Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed up with the Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell about It)

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"German is party to all sort of Stones' doings, many of which are enjoyable, quite a few of which are scandalous. Great rock 'n' roll Babylon stuff."
- Booklist (Starred Review)

"The epic tale of an obsessive teenager who launched a Rolling Stones fanzine and spent the next two decades capturing the band’s whirlwind metamorphosis from behind the scenes….First-rate, firsthand ...

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"German is party to all sort of Stones' doings, many of which are enjoyable, quite a few of which are scandalous. Great rock 'n' roll Babylon stuff."
- Booklist (Starred Review)

"The epic tale of an obsessive teenager who launched a Rolling Stones fanzine and spent the next two decades capturing the band’s whirlwind metamorphosis from behind the scenes….First-rate, firsthand account of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band, and a disenchanted chronicle of its increasingly crass commercialization."
- Kirkus Reviews

As a teenager, Bill German knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life: chronicle the career and adventures of his favorite rock band, the Rolling Stones. And in 1978, on his sixteenth birthday, he set out to make his dream a reality. Feverishly typed in his Brooklyn bedroom, and surreptitiously printed in his high school’s mimeograph room German’s Stones-only newsletter, Beggars Banquet, was born. His teachers discouraged it, his parents dismissed it as a phase, and his disco-loving classmates preferred the Bee Gees, but, for German, this primitive, pre-Internet fanzine was a labor of love. And a fateful encounter with his idols on the streets of New York soon proved his efforts weren’t in vain.

Impressed with Beggars Banquet, the Stones gave the ’zine instant cred on the rock scene by singing its praises–and by inviting German to hang with the band. At first a fish out of water in the company of rock royalty, German found himself spilling orange juice on a priceless rug in Mick Jagger’s house and getting pegged as a narc by pals of Keith Richards and Ron Wood. But before long he became a familiar fixture in the inner sanctum, not just reporting Stones stories but living them. He was a player in the Mick-versus-Keith feud and was an eyewitness to Keith’s midlife crisis and Ron’s overindulgences. He even had a reluctant role in covering up Mick’s peccadilloes. “In the span of a few months,” German recalls, “I’d gone from wanting to know everything about my favorite rock stars to knowing too much.”

In this warts-and-all book, which includes many never-before-seen photographs, German takes us to the Stones’ homes, recording sessions, and concerts around the world. He charts the band’s rocky path from the unthinkable depths of a near breakup to the obscenely lucrative heights of their blockbuster tours. And ultimately, German reveals why his childhood dream come true became a passion he finally had to part with.

Under Their Thumb is an up-close and extremely personal dispatch from the amazing, exclusive world of the Rolling Stones, by someone who was lucky enough to live it–and sober enough to remember it all.

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Editorial Reviews

Alan Light
Under Their Thumb offers some memorable details from the inner sanctum…Despite such anecdotes, though, this book isn't really about the Rolling Stones—it's about being a fan. Under Their Thumb is a story of retaining faith, of keeping a flame burning through bad records and band squabbles and even through discovering that your heroes aren't Golden Gods, but actual people. It also documents a bygone age, before celebrity Web sites, when a kid could spot Mick Jagger at a club, write a description, type it up in a home-stapled news­letter, mail it out a few weeks later and still break news.
—The New York Times
Mark Athitakis
[German's] a genial, enthusiastic narrator, has some fun stories to tell from the band's inner circle, and though his fan-boy temperament is obvious, he rarely lapses into sycophancy…though Under Their Thumb lacks rock-band drama, it does offer an engaging bottom-rung perspective on how rock-and-roll became increasingly corporatized in the late '80s and the '90s.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

