I say “apparently” because it was on a reality show — her MTV show, My Crazy Beautiful Life (full disclosure: MTV and MTV Hive both have “MTV” in their names) — and I believe what I see on reality shows like I believe what I read on Wikipedia. Unless I saw urine coming directly out of Ke$ha into a bottle and that bottle was lifted directly to Ke$ha’s mouth, sans any editing trickery, I’ll have my doubts. But if she indeed did what it kinda looked like she did, then fine. I’m not judging, and I’m certainly not offended. The pee-drinking clip wouldn’t even rank in the top 100 of gross things I’ve seen on the Internet.
I would have long since forgotten about it, were it not for the (kinda) backlash. It started with the Parents Television Council, a non-profit conservative media watchdog group with a history of hissy fits over things pop stars do on TV — they were one of the first to get their Christian panties in a bunch about Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple at the 2004 Super Bowl, which as you may recall almost destroyed democracy. The PTC posted a press release complaining about Ke$ha’s “disgusting, vile” act of alternative hydration that they were forced to watched for some reason. (I guess because they lost their remotes?) And then came the reaction to the reaction. On Twitter and entertainment blogs, there were a lot of exclamation points and moral high ground huffiness and “can you believe this sick video that we’re also linking to?” online neediness. Most of it was easily forgettable fake outrage, but one voice in the crowd of morons stood out. Popdust, a web music tabloid, tweeted that Ke$ha, by drinking her own piss, was “boldly going where no pop star has gone before.”
This is simply not true. It’s so untrue that it’s insultingly ignorant and a blatant disregard of the journalism code of ethics. Not only has it been done before, it’s been done so often that you could say “this isn’t your father or your grandfather’s piss-drinking” without being ironic. It’d be like describing a white guy playing blues music as “uncharted terrain.” You know who drank his own piss? Jim Morrison, when he was tripping balls out in the Mojave Desert. Keith Richards drank his own urine as part of some ridiculously ill-advised detox cure. John Lennon drank his amber nectar at least once, and then he was shot by a crazy person who got the idea from J.D. Salinger, a famous author who drank his own urine. Boy George drank his own urine in prison. “I drank my own piss because I thought I was going to die of dehydration,” he said. Yeah, whatever, Boy George. Stop making excuses for how much your piss tastes like Sprite.
If you think Ke$ha drinking piss is strange and unprecedented behavior, you’ve obviously just arrived on this planet and you’re only now learning about pop music. Because otherwise, what the fuck? Urine is actually the least disgusting body fluid that rock stars have willingly consumed. Are you unfamiliar with Rod Stewart, who orally pleasured so many San Diego sailors that he had to be rushed to a hospital where a pint of semen was pumped from his stomach? Yeah, he’s repeatedly denied the rumors, but that doesn’t make it untrue. (OJ Simpson repeatedly denied chopping off people’s heads.) What about Frank Zappa? During a gross-out contest with fellow rock eccentric Captain Beefheart, he ate poop onstage. Okay, probably not, but it’s a rumor that keeps getting repeated, almost 40 years after it allegedly happened, as proof that Zappa was an avant-garde genius.
I made some calls, trying to find an “expert” who agreed with me that drinking foul, steamy excretions goes hand-in-hand with being a rock star. Weirdly, nobody wanted to speak with me. Not a single teacher from the the Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas could spare even a few minutes to explain how all the cool rock stars are guzzling piss. A rock n’ roll image consultant in New York who’s worked with Beyoncé and Jessica Simpson agreed to an interview, but then abruptly had a change of heart (probably when the words “piss” and “poo” were mentioned) and stopped returning my emails. I tried rock managers, publicists, even a few rock stars with reputations for bad behavior; all of them declined, one going so far as to call any public discussion of piss-drinking as “media suicide.”
So I did what I should have done in the first place. I called some middle-aged British guys who went to punk shows in the ’70s.
Push (the pen name of longtime rock journalist Christopher Dawes) told me some great (i.e. gross) stories about gobbing, a fancy British term for “spitting on rock stars to demonstrate your love.” One of the first shows he ever saw was a double bill with the Slits and the Clash in 1978. “They were extraordinary,” he said. “It was like a hail storm of spit hitting the stage. (Lead singer) Ari Up had those really long dreads, and the spit was just hanging from her hair. She was drenched, but she carried on with the show. It was almost like an occupational hazard to get spat at.”
“Can’t you get diseases from spit?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, lots. Joe Strummer supposedly caught hepatitis as a result of being spat at and the spit going in his mouth. Siouxsie from Siouxsie and the Banshees got conjunctivitis after some gob hit her in her eye. At least Ke$ha drank her own pee. If she gets sick, it’s her own fault.”
