Musicians Getting Away with Murder and Behaving Very Badly


By Jake Brennan

Formats and Prices




$35.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 1, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From the creator of the popular rock ‘n’ roll true crime podcast, DISGRACELAND comes an off-kilter, hysterical, at times macabre book of stories from the highly entertaining underbelly of music history.

You may know Jerry Lee Lewis married his thirteen-year-old cousin but did you know he shot his bass player in the chest with a shotgun or that a couple of his wives died under extremely mysterious circumstances? Or that Sam Cooke was shot dead in a seedy motel after barging into the manager’s office naked to attack her? Maybe not. Would it change your view of him if you knew that, or would your love for his music triumph?

Real rock stars do truly insane thing and invite truly insane things to happen to them; murder, drug trafficking, rape, cannibalism and the occult. We allow this behavior. We are complicit because a rock star behaving badly is what’s expected. It’s baked into the cake. Deep down, way down, past all of our self-righteous notions of justice and right and wrong, when it comes down to it, we want our rock stars to be bad. We know the music industry is full of demons, ones that drove Elvis Presley, Phil Spector, Sid Vicious and that consumed the Norwegian Black Metal scene. We want to believe in the myths because they’re so damn entertaining.

DISGRACELAND is a collection of the best of these stories about some of the music world’s most beloved stars and their crimes. It will mix all-new, untold stories with expanded stories from the first two seasons of the Disgraceland podcast. Using figures we already recognize, DISGRACELAND shines a light into the dark corners of their fame revealing the fine line that separates heroes and villains as well as the danger Americans seek out in their news cycles, tabloids, reality shows and soap operas. At the center of this collection of stories is the ever-fascinating music industry–a glittery stage populated by gangsters, drug dealers, pimps, groupies with violence, scandal and pure unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll entertainment.


Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.

Tap here to learn more.

Author's Note

Rock stars aren't like you and me. They act insane and have insane things happen to them. They are more like feral, narcissistic animals than functioning members of society, and this is in part what makes them so damn entertaining.

Journalists have dug deep into their pasts, their personal lives, and into the details surrounding not only their music but also their insane behavior, including the various crimes they've committed. Friends, lovers, and enemies have sold inside stories to the highest bidders, and some musicians have even penned their own autobiographies in order to ensure the telling of their own history. The stories told in this book rely on all these types of different accounts to piece together a read that is hopefully as wild as the musicians covered within. This book is a stylized interpretation of these stories, melding true crime and transgressive fiction and aligning the musicians, the music they made, and the crimes they committed with the mythology that surrounds them.

I am indebted to the journalists, authors, and filmmakers who captured these stories first and got them down onto the record. I am also indebted to a small cast of co-conspirators who were more than generous with their time and offered me firsthand insight into some of the subjects covered herein. And I am indebted to the musicians who lived larger than life, proving themselves to be endlessly entertaining both on and off record.

To all of these folks, I say thank you.

Finally, a note about the victims: Each chapter of this book explores real people, not just human collateral damage strewn to the pay-no-mind list of history, products of the wild living done by the musicians; within these pages are dead spouses, relatives, bandmates, friends, and others who bear scars the likes of which we'll hopefully never have to carry. It would be irresponsible if I did not acknowledge them and include a legitimate note of sympathy for both the victims and for those who survived them. It is impossible to research these stories without feeling, at times, intense dread and astonishment at what the worst among us are capable of. I can only imagine that this darkness is but a small portion of the real-life pain felt by those affected by the rock 'n' roll animalism described herein.


The beast in me

Is caged by frail and fragile bars

Restless by day

And by night rants and rages at the stars

God help the beast in me

—Nick Lowe by way of Johnny Cash

Chapter 1

Fat Elvis


Elvis couldn't get the bullets into the chamber: His fingers—swollen along with the rest of his body from a steady diet of greasy, fried Southern food and shaking from his daily narcotics cocktail of antidepressants and pain relievers, morphine, codeine, diazepam, and several other barbiturates—made it near impossible to concentrate, never mind possess the physical dexterity required to properly thread the barrel of his small snub-nosed revolver with the tiny .38 Special bullets.

