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The Rolling Stones: 50 Years

Christopher Sandford

First tour of the States Keith Richards noted that everyone seemed so uptight (plenty of angry parents who wanted to "bash their fucking skulls in") and after a teenager fired a shot into their stage in San Fernadino he and Bill Wyman went downtown, and for $35, bought themselves a Browning automatic each.

In Detroit, Mo Schulman of London Records invited Charlie Watts up to his hotel suite for a drink. The place was awash with champagne, caviar and an impressive variety of recreational drugs. When Mo was called away urgently, he told guest to help himself. Charlie took a bottle of beer, leaving both a five dollar bill and a polite thank you note.

"WOULD YOU LET YOUR DAUGHTER DATE A ROLLING STONE?" type headlines. The Beatles just wanted to hold your hand, but the Stones' aim was elsewhere. Concert in Blackpool full of drunken Scots. Keith copped a gob of spit. "You Scotch cunt he shouted, and planted a steel toed boot right in the guy's teeth. It was 45 years before the Stones were allowed back.

A promoter rented a boat in NY Harbour for them, and a 24yo receptionist and aspiring photographer then named Lin Eastman captured closeup pics of Stones that put her on the rock 'n' roll map. She spent the night with Jagger; then, years later, married Paul McCartney.

Keith Richards and his girlfriend Linda Keith went to a Greenwich Village cafe to see a young Seattle guitarist Jimmy James. Linda went off with James, they moved to London where he became Jimi Hendrix. Keith took consolation in the arms of one of Bill Wyman's many groupies, who managed to give both men VD>

Marianne Faithfull reckoned Mick not very sexual - she thought he left it all on stage - and said that the whole time she was with him, she was lusting after Keith.

When they finally reached the end of their contract with Decca, the record label informed them that they were owed one more single. Mick personally delivered a tape of the rollicking single "Cocksucker Blues"

In 1972 Keith and druggie GF Anita Pallenburg had a daughter, who they named Dandelion. Keith's mother took over the day-to-day running of the girl, who she quickly renamed Angela. "I was a bit unpredictable in those days", said Keith later. Six months later he came up with the words and music of "Angie" in her honour.

"I noticed that when Mick was out of the room, the other band members referred to him as "Her Majesty"

"Screw the press and their slagging about the Geritol tour" said Keith. "You assholes. Wait till you get to our age and see how you run. I've got news for you, we're still a bunch of tough old bastards. String us up and we still won't die."

(London Times)

This book was presumably intended to cash in on the Rolling Stones' 50th anniversary tour this year, but that tour has been postponed, reportedly because of fears about Keith Richards's health. Some critics maintain that his guitar playing has deteriorated since his brain surgery in 2006. He lives a quiet life these days on his estates in Connecticut and Jamaica and forgoes all drugs apart from weed. Sir Mick has taken up Buddhism and recently spent three weeks in Laos on a 'spiritual trip', visiting temples and meditating with monks. Charlie Watts, having recovered from throat cancer, lives sedately in the country and only comes to London to visit his tailor and shoemaker ('I was the only rock star never to wear beads'). Bill Wyman (retired) runs restaurants and sells 'top of the line' metal detectors. The only one who still behaves remotely like a rock star is Ron Wood, who has been in and out of rehab since he left his wife, Jo, for a Russian cocktail waitress in 2008. But then he is, at 64, the baby of the group.

It is difficult now to remember how dangerous the Stones seemed in the 1960s, before they were legends. The Beatles were those lovable mop-tops but the Stones were always 'degenerate', caught peeing in petrol stations, or holding drug-fuelled orgies in their various homes.

The police found it necessary to bust them almost every week, but magistrates were not always impressed. In 1969, after yet another drugs raid at his Cheyne Walk house in Chelsea, Jagger accused the police of demanding 'around a grand' to lose the evidence. An internal police inquiry released only 35 years later described Jagger's witnesses as 'the dregs of society ....being drug users or pop stars'. One hopes whoever wrote that lived long enough to see Jagger knighted.

Wyman always maintained that he was the sexiest Stone, or at any rate the busiest - his notebooks record that in the band's first two years of fame, he slept with 278 women, Jagger 30 and Richards only six. When on stage, Wyman would scan the audience playing 'spot the tits' and send assistants to collect suitable groupies by the handful. The other Stones didn't mind until he started going out with a 13-year-old, Mandy Smith, and eventually married her in 1989. Things got really complicated when, in 1993, his son Stephen, 31, announced his engagement to Mandy's mother, Patsy, 47, which would have made Wyman his son's son-in-law if both relationships had lasted. Luckily, they didn't.

Marianne Faithfull maintained that ­Jagger was never all that interested in sex - 'I always felt that whatever sexual drive Mick had, he used it up on stage and there was little left over for his personal life.' Jagger's second wife, Jerry Hall, on the other hand praised his 'weird and dirty' sexual prowess, but then she would, wouldn't she? Apparently, he once gave Brigitte Bardot a 'consolation shag' in a broom cupboard, and also had a flingette with Carla Bruni, the current first lady of France, when she was going out with Eric Clapton.

Jagger's conquests might well have included the first lady of Canada, Margaret Trudeau, except that he was busy with Mia Farrow at the time, so she settled for Wood. This was the notorious week in Toronto in 1977 when Richards faced his most serious drugs charge ever - trafficking, for which the sentence was seven years to life. Meanwhile, 'Madcap Maggie' (Trudeau) had just emerged from hospital and decided to join the Stones at Toronto's Harbour Castle hotel. It was as well she did, because Richards's son Marlon, aged seven, came racing to her room to say that Keith was curled up retching on the bathroom floor. The prime minister's wife and her police protection officer walked Richards round until he recovered, whereupon Margaret reached down to give Marlon a hug. He told her to eff off.

Why have the Rolling Stones proved so durable? Wyman and Jagger once answered that question in unison, with 'Charlie Watts', but actually the answer must be Jagger. When he loses interest, the Stones fall apart. For most of the 1980s they went their separate ways and at the Philadelphia Live Aid concert in 1985, Jagger did a solo set with Tina Turner, while Keith and Woody provided backing for Bob Dylan (not very well, by all accounts). The Stones hadn't officially split up, but they had no imminent plans to get together. And then Jagger got a call from Prince Rupert Loewenstein, their financial director, about the effects of the Wall Street crash on their investments, and suddenly they were planning another tour (Steel Wheels), which would be the first of many. The sad thing is that nowadays they only get together on tour or occasionally at funerals. Last year, they managed to record a track (Dylan's Watching the River Flow) for a tribute album to Ian Stewart, the band's late keyboardist, without ever meeting.

I would have thought the publication in 2010 of Keith's brilliant memoir, Life, would have raised the bar for books about the Stones, but apparently not - Christopher Sandford's is the mixture very much as before, and written in that ghastly patronising, jaded tone that seems to be a staple of rock writing. I almost threw the book away when I found it describing Let's Spend the Night Together as 'well-made music to Stairmaster to'. Sandford has previously written well-received biographies of Jagger and Richards, but this is a tired old rehash job. The last chapter on the past decade is particularly thin.

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