Friday, February 02, 2007

Literature: Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell With the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield

“For those interested in reading abut the Rolling Stones’ journey through America in the summer of 1972…a book about that tour is still in print.”

What Robert Greenfield is referring to at the end of his new Stones tome, Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones is his previous one, S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones. Greenfield goes on to say:

“To be sure it reads nothing like this one.” That may be the understatement of the year.

Greenfield’s account of the circumstances surrounding Exile On Main St. and its recording at the Villa Nellcote is at best effete and at worst an incredible waste of time. Written as arrogant nostalgia, the author does nothing to illuminate the proceedings, only make them more shrouded in half remembered possibilities and partial truths. He only casts the sessions in a pseudo-romantic sepia tone of cheap French Impressionism disguised as elegantly wasted decadence. Relying wholly on interviews and past publications, including the group’s drug connection, Tony Sanchez’s perniciously yellow Up and Down With the Rolling Stones, Greenfield cobbles together a flawed narrative sounding like a drunk and verbose Truman Capote, down in his cups shortly before his death.

Perhaps the only clear truth contained in this book is what ego-centric miscreants Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg were. Genius or not, Keith Richards conducted everyone around him like a dysfunctional symphony, blissfully wasting everyone’s time and money. Through the looking glass, Greenfield casts Mick Jagger as instigating victim, Mick Taylor as androgynous innocent, and Bill Wyman as oversexed pederast. Gram Parsons comes off a pampered bumpkin savant toyed with by the rest of the entourage, while Stephen Stills is depicted as a course Texas Rube. Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones uses every device to propagate the myth of Rock aristocracy and the Romantic ideal of the artist (Keith Richards) as (anti)hero and does so with copious tired allusions to song lyrics that are just lame. The sum total is that this book is a bore.
Greenfield is not above playing academic as he takes on other authors by correcting their 30-year-old mistakes. On page 59, Greenfield chides:

“(Memo to Stephen Davis, author of Old Gods Almost Dead: the 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones: It was not, as your incorrectly wrote in your book, the ‘overweight, glamour-deprived Gram Parsons…It was Stephen Stills.’ Next Time you want to check a fact about the Stones, please feel free to call me in the office.)”

On the very next page, Rolling Stones expert Greenfield writes:

“In a week’s time when Sticky Fingers is released…Featuring classic songs like “Bitch,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Jumping Jack Flash…”

“Jumping Jack Flash?”

The last that this humble writer understood, “Jumping Jack Flash” was originally released as a single in 1968 during the preparation of Beggar’s Banquet, four years before, and never appearing on, the release of Sticky Fingers. That is a woeful gaff to make on the very page following a hissing diatribe against the same error by another author. But then again, I am sure that this was an editorial oversight on the part of Greenfield’s publisher, Da Capo Press.


Sadly, Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones is a historical disappointment that Greenfield dispatches as “Rock writing” versus “Rock criticism.” In that argument, Greenfield approaches closely the literary genera promoted by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, that is to say, fantastically fictional history. The greatest casualty here is the album itself. Exile On Main St., perhaps coupled with Sticky Fingers arguably represent the greatest output of Rock music ever. Arguably because there are Beatles fans, joined at the hip with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band who would beg to differ. The recording could have been better served and has been. I recommend the slim Continuum volume Exile on Main Street by Bill Janowitz.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007