True Adventures of the Rolling Stonesby Stanley Booth
Stanley Booth, a member of the Rolling Stones’ inner circle, met the band just a few months before Brian Jones drowned in a swimming pool in 1968. He lived with them throughout their 1969 American tour, staying up all night together listening to blues, talking about music, ingesting drugs, and consorting with groupies. His thrilling account culminates with
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Stanley Booth, a member of the Rolling Stones’ inner circle, met the band just a few months before Brian Jones drowned in a swimming pool in 1968. He lived with them throughout their 1969 American tour, staying up all night together listening to blues, talking about music, ingesting drugs, and consorting with groupies. His thrilling account culminates with their final concert at Altamont Speedwaya nightmare of beating, stabbing, and killing that would signal the end of a generation’s dreams of peace and freedom. But while this book renders in fine detail the entire history of the Stones, paying special attention to the tragedy of Brian Jones, it is about much more than a writer and a rock band. It has been calledby Harold Brodkey and Robert Stone, among othersthe best book ever written about the sixties. In Booth’s new afterword, he finally explains why it took him 15 years to write the book, relating an astonishing story of drugs, jails, and disasters.
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"A vivid account of life on the edge." —TheWeek.com
“[Stanley Booth’s] affection for the band did not keep him from writing about the seamy underside of the Stones’ world in the 1960s. . . . It is the only book about the Stones that I would recommend both to the general reader and to the most devoted fan. Both will find an epiphany on almost every page.” —Robert Palmer, New York Times Book Review
“If you’ve never bought a book about rock and roll, no matter—this is the one you’ve been waiting for.” —Playboy
“Astonishing . . . part oral history and part midnight diary in a world where midnight goes on forever.” —Los Angeles Reader
“Shattering. . . . Booth has found his voice and momentum with a pitch and passion I’ve never seen equaled in pop journalism. . . . His book outdistances anything the Stones have wrought since Let It Bleed.” —Mikal Gilmore, Los Angeles Herald Examiner
“Booth’s strong, sound prose brings to life the out-of-control process through which an age intoxicated by its own passions found a hard-driving music to live hard by. In all the annals of the 1960s, there is nothing on paper that so evokes those days and nights.” —Robert Stone, Salon
“By far the best book on its subject (including Richards’s own well received effort), Booth’s book is also easily the most convincing account of life inside the monster created by the rock revolution of the 1960s.” —Richard Williams, Guardian
“The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones is, simply put, one of those essential texts of music journalism. Groundbreaking, insightful, funny and tragic, it's a piece of reporting that could never take place today.” —The Houston Press
“Booth's prose (his other books include "Rhythm Oil" and "Keith: Till I Roll Over Dead") is writerly, funny. Good anecdotes about bad behavior abound. But in telling the tale of the Stones, during that 1969 American tour that sent him and them criss-crossing the country en route to the date with fate — Altamont, the giant outdoor "free concert" where four people were killed and four were born — Booth also has a larger story to tell.” —Record & Herald News
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The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones
By Stanley Booth
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2000 Stanley Booth
All rights reserved.
THE KILLING GROUND
It is late. All the little snakes are asleep. The world is black outside the car windows, just the dusty clay road in the headlights. Far from the city, past the last crossroads (where they used to bury suicides in England, with wooden stakes driven through their hearts), we are looking for a strange California hillside where we may see him, may even dance with him in his torn, bloody skins, come and play.
A train overpass opens in the sky before us; as we come out of it there is an unmarked fork in the road. The Crystals are singing "He's a Rebel." The driver looks left, right, left again. "He don't know where he's going," Keith says. "Do you — are you sure this is the way?" Mick asks. Turning left, the driver does not answer. The radio is quite loud. "Maybe he didn't hear you." Mick closes his eyes. Certain we are lost, but so tired, with no sleep for the past forty hours, less able each moment to protest, to change direction, we proceed in a black Cadillac limousine into the vastness of space.
