“The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones” by Rich Cohen


There’s something monstrous about Mick Jagger. Forget Keith; Keith is a trance-ridden melody. Forget Charlie; Charlie is a mercenary, having chosen success over jazz. Forget Bill; Bill is the back line. When you talk about the brain of the Stones, you’re talking about Mick, who’s always operated with a cruel edge that bleeds into the music. You see it in the remorseless way the Stones have continued decade after decade. Everyone I ask to explain this longevity gave the same answer: Mick Jagger. His will, determination, and intelligence. What is the quality that allows Mick to operate with such lack of sentiment? Is it ambition, or something more?

Once upon a time, Mick Jagger’s drive and the effect it had on people were associated with evil, which is why songs like “Paint It Black” and “Sympathy for the Devil” went over so seamlessly. They confirmed what we already knew: Mick is Lucifer. But that’s wrong. Mick is not Lucifer. He’s showbiz, a pop version of the classic Hollywood diva, for whom the show must always go on, for whom obscurity is even more terrifying than death. It’s a special kind of charisma that generates tremendous light but little heat. People crave that light but get no sustenance from it. It destroys them. Life with Mick is life astride a black hole. Time accelerates. Two years ages you immeasurably. Yet none of it touches him. Because no one else matters. He’s the ego that became the world. He stands before millions but the millions don’t exist. At the center of the universe, Mick Jagger dances alone.

Rich Cohen has written a startlingly good book on the Rolling Stones. I share this obsession with him, and having read much of what has previously been written about them; this book is by far the best.He writes from the point of view of someone who regrets having been too young to witness the Stones Touring Party of the early seventies and only has nostalgia to look back on. A viewpoint I can relate to all too well.

The rock’n’roll folklore is all here, but written by someone more talented than your average 70s gonzo journalist. Along with his considerable skills as a writer, Cohen has the advantage of perspective. Those old first-hand dispatches from music journalists read with the breathless air of a war correspondent on the front lines of the Western Front—a narrative that seems silly today. Music not only failed to change the world, it seems silly in retrospect that anyone in their craziest pipe dream would ever expect it to.

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One of the Stones’ people pushed me against a wall and asked me to “come upstairs and blow a joint.”

Slipping away, I found myself in a circle of rock-‘n’-roll masters: Steve Winwood of Traffic; Jim Capaldi, the band’s drummer; Ron Wood; and Keith Richards. Though each had his own identity, they seemed to share a single face. Creased and beaten, aged like leather, pounded by abuse into a kind of beauty. An old guy genning a close look at Jagger once said, “You have more wrinkles than I do!” “They’re laugh lines,” said Mick. The guy guffawed: “Nothing’s ever been that funny.” But the guy was wrong–there has been something that funny, mainly, the joke that this generation of rock stars played on fate, which had them marked for lives of quiet desperation in factories and insurance firms but instead set them up like medieval princes in frock coats and buckles–a life that for centuries had been the sole entitlement of the debauched nobility.

Each man in that circle had electric energy and strung-out glory–drank too much, stayed out too late, brain fried and fingers gnarled, but my God, could they play. These were the last of the great rock stars, a species that’s going the way of the snow leopard. Those who survive are precious and strange, relics of an ancient dispensation, that era when the music mattered above all else–when you believed the next album would clarify everything.

As the men laughed, it hit me. I’d always sensed there were people somewhere having more fun than me. I’d always believed there was a better party. And there was! And I’d found it! No need to check my messages, look over someone’s shoulder, wonder where to go next. I was at the center of the best party in the world. For the first time in my life, I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Belatedness: it’s the condition of little brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of old parents, third children who showed up just in time to see a cigarette floating in the last cocktail of the night. It defines my generation [born 1968]. Above us, the baby boomers, who consumed every resource and every kind of fun. Below us, the millennials, the children of the baby boomers, who’ve remade the world into something virtual and cold. The boomers consumed their childhood, then, in a sense, consumed our childhoods, too. They overimbibed, lived to such excess there’s nothing left for us but to tell the story

Time distanced me from the Stones, but it gave me something, too. Perspective. Coming at the end means being able to comprehend the entire story.

I got stories firsthand and was able to test ideas with the world’s greatest front man, though Jagger tends to diminish his own role. He abhors the temptation to turn singers into gods, the fate of John Lennon seemingly never far from his mind. Yet it’s clear the Stones were, for a time, the avant-garde, which is one reason Jagger keeps his mouth shut. If you live audaciously, don’t brag.

