Friday, February 02, 2007

Literature: S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield

The recent publishing of Robert Greenfield’s Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones warrants a reconsideration of his previous book on the subject of the Rolling Stones, S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones. Chronicling the Rolling Stones 1972 U.S. Tour, S.T.P. (Stones Touring Party) was originally published in 1974, experienced and written while still close to the source. The tour was undertaken in support of the recently released Exile on Main Street.

Chronologically, S.T.P. occurs three years after Stanley Booth’s account of the controversial 1969 World Tour The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, roughly buffeted between the drowning death of Brian Jones in July 3, 1969 and the murder of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert, December 6, 1969. Discographically, the period in Booth’s account encompasses the releases of Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, and the recording of Get Yer Ya Yas Out and Sticky Fingers. There was no formal would tour to promote Stick Fingers and its production overlapped that of both Let it Bleed and Exile setting up the 1972 tour. Reportage-wise there is no account for 1970 through ’72. That is until Greenfield’s new Exile.

S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones is an account of what many consider the greatest Rock and Roll Tour in history. A bit of hyperbole, to be sure, but I suspect that it was the Rolling Stones, swaggering into their decade, which set the tone for Rock and Roll excess. Exile on Main Street was released on May 12, 1972. Rehearsals for the tour took place in Dallas, Texas. The tour began June 3, 1972 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver British Columbia and officially ended July 26, 1972 in at Madison Square Garden in New York City. There were 48 shows between these dates and added American concert dates.

Greenfield begins S.T.P. where Booth leaves off with The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, at Altamont. He details the Stones preparations for the tour and revels in the excess of the tour itself. Greenfield relies mostly on interviews and his writing largely lacks the immediacy Stanley Booth had actually traveling with the band. But, alas we have no better guide and like Holy Scripture, how else can a myth be born? While the Rolling Stones were at their “elegantly wasted best” during the 1972 appearances, they were more controlled than in the 1969 set of concerts. During that tour, the band was feral, slashing through shows, some brilliant some utter trash. Bootleg live recordings from the period bear this out. On any given night, the Stones could create the most primal and essential music and the next night they would play like a sloppy drunk garage band standing in their vomit. The band perfected its hedonism.

By 1972, much was the same, but much had changed. The band ran a bit tighter ship. The true star of the shows was the Exile material. “Rocks Off,” “Happy,” “Down the Line,” “Tumblin’ Dice,” and “Sweet Virginia” were all performed live to great acclaim. Exile on Main Street was released amid what could only be considered a futuristic promotional process. The Stones were tax exiles in the South of France where, at the Villa Nellcote rented by Keith Richards, the band created perhaps the masterpiece of Rock music. It was not view so at the time, but then again time provides the hind sight to consider such things.

Greenfield’s account is close to the source while not being in the middle of it. The author has been taken to task by critics for having relied on too many second and third sources. This is perhaps best as those summer months in 1972 were spent in a warm heroin haze that has taken on a faded color photograph tone over the past 35 years. In a myth, the circumstances need not have happened to nevertheless be true.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007