For 17 years, German recorded the comings and goings of the Rolling Stones in his fanzine Beggars Banquet; in this surprisingly lifeless memoir, he documents his relationship with the band. German's fandom with the Stones began when he was 12. When he heard songs like "Bitch" and "Sweet Virginia," he was inexplicably hooked on the band's music, and he envied the DJs who got to play their music and the journalists who covered the band. By the time he was 16, German had decided to produce a newsletter devoted to his favorite group, printing the first 100 copies of Beggars Banquet on his Brooklyn high school's mimeograph machine in 1978. Although his classmates were unenthusiastic (they were more interested in disco and Saturday Night Fever than Exile on Main Street), the Stones and their management eventually became aware of German's efforts. By 1983, the Stones wanted to make Beggars Banquet the official fanzine of their fan club and stuffed the record sleeves of their new release, Undercover, with it. When the Stones' manager reneged on his promise of payment, German learned a hard business lesson and ended the arrangement, but he never lost his affection for the band. He chronicles his close relationships with Keith Richards and Ron Woods (with whom he coauthored a book) as well as his lukewarm relationship with Mick. Richards emerges from German's memoir as a sweet and loving guy, while Jagger appears an arrogant prima donna who has little time for his band mates or his family. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

At age 16, German started writing the Rolling Stones fanzine Beggar's Banquet. After tenaciously courting the band at album parties and other appearances, he gained access to the Stones's camp, and his publication became the band's official bulletin. During the 1980s, the band spent much of their time in New York City, giving German easy accessibility, and he was eventually brought into their homes. With entertaining and relaxed prose, German recounts his relationships with Keith Richards and Ron Wood (with whom he eventually collaborated on The Works) and various lively members of the Stones's circle. German's exclusive access throughout the 1989-90 Steel Wheels tour and his backstage accounts of the modern megatour, with its own social hierarchy and myriad levels of access, will be of enormous interest to Stones fans. Colorful portraits of Richards and Wood, depicted as avuncular and open, as well as the more distant Mick Jagger, form a picture of the band in an often tumultuous and eventually wildly successful period not heavily documented by previous works. Recommended for public libraries.
—Jim Collins

Kirkus Reviews
The epic tale of an obsessive teenager who launched a Rolling Stones fanzine and spent the next two decades capturing the band's whirlwind metamorphosis from behind the scenes. In 1978, 16-year-old German launched Beggars Banquet, a rock-gossip 'zine about the Stones during their New York epoch. What began as an innocent passion that sold for 25 cents per copy soon turned into a life-consuming obsession as German inched his way from the fringe into the Stones' inner circle. Ron Wood and Keith Richards took him under their wings, and Beggars Banquet became the official magazine of the Rolling Stones fan club. Once happy reporting a mere glimpse of a band member exiting a night club, German soon dropped out of college and became a privileged fixture in the Stones' hotel rooms and at all-night parties featuring drugs, women and '80s decadence. In the '90s, bean-counting sharks and promoters took over, and the Stones transmogrified from a fan-friendly rock band into slick celebrities with board meetings, bottom lines and big stage productions to promote Steel Wheels, Voodoo Lounge and other albums. Those productions were exorbitantly expensive: "It was no longer a joke to say you had to mortgage your house for Stones tickets," writes German. Once an insider accustomed to full access, he found himself shoved to the side and forced to go through channels for interviews. At 33, still single, disillusioned and unable to adjust to the newly commercial atmosphere, he began reflecting on the sacrifices he had made. Eventually, he folded Beggars Banquet, concluding that he had dedicated his entire young-adult life to "the Stones' vacuum."First-rate, firsthand account of the world's greatest rock 'n'roll band, and a disenchanted chronicle of its increasingly crass commercialization. Author events in New York. Agent: Jim Fitzgerald/James Fitzgerald Agency
From the Publisher
From Rolling Stone
"The hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a fan who got too close to his heroes."
From the Newark Star-Ledger
"[German's] proximity to the action makes this an essential Stones book, while his casually engaging writing style will appeal to non-fanatics as well."
From the Montreal Gazette
"Impossible to put down. ... Under Their Thumb is filled with priceless, often laugh-out-loud anecdotes. ... [Here's] what makes the book so compelling: German is one of us. ... We identify with his every small victory ... and feel some kind of personal rejection over his setbacks. ... Under Their Thumb is a cautionary tale, but a hugely entertaining one."
From the New York Times
"Under Their Thumb offers some memorable details from the [Stones'] inner sanctum. … In 1978, the 16-year-old German started sneaking into the mimeograph room at his high school to print the first copies of Beggars Banquet, a newsletter devoted to the Stones. He published it for the next 17 years before finally letting go - or at least letting go enough to gain perspective and write this affable account of chasing the world's biggest rock band. … Miraculously, German retained his innocence [around the Stones] and he never once went near any of the easily available cocaine. ... Under Their Thumb is a story of retaining faith, of keeping a flame burning through bad records and band squabbles and even through discovering that your heroes aren't Golden Gods."
From Booklist (starred review)
"German is party to all sorts of Stones' doings, many of which are enjoyable, quite a few of which are scandalous. Great rock 'n' roll Babylon stuff."
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
"German's anecdotes are often priceless - whether it's spilling orange juice on Mick Jagger's rug and watching the singer clean it up, or recalling when Richards stopped his limousine after a concert to give a limping fan a ride home.  But there was also a price to be paid. ... Under Their Thumb is a cautionary tale about life on the edges of rock 'n' roll."
From the Sunday Times of London
"This [is an] unassuming but highly readable memoir. ... Hypnotized by his idols' 'sexuality, sarcasm, and rebelliousness,' German gives up his education 'to interact with the Stones directly.' He spends the next 17 years following them around the world. ... German is, to a degree, an innocent abroad. ... As a devout non-druggie, he arouses the hostility of the dealers swarming around Ronnie Wood, who suspect him of being an undercover cop. ... This [is a] remarkable tale."
From the Greensboro News-Record
"Spanning a 15 year insider/outsider roller coaster ride, and, of course, dishing up great stories and solid journalistic research about the Stones. … This [is] one of the best rock memoirs ever written."