For people involved with the Stones, no matter how briefly, the experience tends to be the most vivid of their lives.

They were an oldies act, which is less about biological age than about spirit. The Stones had become predictable. Invention had given way to repetition. They were doing what they did because it’s what they’d always done. At the beginning, they imitated black blues musicians. At the end, they imitated themselves. And yet, even at the most tired shows, before the most jaded crowds, you could still, now and then, just for a moment, catch a glimpse of what they had been: a revolution with ten hands, four chords, and a groove.

The Stones in Paris circa 1976. Jagger in front, leading his commandos on a nighttime raid. In concert, he darts like a hummingbird, impossible to study. In the poster, he’d been pinned like a specimen to a board. He was grotesque yet handsome, with the outsized features of an adolescent, a man who never grew into his face.

Having burned through the legitimate catalog, I had come to the part of my life dedicated to the hunting of bootlegs, illegal recordings of Stones concerts. Some were elaborate productions, complete with cover art and liner notes, but most were amateurish–a tape made by a guy in the fifteenth row. You could hear people talking between numbers. Such recordings were usually worthless. But now and then, when you came across a song the band hardly ever played, an oddity or a gem, the feeling of triumph was akin to that of a big game hunter. The more unlikely the find, the greater the satisfaction–it was a quest made obsolete by Napster, YouTube, Google, and Sonos, where everything is right here, right now. Those poor millennials! They’ll never know the glory of stumbling across a recording of the Stones playing Eel Pie Island in 1964, or the lost art of the mix tape, all those blissful hours spent assembling the perfect sequence of songs.

Though they did not know it, Jagger and Richards were headed for the city—that is, the big time. And they were going together. It’s perfect that they met on the train platform, as the train has always been of great symbolic importance to the blues. The train is escape—it carries the Delta farmer from slave country to the metropolis. The train is freedom, power. That’s why, when you listen to the great old blues songs, you almost always hear steel wheels in the rhythm.

Elvis went into the Army in 1958. He’d come out in 1960 but would never be the same—the service bridled him, snuffed out that blue electricity.

The blues was real. Kids like Jagger and Richards got into the blues for the same reason kids of my generation got into Public Enemy and NWA. It was about authenticity.

The Delta blues became an obsession indistinguishable from faith. For the Stones, it was religion. In this, they’ve been fortunate. An artist needs a belief. It does not matter whether that belief is Rastafarianism or Communism. It’s the structure of belief that matters—it gives their work coherence, shape. It’s there even when you don’t know it. Of course, the Stones have made some terrible records, but the blues always saved them in the end.

Mick sang because he had no shame and could, without feeling self-conscious, mimic the intonation, phrasing, and mojo of black Americans.

At those first gigs, Keith kept to the shadows, watching his fingers as he played. He was like a character out of Dickens, an urchin, a dodger emerging from tenement shadows, skinny and fast. The guitar was his revenge and only chance. Otherwise, he’d be the hack that picks you up at Heathrow and talks all the way into London. His persona has been exaggerated over the years, but the outline was plain from the start. The outlaw, the pirate. “[He] used to dress in a cowboy outfit, with holsters and a hat, and he had these big ears that stuck out,” said Jagger, who met Keith when they were six years old. “I asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said he wanted to be like Roy Rogers and play guitar.”

The English rockers had that big thing behind them: the war and the poverty that followed.

Keith was born December 18, 1943, an only child. He was funny looking, a gutter rat with dark circles around his eyes. He was a loner and was bullied. He learned to linger in his own mind, he learned to run—a perfect childhood for rock’n’roll, shared by a thousand runts who found solace in a symphony of power chords.

The parents of the 1960s were right to fear rock’n’roll. It turned their children against them. Over time, it undid everything. Imagine winning a World War only to watch the power abdicated in the London dives.

Eighteen-year-old boys had been drafted into the British military since time out of mind. Conscription filled the ranks, but, more important, it broke the rowdies, crushed their spirit, and remade them for the machine. (“Your whole life you’d heard, ‘When you’re eighteen, you’ll be in the service, and that will sort you out,” Ian McLagan told me.) But after the war, England could not afford to maintain a large standing army. The country was busted, the Empire, that vast archipelago of subservience, painstakingly dismantled. Instead of being sent to patrol in distant lands, the young men of working-class England were cut loose, set free. In this manner, a generation slipped away, undrilled and unbroken. In England, their energy became an important factor. In the past, it would have been spent in Burma, Egypt, India. These boys went off to the blues clubs instead. England lost its Empire but got rock’n’roll—yet another unintended consequence of war.