See the way he walks down the street
Watch the way he shuffles his feet
Oh, how he holds his head up high
When he goes walkin' by
He's my guy
When he holds my hand I'm so proud
'Cause he's not just one of the crowd
My baby's always the one
To try the things they've never done
And just because of that they say
He's a rebel
And he'll never ever be
He's a rebel
'Cause he never ever does
What he should
"Something up ahead here," the driver says. Parked by the road is a Volkswagen van, a German police dog tied by a rope to the back door handle. The dog barks as we pass. Farther on there are more cars and vans, some with people in them, but most of the people are in the road, walking in small groups, carrying sleeping bags, canvas knapsacks, babies, leading more big ugly dogs. "Let's getout," Keith says. "Don't lose us," Mick tells the driver, who says, "Where are you going?" but we are already gone, the five of us, Ron the Bag Man, Tony the Spade Heavy, the Okefenokee Kid, and of course Mick and Keith, Rolling Stones. The other members of the band are asleep back in San Francisco at the Huntington Hotel, except Brian, who is dead and, some say, never sleeps.
The road descends between rolling dry-grass shoulders, the kind of bare landscape where in 1950s science fiction movies the teenager and his busty girlfriend, parked in his hot rod, receive unearthly visitors, but it is crowded now with young people, most with long hair, dressed in heavy clothes, blue jeans, army fatigue jackets, against the December night air that revives us as we walk. Mick is wearing a long burgundy overcoat, and Keith has on a Nazi leather greatcoat, green with mold, that he will leave behind tomorrow or more accurately today, about sixteen hours from now, in the mad blind panic to get away from the place we are lightly swaggering toward. Mick and Keith are smiling, it is their little joke, to have the power to create this gathering by simply wishing for it aloud and the freedom to walk like anybody else along the busy barren path. There are laughter and low talking within groups, but little cross-conversation, though it seems none of us is a stranger; each wears the signs, the insignia, of the campaigns that have brought us, long before most of us have reached the age of thirty, to this desolate spot on the western slope of the New World.
"Tony, score us a joint," Keith says, and before we have been another twenty steps giant black Tony has dropped back and fallen into stride with a boy who's smoking and hands Tony the joint, saying "Keep it." So we smoke and follow the trail down to a basin where the shoulders stretch into low hills already covered with thousands of people around campfires, some sleeping, some playing guitars, some passing smokes and great red jugs of wine. For a moment it stops us; it has the dream-like quality of one's deepest wishes, to have all the good people, all one's family, all the lovers, together in some private country of night. It is as familiar as our earliest dreams and yet so grand and final, camp-fires flickering like distant stars as far as our eyes can see, that it is awesome, and as we start up the hillside to our left, walking on sleeping bags and blankets, trying not to step on anyone's head, Keith is saying it's like Morocco, outside the gates of Marrakech, hear the pipes ...
The people are camped right up to a cyclone fence topped with barbed wire, and we are trying to find the gate, while from behind us the Maysles film brothers approach across sleeping bodies with blinding blue-white quartz lamps. Mick yells to turn off the lights, but they pretend to be deaf and keep coming. The kids who have been looking up as we pass, saying Hi, Mick, now begin to join us; there is a caravan of young girls and boys strung out in the spotlights when we reach the gate which is, naturally, locked. Inside we can see the Altamont Speed-way clubhouse and some people we know standing outside it. Mick calls, "Could we get in, please?" and one of them comes over, sees who we are, and sets out to find someone who can open the gate. It takes a while, and the boys and girls all want autographs and to go inside with us. Mick tells them we can't get in ourselves yet, and no one has a pen except me, and I have learned not to let go of mine because they get the signatures and go spinning away in a frenzy of bliss and exhilaration, taking my trade with them. So we stand on one foot and then the other, swearing in the cold, and no one comes to let us in, and the gate, which is leaning, rattles when I shake it, and I say we could push it down pretty easy, and Keith says, "The first act of violence."