Are rock stars getting less disgusting, or are we just noticing it less? Or maybe we’re paying too much attention. I googled “joe strummer hepatitis spit” and got just 68,0200 results. But a search for “Kesha drinks piss” returned a startling 59,800,000 hits. I’m no music historian, but isn’t a legitimate rock icon like Strummer getting an STD from a fan’s spit WAY MORE INTERESTING than Ke$ha drinking her own pee? Our priorities have somehow gotten very, very skewed.
Paul Marko, who runs the definitive old school punk website Punk 77, wasn’t impressed with Ke$ha’s willingness to drink tinkle. “Do you think it’s outrageous?” he asked, with what I assumed was a punk sneer.
“Not really,” I admitted. “I’m sure you’ve heard far worse.”
“Where to start,” he said. “If you just want to talk about piss, there’s a fair amount of urine-based rock n’ roll anecdotes. The Rolling Stones peed on a garage. Ozzy Osbourne peed in the Alamo. Sid Viscous peed himself on the first night when he met Nancy.”
“Didn’t Johnny Ramone piss in Johnny Rotten’s beer once?” I asked, a story I didn’t realize I’d remembered until just then.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone, and then a sinister laugh. “That’s true,” Marko said. “I’d forgotten about that. Wasn’t that when the Ramones came over to London? I think they were playing at Roundhouse.”
“Yep, the Roundhouse,” I said, having just googled it.
Once you get on a roll talking about musicians doing bad things with wee-wee, all sorts of half-remembered urban legends start popping back into your brain. Marko remembered hearing about the time Joan Jett made a popsicle that was 10% lemonade and 90% pee and then fed it to a douchebag who was harassing the band. (“This tastes like shit,” he reportedly said. “You’re getting close,” Jett responded.) And the Jett story reminded me of something I read in the Mötley Crüe memoir, about Ozzy Osbourne licking his own piss off the floor of a pool bar and then licking up Nikki Sixx’s piss, to prove he was the grossest or something. And that reminded us both of Chuck Berry, god bless him, who once peed in a girl’s mouth and then refused to kiss her because “you smell like piss.” Some of the quotes attributed to Berry involving urine should be song lyrics. (“Did I piss in your eyes?/ I’m sorry/ There’s piss all over/ Your neck and your hair/ But you love me.”)
“Oh my god,” Marko laughed.
“Oh my fucking god,” I added.
As much joy as these sick, wonderful stories give me — and we didn’t even get to R. Kelly yet — they also make me sad. Where’s the next generation of piss-drinking rock buffoons? When our kids grow up and become old men and women, what gag-worthy tales of unhygienic mirth will they tell each other? Other than Ke$ha, I mean. Which, once you hear the details of Chuck Berry and Joan Jett’s pee-scapades, feels about as dangerous as a story about your uncle who can burp the alphabet.
“I don’t know if it doesn’t happen anymore or if we just don’t hear about it,” Marko told me. “A lot of these things remain private, probably as they should be. What happens on tour stays on tour.”
“But what about cellphone cameras, YouTube, the paparazzi?” I asked. “There’s no privacy anymore, even if you’re just on the cusp of famous.”
“Well maybe they’ve gotten more clever at hiding it. PR people having gotten pretty good at keeping things hushed up.”
Push, the other British rock guy, agreed that just because we don’t see as much piss-drinking anymore doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. “A lot of the outrageous behavior over the history of pop music went unreported,” he said. “You only hear about it later. It turns up in rock memoirs, or reported in a music magazine that only a few people read. And sometimes you don’t hear about it at all.”
This was the most encouraging thing I’ve ever heard about modern pop music. It actually makes the gross behavior by today’s music stars even MORE gross than their predecessors, because (at least for the moment) it’s all in our imagination. It’s a thousand times more disgusting than what they’re probably actually doing. It’s like the horror movie that never shows you the monster; what J.J. Abrams calls the “mystery box.” What’s unseen is always more powerful than what’s seen. The less you know, the more terrifying it is. Or in this case, the more it makes you want to throw up a little in your mouth.
I didn’t care all that much when Lil Wayne lost an endorsement deal with Mountain Dew, for rapping something insensitive or whatever. But now, my imagination reeling with revolting hypotheticals, it’s the most fascinating story of the year. Especially if I’m right that he got fired for chugging his frothy, salty urine in that one MD commercial. And remember a few weeks ago when Justin Bieber posted a picture on Instagram of him drinking a beer in South Africa? Remember how everybody (mostly teenage girls and people who write blogs for teenage girls) got super upset? Imagine if they’d known that the adult beverage he was consuming actually contained the urine of two dozen sailors, and just after that photo was taken he had to have his stomach pumped, which didn’t protect him from getting a nasty case of hepatitis?
Didn’t happen, you say? Yeah, it probably didn’t. But in my head, it’s just the opening act of rock star piss atrocities. Long live rock! Now go get some fucking mouthwash, you sick fuck.