Monthly Archives: October 2019
I thought of the idea for this column when I saw a ridiculous (but kinda awesome) theory circulating on Facebook the other day that Jimi Hendrix and Morgan Freeman are one and the same. I’m wrapping up a book on conspiracy culture titled American Madness, which doesn’t delve too much into music theories, although there is one about Les Claypool of Primus (no, sadly it doesn’t involve playing “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” backwards). Maybe I’ll write more in-depth on all this someday, but meanwhile here’s a list of some conspiracy theories and urban legends involving musicians.
(1) Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire and became Morgan Freeman.
As I mentioned, this story kicked off the idea for this week’s column (I added the flaming guitar bit myself as a good conspiracy needs embellishment). The theory suggests that Hendrix faked his death in 1970 and rebranded himself as Academy Award winning actor Freeman. As Snopes notes, the two do have a passing resemblance, but Morgan had already launched his acting career by 1964 while Hendrix was still touring, so we’re going to need to add time/space travel to this theory for it to make sense.
(2) Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil.
This is the most classic music myth I can think of. I’m adding Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, a biography on the blues musician (from one of my publishers, Chicago Review Press) to my winter reading list (as soon as I get through my fall one). Johnson, the story goes, was a mediocre guitar player until he disappeared from the juke joints he frequented for a period of time. When he returned, his music skills had increased incredibly and the story was that he sold his soul at the crossroads for his new abilities to old Hornhead himself. The stories and Johnson’s songs like “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on My Trail” forever gave him a supernatural reputation.
(3) Elvis is alive, baby!
This is the first music conspiracy or legend I was exposed to as a kid, bored and waiting in line at the supermarket and reading the headlines of tabloids. The trashy reports of celebrity affairs had no interest to me, but the sensational tales of Elvis faking his death and being spotted at a 7-11 and numerous other locations did. An American classic– long live the king!
(4) But Paul is dead (and other doppelganger replacements)!
“Paul is dead” is such a beautifully complex conspiracy. There’s so much, so I’ll just try to cruise through the main talking points: Paul McCartney, the theory says, dies in a car crash in 1966. Afraid to lose their fan base, The Beatles and management decided to do the logical thing and replace him with a Paul McCartney doppelganger. But their guilt gnawed at them, so they dropped a number of clues hidden in plain sight in their song lyrics and album cover art, the most heavily dissected being the front and back cover of 1969’s Abbey Road. There’s a run down of the eight pieces of hidden symbolism on the album covers here: https://www.biography.com/news/beatles-abbey-road-album-cover-anniversary
Since then, there have been several other doppelganger theories, including one that says that Miley Cyrus died of an overdose and was replaced by a body double in 2010, that Avril Lavigne was quietly replaced with a clone in 2003, and that Andrew W.K. is actually several people who are franchised out to play the role, maybe in the same way Andy Warhol would have an impersonator show up at art events.
I recommend listening to my friends on See You on the Other Side podcast. They have an episode titled “Avril is Dead: The Strange Case of Pop Culture Doppelgangers” where they discuss Paul, Avril, and Andrew as well as wrestler the Ultimate Warrior and more.
(5) Kurt Cobain was murdered.
This was a conspiracy I watched play out as I was a Nirvana fan and a high schooler when Kurt Cobain killed himself. I found his death shocking and I experienced some sad disbelief. I think some conspiracies form because music is so important to us. When a musician dies before their time we can’t accept the grim reality. They were larger than life, larger than afterlife.
Over the years that followed Cobain’s death, a lot of “evidence” was hodge-podged together to suggest he was murdered, and most often the theories point at Courtney Love as the perpetrator. About six months after Cobain’s 1994 death, I went to see Hole play with Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails at the Riverside Theater. Some asshat was yelling “you killed Kurt!” at Love between songs. People needed to blame his death on someone and she was the convenient villain.
Shock rocker Eldon Hoke aka “El Duce” of The Mentors (and The Screamers), claimed he was hired by Love as the hitman (though he definitely shouldn’t be taken seriously). Two days after shooting an interview for the total crap conspiracy doc Kurt & Courtney, El Duce was found dead on the railroad tracks, decapitated, and with a high alcohol content. Of course this only led to more conspiracies.
(6) The 27 Club.
Kurt was then added to an elite theory of “The 27 Club,” a mystical group of musicians who died at that age, including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and later Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Because of this there’s some mysticism about the number, a time when musicians are supposedly more vulnerable as they are on the cusp between still being considered young and about to turn a more “adult age.” But of course many great musicians have died at all ages.
