EXILE ON MAIN ST. – A SEASON IN HELL WITH THE ROLLING STONES
Robert Greenfield, © 2006 DeCapo Press
Someday, someone will write the definitive book about The Rolling Stones – factual, insightful, revealing and objective. This is not that day. This is not that book.
Some of the central stories in Exile emanate from recent interviews with insiders like Marshall Chess, Andy Johns and Mick Taylor’s then wife Rose. Not exactly the every day inner circle, although each has perspective. Then again, two were hardcore smack addicts at the time and a dusty haze of thirty-five plus years stands in-between their current brain cells and the facts at hand. Of course, what they said about the sixties was also true in 1970 and 1971 – “if you can remember it, you weren’t there”. Greenfield also pulls tidbits of information from an extensive list of websites and print titles – in one case, even sourcing his own book – to construct a rambling, lazy, sordid tale about the famous, not-so-famous and hangers-on of the day. Not that you should be surprised by the lack of factual revelations, as Camp Stones closed that door a long time ago. Perhaps one of Greenfield’s quotes best tells the tale…”a great story always trumps the truth”. In other words, you’ll need an entire salt lick to get through this one, a grain just won’t do.
In Greenfield’s defense, he admits that he has no interest in scribing a track-by-track analysis of Exile, nor a detailed re-enactment of the recording sessions in journal format. Fair enough. But what at first appears to be an insider’s peek into the mental squalor and drug-addled debauchery of the recording sessions at the Nellcote mansion quickly dissolves into the same third-hand gossip we’ve read a thousand times before. The mansion was a former Nazi headquarters, the south of France has some pretty creepy people, cops can be bought, and drugs and money cause more problems than they solve. Keith was a mess, Mick was a jerk, and somehow the band was able to cobble together enough riffs (and borrow enough leftovers from previous sessions) to issue what is arguably one of the ten best rock records ever made. Keith is the centerpiece of the story, somehow heroic and pathetic at the same time, a description even Keef would probably own up to today with a wrinkled grin and a cackling laugh.
The major flaw in Greenfield’s book is the smarmy, know-it-all attitude taken by the author. Making the reader feel like an unwanted eavesdropper rather than an invited voyeur is counterproductive. Oddball references and bad puns are more frequent and annoying that rock lyrics in a Stephen King novel, but Greenfield’s bizarre metaphors pale in comparison to the maneuver he pulls while recalling an anecdote about a certain musician being ousted from the inner circle. Stopping the chapter’s progress on a dime, he mockingly calls out not one but two fellow Stones authors, claiming the first got a fact wrong and simply insulting the work of the second. Meow! I can’t recall ever seeing a more sophomoric, unprofessional move in a published book.
But hey, when all is said and done, it’s only rock’n'roll (journalism). If you’re a Stones fan and have an afternoon with nothing to do, keep your wallet in your pants and borrow it from the library. That way you know you’ll get your money’s worth.