So I was scrolling around the channels a few weeks back when I saw a blipvert for a Rolling Stones documentary called My Life As a Rolling Stone. Wait, what, I thought? Being a consumer of all things Rolling Stones, how do I now know about this? When does this start?
Then I found out that it had already started on a “who ever watches it?” network called Epix. (Also available on YouTube if you pay I believe.) Since I have seen just about every Stones documentary, read many Stones books and interviews, I actually bet I know more about these guys than they know about themselves. What is there to learn, sez I?
Well, a great deal as it happens. This is a good, well-produced four-part series narrated by actress Sienna Miller (who for some reason I only know in relation to Jude Law.) It isn’t that it’s so important to confirm that Keith Richards is shy or that Charlie Watts was OCD. But it’s interesting if you’re a Stones fan.
Each one-hour episode is about a member of the most recent edition of the band (Mick, Keef, Ronnie, Charlie). It was done after Charlie’s death (just about a year ago) so the guys reminisce about him. (Mick Taylor and, especially, Bill Wyman get the short end of the stick I’m afraid.)
Each episode features archival footage of the Stones as well as up-to-date interviews, concert performances, and off-camera interviews with people like Sheryl Crow, Chrissie Hynde, Lars Ulrich, Chuck Leavell, etc. (Yes, Chuck is a hired gun, not a Rolling Stone). Keith refers to Mick as an “honorable man.” (The same guy, BTW, who wrote “Stray Cat Blues” about 16-year-old groupies and had “consensual” sex with a 15-year-old McKenzie Phillips.)
I agree with the contention that Mick is the “in-charge” guy and less with the idea that he has held the band together for all these years. Keith is all about keeping the band together. It’s not entirely clear to me that Mick might not have split the band if he had been able to get his solo act together.
Mick argues that they weren’t really a blues band, they were a rock band that played blues. The distinction is precious and is another example of rewriting history. Mick let me straighten you out on this. You’re one of the guys who insisted that Howlin’ Wolf come on TV with you. You worship Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and all the great blues players. You released a blues album a few years back. You are a blues band who also plays rock. You’re welcome!
In Keith’s piece, it seems like they very much try to make a connection between Keef’s shyness, his ambivalence about fame, and his drug use. Well, sure. But I go back to what Charlie says about working hard for five years and hanging around for twenty. What else do you do when you’re on the road all the time, you’re holed up in a hotel and it’s the Sixties before we all knew the tremendous downside of dope?
Ronnie – now that he’s clear-headed – has a lot of great insights into working with the Glimmer Twins. He comes across very much as the mediator, the guy that tries to keep the family together. It’s interesting that he predicted he would be in the band one day. (Andy Summers was a candidate. He reels off names of Stones hits and says, “Christ, most bands would be happy to get one of those.”).
And if you’re looking for a guy to mesh personally and weave (Keith’s word) professionally with Keith, who better than Ron Wood? When I last saw the Stones, Keith’s arthritis was kicking in and Woody was laying down the hot solos. I’ve loved Woody since his days playing with Jeff Beck. Journeyman! And his house was the hang-out spot. Gregg Allman even showed up there long before they took Chuck away from the ABB.
And yes, then there’s Charlie. The documentary shows the first Stones show after Charlie’s death. The guys come out, Mick speaks emotionally – and Keith holds his hand! I’ve never seen Keith hold his wife’s hand. Very moving. Charlie was consistent in his praise for Charlie over the years and how integral his playing was to their sound. He never wavered in that for a second.
Interestingly, I found Charlie’s piece the most interesting mostly because he was the most enigmatic member. Here’s a guy that was a jazz freak, a worshiper of Charlie Parker, and drummer Chico Hamilton. How did he wind up in the Stones? It’s not like anybody in 1963 could say, Well, jazz is a niche that will grow, then diminish in popularity but rock and roll will take over the world and the Stones will be around 50 years from now and you’ll be filthy rich.
Charlie was not only a consummate drummer but he followed Keith as opposed to the reverse (which makes them hard to copy.) But drumming aside, he dressed in bespoke suits, more like a jazz man than a rocker. He would hole up in his hotel room and not let maids come in. He was an artist who drew the beds he slept in. He was OCD having to do things a certain way. He was married to the same woman for almost 60 years and survived a heroin and alcohol problem.
And he’s got this massive warehouse full of jazz stuff like Charlie Parkers’s sax case, Tony William’s drums, etc. Doesn’t say how he got them but I guess they were on auction. And Charlie was such a cool dude he made the other guys look like nerds. Plus he could play any style. You want four-on-the-floor disco? “Miss You.”
Anyway, I could go on and on but you get the idea. Either you love the Stones or you don’t. If you do, this one’s for you. If you don’t, please seek psychiatric help immediately.
Here’s a ten-pack to get you in the mood.