Rolling Stones 50 by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood
You know how I know very little about the Beatles, with that little coming from the past year’s exploration into modern music? Now imagine how little I must know about the Rolling Stones. To whit, I barely knew who the other guys in the band were when I opened up this volume. To be fair, I did pelt through their entire discography a few months back to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, so I actually do have a better handle on them than the aforementioned Fab Four. But what drew me to Rolling Stones 50 was not a love of the band specifically, although I’m awfully fond of them, especially after reading it. No, what drew me to it was my fondness for Mick Jagger and my especial interest in pictures of young Mick Jagger looking grumpy. (Old Mick Jagger looking grumpy is just as endearing, but it’s less funny.)
Rolling Stones 50 is the only official book released in conjunction with the band’s fiftieth anniversary, celebrated in 2012. Curated by the band itself, Rolling Stones 50 takes a look at the band’s beginnings playing blues in small clubs in London in the early 1960s through their evolution into one of the biggest arena bands of all time by collecting photos and memorabilia, some never before seen or specifically photographed for inclusion in this volume.
I have this theory—if you were born after a certain zeitgeist, it is extremely difficult for you to understand said zeitgeist. While I’m certainly trying (Shout! is on my pile of books to be read at the moment), I can’t ever understand the impact the Beatles had on music the way those who lived through it do, because I have grown up in a post-Beatles world. (True story: I saw the The Powerpuff Girls episode “Meet the Beat-Alls” before I even knew who they were.) While this theory is true for me, it also makes it tempting to conclude that the past is another country entirely, which it isn’t. I can’t speak to this book’s joy as a dedicated Rolling Stones fan who has been there since day one, but I can speak as someone who loves to see that even the sixties, pop cultural touchstone for baby boomers and therefore modern American culture, was just a regular grouping of ten years. Despite its size, bulk, and focus, Rolling Stones 50 devotes almost two-thirds of its pages to the band’s career in the sixties, skipping over and compressing the rest. Since it’s official, only the most oblique references to any trouble—even just rough patches in Richards’ and Jagger’s friendship—are made. My research tells me Bill Wyman’s Rolling with the Stones is where you want to be if that’s what you want.
So my overwhelming impression is a lovely scrapbook about five boys starting a band, and, after winning a dedicated fanbase, setting it on fire, all while growing up (somewhat). We see Jagger slouching while perched on a stool, shoes off, recording, looking slight and boyish as he always will. The extraordinarily leonine Brian Jones pulls a face at a sheepdog while the other boys laugh. (Fun fact: having read Terry Southern’s “Riding the Lapping Tongue”, where a female fan ecstatically cries out, “Bill, Bill! Oh my God, you are so stone beautiful I can’t believe it!”, the only way I could identify Bill Wyman was as “the gorgeous one that’s not Jagger”. I confused him with Jones. Taste! So subjective!) Richards sitting in front of the burned out carcass of his home, a knife sunk into the turf, a catskin rug at his long feet, staring into the lens with a gruff challenge. Charlie Watts’ quiet but always present elegant grace; while most of the comments are either chirpy, vague statements by Jagger or bizarre, gruff stories from Richards (“This one time Jean-Luc Godard burned down our studio!”), one of Watts’ few comments has him discussing a beloved piece of equipment that he now only uses for his jazz band. These photos, especially the ones of the boys just sort of giggling to each other and themselves, really drive home the point how human and haphazard this sort of thing really is.
But, for me, the greatest photos in the book capture young, passionate women. Much is made of Beatlemania, but a lot of it is either patronizing or dismissive, because when it comes to young women expressing sexual desire, the patriarchy gets beyond anxious. (I highly recommend Rachel Monroe’s “The Killer Crush”, which explores teen girls’ crushes, especially ones on serial killers and other murderers, for more on this.) At the Royal Albert Hall on the 23 of September, 1966: exit Keith Richards, pursued by a female fan, handing off his guitar to a roadie in a way that obscures his face but not his hands, not his body. All we see of her is her body, knees bent slightly, angled towards Richards. The men around him either reach to protect him or reach to contain her. It’s a powerful, kinetic image, but it’s not my favorite image of women in the book. A two-page spread concerning a performance at Longleat House in Warminster in the August of 1964 contains several photos of fainting or fainted women being carried off by policemen, reminding me of nothing so much as the opening to The Virgin Suicides (less fatal, of course). But the very last image in the spread is of two women lying on a curb, curled into each other, one’s head resting on the other’s outstretched arm. They could be sisters. The woman closest to the camera covers her face with her left hand, utterly overwhelmed, but the woman next to her, despite the hand on her own face and the fact that she’s obscured by her companion, is staring into the camera with her left eye. Not challenging the camera’s gaze, but still, claiming her space.
Bottom line: Rolling Stones 50 is the official book to accompany the band’s fiftieth anniversary and, so, has little to say about the band’s history. But as a scrapbook, it’s a delight, and I drew particular joy from the portraits of the band and the portraits of the fans. Worth a look if you like the Stones.
I rented this book from the public library.