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6 Classical Scandals Straight from the Tabloids

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1. First Conductor Dies from Conducting

You probably haven't heard of the poor guy, but Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632"“1687) was the first documented conductor. Before him, most musical groups just followed the lead of their first violinist or their keyboard player.

Lully was the first musician to use a baton. He was also the first musician to ever die by baton.

Let's rewind back to his technique though. Following in the tradition of other soft walking leaders, Lully carried around a really big stick: one that was six feet long, which he pounded on the ground in time to the music. Unfortunately, this enormous staff proved to be his undoing. One day, while merrily beating time (in a concert to celebrate the king's return to health), he stuck the wood into his foot by mistake. He developed gangrene and died. Not a good role model for conductors worldwide.

2. Haydn Nearly Gets Castrated

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732"“1809) was the father of the symphony as we know it. During more than 30 years of experimentation, he came up with the form that has influenced composers to this day. But as a little boy, Haydn was known for something else—his beautiful voice. He was the star soprano in his church choir. As he got older and his voice was about to change, his choirmaster came to him with a little proposition. If he would consent to a small operation, he could keep his beautiful soprano voice forever. Haydn readily agreed and was just about to undergo the surgery when his father found out and put a stop to the whole thing.

3. Paganini Allegedly Sells Soul to Devil! (Fetches Good Price)

paganini.jpgThe Italian violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini (1782"“1840) was one of the most astounding virtuosos of all time. He had amazing technique and enormous passion. He also promoted himself shamelessly, doing tricks to astonish his audience. Often before a concert he would saw partway through three of the four strings on his violin. In performance, those three strings broke, forcing him to play an entire piece on one string. Rumors flew that Paganini had sold his soul to the devil in order to play so well. Sometimes Paganini would order the lights dimmed while he played particularly spooky music, at which point the rumors and the mood would form a perfect storm and everybody would faint. (It didn't take much to make an audience faint in those days.)

4. Cross-Dressing Berlioz Nearly Snuffs Out Rival

The renowned French composer Hector Berlioz (1803"“1869) was, among other things, wacky. While away in Rome studying on a scholarship, he heard that his beloved girlfriend, Camille, back in Paris, had started seeing another guy. Furious, he resolved to kill his rival. But he needed to disguise himself. So he bought a gun, put on a dress, and boarded a train for Paris. Halfway home, however, Berlioz chickened out and threw himself into the Mediterranean. Luckily for us, and for music, he was fished out (minus the gun).

5. Liszt's Lucky Fans Receive Canine Surprise

liszt.jpgThe Hungarian Franz Liszt (1811"“1886) was a virtuoso in the tradition of Paganini. He played the piano and created a sensation throughout Europe. Everywhere he played, women swooned, and Liszt was treated like one of the world's first rock stars. In fact, the word Lisztomania was coined during his lifetime. He received so many requests for locks of his hair, though, that it was impossible for him to keep up with demand. Finally, the young musician stumbled upon the perfect solution— he bought a dog and snipped off patches of fur to send to his admirers, an unexpected use for man's best friend.

6. Peter Tchaikovsky Nearly Loses His Head

The magnificent Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840"“1893) was yet another in the line of geniuses who sometimes came unhinged. Tchaikovsky loved to compose, but he hated to conduct, mainly because he was paralyzed with a fear that his head might fall off. Unfortunately, conducting opportunities came up way too often for him—including the gala opening concert of Carnegie Hall in 1891. Neurotic to the core, Tchaikovsky always conducted with one hand while using the other to keep a firm grip on his chin.

Ed Note: This list was adapted and embellished from Condensed Knowledge, available for purchase here. 

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.


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