ACCORDING TO THE ROLLING STONES, edited by Dora Loewenstein, Philip Dodd and Charlie Watts (Weidenfeld & Nicholson).
Mick Jagger doesnÕt rate Exile On Main Street. He says Òit has some of the worst mixes IÕve ever heard É generally I think it sounds lousy. Exile is really a mixture of bits and pieces left over from the previous album É As long as people like the album, thatÕs fine. ItÕs just that I donÕt particularly think itÕs a great album.Ó
Well, heÕs always been the master of re-invention, the middle-class suburban boy who made millions pretending to be an old, poor black man from the Delta before becoming part of the Euro jet-set and CEO of a corporation now in its fifth decade.
Before the Rolling Stones were the greatest rockÕnÕroll band in the world, whatever that means, they were the second greatest. Thirty-five years after they answered Sgt PepperÕs with the dire Satanic Majesties, they have followed the BeatlesÕ Anthology with this, their own coffee-table oral history. It is the Stones as they would like their story to be told. That means history rewritten if itÕs by Jagger; with relish and myth if itÕs Richards; with wry self-deprecating humour and detail by Watts; and with Johnny-come-lately insecurity by Wood. Poor Ron had to wait 20 years before he was a fully paid-up member of the band, and still gets over-looked when it comes to squeaking between the hyphen in Jagger-Richards to get a fair songwriting credit (though judging by recent albums, whoÕd want the credit?).
This is an exquisitely produced book, smaller than the BeatlesÕ tome but more elegantly designed and with printing that is simply stunning. If youÕve read any Stones book youÕll know the stories: the railway station meeting, the Crawdaddy club, Brian JonesÕ decay, the exile in France, the Toronto bust – and the years of the touring circus cash cow. What is most enjoyable is delving into their sumptuously reproduced private photo stash. The text is self-serving and repetitious, even when offering back-handed compliments to the likes of Andrew Loog Oldham and Mick Taylor. (It says a lot that their stalwart pianist/roadie Ian Stewart – the Man Too Ugly to Be a Stone! – is hardly mentioned.) Taylor (1969-74) is one notable absence from the interviewees, as is 28-year vet Bill Wyman (like most people they probably never finished Stone Alone either, but were envious of his recent scrapbook history Rolling With the Stones). Just in case we didnÕt get the message that being a Rolling Stone is very cool, the chapters are interspersed with breathless essays from acolytes and hangers-on such as Marshall Chess, Peter Wolf, Sheryl Crow, Carl Hiaasen, Tim Rice, and their business manager Prince Rupert Loewenstein. The final chapters are like mission statements from StonesCorp¨ but to show their generosity there are plenty of photos of their children (JaggerÕs, it must be said, are gorgeous).
This is a thing of beauty – like a fine art book – but Exile On Main Street will be coming off the shelf a lot more often. Maybe yet another thrashing of it will determine whether itÕs a masterpiece or merely leftovers. And whether Jagger is full of shit.