Elvis could feel his temperature rising. He needed to get the gun loaded and get the shot off quick. Who knew how long it would be before the TV gods would deliver that handsome prick's two-faced mug to his television screen again. The sweat on his forehead puddled above his brow and dripped down the side of his bloated face. The Valium wasn't working and he needed another kind of release. He'd be up for hours unless he blew off some steam. Blasting Robert Goulet's shit-eating grin off his face with his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson—the one with the TCB logo and lightning bolt on the pistol grip—was likely the only chance left to lower his blood pressure tonight.

Goulet. Elvis hated him. Ever since Elvis shipped off to Germany and Goulet, back home, moved in on his girl. The bullet slid into the chamber just in time. THERE! Elvis's heart practically burst through his sternum at the sight of Goulet onscreen, appearing in an oft-run commercial for the 1977 television show Police Story. Elvis took aim. He held his fire as the commercial moved through B-plot characters before returning to Goulet.

Elvis didn't want to blow it. The shot had to be perfect. He needed to blast Goulet's face the very instant it filled the screen, otherwise his anxiety would remain pitched until morning. Sleep would never come, and he'd need to double down on amphetamines the next day to keep going. And besides, at this range, seated six feet away from the big RCA, there should only be one result: the kill shot.


Just then, Robert Goulet's impossibly tan skin and sapphire eyes covered the twenty-five-inch screen. Elvis squeezed his fat sausage finger against the trigger.


The sound of the .38's blast within the confines of Elvis's Graceland den was deafening but definitely worth it. Smoke rose out of the hole in his television where the smug face of Robert Goulet had been just one second earlier. Elvis sunk into himself with satisfaction. The feeling was almost postcoital, but despite the gratification, Elvis Presley, arguably the most popular entertainer in the world, had never felt more alone.

And alone Elvis kept the wolves at bay. Beasts that roamed freely throughout his drug-addled psyche, but one beast raged loudest: the thought of his twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. Dead at birth. And Elvis's survivor's guilt was strong. As was his grief. The twin emotions gnawed away, creating a hole in him that no amount of drugs, women, food, money, fame or Robert Goulet–kill shots would fill.

Jesse Garon Presley, the brother was dead. God save Elvis Aaron Presley, the King.

Fat Elvis shooting Robert Goulet.


But if someone was going to save Elvis Presley, they'd better do it fast. It was August 1977, and the King of Rock 'n' Roll was king in name only. He'd been dethroned long ago by the Beatles, who'd descended like their cousins, the locusts, laying waste to everything before them. Then by sympathetic satanists posing as harmless rolling stones but who tumbled him like dice off the charts. And most recently by lean anarchists armed with only three chords and the truth.

Gone were the heady and innocent days of newfound chart-topping success. His early triumph had been fueled by the accidental creation of a new type of earth-shattering music: rock 'n' roll.

Back then, Elvis's grip on the nation was firm. The world had never seen the likes of him before. He was the vessel for a new sound. He naturally infused white Southern country music into gutbucket black blues, and in doing so gave rock 'n' roll a level of relatability (and crossover commercial appeal) that was undeniable.

The world shook. Parents rattled. And Elvis rolled.

Rolled over the naysayers who miscast rock 'n' roll as a fad.

Rolled over the competition who misjudged him as a one-hit wonder.

And rolled over Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and any and all traditional forms of music that got in his way. His first singles lit up the request lines of radio stations throughout the South, and Elvis quickly outgrew his little hometown record label. It was clear, almost from the jump, that Elvis Presley wasn't just a recording artist. He was a culture-shaping phenom on the make.

Back then in 1955, Elvis was lean himself. To most of America, with his long jet-black hair, acne-scarred cheeks, and slithering hips, he was just as alien looking as the punk rockers who now reviled him were in 1977.