Something about the curious wanderings of these griots through the yellow desert northward into the Maghreb country, often a solitary wandering; their performances at Arab camps on the long journey, when the black slaves came out to listen and weep; then the hazardous voyage into Constantinople, where they play old Congo airs for the great black population of Stamboul, whom no laws or force can keep within doors when the sound of griot music is heard in the street. Then I would speak of how the blacks carry their music with them to Persia and even to mysterious Hadramaut, where their voices are held in high esteem by Arab masters. Then I would touch upon the transplantation of Negro melody to the Antilles and the two Americas, where its strangest black flowers are gathered by the alchemists of musical science and the perfume thereof extracted by magicians. ... (How is that for a beginning?)
Lafcadio Hearn: in a letter to Henry E. Krehbiel
She was sitting on a cream-colored couch, pale blond head bent over a red-jacketed book, legs crossed, one heel resting on the marble coffee table. Behind her in the picture window there was a thick green hedge and then, far away below, the City of the Angels, bone-white buildings reaching out to where, this being a fairly clear day, the Pacific Ocean could be seen, glinting in the sunlight through the poison mist that the land and sky became at the horizon. There were other people on the matching couches of the room, the lobby of that motel-like mansion, and more coming in now, but she did not look up, not even when I said "Excuse me" and stepped over her extended leg to sit down next to her husband, Charlie Watts, one of the Rolling Stones.
"Do you remember him, Shirley?" he asked.
A fast glance. "No."
"A writer. You remember."
"I hope he's not like one who came to our house," she said. Then she looked at me again and something happened in her green eyes. "You're the one." She closed the book. "You wrote about me in the kitchen."
"Somebody else," I said. "You're reading Priestley? Prince of Pleasure. Do you know Nancy Mitford's books?"
"You said I was washing dishes. I have never been so insulted."
"But Shirley, you were washing dishes. What else could I say?"
"You should have made something up."
"Where was this?" asked Bill Wyman, another Rolling Stone, sitting with his girlfriend, Astrid Lindstrom, the Swedish Ice Princess, far away from me at the end of the couch. "Great bass sound, ennit?" A portable phonograph in a corner of the room was playing 1930s records by the Kansas City Six.
"Yeah, Walter Page, really good," Charlie said. "An American magazine. They had it at the office."
"Was it about all of us? We never saw it," Astrid said. Wyman kept scrapbooks.
"I shouldn't want to, if I were you," Shirley said.
"Never get a sound like that with an electric bass," said Wyman, a bass player whose hands were too small to play the acoustic bass.
"The electric bass is more flexible," I said, trying to help divert the conversation. "You can do more things with it."
"You can't do that," Wyman said. "Can you, Charlie?"
"Never," Charlie said as Page's bass and Jo Jones' brushes blended with Freddie Green's guitar, their rhythm steady as a healthy heartbeat.
"Sorry," I said.
"We've had you on the defensive since you got here," Charlie said. "Did you happen to bring the paper with Ralph Gleason's column? We haven't seen it."
"I read it on the way in."
"Was it bad?"
"It could have been worse, but not much." Once I asked Charlie how he felt about the many press attacks on the Stones, and he said, "I never think they're talking about me." And Shirley had said, "Charlie and Bill aren't really Stones, are they? Mick, Keith, and Brian, they're the big bad Rolling Stones."
Charlie smiled, pulling down the corners of his mouth. "I always liked Gleason's jazz pieces. I know him, actually. I mean I met him, the last time we played San Francisco. I'd like to ask him why he's become so set against us."
A man with receding black curly hair and bushy scimitar sideburns was coming into the room from the open doorway at the far end, wearing white shorts, carrying two tennis rackets and a towel. "Tennis, anyone?" he asked in a voice it would hurt to shave with.