From the Ottawa Citizen
"Under Their Thumb [is] essential reading for any Stones fan. … German lived the story seen in Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous - a teenager who finds himself on the road with rock royalty.  [German's] stories don't have the icky, self-aggrandizing voyeurism of most backstage books. ... He was just the guy behind a tiny mag that grew out of a bedroom. He never pretends to be more."
From Kirkus Reviews
"First-rate, firsthand account of the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band, and a disenchanted chronicle of its increasingly crass commercialization."
From Andrew Loog Oldham (Sirius-XM Radio; former manager of the Rolling Stones)

"This book is absolutely great. … I think it's possibly the best book I've read about the Rolling Stones ... since [1979's] Up and Down with The Rolling Stones."
From Mojo magazine
"An endearing tale ... something we can all relate to. ... German, an A student who discovered the Stones through his sister, wrote a newsletter (typed in his bedroom, printed at school) that showed immense flair. The band definitely thought so, and soon he was spilling orange juice on Mick Jagger's 16th-century Persian rug and sitting in on sessions. He heard how Woody [Ron Wood] shagged Chrissie Hynde but couldn't remember it, and how Bill Wyman was convinced Jagger wanted him out."
From Michael Smerconish (CBS Radio)
"I'm lovin' it. It's Under Their Thumb. It is a great book and it's such a departure. I think people will really be taken in by this. My listeners know if I weren't into it, I wouldn't say it. … This is a fun, fun read."
From the Grand Rapids Press
"Chockablock with anecdotes. ... Fans of the Stones and their music need this behind-the-scenes look at one of the longest lasting groups in the history of rock and roll."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594003281
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill German was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1962. His life turned upside down when, at age ten, he first heard the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out album. By age sixteen, he was chronicling the Stones’ activities in Beggars Banquet, the fanzine he launched from his bedroom. The band took note and eventually declared Beggars Banquet their official newsletter. German traveled the world with the Stones and was welcomed into their homes. He co-authored The Works with guitarist Ron Wood, and wrote about the group for Rolling Stone and Spin. He’s been profiled on MTV and VH1, and has reported on the Stones for various radio stations across the United States, such as WZLX in Boston, KLOS in Los Angeles, WCSX in Detroit, and both WNEW and K-Rock in New York. German majored in journalism at New York University until he dropped out to follow the Stones. He lives in New York City, where he refers to his Manhattan studio apartment as “the House the Stones Built.”


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Customer Reviews

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