Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan wasn’t the first time a celebrity traveled incognito in a large black case designed to transport concert gear.
During Prince’s Lovesexy tour in the 1980s, the late pop star would hide in a custom-built road case that workers rolled past unsuspecting fans to the stage.
The sturdy equipment boxes, also called anvils or flight cases, are about as well known among the music and live theater crowd as the performers they serve, transporting all kinds of musical instruments, audio and lighting equipment, amplifiers, cables and connectors — with one provisional.
“They’re not usually used for smuggling human cargo,” said Joe Calzone, founder of Calzone Ltd., which owns Anvil, the original maker of such cases.
Mr. Ghosn, 5-foot-7, appears to have squeezed into a no-frills “truck pack” trunk, 48 inches by 30 inches by 24 inches, which had breathing holes drilled in the bottom. Mr. Calzone said it didn’t appear to be one of his.
Prince’s personal travel trunk was more elaborate, measuring 60 inches by 60 inches by 30 inches. Inside was a seat, ventilation, lighting and a fan.
About 15 minutes before he began his set, Prince, 5-foot-3, would be rolled through the crowd and parked beneath a theater-in-the-round-style stage. He would emerge onstage behind the wheel of a white Ford Thunderbird replica.
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Mr. Ghosn climbed into his own black equipment case last month after traveling 300 miles by train from Tokyo to Osaka. Once inside the case, he was rolled through the airport and onto a private jet to Istanbul. After a flight to Lebanon, he hunkered down in a pink Beirut mansion.
Mr. Ghosn, the former chief of Nissan Motor Co.
and Renault, had been awaiting trial in Japan on charges of financial wrongdoing at work. He denied the charges and said he fled a Japanese justice system he considered unfair.
“I don’t condone what the guy from Nissan did, but somebody was creative,” said Matt Larson, Prince’s crew chief for about seven years, including the Lovesexy tour.
The equipment trunks are also called ATA cases, which refers to construction standards set by an airline trade group — presumably to withstand the abuse of careless freight handlers. The containers stack, are durable and built to protect the sensitive cargo of touring companies and live productions.
Over the years, anvil trunks evolved into a rock-band status symbol, the more battered-looking the better. In 1971, members of the Allman Brothers Band were photographed resting against a wall of equipment cases on the cover of their live album “At Fillmore East.”
Three decades later, gear trunks got their own song. “Protect our asses, protect our faces, protect our guitars, protect our amps,” croons Patterson Hood in “Road Cases” by the Drive-By Truckers. “Got them pretty road cases. Throw ’em out an airplane and they’ll just bounce. ”
Road cases, Mr. Hood said, are a mark of success because they show musicians have equipment worth protecting. When the song was released, he said, the Drive-By Truckers couldn’t afford road cases — and couldn’t have fit them in the van they toured in.
When a member of the Drive-By Truckers’ road crew, Craig Lieske, died from a heart attack in 2013, the band ordered a specially built miniature road case to hold his urn. With the blessing of Mr. Lieske’s family, they took his ashes on tour.
Mr. Calzone said his company has fielded similar requests for tiny cases to hold the ashes of rockers headlining that great gig in the sky. At the other end of the scale, the company recently built its largest-ever case for a Lockheed Martin Corp.
“It was about the size of a studio apartment in New York,” Mr. Calzone said. Workers used two forklifts to load it onto a flatbed truck.
The late reggae superstar Bob Marley requested secret compartments in some of his equipment trunks back in the day, said Mr. Calzone, although he wasn’t sure for what. “We don’t ask,” he said.
Apropos of the Ghosn caper, Mr. Calzone’s company builds trunks with trap doors and false bottoms for magicians and illusionists. “They don’t give us a lot of info,” he said, “but tell us where they need the doors.”
In 2012, a truck transporting cases carrying pyrotechnic equipment for a Kiss-Mötley Crüe tour rolled over on Interstate 75 in northwest Ohio, spilling out its contents. The boxes of gear — and the driver — emerged unharmed, adding another stanza to the containers’ many praises.
A typical case starts with panels of plywood, primarily Baltic birch. The wood is laminated with high-strength plastic and then framed with metal along the edges. The handles and hinges are recessed to keep them protected when pushed around trucks and stages.
The inside is usually padded with an inch or two of foam that can be cut to the shape of an instrument. Interiors are sometimes lined with crushed velvet to protect the finish of a vintage guitar.
In Japan, Mr. Ghosn’s escape has inspired people to post photos on social media— # CarlosGhosnChallenge — showing them trying to fit themselves or their pets into various musical instrument cases.
sales subsidiary in Japan, concerned about the proliferation of such posts, tweeted a warning last week: “It will be too late after an unfortunate accident, so everyone should take care not to actually do this and not to let those around them do this. ”
—River Davis contributed to this article.
Write to Anne Steele at [email protected]
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