I had never seen him, but I knew his voice from suffering it on the telephone. He was Ronnie Schneider, nephew of Allen Klein, the Rolling Stones' business manager. Almost before I knew it I was standing between him and the door. "Did you get my agent's letter?" I asked after telling him who I was.
"Yeah, I got it," he said. "There are some things we have to change. Tell your agent to call me."
"He says he's been trying to get you. There's not much time."
"I know" Ronnie said, his voice a fiend's imitation of girlish delight. He gave me a bright smile, as if I had just swallowed the hook. "Doesn't anybody here want to play tennis?"
"I'll play," Wyman said.
"Here, this one's warped." Ronnie handed him a racket shaped like a shoehorn, and they went out across the patio and the juicy Saint Augustine grass to the tennis court. I watched them through the glass door as they walked; then I noticed that my hat was in my hand, and I decided to sit down and try to relax.
Serafina, the Watts' eighteen-month-old daughter, came in with her nanny, and Shirley took her out to the kitchen for something to eat. Astrid went along, possibly to chill the orange juice. The Kansas City Six were playing "Pagin' the Devil."
"What did Gleason say, exactly?" Charlie asked me.
"He said the tickets cost too much, the seating is bad, the supporting acts aren't being paid enough, and all this proves that the Rolling Stones despise their audience. I may have left something out. Right. He also said, 'They put on a good show.'"
The back door opened and in walked a gang of men. Tall and lean and long-haired, they stood for a moment in the center of the room as if posing for a faded sepia photograph of the kind that used to end up on posters nailed to trees. The Stones Gang: Wanted Dead or Alive, though only Mick Jagger, standing like a model, his knife-blade ass thrust to one side, was currently awaiting trial. Beside him was Keith Richards, who was even thinner and looked not like a model but an insane advertisement for a dangerous carefree Death — black ragged hair, dead green skin, a cougar tooth hanging from his right earlobe, his lips snarled back from the marijuana cigaret between his rotting fangs, his gums blue, the world's only bluegum white man, poisonous as a rattle-snake.
From his photographs I recognized Brian Jones' replacement, Mick Taylor. He was pink and blond, pretty as a Dresden doll beside Jagger and Richards, who had aged more than a year in the year since I'd seen them. One of the others, with dark hair frosted pale gold and a classic country and western outfit from Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, I remembered seeing on television and record covers — he was Gram Parsons, and he came, so I'd heard, from my hometown, Waycross, Georgia, on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. We had not met, but I had reviewed his band the Flying Burrito Brothers' new album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. I had no idea he knew the Stones. Seeing him here, finding another boy from Waycross at this altitude, I sensed a pattern, some design I couldn't make out, and I got up to speak to Gram Parsons, as if he were a prophet and I were a pilgrim seeking revelation.
But as I stepped around the table Jagger turned, and for the first time since he came into the room we were facing, too close, his eyes like a deer's, large, shadowed, startled. I remembered reading on the plane out here a Time magazine report of a study showing that when two people look at each other, the one who looks away first is likely to dominate the situation. So I gave Mick a friendly smile, and he looked away, just like the dominant people in Time. I had the feeling I'd lost a game I was trying not to play, but then I was past Mick, saying to Gram, "Good to see you."
"Yeah," Gram said reasonably, "but who are you?"
I told him, and he said, "I dug what you wrote about our band."
"I'm from Waycross," I said. He peered at me for a second, then handed me the joint he'd been smoking. We walked out onto the narrow front lawn (as we went out, Keith was saying to Charlie, "Did you see what your friend Gleason said?"), sat on the grass beside the hedge, and talked about people and places in Georgia. Gram said he had no intention of going back. I remembered my mother telling me that after Gram's mother and father had divorced, his father, a man called "Coon Dog" Connor, had killed himself, and Gram's mother married a New Orleans man named Parsons. I wouldn't know until later, when people started writing articles and books giving Gram belated credit for creating a new form of music, that his mother, whose father had owned Cypress Gardens and most of the oranges in central Florida, had died of alcoholic malnutrition the day before Gram graduated from high school. Even the house in Waycross where Gram lived had been sold and moved off beside the main southbound highway.