(7) Who killed Tupac and Biggie…or are they still alive?
A lot of conspiracies linger because there aren’t satisfactory answers for closure, the JFK assassination being a prime example. Rap rivals Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG were murdered in 1996 and 1997, respectively, with both cases being unsolved and open. The list of alleged suspects who participated in the killings include Suge Knight, Puff Daddy, the LAPD, the FBI, and the Illuminati. Like Elvis, there are also legends that both rappers faked death, though most are typically about Tupac. You can find claims of people allegedly spotting Tupac in Cuba, Malaysia, and Somalia, among other places.
(8) Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando fled New York in a rental car road trip after 9/11.
This is a good story, but has never been proven. The tall tale says that Michael Jackson was performing in New York the week of the 9/11 attacks (that is true) and that his guests there for the show included Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando (also true). After the 9/11 attacks, a panicked Jackson rented a car and the three celebrities begin a madcap road trip toward LA. They got as far as Ohio (stopping frequently at KFCs to fuel Brando with fried chicken), before ditching the car for a private jet to California. This story only emerged in 2011, conveniently after all three of the alleged participants had died. Is the story true? Probably not. A former assistant to Taylor says she stayed for several days in New York after the attack. Another source says Jackson and entourage bunked in New Jersey before charting a private plane to head West.
Zadie Smith wrote a great short fiction based on this urban legend for the New Yorker titled “Escape from New York.”
(9) In the Air Tonight
I’m including this one because this is a myth I believed myself for many years. I accepted the story I heard about Phil Collin’s famous hit “In the Air Tonight.” I thought the song was about, as Eminem described it “that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drowning/ but didn’t then Phil saw it all/ then at a show he found him” Turns out the song isn’t about a death by drowning or any of that, but just Phil expressing his feels about a divorce he was going through.
Yawwwwwn dude. Conspiracy is sometimes way more interesting than reality.
There are many more ones I’m missing– the one about Ace of Base being white supremacists and some interesting rumors about Marilyn Manson, so I got a feeling someday this column will get a sequel.
If you’re in the midwest, tickets for Milwaukee Krampusnacht are on sale now. It’s an awesomely creepy and cool event. More info: www.milwaukeeparacon.com/krampus
My latest book is Apocalypse Any Day Now, available here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
I’m looking forward to seeing The Holzer Files, which premiers tonight on Travel Channel. The show stars Alexandra Holzer, daughter of pioneering ghost researcher Hans Holzer. Alexandra and her team reopen her father’s case files in new investigations. I had a chance to interview Alexandra at the Chicago Ghost Con in 2014 and wrote an article on her for the March 2015 issue of Fortean Times. This article appeared in print only, so I’m glad to share it here online for the first time.
One thing that really pops out at me re-reading this now is that when I spoke to Alexandra, she was concerned her father’s legacy was being forgotten. I’m sure her new show will help prevent that. Congrats Alexandra and team!
THE GHOST HUNTER’S DAUGHTER (originally appeared in Fortean Times, March 2015)
By Tea Krulos
“How many of you know about Hans Holzer?” Alexandra Holzer asks. She’s crowded in an elevator with about fifteen people at the Chicago Ghost Conference, being held at Carl Schurz High School. The elevator is heading up to the fifth floor for a short investigation of the school’s music room, where there are claims of spirits lurking in the corner and tinkering around on the piano.
Her question is greeted with an awkward silence.
“Oh boy,” she says, disappointed, and looks at the elevator wall. Later I ask her if she thinks this was just a shy silence.
“Maybe.” She answers. “His recognition is mixed and that’s not good enough for me. It’s got to be higher.”
This lack of familiarity is disheartening because if there ever was a Mount Rushmore of “ghost hunters,” Alexandra’s father—Dr. Hans Holzer—would definitely have his hawk-like features chiseled among them.
Hans Holzer was born in 1920 in Vienna, Austria. He studied archaeology and history at the University of Vienna, but with World War II on the horizon, his family determined they would move to New York City in 1938. Thanks in part to an uncle who told him ghost stories, Holzer had an interest in the supernatural since he was a young boy, and went on to study all things related to the paranormal. He authored more than 140 books on ghosts, UFOs, the afterlife, ESP, witchcraft, and other related topics. He also taught parapsychology at the New York Institute of Technology.