In the here and now, holed up in his Graceland mansion den, aka the Jungle Room, Elvis Presley's kitschy, ostentatious, interior-designed man cave, with its animal prints, shag rug, and faux wood, he felt a million miles away from his humble beginnings despite the fact that he was only a fifteen-minute drive from 706 Union Avenue, the Memphis address of Sun Studio, where he'd gotten his start a couple decades earlier.

Elvis, bored, hit the intercom on the wall and called for Diamond Joe Esposito, an original member of the Memphis Mafia, his entourage, who—among other things—kept him entertained when the need for distraction took hold.

"Joe! Come on down to the den. I wanna shake it up tonight."

Within minutes Joe appeared.

"Joe, let's party, man. I'm bored. You see those girls outside the gates? Go bring 'em in the house."

"Elvis, there's about three hundred people outside the gates right now."

"I'm not talking about all those people. Just the girls. The older girls. We don't need none of that Jerry Lee nonsense. And tell the boys to get the bar stocked and I want some I-talian food. Call up Coletta's and get a bunch of them BBQ pizzas. Let's party, Joe."

Within no time there were roughly 150 women filling the walls of Graceland to accompany Elvis and the ten members of his Memphis Mafia entourage. Shooting fish in a barrel.

But Elvis wasn't interested in shooting fish. He sat in his chair and fingered his pistol. It gave Elvis a sense of security in these uncertain times. His career was at an all-time low. He wasn't yet broke, but his massive overhead was threatening to bust his bank. He hadn't had a top-ten hit since "Burnin' Love" five years earlier and hadn't had real critical acclaim since "Suspicious Minds" shot up the charts in 1969. But even then, nearly a decade before, he was still seen as past his prime. They wouldn't have referred to his 1968 NBC special as the "Comeback Special" if he'd been reliably ruling his kingdom the whole time. And now, he was a lifetime away from the supernova-star status of his early No. 1 hits "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't Be Cruel."

Truth be told, Elvis had been creatively spent for the better part of a decade. And physically, he was in the worst shape of his life. To make matters worse, Elvis's manager had him teed up to embark on a rigorous tour. It was a tour that he dreaded and was in no shape to do, physically or mentally.

Elvis couldn't help but wonder why he was in this mess. How did it get to this point? Lonely, running out of bread, and out of shape. He was only forty-two years old. And only a couple decades removed from being the undisputed King of Rock 'n' Roll. The more he thought about it, the more he came back to blaming the one person he could never confront head-on. His manager, the Colonel. Colonel Tom Parker.


Colonel Tom Parker had been an outsized figure in Elvis Presley's life ever since 1955, just as Elvis's first singles started to crack the charts. The Colonel was a talent manager and not actually a colonel. He was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, was from Breda, Holland, and was in reality an illegal immigrant who'd hoodwinked Jimmie Davis, the Louisiana governor and a one-time country star himself, to bestow upon him the honorary title of Colonel because he thought it made him seem more American.

A new identity was a necessity for the Colonel. His days in Holland have been shaded by time but one theory goes that young Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk left Holland for the United States to escape a murder rap. Once in the States, he'd grifted his way through the Depression, making ends meet through a series of short cons until eventually finding work on the carnival circuit as a carny barker. It was there, in the carnival, where the wannabe Colonel would form his business philosophy: Entertainers, be it an elephant in a ring, a monkey in a cage, a lady with a beard, or a singer with a song, they were all the same. They weren't artists, they were attractions.

Once the United States got off the skids and Americans started spending money on entertainment again, Andreas, in the spirit of most hardworking immigrants before him, assimilated and began climbing the social ladder through hard work. The carnival was out. There was money to be made in the devil's workshop, aka the music industry. So he began hustling tickets and dates for country music singers Minnie Pearl and Eddy Arnold, and he eventually built up enough clout to con Governor Davis into giving him that new handle. Now that he was "officially" the Colonel, he could fully become the prototype of the big barrel-bellied, cigar-chomping American music businessman. Colonel Tom Parker was poised to deliver a star attraction to the masses. All he needed was to find that attraction.