To jazzmen, the blues presented a threat. Qualities that had always been treasured—ability to read music, proficiency—lost value. The blues is not about skill, it’s about attitude.

Early in the twentieth century, when the blues pioneer Buddy Bolden wanted to gather a band in New Orleans, he’d stick his cornet out his window and blow three to five bars. He described it as “calling my children home.”

Jagger made his first appearance a few weeks after the club opened. He sang Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” and Muddy Waters’s “Got My Mojo Working,” a doe-eyed nineteen-year-old in a cable-knit sweater. “In general terms, Mick wasn’t a good singer then, just as he isn’t a good singer now,” Korner said “[But he] had this tremendous personal charisma—which is what the blues is about, more than technique.”

Mick’s first press clipping alarmed his parents. “I remember his mother ringing me up one night and saying, ‘We’ve always felt that Mick was the least talented member of the family, do you really think he has a career in music?” said Korner. “I told her I didn’t think he could possibly fail.”

You grow your hair and neither shower nor shave, letting dirt accumulate, or roll in the mud in search of character, but scratch away that top layer and it’s clean underneath.

There is no progress—it never really got better than Elvis in 1956. Every band has to rediscover what’s already been discovered and forgotten. It’s a cycle: Elvis to Sedaka; Stones to Bee Gees; innocence to decadence.

Brian asked Paul Jones to sing, but Paul Jones said no, which, over time, turned him into the man who could have been Jagger. “I had two reasons for saying no,” he told me, “the main reason being that I thought it ridiculously optimistic to think we could make a living playing blues. The other is that I had a good job with a dance band, singing the hits of the day. It was a mistake, but life is nothing but a series of mistakes. At least mine have been colorful.”

The life you lead is dependent on when you were born.

At the time, it seemed like nothing more than a party. It’s what you do if you did not have to wake up, pay bills, or be anywhere. Only later did I realize that we’d actually been doing something important in that house—shifting from the lives our parents made for us to those we’d make for ourselves. I’m not a Masai warrior. I never went on a night ramble or a sacred hunt. Nor am I a Sioux from the Black Hills. No sweat lodge for me, no vision quest. I’m an American born in Illinois after World War II and before the Internet: my rite of passage was my sojourn on Cromwell Place in New Orleans, getting hammered, making vows, debauching my way to transcendence. Search the past of many Americans and you’ll find a version of that house, a place where they let themselves go, sought justice, and made promises they could never keep.

“It’s a lot easier to be like Keith than it is to be like Mick.”

There’s tremendous power in being first. In birth order, in the mysterious circle of fame. Being first means being free to invent and go it alone. Being in any place but first means riding the wake. It means being defined by comparison.

Lennon and McCartney were shocked by the squalor of the flat. Mick Jagger and Brian Jones were middle-class boys playing at being working class; they’d let themselves go in a special way known only to rich kids. The Beatles really were working class, sons and grandsons of the proletariat. It was a weird irony—how the Beatles were cleaned up and sold as respectful middle-class boys, while the Stones, raised to be all those things, were remade into just the sort of raffish characters the Beatles had been born to play.

What makes a work of art authentic? Why is an original painting more valuable than a perfect forgery? It’s the purpose that motivated the artist. Muddy Waters was motivated by the pain of his history—he turned misery into music; the Stones were motivated by Muddy Waters. No matter how good their music, it would always be secondhand, a fantasy of someone else’s existence.

The unknowability of Mick Jagger; who is not understood because he does not want to be understood; who gives only what needs to be given; who has mastered the pro athlete’s trick of answering everything while saying nothing. Mystery is power. Distance is charisma. You want to peg him and walk away but can’t, so keep listening forever. It’s a paradox. Mick Jagger is overexposed and yet remains hidden. He’s among the most famous people in the world, but who is he really?

The Stones were stunned by the South. Nineteen sixty-four was Freedom Summer, when volunteers traveled en masse to register black voters in Mississippi. There was tension in the towns, hatred in the air. On June 21, three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, vanished near Philadelphia, Mississippi. In August their bodies were found; they’d been shot and buried in a shallow grave. “New York was wonderful [in 1964],” Jagger said. “L.A. was kind of interesting. But outside that…we found it the most repressive society. Very prejudiced. In every way there was still segregation. And the attitudes were fantastically old fashioned. Americans shocked me by their behavior and narrow-mindedness.

