As far as we see it, cameos by musicians in movies serve little purpose other than to amuse.
Some such token appearances are quite deliberately hilarious, like Alex Van Halen’s turn as a gurning street-punk interviewed by TV news in Robocop, while in other instances there’s a major disparity between seriousness of intention and seriousness of effect (refer to Phil Collin’s astonishingly banal performance as a police detective in Hook).
Over the following pages we highlight 10 particularly unlikely and memorable musician cameos of the last 25 years and discover a world of brutal murder, daiquiri-quaffing, cod-mysticism and cross-dressing.
ANTHONY KIEDIS IN POINT BREAK (1991)
In 1991, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis drew upon all his experience as an annoying frontman to produce a perfect portrayal of an annoying surfer amid the tidal wave of camp that was Point Break. Talk about a role coming naturally.
BILLY RAY CYRUS IN MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)
Unlikely appearances by musicians are rather a frequent phenomenon in the work of David Lynch – think Sting in Dune, Chris Isaak and David Bowie in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Henry Rollins in Lost Highway – but the daddy of them all is Billy Ray Cyrus’s turn in 2001’s Mulholland Dr.. The mulleted country star plays a poolguy providing extra services to the wife of beleagured movie director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux); when Kesher discovers the two of them in bed, Cyrus calmly offers the advice,”Forget you ever saw it. It’s better that way.” It was this short appearance that first brought Cyrus and his family to Hollywood, and he would later declare that “were it not for David Lynch, Miley never would have been Hannah Montana.”
ALICE COOPER IN PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
A world away from his affable send-up of himself in Wayne’s World, Alice Cooper is genuinely scary in John Carpenter’s chaotic horror masterpiece Prince Of Darkness , playing a bum who murders a student with a bicycle frame.
ANTHRAX IN CALENDAR GIRLS (2003)
Anthrax have form for this kind of thing: they previously cropped up in an episode of American sitcom Married With Children, wonderfully titled ‘My Dinner With Anthrax’. Calendar Girls might be about as rock’n’roll as a papyrology conference, but that doesn’t stop the New York hell-raisers from making an appearance. Scott Ian, Frank Belo and John Bush join Mirren et al at a hotel poolside. No Ozzy-style ant-snorting here: the trio are content to make polite conversation, daiquiris in hand. The DVD genuinely comes packaged with a deleted scene where the group rock out with one of the old dearies on the piano.
MILES DAVIS IN SCROOGED (1988)
Had the Ghost Of Christmas Future elected to visit Miles Davis and tell him what he’d be doing in 1988, the legendary jazzman would probably have shoved that trumpet where the sun doesn’t shine. Davis’ appearance in Richard Donner’s wacky A Christmas Carol reboot is as demeaning as it is bizarre. The Prince Of Darkness appears briefly as a busker, be-bopping his way through a jazzy version of ‘We Three Kings’ on a street corner. Davis, let’s not forget, released the bestselling jazz LP of all time; here, he has to make do with being heckled by a bouffant Bill Murray.
TOM PETTY IN THE POSTMAN (1997)
Kevin Costner’s post-apocalyptic flop about some bloke who delivers letters was fairly free of charm and incident, to the extent that Tom Petty’s brief appearance as the Mayor of Bridge City is its highlight by some stretch. Upon meeting him, Costner says flatly, “I know you. You’re….famous.” Smiling wryly, the Mayor replies, “I was once. Sort of.” The implication is that Petty is playing a future of himself, just one of many things about The Postman that makes no sense whatsoever.
IGGY POP IN DEAD MAN (1995)
Iggy Pop may have a Lust for Life, but he’s also a dab hand with the dead – in Jim Jarmusch’s existential western Dead Man, he played Salvatore ‘Sally’ Jenko, a Bible-bashing, cross-dressing fur trader who makes a fine pot of beans but isn’t so quick on the draw.
PHIL COLLINS IN HOOK (1991)
Robin Williams vehicle Hook is a veritable treasure chest of musical cameos. Jimmy Buffett turns up as a shoe-stealing swashbuckler, and David Crosby gets thwacked in the pills with a plank. Weirdest of all is Phil Collins’ appearance as the police inspector charged with finding Wiliams’ missing children. Collins’ turn is strait-laced, officious and brilliantly perfunctory. Had ‘Most Oddly Nondescript Appearance By A Rockstar In A Feature Film’ been a category at the 1991 Oscars, Collins would definitely have one more award to polish.
ALEX VAN HALEN IN ROBOCOP
Van Halen drummer Alex appears for all of 15 seconds in Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop as Keva Rosenberg, Unemployed Person – a random misfit interviewed on the street by a TV news team reporting on Detroit’s escalating economic and social disintegration. Whether his grinning, gurning delivery was carefully planned or completely off the cuff, it’s just perfect.
TOM WAITS IN DOMINO (2005)
Tom Waits has had acting roles in several films over the course of his career, including Coffee and Cigarettes, Mystery Men (remember that?) and Short Cuts, but none so unexpected or surreal as his brief, show-stealing stop-off in the supremely silly, Keira Knightley-starring assassin yarn Domino. Waits plays a wise desert mystic known as The Wanderer, and is such a boss he’s even introduced by one of his own songs (‘Jesus Gonna Be Here’, from 1992’s Bone Machine).