No apologies from me for being a Rolling Stones fan – when about fifteen years ago I took part in a survey conducted by a family member I picked their 1971 and 1972 albums Sticky Fingers and Exile on Maine Street among my Top Ten all-time favourites – thus any reservations or criticisms of them or their music I ever offer should be discounted for being intellectually deliberate (and hypocritical) rather than gut-feel in origin.
[DISCLAIMER: I’m writing my piece today having done the barest minimum of research to check or back up my statements, so Rusters should take everything that follows with a pinch of salt.]
These days I’m wary of recommending anything from the past to anybody, still less to anyone under the age of forty, but one of the best books I ever read about the rock music of my (relative) youth – I’m talking in terms of summing up the attitudes and sense of ‘being there’ at the time – was and is S.T.P. : A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (first published in 1974).
‘S.T.P.’ stood for ‘Stones Touring Party’ and the tome was an supposed insider’s account of the epic tour of North America undertaken by the Stones in 1972 during which they played no fewer than 47 concerts in 53 days and created new records for rock and roll excess, chaos, notoriety and outrage.
A few examples to give a flavour (and we’ll leave Keith Richards’ drugs issues out of this):
At the opening show in Vancouver, more than 2,000 fans attempted to crash into the stadium, resulting in chaotic scenes and 31 policemen being injured. Ten days later in San Diego there were 15 injuries and 60 arrests during disturbances outside the concert. Tear gas was used by police in Tucson, Arizona, to disperse an attempt by 300 fans to storm the gates; 81 people were arrested at their two shows in Houston, Texas, 61 at the concert in Washington DC. On 13th July in Detroit the police had to set up road blocks to stop 2,000 fans trying to gain access to the show. On 17th July in Montreal a bomb blew up the Stones’ equipment van and 3,000 forged tickets were discovered, causing a riot and forcing the concert to be delayed. The next day Mick Jagger and Keith Richards got into a fight with a photographer in Rhode Island and were temporarily jailed – however, the mayor of Boston (Kevin White), fearful of a riot at the Boston Garden venue, already full of fans, intervened to get them bailed so the concert could go ahead.
I’m not sure how accurate – or indeed how sanitised or exaggerated – Greenfield’s account was, but to me (in my early twenties when I first read it) the book evokes perfectly the essence of the 1960s/70s rock star world, viz. the sheer scale, complexities and difficulties associated with mounting the kind of operation required to to undertake such an intense and gruelling tour of an entire continent.
In particular, the extraordinary ‘bubble in which the Rolling Stones and their entourage existed – never mind the sheer ‘if it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium’ aspect of the relentless geographical distances and seemingly flicking-past venues involved, I’m talking about the logistical chaos, the drugs and other stimulants, the parties, the groupies, the management’s daily tortuous negotiations with the local police and other authorities … and, of course, the endless round of PR appearances, interviews, sound-checks and concert performances, with the band on a strength-sapping treadmill of ‘concert, escape, all-night party, wake up, travel … concert, escape, all-night party, wake up, travel …’ until nobody really knew what was happening anymore.
It was a fascinating read for anyone on the outside of the rock world.
One of the most compelling features of the book was (as I remember it) the epilogue, in which – having taken the reader on a mind-blowing trek through what effectively amounted to an outlaw army’s invasion of the United States – Greenfield finished by creating a chilling end-piece and perspective.
With consummate restraint, even understatement, he listed what happened afterwards to some of the characters who had carried out either featured or bit-part duties on the tour. [As I sit here typing I cannot recall any of the details, only hopefully convey a ‘sense’ of them].
But, if my memory serves, one of the policemen who ‘rode shotgun’ as a security adviser on the tour had to take six months off work to recover; several members of the stage and backstage crew went into rehab or never worked again … you get the kind of drift … and the examples he listed were varied and considerable in number.
Having done that, Greenfield finished by recording simply (something like) ‘… and, less than two weeks later, the Rolling Stones began their series of concerts in Japan …’
I have to tell you this. It was tiring enough to just read the tale set out in S.T.P., never mind imagining oneself being a member of the touring party . The sense of awe induced by Greenfield’s closing statement cemented my life-long respect for all members of the Rolling Stones.
Anyway, here’s a link to an interview conducted by Alexis Petridis with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, as appears today on the website of – THE GUARDIAN