#2. Elvis Survived a Tornado That Killed Hundreds in 1936
Everyone knows Waylon Jennings gave up a seat on the plane that eventually crashed shortly after taking off from a concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper (real name not Googled), and the guy who made Lou Diamond Phillips famous. That's the very definition of a close call, but if we're talking about deaths that would have changed music history, does Waylon Jennings really apply?
You're damn right he does, but we're tight on space here, so let's talk about another near-death experience that really would have changed country music forever.
In 1936, a category F-5 tornado ripped through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing 233 people. Among the surviving residents was a tiny little baby Elvis Presley, born just a year earlier in 1935.
This is not a picture of the damage, but would you have known that if I didn't tell you?
While there aren't a lot of details about how he managed to survive, it couldn't have amounted to much more than not being in the way of falling debris. Whatever the case, there's no debating how greatly music would have been affected if there was no Elvis.
In fact, I don't think it's unfair to ask if "rock 'n' roll" would have caught on at all without Elvis. Like anything else, rock music was considered a fad, and as we all know, some fads die. If Elvis didn't survive that tornado and as a result was unable to fulfill his future obligation to make rock music palatable to white people, would anyone else have had star power to do it?
Well, if anyone could, it probably would have been this next guy.
#1. Johnny Cash Fought an Ostrich and Lost Badly in 1981
You know who needs an exotic animal park attached to their home? People who grew up dreaming of owning and operating an exotic animal park. A dream like that sure as shit isn't going to afford you separate living quarters. Beyond that, if there's an exotic animal farm on your property, it's probably because you've finally started making more money than your drug habit can spend. If that sounds like you, I'd ask you to please keep the cautionary tale of early '80s Johnny Cash in mind.
Starting with that vest.
He had an exotic animal park at his Tennessee home, which probably seemed like a neat thing until a particularly brutal winter night required the man best known for singing about how much he loved his wife to suddenly take on the role of zoo wrangler, lest his prized collection of completely unnecessary animals succumb to the elements.
Well, unfortunately, one of them did. An ostrich. A goddamned ostrich. He had a bunch of them, actually, and that one was the hen, meaning somewhere in that animal park remained a grieving husband ostrich, and Johnny Cash had to convince it to come with him to a new place. Surprise! It didn't want to!
No matter how happy he looked.
"Too bad, city bird, this is Johnny Cash's land, and he's got a 6-foot stick that says you're getting your tail in that shed, pronto."
I put the previous sentence in quotes because, even if the words aren't exact, it has to be a thought approximately that stupid that prompted the Man in Black to attack an ostrich with a tree branch. He swung and missed, of course, and the ostrich responded in that adorably wacky way we've come to expect from those silly birds. He jumped into the air and jabbed his razor-sharp talon (about as big as a size-13 shoe) into Johnny Cash's chest, ripping him apart down to the stomach. That's what you think of when you think of an ostrich, right?
"It better be, punk."
Anyway, the only thing that kept Johnny Cash from literally having his guts emptied out onto the grass in front of him was the fact that, like any other country singer in the 1980s, he was wearing a gigantic belt buckle. That kept the attack from being an instant death sort of thing, and somehow Cash managed to use that same 6-foot stick to scare the bird away.
This was not just any ostrich, though, and it was not done trying to kill Johnny Cash. See, despite living for decades in the spotlight as a hard-drinking, hard-drugging kind of guy, by the time the MTV era rolled around, Johnny Cash was mostly sober. The problem is, recovering from having your chest torn open by a massive bird really hurts. While that pain is flowing through your body, no one would be so cruel as to suggest that maybe you're taking more pain pills than you should be.
Stacking them and shouting "Pill cake!" every time you take them is a little showy, though.
However, when the pain finally does subside and you're still taking the drugs, people will suggest on a regular basis that you cut back, and they can get bent every damn time, because you're Johnny Cash, and you earned this drug habit by consuming the life force of a renegade ostrich.
That train of thought eventually made its final stop in a U.K. hospital, where, thanks to years spent wallowing in the painkiller addiction that stupid ostrich cursed him with, Johnny Cash underwent surgery to have several feet of intestine removed. So, "gutting" achievement unlocked, I guess. I think that's another point you can award the ostrich.
Johnny Cash wasn't done, though! Not by a long shot. He was addicted to more than pain pills at the time of this unexpected stay in the hospital, so anything not officially prescribed on his medical records had to be smuggled in. That included a shit-ton of Valium that, for reasons we could not ever possibly understand, he decided to stash underneath the gauze covering the gaping surgery scar on his stomach.
No one will ever look here.
Here's a fun science fact to throw out at a bar sometime: Prescription medication is not made of steel. It will start to dissolve when it comes into contact with moisture. There's no word on how many Valiums Johnny Cash stupidly hid under that gauze, but when they inevitably came into contact with the blood seeping through that open wound, the effect they had when dissolving would have been a lot like injecting dozens of pills' worth of Valium right into your blood stream in one shot.
Of course, he pulled through once again, and the music world is way better off for it. While he'd definitely recorded the truly classic stuff decades ago by then, losing Johnny Cash in 1981 would have meant losing all of the late career stuff he did with Rick Rubin, including those songs he claimed ownership of from Trent Reznor ...
... and Glenn Danzig:
It would have been a damn shame to miss the Johnny Cash comeback of the '90s, but we almost did, because Johnny Cash just had to own a fucking ostrich.