Classic Rock Review

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A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (1974)


Review Greenfield also wrote a book about the Stones’ Exile on Main Street sessions, a flawed tome about a fascinating moment in rock `n’ roll history (perhaps the most fascinating). And while that book has been derided and mocked somewhat, I somehow learned more about the Stones in it than I did in this book, which I had high hopes for but which ultimately disappointed me with its shapelessness and its many, many “who cares moments”.

The book hardly features the Stones, going more into the setup of touring, the mechanics of it, the madness, the insanity, the transportation and some of the parties. In this way, it’s a bit like some sort of nutty rock `n’ roll staging Apocalypse Now, complete with its very own new journalism McGuffin. There are a few incidents recounted, such as a scuffle with a photographer and an arrest in Rhode Island as Boston burns (the book’s most dramatic, feel-good moment). There’s the opening of the tour in Vancouver, the dates in San Francisco and hanging out with Bill Graham (who Greenfield has also written a biography of), there’s encounters with kids queuing up to buy tickets and girls like Cynthia and Jo-Ann, who are hitch hiking between shows; there’s the boredom and insanity of being in the middle of nowhere and there’s groupies like Renee being set up for the risque parts of the film that Robert Frank is making during the tour – hey, he gets as much screen time as any of the other principals. Greenfield quotes Charles Bukowski, on Mick Jagger, in the LA Free Press:

He tried. And he was wonderful. He spilled more blood on that floor than a five thousand-man army but he didn’t make it. He’d been tricked into acceptance… He was tired. He was too much money in. He was too famous. He sucked at the crowd He tried to remember how it was when he first worked it. How it was when he was really and purely real…

The book mistakenly notes that Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham had forced Bill Wyman to change his name from Bill Perks, I remember him saying in his autobiography that he’d done this on his own even before he joined the Rolling Stones. Nice interviews with Charlie Watts. Not much about Mick Taylor, who is still a mystery man. Printing goof-up on P137.

Transporting the Stones to parties, moving from city to city, getting stuck in traffic, all the mundanities of being on tour. Great description of life at Hugh Hefner’s Mansion in Chicago, including a reproduction of memos to the bunnies. Funny Truman Capote anecdotes (“They’re complete idiots… Intuition tells me they’ll never tour this country again, and in fact will not exist in three years.”), since he was there as a writer (although he decided later not to write the story he was preparing), Terry Southern also. Nice anecdotes with Bobby Keys about his days working with Buddy Holly, Bobby Vee, and Delaney and Bonnie. Greenfield describes a cool Keys anecdote of his days on the road with Vee, rehearsing in Moorhead, Minnesota:

This kid came in, asking for a gig as a piano player. He said his name was Eldon Gunn and he liked playing Hank Williams’ stuff. Everyone in the wand was into wide silk ties, high collar shirts, and Aqua-Net to keep their James Dean hairdos in place, and the kid just didn’t fit. So they told him to go home and practice some more and come back when your act’s together, and instead he went to New York and became a folksinger by the name of Bob Dylan.

There are also tales of real fear as the band gets their equipment dynamited in Montreal (four times!), and Jagger is terrified of being assassinated, either by Hell’s Angels still brimming over the Stones’ betrayal at Altamont or by Manson Family crazies. What a life, man, what a life, and the Stones have been doing this fifty years this year!!!

Review Some people, I swear. I’m getting not helpful reviews because I point out this guy’s very weak skills as an author and his pathetic research that yielded numerous factual errors? go figure. The book is crap and doesn’t even deserve 4 stars. Make it 2.

Greenfield’s first book on the Rolling Stones chronicling their North American tour of 1972 is far better than his recent “Exile On Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones”. I enjoyed the style of writing and the bird’s eye view of things that went on during the tour. I knew that the Stones’ touring party was typically fairly depraved but I really had no idea of the extent of that depravity. I hate to be all PC and all that but young women (girls really) were treated as something to use and throw away. There are several accounts of young women who, while not part of the Stones Touring Party, were highly visible throughout the tour, used up for sordid entertainment, allowed themselves to be completely humiliated without even realizing it (the airplane film incident), and discarded like garbage. It’s very sad the things that some of these young women did in order to be near that glittering star. I wonder how they feel today? Everything had to be cleared by Jagger and Richards, these two men have much to atone for, really.

There are some really dumb and glaring mistakes and that fact that this is a second edition publication make them unforgivable really:

For example, on page 115 Greenfield tells us about how a young Mick Taylor took Eric Clapton’s place in Mayall’s Blues Breakers. Greenfield must have smoked an awful lot of dope in his day. Anyone who knows anything about the music of that era knows that Peter Green (who went on to found the original Fleetwood Mac) replaced Clapton. Mick Taylor replaced Peter Green. Duh? That’s rock-guitar history/appreciation 101 and Greenfield gets a big fat “F”

On page 117 Greenfield mentions men in Denver washing their cars in the drive way and wondering what kind of season the Denver Bears were going to have… What? While it is true that in the late 50’s and very early 60’s Denver did have a semi-pro football team called the Denver Bears (almost no one in Denver remembers this), by 1972, Bronco mania had long taken hold in Denver (I was there). The Broncos were just a couple of years shy of their first appearance in a string of many very disappointing Superbowl performances (thank God they got that monkey of their backs).

Didn’t this guy have an editor? Who proofed this darn thing? Presumably a member of the Stones Touring Party who was just as stoned as everyone else. Again, this is a second edition boys and girls. Mistakes like the two cited above are good examples of shoddy authorship and editing. Maybe some writing course will use them as examples.

Those two mistakes are glaring and it leaves me wondering about how many not so glaring mistakes this book also contains.

May 5, 2013 Posted by | Book A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield | , | Leave a comment