The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones is Stanley Booth’s account of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour. Keith Richards said, “Stanley Booth’s book is the only one I can read and say, ‘Yeah, that’s how it was.’ Stanley is a lovely guy–he’s got an eye. That book took longer to write than the Bible.”
We’ve got a Stanley Booth two-fer today, starting with this excerpt from The True Adventures. Here’s Booth on the Stones at Madison Square Garden.
I went down the hall to the Stones’ dressing room, where for a moment I was alone with the concrete block walls and hard benches. I heard voices and in came the Stones with Jimi Hendrix. They were followed by the Maysles brothers, tape and film rolling.
Jagger took off his shirt and walked around; Albert followed him, filming. Mick Taylor and I sat on a bench with Hendrix, who seemed subdued but pleasant. I told him about seeing Little Richard, and he said, smiling as if it cheered him up to think about it, that once when he was with Richard, he and the bass player bought ruffled shirts to wear onstage, and Richard made them change: “I am the beauty! Nobody spoze to wear ruffles but Richard!”
Mick Taylor handed his guitar to Hendrix and asked him to play. “Oh, I can’t,” he said. “I have to string it different.” Hendrix was left-handed, but he went ahead and played the guitar upside down, a wizard he was.
As Hendrix played I went into the bathroom, where Jagger was putting mascara on his lashes. Hendrix had tried to take Marianne Faithfull away from Mick, who wasn’t about to stand around and listen to him play, upside-down or sideways. I told him about my afternoon with Wexler. He seemed distracted, I figured because he was about to go onstage. I didn’t know that in the distance a black girl was telling him she was going to have his baby, and a blond girl (who two weeks ago had been threatening to join the tour) was telling him goodbye. Back at the Plaza in a few hours, Jo would write in her notebook, “Tried talk Mick imposs—concert fantastic—Mick better but must keep his mind on necessary things.” He listened politely, or appeared to, till I finished talking about Atlantic and the Magrittes; then, with the Stones changing into their stage drag, I went out to see the show.
In the hall I saw another of the next year’s ghosts, Janis Joplin, heading for the Stones’ dressing room. Because I’d heard that something I had written about her had made her angry, I avoided her. The next day, when I came into the Garden for the afternoon show, Bill Belmont told me that Janis, being stopped at the Stones’ door—because, as nobody got a chance to tell her, they were mostly naked—stuck her head in and gave the middle-finger salute to what must have been a surprised bunch of Rolling Stones. I think she was drunk, not an unusual state for her. Later tonight, when Jagger, onstage, sang “Don’t you want to live with me?” Janis would yell, “You don’t have the balls!”
It was cold in the Garden, under the high arches and giant mushroom spines. Terry Reid and B. B. King had already played and Tina Turner was onstage singing the Otis Redding song, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” her sleek red beauty shimmering in a black dress, back arched, legs bowed, one arm thrust out, testifying as she had been for years to drunks in juke joints and cuttin’ parlors. Ike was standing back from the spotlight, small and black and nasty, eyeballs glowing under his shiny processed Beatie cut, chopping chords as if in anger. This afternoon Wexler, who often saw the Turners when they were in New York, said, “He’s really got the fear of God in her.” As you watched them, you couldn’t help wondering if Mother Nature were married to the Devil.
Tina sang “Respect” and “Come Together,” eyes bleached out in the spotlight, her pupils swimming white slits. When the band geared up for “Land of 1000 Dances,” Janis Joplin stepped onto the rear of the stage, stomping with delight, and Tina called her to the front.
Janis looked for once in her life completely happy; it was plain that she would love to nose around in Tina’s crotch all night long. “Roll over on your back—y’know I like it like that,” they sang together, Ike’s guitar whipping them, and Janis pulled off her little crocheted cap and threw it into the air.
After Tina and Janis finished there was a delay during which the audience had contact flashes from what they had seen and the recording equipment was prepared for the Stones. How can they follow this, I asked myself, as I did at almost every show. After watching Tina in Oakland, Mick had said that he wasn’t cocky anymore; but he was still following her. I went backstage, and Mick was wandering among the Coke bottles and folding chairs, looking rather lost and forlorn. The others kept their distance. He was about to be consumed, and there was a reverent silence between them. With his blue-beaded moccasins and black pants with silver leg buttons (only back here you can see they’re not silver, just shiny in the spotlight), little black jersey, his scarf dragging, hair hanging limp, chin slumped over gold-medallioned choker, Uncle Sam hat in hand, Mick seemed not bored but not comfortable, making little sounds under his breath as if to say, What a dumb thing this is, waiting.