Elvis couldn't remember exactly when he first met Colonel Tom Parker. When he thought back to those early days, the scene that always played out in his head was the day he signed his management contract with the Colonel. His mama's kitchen was small to begin with but was made smaller by the presence of Parker and his business partner, the country singer Hank Snow, whom Elvis's parents admired deeply.

Everybody in the room had a different idea of what was happening.

Elvis's parents believed their son was signing a management contract with Hank Snow, one of the most respected names in the entertainment business at the time. And that Colonel Tom Parker, who they didn't really care for personally but believed brought some business acumen to the table, was a necessary evil. He was Snow's partner, so he couldn't be all bad.

Hank Snow believed that he was cosigning a personal management contract to manage the brightest young star in America.

And young Elvis, ever the pleaser, believed he was making everybody happy, particularly his mama, and that he was going to be a big star.

But like most confidence men, Colonel Parker believed only in the card up his sleeve, which right now was the actual contract that everyone was signing. Grifter that he was, the Colonel knew where he was vulnerable. He could sense the Presleys' distrust in him, and he knew that they trusted his partner, Hank. So Hank was in the room. But he wouldn't be for long. The contract was drafted exclusively to be between the Colonel and Elvis. Soon after the signing, Hank Snow would ask the Colonel about the status of his contract and the Colonel would reply, "You don't have any contract with Elvis Presley. Elvis is signed exclusively to the Colonel." Hank Snow was out.

Despite this messiness, Elvis was right about one thing—he was going to be a big star. But his mother's happiness would not last. After the signing that day, after the room cleared out and Hank headed out to the front lawn to speak with Vernon, Elvis's dad, Elvis saw the Colonel speaking to his mother in the kitchen, in private and in hushed tones. And there was no mistaking the look on his mother's face: stone-cold fear.

Colonel Tom Parker, carny-barking soul sucker.

Colonel Tom Parker was evil. If, as the Good Book says, being creative brings you closer to God—who in his infinite artistry created all living things in his own image—then someone who crushes creativity in favor of profit can be seen as the opposite of God, or the opposite of good.

And he has filled him with the Spirit of God—and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work.

—Exodus 35:31

The Colonel couldn't give a shit about "artistic designs for work." He didn't care about blues or country music or Elvis's favorite form of music, gospel.

Elvis had that indefinable "it," and the Colonel knew that people would travel far and wide and empty their pockets to see it. Elvis was an attraction: a step removed from a novelty.

Elvis's heart might have been with the Lord's gospel music, but his true religion was rock 'n' roll. And the Colonel, like most sane thinking adults back in 1955, thought rock 'n' roll was merely a fad that would burn out quick, so he'd better do what needed doing: Milk this golden cow and fast. He moved swiftly to extract Elvis from his contract with Sun Records and moved him over to RCA, one of the powerhouse record labels of the 1950s music industry.

And Elvis didn't disappoint. Under this brighter spotlight, Elvis recorded magnificent music. His first single for RCA, "Heartbreak Hotel," quickly shot up to No. 1 on the pop chart and would ultimately go platinum twice over. "Blue Suede Shoes," a single released shortly after, was no less a masterpiece. Both RCA releases somehow upgraded the raw style Elvis displayed on Sun Records but lost none of the energy.

The Colonel then arranged for Elvis to perform live on national television on the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show, The Milton Berle Show, and The Steve Allen Show. He then negotiated three coveted and high-paying appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and when they aired? America freaked…the fuck…out.

The puppy dog eyes. The pouty lips and the polite Southern drawl, the long sideburns. All that energy, all that charm, and those swiveling hips. Americans couldn't help but wonder: With all that going for him on the outside, what had God bestowed upon him under those trousers?

Having quickly conquered radio and television, the Colonel set his sights on Hollywood and began to negotiate a series of film deals for Elvis that would feature him in starring roles and also serve as vehicles to promote music recorded for the films' soundtracks.

