Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin.
The cover for Paul Trynka’s new Brian Jones biography shows the striped-sweatered subject uncharacteristically sticking his tongue out as he ponders his guitar neck. Actually, the photo, from John “Hoppy” Hopkins, show a uncharacteristic Jones on at least three counts—the tongue, the bumblebee-striped sweater, and Jones’ back to the audience, visible in soft-focus as a series of soft faces. Legend would have Brian Jones, of course, up front, staring down those softheads, stepping up to the stage lip and then imperiously pulling back like a sly shark in its tank.
But the legend is not the man. And even through the man’s mysteries, lies, omissions, vanities, and failures, Trynka follows. He cannot shed a definitive light on a man who lived in darkness—no surprise. The author relishes setting the record straight on several points—Jones as the pioneer of the Stones’ trademark open G tuning, the non-presence of Mick Avory at that legendary first gig—that Keith Richards laid down, apparently erroneously, in his own book, Life.
The corrections feel peevish and triumphant, aside from factual value. Stephen Davis called his own Stones bio Old Gods Nearly Dead—and published it thirteen years ago—but anyone can step up to take a swing at having the last word. There is no last word until no one cares – and don’t set an alarm. We’ll be arguing over the myth, and how the myth differs from the story, at least until every god is in the grave.
To bolster the story (not necessarily the myth), Trynka brings out what made Jones the musician he was, especially during the pre- and early-Stones eras. The man who took such pleasure in teasing the front row secretly worshipped Freddie Green, stalwart to the Count Basie rhythm section, a man who almost never soloed but often changed chords every beat, a man who commented that the guitarist should lend chordal flavor to the drums so that the hi-hat should have a key unto itself. Beneath outrage, beneath songs of sex, beneath the flashpoint that made them millionaires, the boy from Cheltenham sat scheming. Tonal colors and flavors pressed against the inside of his head, and he turned on those faucets with his fingers.
The Stones fill our heads, now, nasty and unrepentant. And they were always nasty behind the scenes, too—turning their fecund bad attitude into glory, reminding us of our own demons all the way. In a better world they might be against the law, but in a better world they wouldn’t have their appeal as our gods, or as our personal outlets (the most Stones-hating man I’ve ever known was also the most hateful man I’ve ever known). The story is more complicated and richer, than the myth. That explains Jones with his tongue stuck out and back turned—he doesn’t want the house to see him sweat. And while it’s fancy, I fancy him thinking of Freddie Green.