As time passed and nothing happened, I went out front again into the smoky darkness. No one seemed to mind the wait. “Ain’t nothin’ any good without it has some grease on it,” Tina (the former Annie Mae Bullock, of Brownsville, Tennessee) had said, and she and Janis had left the audience greased and pleased. There were guards, but they weren’t wearing togas, and the few police didn’t seem intent on ruining a good time. The atmosphere was, if not relaxed, at least secure-perhaps because we were on an island in a giant tin can, concrete and metal shell, and no apparent threat to anybody.
Stu, walking across the stage to check a microphone, dressed in his pale-yellow tuxedo with shiny satin lapels, caused a ripple of applause, which he answered with a V-sign—very satirical, Stu. Then the stage was deserted and out of the stillness a disembodied cockney voice mused, “Everyone seems to be ready, are you ready?”
Yesss, the crowd answered in a snow-slide’s whisper-roar, Yesss.
“For the first time in three years,” Sam Cutler said, getting louder, “the greatest rock and roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones!”
The big yellow-blue-white spot bleached out Jagger as he came onstage, twirling overhead his Uncle Sam hat, not smiling, gaze fixed on fate. In a breathless rush of silence the Stones came out, Charlie settling onto the drums, the others, quick and businesslike, plugging their guitars into the amplifiers, twisting dials, setting levels, until Keith hit the opening chords of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Mick started to howl about being born in a crossfire hurricane, and the kids all stood up and screamed. Glyn Johns stopped me in the corridor at the Plaza the next day to say that he had been backstage in a sound truck and the truck was jumping on its springs. “So I got out to see who was shaking it—I thought there might be some kids on top of it—but there was nobody there, the truck was just picking up the vibrations from the house, the whole bloody building was shaking.”
As “Jack Flash” ended, Mick, buttoning his trousers, said by way of greeting, “Think I busted a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down. You don’t want me trousers to fall down, now do ya?”
Yesss, the crowd answered, as Keith started “Carol,” standing beside Mick in the spotlight, surrounded by a glimmering halo of rhinestones on his Nudie shirt.
“We are making our own statement,” Brian had said in one of the interviews the publicity office arranged to keep him from feeling left out. “Others are making more intellectual ones.”
What message would you get if you were fifteen years old, standing in a cloud of marijuana smoke inside a crowded, cavernous hall, face reflecting the red and blue and yellow lights, watching Charlie hit the drums as hard as he was able, Bill slide his tiny hands over the skinny neck of his erect light-blue bass causing a sound like booming thunder, little Mick stare with wide eyes as if he were hearing an earthquake’s faint premonitory quiverings, Keith bend over his guitar like a bird of prey, Jagger swoop and glide like some faggot vampire banshee, all of them elevated and illuminated and larger and louder than life? A few years later, a New Yorker writer would observe, “The Stones present a theatrical-musical performance that has no equal in our culture. Thousands and thousands of people go into a room and focus energy on one point and something happens. The group’s musicianship is of a high order, but listening to Mick Jagger is not like listening to Jascha Heifetz. Mick Jagger is coming in on more circuits than Jascha Heifetz. He is dealing in total, undefined sensual experience of the most ecstatic sort.”
By the time that was written, Mick had sung “Midnight Rambler” in pink top hat and tails; after Altamont, the Stones would for reasons of self-preservation turn toward comedy. But in 1969, few people at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day thought that what the Stones were doing was a performance.
The Stones had first come to the United States in 1964, fewer than six years before. They had done five U.S. tours in three years, then were stopped for almost three years. Since then they had become world-famous idols, outlaws, legends, relics, and one was now a corpse. They had been more than lucky to find a guitarist who was docile and played, though not as Brian once had, excellent bottleneck. One problem they’d had preparing to tour was choosing songs that Keith and Mick Taylor could play. Hence “Carol” and “Little Queenie,” Keith’s Chuck Berry specialties, and hence the difficulty Jagger had mentioned of getting the old things together. The old things had featured, as Stu said, “two guitar players that were like somebody’s right and left hand.”
The people inside Madison Square Garden on this Thanksgiving had, most of them, lived through a time of cold war, hot war, race riots, student riots, police riots, assassinations, rapes, murders, trials, waking nightmares. But Keith, Mick, Charlie, Bill, and the new guitar player were impersonating the Rolling Stones, and the audience were impersonating their audience, both of them at the moment a great success. Dancing under the circumstances (“Oh, Carol! Don’t ever steal your heart away—I’m gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night and day!”) seemed to have a transcendent value. Many people thought then that dancing and music could have a major role in changing the structure of society. They may have been naive, but they were much more interesting than the sensible people who came along later. The Stones would tour the United States every three years for a long time to come, and the value of dancing would never be less than transcendent, but at Woodstock, only a few months before and a few miles away, music had seemed to create an actual community. There was—at this time, for many members of this generation—a sense of power, of possibility, that after Altamont would not return.
Here’s a nice piece on Booth by John Scanlan (which features a link to this excellent article on Booth’s career by James Calemine).
Books by Stanley Booth:
The author pictured with Keith Richards.