With more than 5.2 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or confirming your suspicions that The Beatles never existed. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,339,235-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: List of musical hoaxes (category)
What it’s about: Brilliant creative minds from throughout history have composed stirring, memorable works of music. But what this Wikipedia article presupposes is, maybe they didn’t? Seemingly as long as there has been music, there have been composers taking credit for music they didn’t write, or even music that didn’t actually exist. Take a (skeptical) listen:
Strangest fact: An entire genre was once created as a hoax. In 2006, Rohan Kriwaczek published An Incomplete History Of The Art Of Funerary Violin, tracing the lost history of an obscure genre which, as it turns out, he completely invented. Immediately after the book’s publication, the music world came together to declare there was no such genre as “funerary violin,” and the book’s publisher acknowledged, “I decided it didn’t really matter to me how much of this was actually accurate.” Kriwaczek insists his book wasn’t a hoax and that he simply wanted to “expand the notion of musical composition to encompass the creation of an entire artistic genre,” which is a fancy way of saying he made it all up.
Biggest controversy: Hoaxes can hit high and low culture, sometimes from the same source. Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi was famous for writing music ranging from “No. 1 Symphony Hiroshima,” which was played at a 2008 commemoration of the atomic bomb’s detonation, to the soundtrack to Resident Evil: Director’s Cut Dual Shock Ver., despite being completely deaf. Samuragochi was hailed as a “digital-age Beethoven” until a 2013 interview, in which the interviewer noticed the composer answered questions before the sign-language translation was finished, and at one point got up to answer the doorbell. That initial skepticism snowballed, as it eventually turned out he had completely normal hearing and didn’t need the cane he publicly used. It was learned that most of his stated biography was fake and that most of his music of the previous 18 years had been written by Takashi Niigaki, a fellow Japanese composer.
Thing we were happiest to learn: 1969 wasn’t just a great year for real rock ’n’ roll, it was a great year for fake rock ’n’ roll. In October of that year, Rolling Stone ran a phony review of an album by The Masked Marauders, a supposed supergroup comprising Lennon, McCartney, Jagger, and Dylan, recording under pseudonyms for legal reasons. Despite the obvious jokes in the review, (McCartney singing “Mammy” and playing a piano-and-bass duet by himself; Dylan singing “Duke Of Earl” in a deep bass; the review’s claim that the record was “more than a way of life; it is life”) plenty of readers were fooled and demanded to know where they could get the album. The magazine’s staff decided to extend the joke by rounding up a band (Berkeley, California’s Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band) to hastily record an album. (It was released only a month after the review ran.) The Marauders’ album included covers and a few songs written around titles mentioned in the review—“I Can’t Get No Nookie,” “Cow Pie”—and a closing track that admitted that the album was a fake. But enough people were taken in that The Masked Marauders nearly charted in the Hot 100.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Some hoaxes play it too close to the vest. Such is the case with Donnie Davies, a fictional ex-gay youth pastor and singer for Evening Service, a band that recorded anti-gay song “The Bible Says.” It’s widely speculated that whoever’s behind Davies is spoofing conservative Christian bigotry, but critics say he’s still promoting that message, whatever the intention, and the joke (if it is, in fact, a joke) is played straight enough that the casual listener will hear an anti-gay screed and miss any satirical nuance.
Also noteworthy: Some hoaxes involve a remarkable amount of effort. Lustfaust was supposedly a rediscovered German glam-rock band from the ’70s, who nearly won the 2006 Beck’s Futures exhibition (a contemporary-art competition put on by the beer company, not the singer of the same name), before being exposed as a hoax put on by a group of current musicians. The group went as far as setting up fake websites about the bands that included past tour dates, photos, interviews, and snippets of recordings. They even managed to sneak a fake page past Wikipedia’s usually ironclad standards of trustworthiness. The band persisted even after the hoax was revealed, performing around Europe for several years afterwards.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The musical-hoaxes category is part of a larger category, forgeries. From fake paintings to fake documents to counterfeit money (as well as an unfortunate history of Elders Of Zion-style antisemitic hoaxes), Wikipedia’s got all of your inauthentic needs covered under one roof!
Further down the Wormhole: The most infamous musical hoax of recent decades was Milli Vanilli, a pop duo who rocketed to early success before it was revealed that neither member actually sang on their album or in concert. But during their brief time at the top, one half of the duo, Rob Pilatus, insisted the two were more talented than ex-Masked Marauders Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger. While Jagger is as far as we know a real person—for starters, you couldn’t invent a better name for Mick Jagger than Mick Jagger—he’s weathered his share of controversy, the worst of which was 1969’s Altamont Free Concert, in which an audience member was stabbed to death by the Hells Angels, who had been hired to provide security. The Angels’ violent security methods were a point of reference for fictional politician Greg Stillson’s thuggish security in Stephen King’s book The Dead Zone. In the book, Johnny Smith’s psychic powers are ridiculed by tabloid magazine Inside View, which is not a real magazine. We’ll flip through the nonexistent pages of some other fictional magazines next week.