In a week where the Tories have decided that Leverson 2 can be brushed under the carpet this book provides a timely reminder of just how long the press have made money from moralistic muck raking. Few will come to this book up not knowing how it ends, or who the main characters are; instead Wells focuses on telling the story with sometimes forensic detail, painting the wider context in which the drug busts occurred, and debunking the myth of the mars bar for once and for all.
The early chapters lend the book a bit of a slow start as they are given over to a potted band history and it takes it’s not until Keith has purchased Redlands that the story hits its stride. Wells casts a caustic eye over proceedings and doesn’t spare any of the cast when the occasion arises. Jagger is described as a “massive dichotomy” with an adjustable accent, putting his days as “Mike” behind him to bolster his street cred, with an outlaw image punctured after just one tearful night in jail. In contrast Wells is better disposed to Richards “sneering dissent” and stoicism.
If there was anything positive to say about Brain Jones, Wells struggles to find much beyond some of his musical contributions. Any sympathy for the way in which Jones was edged out of the band he helped form ebbs away once Wells describes his predatory and abusive behaviour with women – Jones ruined his slide guitar technique when he broke his wrist trying to punch Anita Pallenberg – and a light-fingered touch with money.
Wells research is extensive – he relates the exact nature of what Mick and Keith wore to each trial, what they had for lunch and what it cost, even how many pieces there were in the jigsaw given to Mick whilst being held prior to sentencing are all included. Much of the book is drawn from police papers he has recently been given access to. Wells hasn’t spoken to Jagger or Richard directly – he thinks they have bought into the “myth” of what happened – that they were set up by a mysterious American “Acid King” called Schneidermann who was actually working for the CIA or MI5 – and would no longer be able to offer anything objective. A weak spot is that Watts and Wyman are scarcely mentioned once the story of how the band formed is told in the early chapters. At the very tail end Wyman’s discomfort with the abundant drug taking is set out (taken from Wyman’s “Stone Alone autobiography) but compared to the depth of material elsewhere the lack of perspective from 40% of the band does leave something of a gap.
As much as the book is about the Stones, it’s also about the impact that they, and other musicians had on wider society. The initial willingness of the press to cozy up to bands – typified in the way Epstein worked with them to the benefit of the Beatles- was bound to end once the papers thought that hatchet work would sell just as well as happy pieces, but also acknowledges that manager Andrew Loog-Oldham hastened the descent by making the Stones “bad boy” image the cornerstone of what he fed the press.
Wells makes no attempt to minimise the Stones drug use (or that of others known to party hard at the time such as the Moody Blues) but the partnership between the police and (of course) the News of The World is all too depressingly familiar. In particular, Wells takes aim at the fourth estate for smearing Marianne Faithfull and the longer-term damage it did to her, pointing out that the absence of any reference to Mars Bars in the police statements proved it was a cheap act of retribution that has haunted her for over 50 years.
Ultimately what’s refreshingly unfamiliar is the role played by William Rees-Mogg, who despite neither liking their music or their lifestyle, stuck his neck out to use his considerable authority as editor of The Times to question the severity of the sentences handed down, as well as subsequently allowing the paper to run an advert from the pro drug reform group SOMA. If son Jacob is anything to go by, it’s the sort of principled stance that’s hard to imagine we will see again any time soon.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Jazz cigarettes, Alexander Pope’s “Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot”
One thing you’ve learned
Richards number whilst he was in the Scrubbs was 7855