We all love a good story — whether it’s true, or not so true. Today marks the release of Albert Jack’s Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends, an excellent little volume that collects some of the weirdest, best, and most rampant urban legends bouncing around the cultural consciousness. Luckily, Jack has written about a few of his favorite legends for us here.
“Urban legends are not always easy to spot, as they often have a ring of truth about them,” Jack told us over email. “The events they describe could happen or might have happened to any of us. Each of us could have been as unfortunate or stupid as the character(s) in the story, and that is one of the reasons we all enjoy urban legends so much: that the misfortune involved didn’t happen to us in the end but to somebody else. And that makes us laugh. The stories come in many different forms. Some involve ghostly goings on, some are about love found or lost. Some center on plain stupidity and some on unfortunate coincidences, although some do have happy endings.”
“The connecting feature is that all are told and then retold and come back around in altered forms, and all of them are passed around by word of mouth or, especially these days, via the Internet, where they spread like wildfire. Just to prove my point, one of these legends is absolutely, definitely not true. How do I know? Because I made it up; just for fun. Imagine my enjoyment when a friend from Johannesburg emailed the story around to his address book (without knowing of my involvement) claiming it had actually happened, in Australia. It was in the UK when I invented it. (See if you can guess which one it is and, yes, I have changed the countries this time.)
“These ‘legends’ (so-called ‘urban,’ although they don’t need to have an urban setting) are the modern-day version of medieval folklore and all of the anecdotes in this collection can be recited the next time you are at lunch, dinner or in the pub with friends. They can make even the most unimaginative person seem interesting, I promise. They seem to be working for me, at any rate.”
Moon the Loon
Keith Moon, late drummer of The Who, died in 1978 and left behind a string of urban legends as a result of his erratic and comical behavior. Largely under the influence of drugs Moon is said to have blown up his drum kit on stage, allegedly damaging guitarist Pete Townsend’s hearing in the process, and then befriended a tramp in Soho before checking him into London’s Hilton Hotel and drinking with him until the early hours. Moon apparently then forgot all about the tramp, until the hotel phoned his record label over two weeks later to ask what they were supposed to do with the old man and who was paying the bill. The record label picked up the tab.
Despite being regarded by many as the finest drummer of his generation, Moon’s good-natured disruptions lead to his band mates barring him from the studio when the vocal parts were being recorded. One legend suggests that at the end of the recording of “Happy Jack” Pete Townsend can be heard shouting, “I see ya” in the background as he spots Moon sneaking in to let off fireworks. Whether any of these legends are true or not only those close to the band would know. But the one that is perhaps the most famous rock urban legend of all time is definitely not true. According to author Steve Grantley (The Who by Numbers) Keith Moon definitely did not drive his Rolls Royce into the swimming pool either at his home, as is sometimes suggested, or at the Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan, where it is also reported to have happened during the drummer’s twenty first birthday party. “What he did do though,” says Grantley, “is reverse it by accident into his garden pond one morning and then had to ask the recovery truck to tow it back out for him.”