It would not be hard to pastiche Booth’s of-the-moment tome. It would not be hard to chuckle at the vanity and vainglory of the band and its biographer. The band with its silk scarves and fey rebelliousness; the writer with his transparent faux-hardness. There are sequences which now perhaps, given what the band became, feel adorned, painted black. Moments which talk about chaos and hysteria, before the band became a ruthless money-making machine. Before the dreams had all gone up in smoke. All the same… Booth’s book genuinely succeeds in capturing that cusp between the one thing and the other. Before Altamont and after.
The arc of the Stones’ sixties. Starting with a genuine love for the music of the American South, the very notion of blues. Evolving through the hysteria of a teenage generation that wanted to let go. Of the war, of the discipline of war, of a notion of conformity. (Which, natch, has mutated today into another conformity, the disciplined conformity of pseudo-non-conformity). The Stones belonged to that generation of teenagers. When dance halls from Blackpool to Bognor Regis shuddered under the weight of pubescent excitement and the band had to run for its life. Things forgotten now, because that audience doesn’t exist anymore; that hysteria has become packaged, controlled. The book traces how this energy converted itself into a battle with the powers-that-be, with three of the Stones facing the prospect of doing time in prison, for taking drugs, for being both of the time and out of time at the same time. Fighting battles that cost the life of one of them, one way or another. Terminating in the black heart delirium of Altamont. A gothically unhinged moment, where a gun was brandished and a man was knifed yards from the stage, as the singer sang and the band played. A dystopian seal to the utopian aspirations of a decade.
Booth charts all of this. He’s great on the beginnings and great on the end. The middle sags, but then most middles do. He was there, he felt the vibes, he jotted them down. This isn’t a great book, but it is a great document. A register of something that has now been lost and gone forever. A moment that society cannot repeat. Watch the footage of the Mayles brothers in the seminal movie of the Stones’ 69 tour. The movie offers a flavour, Booth’s book does the rest. It’s about the limits of freedom, the victory of the machine, the delusions of a generation that believed they could change things and ended up murdering the planet. The Stones’ cynicism is, retrospectively, self-perpetuating and completely valid. Where others swooned, they battened down the hatches. They got the music made, they hung tough, they made it out of there. Booth captures them at the moment where Jagger’s androgyny might have been the clue to a new future, rather than a marketing ploy. After that it was drugs and marketing whilst the counter-culture, as Pynchon might have said, was subsumed in a gargantuan wave of mass-produced shite. But for a moment, there was a pixie at the helm, telling people there was another path, down where the campfires flickered, where kindness hovered, where the doing was more important than the having, where the money might follow, but it did not lead.