From where we were sitting, high in the sky over Sunset Boulevard, it seemed that by facing the east we could see, except for the smog, all the way back to Georgia. But if the smog had gone, what could we have seen except the people who make the smog? Gram inhaled deeply on the joint, an Indian silver swastika bracelet hanging on his wrist, his eyes opaque pale green, like bird's eggs. "Look at it, man," he said, as if he had heard my thoughts. "They call it America, and they call it civilization, and they call it television, and they believe in it and salute it and sing songs to it and eat and sleep and die still believing in it, and — and — I don't know," he said, taking another drag, "then sometimes the Mets come along and win the World Series —"
With all the revelation I could handle for the moment, I spun back through the house to the patio, where most of the people who were here already and some new ones who had arrived were breaking up a powwow, leaving Jagger talking upward to a very tall young man with a Buffalo Bill mane and red side whiskers. "Now, Chip," Mick was saying (so I knew he was real, this man who called himself Chip Monck), "we can't do audience-participation things. I mean, I appreciate your suggestion, and we do want to get them involved, but we can't play 'With a Little Help from My Friends,' and — what do they know? You can't expect people to sing along on 'Paint It Black.' Rock and roll has become very cool now, but the Rolling Stones are not a cool sort of thing, it's a much more old-fashioned thing we do, it's not as if the Rolling Stones were, y'know, five dedicated musicians — I mean, I'd much rather go on stage in a gold Cadillac or wearing a gold suit or summink like that —"
Suddenly but gently, calmly, Chip put his hands on Mick's shoulders and said, in the mellow baritone that soothed the dope-freaked, mud-soaked thousands two months ago at the Woodstock Pop Festival, "I just want you to know how pleased I am to be working with you guys."
Mick laughed. When Chip had touched him, Mick's hands had come up to hold Chip at arm's length by the collarbone. Not certain whether Mick was laughing at him, Chip also laughed. They stood, knees slightly bent, in the classic starting position of wrestlers, grinning at each other.
Inside, someone was playing the piano. I looked, saw that it was Keith, joined him on the bench and asked, "What about this book?" I trusted Keith, at least to tell the truth; a bluegum man don't have to lie.
"What about it?" he asked, playing no recognizable melody.
"I need a letter."
"I thought Jo sent you a letter."
"Many letters, but not what I need. She says I need Allen Klein's approval."
"You don't need anybody's approval. All you need is us. Jo! Hey, Jo!"
From the depths of this serpentine house Georgia Bergman emerged. She was the Stones' secretary, an Anglo-American girl in her middle twenties, with black kinky hair done in the current electric fashion, sticking out all around like a fright wig.
"What about this letter?" Keith asked. He was still playing, nothing you could recognize.
Excerpted from The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth. Copyright © 2000 Stanley Booth. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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What People are Saying About This
Stanley Booth's book is the only one I can read and say, "Yeah, that's how it was".
No work on the popular arts so faithfully serves its subject while unpretentiously succeeding in being about so much more.
The one authentic masterpiece of rock 'n' roll writing.
Meet the Author
Stanley Booth is the author of Rythm Oil: A Journey Through the Music of the American South and Keith: Till I Roll Over Dead. He has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Playboy. He lives in Brunswick, Georgia.
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I read this book many yrs ago and felt then and now that THIS is the ONE. The one book that tells all that could be told and by one right there with them. You lucky dog, Stanley Booth. Even though I have a hard copy I feel I must have the ebook, too. Love that I can tote all these great books around with me all the time.
I bought this book from Stanley at a writer's conference in Georgia and have read it several times since. It is an awesome account and commentary on the group and the state of mind of the country. Read it. Read it again. I can't wait to get the updated version.