For a brief second, Caleb Followill looked at me like I’d just crashed down from Rigel V with no understanding whatsoever of humanoid familial interactions. In the midst of a discussion about the tensions at the heart of Kings Of Leon over the years, in their Nashville rehearsal room, I’d posited the idea that surely, as a band made up largely of brothers, they had a bond of blood that could never be shaken. “You got any siblings?” he asked me, side-eye. I have, I told him. “Hmm,” he said. “How often you see ‘em?”
Touché. Brothers and sisters – as we all secretly know but only openly admit eight sherries down at Christmas – are by and large irritating, emotionally stunted drains on our inheritance whom we’ve only recently forgiven for all that childhood mistreatment thanks to decades of expensive therapy. You might argue that you unconditionally love your siblings. But you’d be lying.
Now imagine being in a band with one. Stuck in a tour bus fetid with the same familial stench of fungal infection and contempt that wafted down throughout your most insecure teenage years from the top of a bunk bed. Placing your dreams of future wealth and success in the hands of someone who’d happily throw you under the bus over who once turned the dog into a Minion using poster paint and mustard. Spending 24 hours a day for months on end, while wrestling with performance anxiety, self-esteem issues and imposter syndrome, with someone who can recite every instance of you soiling yourself to any potential groupie from memory.
For exposing the horrors of such a scenario, we salute the late, great Don Everly of The Everly Brothers, who sadly left the stage this week. Following one argument which, his partner and brother Phil claimed in 1970, “[has] been lasting for 25 years”, their onstage break up in 1973 went down in legend. Turning up for the last show of a tour in LA pissed on tequila and champagne, Don forgot all the lyrics, prompting Phil to smash his guitar over his head and walk out of the band for 10 years. That night the lid was lifted on the pressures of rock brotherhood and a precedent set for a rich and thriving seam of rock’n’roll intrigue. The sibling rivalry.
At the time, it blew the 1960s façade of brotherly pop clean out of the water. Back then, well-scrubbed, blue-eyed soul brothers singing close-harmony love songs like they’ve been practicing at bath time since they were five years old was such a hit with pop fans that The Walker Brothers and The Righteous Brothers even faked a family connection despite sharing about as much DNA as Ashleigh and Pudsey. Even the notorious hatred between The Kinks’ Ray and Dave Davies was overshadowed, at that point, by other animosities within the group, such as when drummer Mick Avory tried to decapitate Dave with a cymbal onstage in 1965 for telling him he might as well be playing drums with his dick.
Pop music has always been about the pretence of perfection, be it soft-filters, tans and teeth or the unshakable gang unity of five people sharing a debilitating allergy to shirts. But its presentation of the family as a harmonious unit, free of all deep-seated resentment, was always going to be a fakery too far, impossible to maintain. When The Everly Brothers shattered the illusion, popular music instantly became more real and relatable and brotherly hatred a key thread of the rock’n’roll story.
If pop was about instant success, rock’n’roll was about struggle and graft, and a pair of siblings airing their smashed Furby issues through rock only made those bands more fascinating. Who could forget Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes going for his brother Rich with a broken bottle in an argument over a setlist? Ray Davies interrupting Dave’s 50th birthday party to make a speech honouring himself and then stamp on the cake? Or… um… I’m sure there’s another example but it escapes me. Remind me in the comments.
When bands of siblings break up, there’s an added layer of heartbreak; a family has been rent asunder by something as beautiful and dangerous as rock’n’roll. You spare no thought for their out of work managers or qualification bereft bassists, you worry for the tearful mums at subdued barbeques. They’re often the deepest and most bitter splits too, where entire lifetimes of suppressed animosity geyser to the surface at the merest nibble of the last red M&M. But that’s also when some of music’s greatest soap operas begin. The Twitter spats. The interview rooms draped liberally in dirty laundry. The desperate pleas for reconciliation, rising in direct proportion to the solo career slump.
For this added layer of pop honesty and emotion we have Don and Phil to thank. Let’s all raise a finger to our siblings in his honour.