The Rolling Stones
Available on DVD from December 26th.
Given the band’s history and the way it tenaciously clings to the claim of being ‘the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band’ it is difficult to understand why the Rolling Stones’ legacy is consistently treated so shabbily and cynically.
The latest compilation album release is a case in point. With two new songs recently recorded in Paris using producer Don Was and tacked onto yet another greatest hits package, in various configurations, they want to entice fans to once more buy what they already have. (It does not even coincide with the 50th anniversary of the group’s first gig, which was in July).
Similarly, this documentary designed to celebrate 50 years is merely a cursory look at the group’s history. While attempting to perpetuate the myth of ‘rebels with a cause’ it falls short on historical detail to a surprising degree.
Using recent interviews with all of the ‘official’ members, including Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor, it is not exactly an attempt to rewrite history in the way that Paul McCartney seems to have done over the years but it is certainly an attempt to cherry pick the ‘glamorous’ aspects while disregarding a lot of the detail that would make the story even more interesting in the retelling. (Taylor says that the reason he left the band was because of the drugs and his wish to survive and there is no mention of song writing credits!)
It is infuriating for long-time fans that there is absolutely no reference to pianist Ian Stewart who was not only a founding member of the band (and later deemed by Loog Oldham not good-looking enough to be an official member) but also long-time contributor and friend. This is a shocking oversight.
Consider that Mick Jagger is the film’s producer and the three other Stones are executive producers and you wonder how much creative control Director Brett Morgen had anyway? Perhaps this is the reason that there is an almost Dorian Gray-like screen presence for the musicians: the story here ends in the early ‘80s before Richards’ face began to resemble a gnarled tree trunk.
Of course, there is the inevitable problem of trying to re-tell a story heard previously so many times. It is difficult to top the images seen in Gimme Shelter, the Maysles scary film of the 1969 tour culminating in Altamont, Robert Frank’s warts and all 1972 tour record Cocksucker Blues or even Stones In Exile about the time recording their most lauded album in the South of France.
What Crossfire Hurricane captures best is the rebellious image of the Stones as the anti-Beatles – an image that was carefully created and nurtured by Andrew Loog Oldham. There is footage of the riots created in the band’s wake and the reaction from frenzied fans. At least one perceptive reporter points out that Jagger and Richards had both been to good schools and hints at the myth-making in progress.
It is most surprising, given the image, that there is no footage of the famous Ed Sullivan Show appearance where Jagger was forced to change the lyrics to ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ and sing ‘let’s spend some time together’ for the sensitive American television audiences. Though maybe his willingness to change, unlike The Doors, was not rebellious at all. Then there is omission of television footage featuring the group with Muddy Waters, who they insisted should join them.
However, the band members did look great and had a swagger and attitude that separated them from all the other ‘pop’ bands at the time. Jagger’s upper-class accent and often thoughtful answers suggested that there was a lot more beneath the surface. Some of the press conferences are hilarious, especially when Charlie is asked a question.
Jagger and Richards escaped gaol in the famous ‘Redlands’ trial – though there is no mention of William Rees-Mogg’s ‘Butterfly On A Wheel ‘ editorial in The Times – but Brian Jones paid the ultimate price. It is Jones who emerges as the most tragic figure through his decline and eventual sacking and he elicits the responses that come closest to genuinely revealing how the band members felt at the time.
That bad boy persona helped to create the frenzy around the group and later the sense of malevolence that culminated in a murder at their Altamont concert.
Attempting to fuel myth rather than fact, the film tries to suggest that this murder took place during the performance of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ when, in fact, as the Maysles film shows it was during ‘Under My Thumb.’ But using the former song makes it seem even more dramatic, doesn’t it? (Similarly, later there is no mention of the blind girl who pleaded to the judge on Richards’ behalf after his Canadian bust for heroin possession).
After the flight from England to France in the early ‘70s – attributed to tax reasons – the group recorded its piece de resistance in Exile On Main Street, fuelled by Keith’s drug addiction. (In fact, the group had ended the ‘60s broke, due to a variety of unsatisfactory record deals and had to start over again).
Having established the ‘bad boy’ credentials of the group through its most productive era – the ‘60s and ‘70s – the film ends abruptly with Jagger noting that the band had gone from being reviled to being adored.
For some reason, the final footage is taken from Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light film as to suggest that nothing of importance happened in the preceding 30 years. There is nothing about the continual conflict between Jagger and Richards (further fuelled by Keith’s autobiography) and nothing about how they recruited the current backing band, re-tooled the stadium shows and undertook some of the biggest selling tours in history. Even the story about the business side of things would be fascinating.
Crossfire Hurricane is in essence a vanity piece, the equivalent of a coffee table book. It can be enjoyed for the glimpse it gives of a band in their prime but, hopefully, there will be something more substantial in future to celebrate the legacy.