This was a distillation of the Colonel's carny philosophy for the modern era. The Colonel made the calculated decision to hold Elvis back from his fans: to give them glimpses of his star attraction only through carefully planned film releases to maximize ticket sales.

When Uncle Sam came calling and drafted the biggest star in the land at the height of his popularity? The Colonel saw it as a blessing. Send Elvis off to Germany and keep the fans starving for more. After all, he had enough material lying around from the RCA sessions to release Elvis singles in dribs and drabs to keep 'em hooked until Elvis's triumphant return.

And that was what happened. By the time his Army stint ended, Elvis came back bigger than ever. He appeared on television with Frank Sinatra on The Frank Sinatra Timex Special and camped it up. America loved it. Their two biggest pop stars; one representing the comfort of the past and one the promise of the future.

But Elvis would find that his future would quickly go from white-hot heat to what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-career in a matter of a few short years.

With his star attraction back Stateside, the Colonel moved quickly to tighten the reins. Elvis was eager to record new material, and he did. Elvis Is Back!—with excellent material by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Lowell Fulson, and Otis Blackwell—was a critical and commercial success and one that Elvis himself was pleased with. However, his first film, G.I. Blues, was another story. Elvis didn't want to do the movie. He knew the plot was bunk. However, the bigger sin was the soundtrack. The material simply did not compare to the music Elvis had been recording to that point, and that had everything to do with the songwriters. The Colonel was consolidating control, and top songwriters like Leiber and Stoller sought and received a share of the songwriting profits for their talents. Because of this, they were jettisoned for backbenchers who didn't have any business writing material for one of the biggest performers in the world. The Colonel would have it no other way because Elvis would retain as much of the profit as possible. Leiber and Stoller weren't going to be swindled out of their rightful share of the publishing profits, so the Colonel—with zero regard for the quality of the material his artist would be staking his soul on—told Leiber and Stoller to fuck off.

And Elvis went along with it.

From a commercial standpoint it didn't matter. The soundtrack sold more copies than Elvis Is Back! It skyrocketed to the top of the charts on the success of the G.I. Blues film, which, despite its cheese factor, was a smash. It turns out 50 million Elvis fans can be wrong, because the movie is indeed bunk. Elvis knew it, but he went along with it.

The Colonel promised him that by giving the studio what they wanted—the campy G.I. Blues flick—Elvis would be able to get back to what he cared about: becoming the next James Dean or Marlon Brando. A serious actor. A path he'd begun with Loving You and King Creole, among the first films he'd made before entering the Army.

And the manager kept his promise. After G.I. Blues, Elvis delivered one of the most creatively rewarding and critically received performances of his career in the Western Flaming Star. But after that concession, the Colonel laid down the lash on his young thoroughbred, pressuring him to bang out film after film after film with little to no regard for quality of script or production. Most of the films Elvis would go on to star in throughout the remainder of the '60s would all be marred by inadequate production budgets ("The less you spend, the more you make!") and less than stellar material ("We have Elvis Presley, the biggest star in the world—who needs a script?!") and result in a long parade of poor artistic output at the box office.

The exception was Viva Las Vegas, in which he starred opposite Ann-Margret. The chemistry between them was undeniable. Elvis, one of the most charismatic performers of all time, was now sharing the screen with a five-alarm smoke show, and the results were electric. Watching the two together, you couldn't take your eyes off Ann-Margret. She nearly upstaged the king. The big screen could hardly contain the double dose of sex appeal. Audiences begged for more.

Now Elvis could get into this. Ann was fun. And suddenly the moviemaking business wasn't a drag. Not only was Elvis happy, the studio was happy, having benefited from one of the highest-grossing films of 1964. Talks of future box office pairings were in the air. However, the Colonel would have none of it. He wasn't going to risk Elvis's star being outshined again by Ann-Margret's blinding sex appeal.

And Elvis went along with it.

