Lesser-Known Precursors to Famous Musical Performances

April 24, 1964: New Jersey Garage Band Installs Remote-Controlled Door, Goes Electric


Bob Dylan ditching the acoustic guitar at Newport was an attention grabber, sure, but few people know that it was predated by a New Jersey garage band going electric with a controversial choice of their own: installing a remote-controlled door.


The door’s pivotal role in the Morristown group’s set that spring evening—opening at the beginning and closing at the end—led to a rift in the Miller Street Ext. music scene. While some praised the installation as “an exciting leap forward,” others were unenthused, deriding it as “offensive to the garage band ethos.” Some even hurled boos and other invectives at the 140-volt motor, though roughly half of those came from jealous neighborhood dads.


Undiscouraged, the trio played almost daily for three more years, punctuated only by a two-week hiatus in ’67 after the lead guitarist’s sister shifted into drive instead of reverse and dented the lower panel. The house, which was later sold, still stands. In lieu of a plaque at the address—the current homeowner rudely shooed this writer off his property despite a thorough explanation of its importance—the band’s boldness warrants a 2,000-word feature in Rolling Stone. If not there, then Better Homes and Gardens.

May 13, 1959: Boundary-Pushing Rocker Holds Acoustic Guitar A Bit Too Close to Campfire


Before Jimi Hendrix set his Stratocaster ablaze in Monterey, a checkered shirt-wearing camp counselor in the Pennsylvania woods did the equivalent within the prim confines of the late ’50s rock ‘n’ roll scene: holding his acoustic guitar abnormally close to a crackling campfire.


Inspired by a block of cheddar cheese in his fridge, 19-year-old James Finch played a three-chord song called “Mild Thing.” The dozen 4th graders who had gathered ’round the campfire looked on wide-eyed as he inched the headstock closer and closer to the flames until he affixed a marshmallow to where the tip of the G string stuck out above its tuning peg. It was a stroke of genius. By song’s end, the mass of sugar was golden, the Fender was toasty, and the notion of what a live performance could entail had been expanded that much further.


Finch, now approaching 84, is not bitter about how his contribution to popular music’s mid-century escapades has been unjustly ignored by the powers that be. “The applause and laughter that night was enough, sir, really,” he says, so humble after all these years. Still, what happened under that full moon was a watershed moment, even if his handwritten lyrics haven’t fetched an eBay bid above this writer’s offer of $400.

June 1, 1980: Babbling Toddler Bites Head Off Batman Action Figure During “Happy Birthday”


Concertgoers in Des Moines may have been caught off guard when Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a live bat in the winter of ’82, but unbeknownst to them, a babbling three-year-old with an antsy jaw made just as shocking a move two years prior in sunny San Diego: biting the head off his beloved Batman toy during his birthday party.


Plopped in his high-chair with a hefty cake before him, Joey waved the plastic figure above the candles as family and friends began to sing. But after the penultimate line, Batman’s head went “pop,” and mom, dad, and even Spot darted their eyes toward the head of the table, eyebrows raised. Fortunately, it was grandma Doris who nimbly extracted the slimy item before it went anywhere it shouldn’t. The flames, the decapitation, the prolonged unease of an unresolved “Happy Birthday”—it was all quite dramatic.


Yet the memory of the near-choking incident has largely been confined to a dusty photo album, its significance dwarfed by Osbourne’s rabies scare. Too many years have come and gone without Joseph Mariotta Jr.’s dentists knowing they had the honor of scraping plaque off the teeth of an icon. Too many of this writer’s letters to his current hygienist have been met with either callous silence or a visit from the cops. And so it’s high time that the natural frontman’s mouth be duly recognized. A bite mark in the cement outside Hollywood’s Chinese Theater, perhaps? Who could say no?