In the commercial world, there are generally two of everything. It’s either/or, the dialectic of consumerism. Pepsi or Coke, Marlboro or Kool. It was not going to be the Kinks, nor the Who, nor the Dave Clark Five. From the release of “Satisfaction” to the entrance of Yoko Ono, rock’n’roll was going to either be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

The fire that lit early rock’n’roll and passed like a torch from Buddy Holly to the Beatles, from the Stones to the Clash, had gone out by the late 1990s. I suppose it had to do with the internet, computers, and video games, all those immaterial worlds. The energy that powered music scenes in Chicago and Detroit and Alabama and London has moved to Silicon Valley.

Music is still being made, of course. The best bands are as proficient as ever. The best songs still rock. But the underlying belief is gone. No one thinks music will change the world, or wants it to. It’s like a lot of religion. People fill churches, though less out of fear and trembling than out of habit. We do it because our parents did it. We do it because it’s what we’ve always done. As we still stand in bars listening to bands. Because it’s fun, not because we believe in it or think it will give meaning to our lives.

I took the number 9 subway to midtown Manhattan, swaying in the dim light as I stared at my reflection in the window. I was young, but I’d been younger. I was not old, but I was getting older. You’re twenty-two. Then you’re twenty-four. When you turn twenty-six, you realize you’ll never turn twenty-five again. This train travels in one direction only. At the amusement park, they put you in the car and you believe you are steering until you lift your hands and understand you’ve been on a track the entire time. It does not matter what you do. The friends you have, the music you love, the schools that made a difference—all of it because your parents chose this town instead of that town, this street instead of that street.

The Stones have grown beyond their ideal proportions, become too big for the good of their music.

To people who tell me they don’t get the Stones, who say, “I went to the Meadowlands show and liked some of the stuff, but…” I say, “You’ve never seen the Stones. That band exists only in a bar after you’ve had three drinks, and Charlie has gotten loose, and Keith has found the groove, and Mick has remembered who he really is.”

I do love Keith. He stands for survival. He can teach you how to remain dignified in a fallen age. Mick? Who can be Mick? Mick is Elvis in a gold jacket. Mich is Michael Jackson moonwalking across time. One in a million, a freak of nature. Can’t be copied, can only be enjoyed. But Keith? If you live long enough, and maintain an even strain, and focus all your passion, then, maybe, at the very end… I suppose, in a sense, I really do want to have his baby.

“We were actually trying to do something by taking a few chemicals,” Keith explained. “Everybody at that point was prepared to use himself as a sort of laboratory, to find some way out of this mess. It was very idealistic and very destructive at the same time.”

This where my generation, Generation X, parts company with the baby boomers. They ruined drugs, as they ruined Frye boots and bell-bottoms. We never shared their dream of opening the doors of perception, or touching the face of God. Because of them, enlightenment seemed like bullshit. All that remained was the high. With their embarrassing enthusiasm, they turned everything into a joke. They ate a fruit and left the peel, smoked the pot and left the resin, swallowed the epiphanies and left the reality. When it was our time, they scolded us, saying that it was too dangerous—you’d have to be a moron to try it. About their own youthful behavior, they’d say, We didn’t know then what we know now. By the time we came along, everything was banned, feared, and covered in protective foam, but can you imagine how fun LSD must have been in 1964 when it was legal?

What makes an LSD song?

The lyric, of course, but also the minutiae, weird effects cooked up in the studio, Eastern instruments, trippy bells, pennywhistles, bouncing balls, and bits of code written for the whacked-out close listener perfectly prepared to play the record in reverse. The main action is between musician and chemistry. It sounds terrific when you’re high, but it ages like a blacklight poster. One does well to consider Keith Richard’s distinction between “druggy songs” and “songs about drugs.” The Beatles wrote druggy songs. The Stones wrote songs about drugs. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” from Revolver, 1966, is the Beatles’ “LSD masterpiece.” John Lennon said it was inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I defy anyone to listen to it while jogging, or writing a book. It’s less a song than relic, proof of a strange mood that overtook millions.

Psychedelia was a closed loop. It led only back to itself. John Lennon said he dropped more than a thousand hits of LSD, quitting only when his body became immune. He said acid had destroyed his creativity. For years, convinced of his unpersonhood, he couldn’t write. For what is a more audacious expression of ego than imposing your will upon language? He was one of a legion of trippers who did not make it all the way back. When I asked Paul Jones about LSD, he talked about the ruins, all the damaged kids who, as if at the end of a blaze, stood gutted and hollow.

I could fill pages with trippy Jagger quotes, but I won’t because I recall things I said in my twenties that still make me burn with shame.