“During the 70s and 80s, he was the ‘ghost man.’” Alexandra explains. She says her father’s collection of artifacts related to his studies and circle of friends involved in the paranormal field made the Holzer house “like growing up in a living museum.” Her mother was also unique. An artist and descendant of Catherine the Great, Countess Catherine Buxhoeveden married Holzer shortly before his first book, Ghost Hunter, was published in 1964. Countess Buxhoeveden joined him in his travels and used her artistic talent to do illustrations for his early books. They divorced when Alexandra was 13-years-old.
Alexandra became aware that her father’s interests might be termed “unusual” at a young age and it took a while before she grew to appreciate it.
“I was about eight years old when I figured out he wasn’t normal,” Alexandra smiles, “because when I started going to school my mother would wrap up my father’s books as gifts. Books on witches, warlocks, UFOs, Amityville Horror. The teachers would open up the gifts in the classroom and all the kid’s eyes grew, the teacher’s mouths dropped, and I sank down really low in my chair like I wanted to hide. I said ‘Oh my God, that’s him? No!’”
Rebel Without a Ghost
As she grew into a young woman, Alexandra went through a rebellious phase and tried to escape her father’s eerie legacy.
“I ran to art school to get away from my father because I thought he was weird. I wanted to get away from the paranormal and be with creative people. I really didn’t care, I was too young. When you’re at a certain age, you don’t get what your parent does, even if it’s as weird as that. He’d say ‘oh look I’m on TV!’ And I’d say, ‘yeah, that’s nice.’ I just didn’t get it.”
Alexandra might not have been getting it yet, but others were. Hans Holzer became renowned as the foremost authority on things related to ghosts. His expertise was used on shows like the classic In Search Of… and subsequent television shows and documentaries dedicated to the paranormal. Another contribution to pop culture Dr. Holzer helped inspire was the beloved horror-comedy Ghostbusters. Dan Aykroyd, who wrote and starred in the movie, has said he was a Hans Holzer fan and used reports of his investigations as the seed for the film idea.
“I became obsessed with Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever,” Aykroyd said. “That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.”
Dr. Holzer’s most famous case that he worked on was the alleged haunting of the Lutz family on Long Island, New York, commonly known as the Amityville Horror.
The Lutz family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville thirteen months after the home was the scene of a gruesome murder of the former tenants, the DeFeo family. On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr., the oldest child, systemically worked his way through the house in the middle of the night, shooting his mother and father and four siblings in their beds. After the Lutz family moved in, they claimed that they were terrorized by entities in December 1975- January 1976, and abandoned the house just 28 days after moving in. The incident spawned a bestselling book (The Amityville Horror: A True Story by Jay Anson, 1977) followed by a long string of additional books on the case, Hollywood movies (11 to date, with a 12th slated for 2015), and documentaries.
Dr. Holzer traveled to the house in January 1977. He was joined in his investigation by medium Ethel Johnson Meyers. In addition to interviewing and research, Dr. Holzer often brought a medium with him on a case.
“A scientific investigation must have a well-trained transmedium for communication. It is the only way,” Dr. Holzer stated in an interview.
In the Amityville house, Meyers claimed that she had identified the house’s angry spirit: Shinnecock Indian Chief Rolling Thunder, which helped Holzer put together a theory that the house had been built on Indian sacred grounds, the cause of the malicious haunting.
The Amityville Historical Society has refuted claims that the house is built on Indian burial grounds. Other researchers who have investigated the Amityville case say that it is an opportunistic hoax contrived by the Lutz family and their lawyer, embellished and exaggerated to help make money off of selling a good ghost story.
Dr. Holzer wrote both non-fiction (Murder in Amityville,1979) and fiction (The Amityville Curse, 1981, and The Secret of Amityville, 1985) about the case.
Other popular non-fiction volumes Dr. Holzer has written on the topic of ghosts include Ghosts I’ve Met (1965) Hans Holzer’s Haunted Houses: A Pictorial Register of the World’s Most Interesting Ghost Houses (1971) and Great American Ghost Stories (1990).
“Probably my late 20s I started to mature a bit and when I started to see the people he’d have over, I’d think, ‘these are really interesting people, they’re very spiritual, some are a bit wacky, but there’s something to what he does.’ But I didn’t have a pinnacle moment of understanding who he was until my 30s, where I was like ‘ok, I get it.’ Then I had my own awakening and epiphany and it just kind of vibed at that point, so I’d say it took almost two decades to get to that point.”
Alexandra says that epiphany came when her aunt passed on.
“At her service, I felt her come over and hug me. My whole body went warm and I’m sitting there crying hysterically because I didn’t like it, I didn’t understand it. I felt she was hugging me because she knew out of everybody except my mother I was destroyed (by her death). I knew it was her, I don’t know how to explain it, I just knew. That flipped me.”
