agreed to pay $200,000 to finance an undergraduate degree from Marymount Manhattan College and a PhD in psychology from Cornell University. The Daily News ran a feature in 2009 about how "Dr. Roxanne Shanté [had] launched an unconventional therapy practice focusing on urban African-Americans [which] incorporates hip hop music into her sessions, encouraging her clients to unleash their inner MC and shout out exactly what's on their mind." Only, Warners refuted the claims, denying it or any of its subsidiary labels had ever had Shanté on their books.
Slate also revealed that Shanté doesn't have a PhD "from Cornell or anywhere else"; that she enrolled at Marymount Manhattan College, but dropped out; and that "New York state records indicate that no one named Lolita Gooden [her real name] or Roxanne Shanté is licensed to practice psychology or any related field".
"I am making this statement to apologise to the people that truly care about me for any angst that this situation has caused, and to thank them for their continued support," she said in a statement. "Throughout my career and life, I have been faced with many challenges, both professionally and personally. Like all of you, I am human, and may have not made the correct decision all the time. And, like anyone else, I would like to think that my entire life or career is not judged by one error or mistake."