Countless musicians have created personas for themselves— that’s par for the course—but only an elite few like Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez have had the vision and testicular fortitude to assume an entirely new identity. Robert Cherry unmasks the best—and the rest.


The Beatles

Alter Ego: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Story: Burned out from touring and fed up with the public’s reductionist gaze, the Fab Four retired from the road, in 1966, to explore the limits of multi-track recording and mind-expanding drugs. To further limber up their brains, Paul McCartney suggested they adopt the identity of a fictitious group.
Result: The band concept lasted for only three songs—plus a classic album cover—but the resulting album was hailed a masterpiece, one that helped pave the way for art rock in general, silver capes welcome.

David Bowie

Alter Ego: Ziggy Stardust
The Story: On 1972’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Bowie introduced his most enduring character—a gender-bending Martian turned messianic rock star, ultimately doomed by self-indulgence in the shadow of impending apocalypse.
Result: Once Ziggy Stardust had catapulted Bowie to fame, the singer ceremoniously quit the business at tour’s end, announcing from the stage that it was the “last show we’ll ever do,” much to the surprise of his band. Bowie returned to show business soon after, though, introducing a string of new characters, each of which, he claimed, represented a different aspect of his psyche.


Alter Ego: The Fly
The Story: Suffering creative blockage following the global success of 1987’s The Joshua Tree and the critical drubbing of their hubris-on-parade rockumentary Rattle And Hum, U2 retreated to Berlin in search of inspiration. Bono’s creative breakthrough arrived in the guise of The Fly, an expression of the singer’s shadow side pulled together from wardrobe chest of rock clichés.
Result: Released in 1991, Achtung Baby showcased Bono’s darker lyrical themes and the band’s successful experiments with electronics, drum loops and sculpted noise. It went on to sell a reported 18-million copies and expanded the band’s palette for increased relevance in the coming decades. 

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett

Alter Ego: Gorillaz
The Story: After spending the ’90 s in the spotlight as leader of Britpop frontrunners Blur, Damon Albarn decided it was time to take a vacation from himself, so he formed cartoon band Gorillaz with comic-book artist Jamie Hewlett, creator of Tank Girl.
Result: In 2001, the fictional group released its self-titled debut, a highly creative, highly infectious genre mash-up accompanied by Hewlett’s artwork of the band. The album went to sell over seven million copies and reportedly earned Gorillaz an entry in The Guinness Book of World Records as “The Most Successful Virtual Band.”


Alter Ego: Sasha Fierce
The Story: Inspired by an acting turn as Etta James in the film Cadillac Records, and seeking to expand her stylistic boundaries, Beyoncé created “Sasha Fierce,” an embodiment of her fearless stage persona. She then recorded a double album—2008’s I am… Sasha Fierce—with one disc representing her true inner self, according to the singer, and another representing the diva she becomes on stage.
Result: Beyoncé’s ill-defined alter ego left many fans and critics baffled, but it helped create a talking point for the album, which went on to sell a reported eight million units and win six Grammy Awards. 

Marilyn Manson

Alter Ego: Omega
The Story: Inspired by Bowie, the former Brian Warner followed up his Antichrist Superstar character by creating yet another alter ego. For 1998’s Mechanical Animals, Manson morphed into a gender-neutral alien, complete with fake boobage and a love/hate relationship with narcotics and rock ’n’ roll, as cataloged on album single “I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me).”
Result: The boobs and drugs offended the usual suspects (fundamentalist Christians) and baffled a portion of his fan base (homophobic jocks), signaling the start of Manson’s commercial nosedive, hastened a year later by his scapegoating for the Columbine massacre.

Garth Brooks

Alter Ego: Chris Gaines
The Story: In 1999, country superstar Brooks concocted this elaborate pretense to release a collection of half-baked pop songs. Promotion for his alter ego’s “greatest hits” collection, In The Life Of Chris Gaines, included an appearance on Saturday Night Live and an episode of VH1 Behind The Music, with Brooks donning a black wig and flavor-savor soul patch.
Result: You need to ask? The album tanked—at least by Brooks’ standards—and a proposed big-screen thriller about Gaines was shelved. In 2001, Brooks returned to the top of the charts with a country album, then retired from recording and performing, returning in 2009 for an exclusive weekends-only stand in Vegas. Not surprisingly, the set was light on Gaines tunes.