Alexandra says the experience helped inspire her to follow both investigating and writing. She wrote a sci-fi/ fantasy novel, Lady Ambrosia: Secret Past Revealed (2007), and a memoir of her family, Growing Up Haunted: A Ghostly Memoir (2008).
Dr. Hans Holzer died on April 26, 2009. After his death, Alexandra stepped up actively investigating, using the family formula for ghost hunting, which she calls the “Holzer Method.” Alexandra runs her group Hunt With Holzer with fellow investigator David Lawson. “We create events with people and give that personal contact and have groups investigate using my father’s method. We learn about other people’s methods and keep it unified, help and learn and move on and document.”
Back at the Carl Schurz High School investigation, her group has moved from the 5th-floor music room to a smaller music room filled with rows of keyboards on the 4th floor. An electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) session is happening. Investigators are asking questions in the dark room, hoping to elicit a response. After a minute of silence, Alexandra addresses the group, telling them that she is still in communication with her father.
“My father comes through when we’re doing things,” she informs. “So if anyone wants to ask if Hans Holzer is here, it’s actually pretty normal. I mean it’s a little paradoxical, but feel free to ask him a question.”
Alexandra is seated near the teacher’s desk at the head of the classroom. On the desk in front of her is the REM-pod, a device that measures fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. Triggered lights and sounds on the device is said to be an indicator of a potential ghostly presence.
“Hans Holzer if you’re here, can you put that green light on?” A participant asks from the darkness.
Silence. The REM-pod light does not turn green.
“You should ask him, he’ll listen to you.” Another participant directs to Alexandra.
“He did not listen to me in life!” She laughs. “You think in the afterlife he’s going to listen to me? Really?” The group breaks into laughter in the darkness.
“Daddy you want to play with some lights?” Alexandra asks. The REM-pod remains idle.
“Do you feel he follows you around?” Another participant asks Alexandra.
“He does. He’s a pain.” A second of silence. “Did someone just hum?”
“I heard it!” A participant says. “I heard hmmm from over here.”
The group listens to an audio recorder and hear a ghostly sound they determine is an EVP they’ve captured of a girl saying “daddy.”
“It’s basically combining science with metaphysics,” Alexandra explains, describing the Holzer Method. “My father had his predecessors and everybody was very scientific, and then he had the mediums and intuitiveness. Although he was a skeptic, he believed if you combined the two, you’d have better results, so that’s when the method was born, it was his brainchild to say we’re going to do it this way and we’re going to do it that way and we’re going to get more data so that we can understand what happens when we die and not everything is science and not everything is spiritual, there’s a combination of the two.”
In addition to Hunt with Holzer, Alexandra visualizes a documentary or feature film based on her father’s life. She says it’s a longtime goal of hers, one she spoke to her father about, that she’d like to see visualized. She feels Holzer’s place in history has been forgotten and overshadowed and hopes such a project will help her father’s legacy live on.
Alexandra Holzer’s website is alexandraholzer.com
#ClownWatch2019: September 23, 2019, approximately 9:30 PM: My friends at the Singular Fortean Society reported on a clown encounter on a rural Arkansas road. A vehicle of teens on their way to Pottsville Lake found the clown digging at the side of the road with a shovel, yelled at it and backed away as the clown stormed toward them. Actual clown about town or staged video? Read more and see the clip here: https://www.singularfortean.com/news/2019/9/30/creepy-clown-caught-on-camera-by-arkansas-teens
Links and Shout Outs
-If you want to read more about the lives of ghost hunters and other paranormal investigators, check out my book Monster Hunters: https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/monster-hunters-products-9781613749814.php
-Great conversation on the Ghostly Talk podcast out of Michigan with hosts Scott L and author Amberrose Hammond. It was a nice way to start October and we talked about all of my published work so far. You can listen to the episode here: https://ghostlytalk.com/episode-91-tea-krulos
–Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre is performing “The END is HERE and that’s ok” in Milwaukee at Danceworks this Saturday and Sunday. It’s being described as “brilliantly funny and meaningful.” They’ll be giving away copies of my book Apocalypse Any Day Now at each performance! Here’s more info: http://www.kellyandersondancetheatre.com/tour-the-end-is-here-and-thats-ok.html
.-Thanks to Old Baraboo Inn for having me as part of the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt last week. I gave a presentation titled “Chasing the Ghost of Al Capone.” Always a fun time there!