So it was right back to whatever lot or location where the next reel of bad film was being shot. This work schedule had the added disadvantage of preventing Elvis from performing live, which he was keen on doing since he'd debuted his studio band live at a benefit in Honolulu while shooting the film Blue Hawaii. The band tore it up, and Elvis was excited to do more shows, but the Colonel wasn't buying it. Why spend money flying a band around the country to reach fans when the Colonel could, for a bigger profit, throw Elvis up on movie screens across the country and reach more people for less investment?

And Elvis went along with it.

He was contractually obligated to make three films a year: A tremendous schedule to keep up with, and one that all but ensured Elvis would not have the time or the creative juice to continue to make studio albums, let alone long-playing artistic statements like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were making. No, the Colonel assured him, the soundtrack albums from the movies were all the fans needed.

And Elvis went along with it.

But that material was shit and Elvis knew it. His ear for music that suited his voice, that he knew he could nail emotionally and deliver straight to the hearts of his audience, was unmatched. The singles "Love Me Tender," "Don't Be Cruel," "Jailhouse Rock," "Peace in the Valley," and "All Shook Up" were not just stone-cold hits, they were artistic statements on par with anything released before, during, or since. Elvis knew this was where the juice was. He knew that his future as an artist wasn't in camp, moneymaking movies but in making serious records—serious artistic statements. But again, the Colonel would have none of it. There was more money to be made in the studio contract that awaited them around the bend, and so:

Elvis went along with it.

Whenever the creative ran up against the carny, the carnival mentality won out.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

—Colossians 3:23


  • "Through his gritty and powerful stories, Brennan breathes new life into the music and musicians we've known all our lives."—Aaron Mahnke, author and creator of Lore
  • "Jake Brennan is writing from a crossroads- the junction of music and crime. One road leads to the Elysian Fields, the other, to the Underworld. Some of these magicians have been down both."—T Bone Burnett, Oscar and Grammy winning musician and producer
  • "Mix the true crime mythology of rock 'n' roll with a dash of transgressive fiction, then add 10 cc of adrenaline and twice that in anabolic steroids. Employing due caution, enter Jake Brennan's brain as translated in Disgraceland to observe the dark results--Elvis locked in unholy union with the parasitic Colonel Tom Parker, why Jerry Lee Lewis was called the Killer, Altamont. Axl Rose. Chuck Berry. And, of course, the truly twisted Phil Spector. It all works brilliantly because Jake genuinely loves rock 'n' roll just as much as he enjoys indulging his imagination and wickedly stylish sense of humor."—Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead
  • "Following on from the addictive podcast, this book is an absolute treasure trove of fascinating fun facts, salacious gossip, hilarious anecdotes and sober reflections on the darker corners of human behavior and art. I devoured it, and it left me wanting more."
    Frank Turner, Singer-songwriter and musician
  • "This gossipy account is sure to fascinate music fans and true crime lovers."—Publisher's Weekly
  • "This book is a real page turner."—Forbes
  • "Brennan has carved himself a fascinating niche, telling engaging, bloody, and occasionally uproarious stories of true crime from the annals of rock 'n roll. There's no shortage of epic material, and Brennan is a skilled storyteller."—Crimereads
  • "A fantastic retelling of their stories based on facts injected with the author's stylized interpretation. Readers open to a bit of fact-based fiction about the bad behaviour of pop-music iconswill enjoy the book."—Winnipeg Free Press

On Sale
Oct 1, 2019
Page Count
288 pages

Jake Brennan

About the Author

Jake Brennan is a Boston based musician who launched, Disgraceland, “a rock ‘n’ roll true crime podcast” in February 2018 to great acclaim. Jake grew up in music. He saw the Ramones play live when he was ten years old and began recording and touring at a young age, first with his band Cast Iron Hike and then with his bands the Confidence Men and Bodega Girls. His songs have been featured in film and television, however Jake thinks his coolest musical accomplishment was opening for Fugazi “back in the day.” He lives in North Boston with his wife and two sons.

Learn more about this author