Embracing the world with positive creativity since Sept 2007.
Cover of The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones.
This is less a formal review of Stanley Booth’s now-classic book, The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, than it is a statement of appreciation for the same. In fact, I can say at this time that my biggest criticism of the title, or at least of the edition I own, is that it lacks an index. Having become one of the modern essential reference texts on British rock band the Rolling Stones that it has, a reader can only hope that someone plans to publish an edition that contains one. But for the time being I’ll say this––
If you could arrange a chat over a cup of coffee or tea with a literary journalist from any given period –such as Ralph Ellison, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, or Tom Wolfe––about how they accomplished what they have as literary journalists, one thing they shared in common might soon become clear: a huge part of getting the job done was allowing whatever situation they were covering to swallow them whole. As in mind, body, soul, and the bits and pieces of dreams and nightmares that held their lives together. Apply that concept to the reality of Stanley Booth making his way through the giant waves of counterculture rebellion that swept over the 1960s and a profound mosaic of imagery emerges.
For one, there is the ambitious writer with a distinct literary sensibility born and bred in Waycross, Georgia (where the late great actor Ossie Davis attended high school) lobbying in England, California, and elsewhere for a contract to write the book now known as The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones with the band’s “full and exclusive cooperation.” There is the artist determined to maintain focus on his work ––taking detailed notes on everything from the style of Keith Richards’ jacket and the impact of Mick Jagger’s toothache on a rehearsal, to the polish on B.B. King’s custom-made Gibson guitar and the nearly overwhelming heat generated by Tina Turner’s on-stage sensuality.
Beyond simply noting such observances is an enviable talent for transforming them into transcendent poetry, as with this snapshot of Jagger at the L.A. Forum in 1969 just before he goes onstage: “In the backstage doorway Jagger was standing, dressed in black trousers with silver buttons down the legs, black scoop-neck jersey with white Leo glyph on chest, wide metal-studded black belt, long red flowing scarf, on his head an Uncle Sam hat, his eyes wide and dark, looking like a bullfighter standing in the sun just inside the door of the arena, seeing nothing but the path he walks, toreros and banderilleros beside and behind him, to his fate.”
Along the same lines, Booth writes like something of a natural seer when interpreting certain moments that might be described as the philosophical nuances of the psychedelic times: “It is possible that to know the essence of this moment you would have to be part of the most Damoclean time yet seen on earth… to have come to this music in the innocence of youth because of its humanity… to follow it steadfastly through all manner of troubles, and to have found yourself in a huge dark saucer-mushroom, doing it again, playing for survival, for your life. You had to be there.”
That he was there and allowed the powerful uproar of the 1960s, as set to the music of the Rolling Stones, to swallow him whole in order to deliver an enduring first-hand account of it, is a major part of what makes Booth’s work the titanic achievement that it is. The 1960s laid the groundwork for the end of one era and the beginning of another. By the time Booth hit the road to tag along with the Stones on tour during the latter part of the decade, scenes like those of the more recent beatings and pepper-sprayings experienced by Occupy Wall Street protesters were fairly common in the U.S. and elsewhere. So was a seemingly ceaseless flow of marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and other drugs that everyone knew were illegal but which many consumed to sedate themselves from the brutalities of the times (NOTE: Please DO NOT interpret that last statement as an endorsement for the use of hard drugs).
With a string of well-known assassinations, racial tension that boiled over into actual physical clashes, war, and a serious push to reestablish the tenets of sexual expressiveness, the world vibrated from one day to the next between frequencies of barely-contained anarchy and imploding chaos. To place oneself in the burning thick of it all, open-eyed and armed only with a pen, a pad, a Georgia boy’s swamp-grown bravado, and hopes for future literary vindication as Booth did, is every bit as admirable as so many have already said. To have accomplished what he set out to, at a cost much greater than most would ever consider paying in 2012, is the kind of marvel described sometimes as a miracle.
5 January, 2012
Stanley Booth discusses alternating definitions of musician Col. Bruce Hampton.