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Tales from the Toilet: Truth vs. Fiction in Musical Stories of the Bathroom

If you’re like me, you’ll be celebrating World Toilet Day this weekend! Besides reflecting on the mission of this holiday, which is to raise awareness of the 2.4 billion global citizens with no access to clean and safe sanitation, however, I’m not totally sure how people are supposed to celebrate World Toilet Day — save for using the bathroom an appropriate and normal amount. So here’s a thought:

Why don’t we demystify some of the great stories of musicians and their bathroom adventures?

1. Stax Records used their bathroom to record their music because it was a perfect echo chamber.

TRUE! Stax Records was located in an old movie theater in Memphis, Tennessee. The theater’s restrooms had imported Italian tiles covering the walls and floors, so the room produced an incredible quality reverberation and echo. Booker T. Jones from Booker T and the MGs described that:

“part of [the classic Stax] sound came from our limitations. One bathroom for the echoes…. We would put a microphone right in the middle and a speaker facing the wall.”

Sam and Dave’s 1966 soul hit, “Hold On, I’m Coming,” was one of Stax’s first recordings to make use of this production technique.

2. Elvis died on the toilet.

FALSE! (but there’s a twist!While we’re on the topic of Memphis, Elvis Presley died here in his bathroom in 1977. Most people think that Elvis died trying to push out a particularly large bowel movement, even though the coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “hypertensive cardiovascular disease with atherosclerotic heart disease,” or a heart attack.

Now, Elvis was also addicted to painkillers and had serious dietary issues, not to mention towards the end of his life he weighed close to 350 pounds. The combination of several different drugs that were found in his system during the autopsy, with codeine at 10 times the recommended level, certainly contributed to his death as well.

However, a recent reexamination into the causes of Elvis’ death actually provides evidence that links to another, separate, bathroom-related incident. According to the research of Dr. Forest Torrent, an expert physician and a defense witness during Dr. Nick’s famous trial that found him innocent of any direct involvement of Elvis’ death, Elvis’ behavior started dramatically changing around 1967.

Torrent hypothesized this to be as a result of several traumatic brain injuries, the first of which occurred when Elvis tripped over an electrical wire and fell, cracking his head on a porcelain bathtub. Other than his head wound, no trauma was diagnosed and so whatever resulted from that was left untreated. Torrent suggested that pieces of brain tissue over time began seeping into his blood circulation which probably caused him to develop an autoimmune disorder, leading the way to both obesity and bodily changes such as enlarged organs, thus creating an environment ripe for heart failure.

3. Ed Sheeran wrote a One Direction song in the bathroom.

TRUE! The bathroom can evoke a whole range of emotions. Just ask Paul McCartney! For Ed Sheeran, it inspired him to write a One Direction song. “I was in Copenhagen and I just got an idea and I went into the shower room, where it’s big and reverberative and wrote [“Little Things”], and I was like, ‘That sounds like a song that would be perfect’ and sent it across.”

4. Siobhan Donaghy ran away from the Sugarbabes’s first international tour abruptly by escaping through a bathroom window.

FALSE! When Donaghy suddenly left the Sugarbabes during a promotional tour of Japan back in 2001, a whole mythology about how she left the group quickly formed. For years, many believed she left the group by climbing out of a bathroom window and legging it. She and the band have since refuted this claim and are back on good terms again.

5. Nine Inch Nails hid promotional materials for their upcoming album in bathrooms at their concerts.

TRUE! In one of the most well-received guerilla marketing campaigns of all time, Nine Inch Nails hid USB drives with snippets of upcoming songs, wiretapped phone calls, and other cryptic, promotional materials all over the bathrooms at their concerts. A source from the band said:

“It is the CD booklet come to life. It precedes the concept album and the tour. And it will continue for the next 18 months with peaks and valleys.”

6. Keith Moon would bomb toilets everywhere he’d go.

TRUE! Stories of Keith Moon’s off-stage exploits are legendary as his drumming for the Who. From blowing up his drum kit on live television to throwing televisions out of hotel windows, he had certainly earned his reputation as the madman of rock ‘n’ roll.

One of his favorite things to do would be to blow up toilets with explosives ranging from cherry bombs to sticks of dynamite. He is estimated to have caused around $500,000 of bathroom-related damage. Here are the details of one particular incident, according to Bryan Johnston:

“In one case, hotel management asked Moon to turn down his cassette player. In response, he asked the manager up to his room and blew up the toilet right in front of him. Moon then turned the cassette player back up and said: ‘This is the Who.'”

7. Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell gave his actual toilet to the band’s blogger.

TRUE! Okay, so, perhaps the first question you might have is: Alice In Chains has a full-time blogger on staff who documents the band’s actions across the globe? Apparently so! And he’s one lucky hombre because when Jerry Cantrell needed to upgrade the porcelain throne in his home, he decided to give his faithful employee his old one. To quote the mysterious blogger:

“It turns out that there are a wide variety of toilets out there, and much to my surprise, there’s actually a massive price disparity between your average toilet and the really upscale models…. So Jerry is offering to give me a really nice toilet because he’s replacing it with a REALLY nice toilet.”

… And, because you’ve actually made it this far in the article, here’s a bonus.

Now, the Toilet-Day Challenge!

Nils Frahm once wrote a piano piece to be played with toilet brushes, and this homeboy below challenged himself to make a sick beat using nothing but a roll of toilet paper! If they can do it, surely you can, too. Brush up on your found-sound sampling techniques in our free course with YouTube whiz Andrew Huang called Making Music From Everyday Items, your beat-making skills with Ableton Certified Trainer Dan Freeman in Beat Making in Ableton Live, and go make a track using any sounds you can generate from your glorious bathroom! 

Got something squeaky, soapy, and funky? Share it in the comments or via social media. Tag us @learntosoundfly, and we’ll send you a VIP Discount to whichever Soundfly Mainstage course suits your interest! Visit worldtoiletday.info for more information on the world’s wastewater crisis from United Nations Water.

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Evan Zwisler
Evan Zwisler

Evan Zwisler is a NYC-based musician who is most notably known for his work with The Values as a songwriter and guitarist. He is an active member of the Brooklyn music scene, throwing fundraisers and organizing compilations for Planned Parenthood and the Anti-Violence Project. He started playing music in the underground punk scene of Shanghai with various local bands when he was in high school before going to California for college and finally moving to New York in 2012.