Each Stone reacted to the drug in his own way. Whereas Mick became a hippie king, Keith entered the cloud where, in a sense, he’d spend the rest of his life. Look at pictures of Richards taken before 1966. His eyes are clear and sharp, his face is drawn in simple lines. Now look at pictures of him taken in ’69, ’75, ’97. It’s the same guy, but the look is foggy and unfocused. Something has been lost, but, weirdly, something has been gained. By the seventies, he is wizened, tolerant. The Buddha pre- and postenlightenment. He dropped acid under the bodhi tree. He levitated as he meditated on Muddy and Wolf. In short, drugs are bad for everyone but Keith Richards, whom them almost killed but enriched instead.

American rock stars aspire to immortality. They want to be James Dean and die beautifully. British rock stars aspire to aristocracy. They want to acquire titles and houses with names. As the stars of the British blues boom became rich, the story shifted from city streets to vast estates, where many set themselves up like the Sun King at Versailles.

“We are not old men,” said Keith. “We’re not worried about petty morals.”

Until that moment, “the Stones” had meant Mick and Brian. By expressing the sentiment of his generation—old versus young—Keith changed that. It was the bust and the trial that gave him his identity, the pirate scowl and burned-out patois. Redlands turned Keith into Keef, a stand-in for all the death-courting hippies.

“There’s not much difference between a [prison] cell and a hotel room in Minnesota,” he explained, “and I do my best thinking in places without distractions.”

When you’re lost, go to the place where you started and begin again.

“He wasn’t showing up [at sessions],” Charlie said. “And you know what happens when people don’t show up—you do without them. And then when you do without them, suddenly they’re not needed.”

Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, told me about his own search for the originator, the great player who’d invented it all—but no matter how far back he went, he was sent back still further, to a lost master who can never be found. In short, while admiring Ry Cooder, I consider his beef with Keith Richards bullshit. Forget the fact that open G had been around for years—if Richards stole the sound from Ry Cooder, why don’t Ry Cooder songs sound anything like the Stones? Why aren’t they nearly as evocative, menacing? It gets at a deep unfairness: all the skill in the world does not add up to genius. Ry Cooder is a technically better player than Keith Richards, was goofing with open G first, and was after some of the same effects, but he did not have that same artistic soul. Spanish poets call it duende, that mysterious thing that can turn the work of even a semiliterate artist into a masterpiece.

If you’re overcome by a desire to live in a fairy tale, you might be in trouble.

I wonder if Brian lingered beside the pool on his first visit. Borges says we pass our grave every day without knowing it.

“They’d reached that point where they realized Brian was just a hopeless catatonic,” Sam Cutler told me. “He was one of those people like Syd [Barret] in Pink Floyd, and a few others in the music business, who thought the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. When you’ve got someone who’s totally gone like that, it’s cut ’em loose or die with ’em.”

The Stones had been shedding people from the start. Use ’em up, toss ’em aside, move on. It’s a machine that runs on bodies. Brian Jones was simply the grandest goat yet sacrificed to insatiable Pan—who has thick lips, and loose limbs, and slouches. There’s something monstrous about Mick Jagger. Forget Keith; Keith is a trance-ridden melody. Forget Charlie; Charlie is a mercenary, having chosen success over jazz. Forget Bill; Bill is the back line. When you talk about the brain of the Stones, you’re talking about Mick, who’s always operated with a cruel edge that bleeds into the music. You see it in the remorseless way the Stones have continued decade after decade. Everyone I ask to explain this longevity gave the same answer: Mick Jagger. His will, determination, and intelligence. What is the quality that allows Mick to operate with such lack of sentiment? Is it ambition, or something more?

Once upon a time, Mick Jagger’s drive and the effect it had on people were associated with evil, which is why songs like “Paint It Black” and “Sympathy for the Devil” went over so seamlessly. They confirmed what we already knew: Mick is Lucifer. But that’s wrong. Mick is not Lucifer. He’s showbiz, a pop version of the classic Hollywood diva, for whom the show must always go on, for whom obscurity is even more terrifying than death. It’s a special kind of charisma that generates tremendous light but little heat. People crave that light but get no sustenance from it. It destroys them. Life with Mick is life astride a black hole. Time accelerates. Two years ages you immeasurably. Yet none of it touches him. Because no one else matters. He’s the ego that became the world. He stands before millions but the millions don’t exist. At the center of the universe, Mick Jagger dances alone.

