Classic Rock Review

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The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth (1984)


“True Adventures” is a classic account of the end of the Sixties rock scene and the prime of the Rolling Stones.

Author Stanley Booth travelled with the Stones during their fateful 1969 US tour, when they had seemingly eclipsed the Beatles as the “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band,” and conducted interviews with the band and various friends and family members to gather material for the book. Booth provides a real day to day sense of what it was like to be with the Stones and their travelling party at the time, including the famous Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden that was the source of the highly regarded “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out” live release. Along with the music, there’s of course a lot of drugs and sex, and a overlying sense of exhaustion for most concerned.

The layout of the book alternates between an account of the 1969 US tour, culminating in the disastrous free concert at Altamount Speedway, and a description of the Stones’ history up to that point which gradually focuses in on Brian Jones’ problems and eventual death. A few short chapters describing the early scene at Altamount, before the concert started, are interspersed (including the opening chapter of the book), usually written in italics.

As others have pointed out, the book is not written in a traditional chronological narrative like most music biographies. It instead is written in a first person, stream of consciousness style which is very intense and condensed, similar to a novel. Even as someone who reads a lot, I found it helpful to not read more than a couple of chapters at a time. (In the meantime, I found a few internet interviews and articles on Booth which helped fill in some of his background and explain some of the brief references that probably otherwise would have slipped by.)

So, if like some of the other reviewers you are looking for a garden variety bio of the Stones that is easy to read, this book is not for you. Booth spent 15 years working on the book (well, with some drug bouts and other problems complicating things in the meantime…), and he obviously was trying to do more than just that. As Keith Richards said about the book, it took longer to write than the Bible. In Booth’s defense, the high quality of the book clearly reflects the amount of effort that he put into it, and in my opinion, the writing style suits the subject matter perfectly.

While some have objected to Booth putting himself in the book as a main character, I thought it was a great approach, similar to Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous.” Indeed, since both wrote for Rolling Stone magazine and Booth’s book predates Crowe’s work, I wonder even if “Almost Famous” may not have at least been partially inspired by Booth’s approach here.

The book’s two story lines eventually come together to conclude with the death of Brian Jones in the Summer of 1969 and the Altamount concert disaster near the end of that year. Booth’s account of the Altamount concert is vivid and nightmarish, even for readers who know from the start that this story is not going to end well. The Hell’s Angels were absolutely pounding anyone approaching their motorcycles or the stage, but many of the hippies, drawn by the music and wasted on drugs, could not seem to stop themselves from coming on into the Angels. It’s miraculous that only 1 person was killed by the Angels. Mick Jagger, who Booth clearly didn’t like and often comes off badly in the book, seems to be the only one in the band who recognized and reacted to the full extent of the problems once they took the stage. While Jagger’s recognition of the situation came far too late, he nevertheless admirably struggled to calm the huge crowd, to no avail. Having seen the Hells Angels up close and in action, Jagger would never again dabble in the satanic imagery he had previously used, nor would he allow the band’s future shows to be so chaotic.

Even taken on its own terms, though, the book is not without its faults. Booth does not seem to fully acknowledge the terrible toll of the heavy drug use of many concerned, including himself. Drugs of course played a major role in Brian Jones’ death, as well as the fatal overdose of Gram Parsons, who by most accounts became a heroin user through his friendship with Keith Richards. (Parsons, coincidentally, was from the same small Southern town as Booth and was present during many of the events described in the book; according to various interviews, Booth has been working on a Parsons bio, but like this book, it has been in the works for many years, and has not yet appeared). Keith Richards would later admit in interviews that his heavy drug use damaged his own abilities. He might have learned to ski on heroin, as he claimed in interviews, but his great song writing ability was never really the same once he became a full on heroin junkie after Exile on Main Street. Even in the afterword that was written for the book’s later republication, there are passing references, but Booth does not really mark the full cost of all the drugs.

Booth also seems to have a dismissive attitude towards Mick Taylor, who had just joined the band in 1969 and was then very young. Taylor certainly did not have a strong personality like Richards (who apparently did not get along with Taylor very well), but in terms of sheer playing ability, Taylor was the best guitarist the Stones ever had, by a wide margin. While that was often acknowledged by other members of the band, Richards for a long time used interviews to downplay Taylor’s abilities and input. In recent years, however, even Richards has admitted otherwise and expressed regret at Taylor’s departure from the band – e.g., in the recent Rolling Stone magazine feature for the 40th anniversary reissue of Exile on Main Street, in which the band’s engineer Andy Johns also states that Taylor “played rings around” Richards. Even though Booth was close to Richards, by the 1984 publication of this book, let alone when the afterword was done for the book’s republication many years later, Taylor’s contribution should have been obvious to someone as musically astute as Booth.

All in all, though, the book is a tour de force account of a moment in time when rock music probably had its greatest public influence – and the danger and excess that came with that influence.

May 5, 2013 Posted by | Book The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth | , | Leave a comment