Despite the Stones’ popularity, they did not count as official news. The Eisenhower elite were still in charge. The rock star deaths of the 1960s were covered in the way that hip-hop deaths were covered in the 1990s—a shame, but what do you expect?

Of course, the old axiom holds: If you want to find a killer, look for the person with motive. In fact, the only person with a reason to kill Brian Jones was Brian Jones. Sad, unhealthy, overweight, addicted, discarded, done. I’m not saying that he committed suicide. I’m saying that he put himself in a position where he could easily die.

Life is what you do but also what you miss.

I asked if she’d learned anything she could share with the rest of us. “You’ve had pretty much every experience a person can have.”

“No one can really be told anything,” she said. “Everyone has to go through it themselves. But, just to be kind, I’ll give you my motto: ‘Never let the buggers grind you down.”

Art is not linear; it’s circular. As artist does not improve, nor progress. He simply rides the wheel, waiting for the clouds to break and the sun to appear.

At Altamont, the spectators were beaten by the Stones’ own security—the band had loosed the furies on its own fans. What’s more, as the violence, which seemed to grow directly out of the music, took over, Mick Jagger was revealed as overmatched, powerless. “Menace is most effective when its limits are not known,” George Trow wrote in The New Yorker in 1978. “Jagger’s ‘demonic’ persona was not enhanced by the death at Altamont, as some people supposed; it was destroyed. In the face of one man’s real death, Jagger’s ‘demonic’ posture was shown to be merely perverse.

The Stones are a story that I’ve studied all my life. I’ve studied it as the ancients studied war. It’s my Hemingway, Dickens, Homer. I’ve studied it in books, on vinyl, and up close. Yet it keeps surprising me. There’s always something strange and new.

Like everything with the Stones, history gives way to legend wherever the pavement meets the open fields.

I loved standing in the wings, watching the seats fill. I was fascinated by the crowds. When I went to see the Stones in the 1980s, everyone was footloose and young. Now everyone was old, clean, prosperous. The transaction was obvious: they paid for a ticket and got nostalgia in return. Everything had been tamed, corralled, controlled. No more general seating, with its crush in front of the stage; no more barely surviving the mosh pit. Affluence had replaced urgency. This was rock’n’roll behind a velvet rope.

I’ve always admired Mick; for the first time, I sympathized with him. He’s always been defined by sex and satisfaction—youth. He’s now reached the far shore of that country. An old man defined by sex is a strange thing.

Yet Keith still carries on in the old spirit, with the old joy. Once, when I asked a rapper what Lyor Cohen, one of the first executive of Def Jam Records, was like, he said, “Lyor is old and white but he’s so fucking gangster—doing it like it needs doing, doing it like it’s got to be done.” To me, that’s Keith. No matter how old, beat up, or infirm, he’s still so fucking gangster, doing it like it needs doing, doing it like it’s got to be done.

If you’re a writer, your life and what happened to you are basically all that you have. My time with the Stones was a signal event. I never got tired of thinking about it.

yet the key facts remain: Mick and Keith were confined and forced to produce. They were not natural-born songwriters, but original composition was the order of the day—they came to it by necessity and hard work.

I was working on my own general philosophy of a hit. Simply put, I believed that nothing can get going without a hit. In this way, the career of the Stones was made possible only by “Satisfaction,” as the career of the United States was made possible only by the U.S. Constitution, which was one of the greatest hits of all time.

The Internet has remade certain aspects of reporting. You used to have to hustle for the smallest scrap of information. I’m talking press conferences, microfiche. It would now be possible to research an entire book without leaving your room.

I reread The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. What a great book, filled with echoes and portents. I began to see hints of it all over the Stones. Good books have a way of bleeding into the rest of life. For example, I could not read Bulgakov’s description of the devil without thinking of Jagger: “Two eyes bored into Margarita’s face. The right eye had a gold spark deep in its center and could pierce a soul to its depths; the left eye was vacant and black, like the narrow eye of a needle like the entrance to a bottomless well of darkness and shadow.”

The backlash against the Stones at Altamont was led, surprisingly, by Rolling Stone magazine. Ralph Gleason, who founded the magazine with Jann Wenner, described the motivation this way: “We either go out of business right now or else cover Altamont like it was World War II.”

The older i get, the more aware I become that a person is little more than a memory machine. You just keep vacuuming them up. What do you do with all this detritus, all these fading hotel rooms? You write a book.

There are three questions a writer has to answer. What happened? That the first, the easiest. A lot of people can give you that. The others are more precious, strange. What did it feel like? What did it mean?


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