On Thursday 21st July I posted on the Rust a brief preview of forthcoming a 60-minute documentary The Origin Of The Species by Julien Temple on the early life of Keith Richards the Rolling Stones guitarist that was to be broadcast on BBC2 last Saturday night. In it I made no secret of my long-held admiration for both the Rolling Stones and stated how much I was looking forward to seeing it.
My present purpose is to record that I duly watched my recording of the programme at tea-time yesterday.
I shall make no attempt at a defence mitigation plea here – albeit in my 21st July piece I did mention in passing that anything involving ‘Keef’, the man traditionally credited with providing the ‘grit’ that kept the other Stones on the path of relative musical authenticity and integrity, tends to carry with it the capacity to be either brilliant or crass – but simply apologise to anyone who was moved to watch the programme by my preview.
It was dreadful – a complete waste of an hour and, of course, when you’re in your mid-sixties, conscious of the sands of time dropping through the metaphorical hour glass on your sideboard, a decidedly irritating experience.
How to describe it?
I guess the pitch to the commissioning editor must have gone something like this:
- This project’s key participants are the enfant terrible movie director Julien Temple and musical icon Keith Richards.
- It’s a bit of a cliché to say it, but for a large proportion of British men between the ages of forty and eighty, who long ago slipped into respectable staid careers and comfortable middle class life, Richards remains a quasi-Dorian Gray figure (literary check the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, first published in complete form in 1891) in the sense that, as long as he is still out there living as an unreconstructed anti-establishment musician, we can feel that the youthful, rebellious, maverick – essentially life-enhancing – side of us will never die.
- Life, his 2010 ghosted autobiography, was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.
- The concept behind the documentary is that we’ll take Richards back to cover his first two decades, from being born and living in Dartford, through his schooldays, to the point where he went to art school and stood on the verge of his musical career with the Rolling Stones. A bit like covering the early life of one of the great black bluesman growing up in the Mississippi Delta, only this will be set, if you like, in the English delta – i.e. Dartford and the East End of London. It will cover everything from the Blitz and his early musical influences.
One can see how a BBC commissioning editor – probably aged between thirty and forty – would see the sense of making it, especially when it ends up with an attached supplementary project (Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend in which he selects his favourite movies and concert recordings, to be seen on BBC4 in September) attached. Music fans across the generations will watch it/both, plus – and you know what, and such considerations come into it whenever artistes over the age seventy become available, folks – even Keith Richards isn’t going to be around forever so to have more footage of him talking about the old days could come in handy one day.
And so to describe the programme as broadcast.
Through the medium of cleverly-edited and well-researched archive footage of the 1940s and 1950s, overlayed with cuts to a scrubbed-up Keith Richards, surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke talking to camera in the foreground, Julien Temple managed to cobble together enough of a mundane tale of War and post-War family life in Dartford to fill a 60-minute transmission slot.
But only just.
There were threadbare snippets of interest – his father was a distant man and he gained many of his earl musical influences, e.g. Sarah Vaughan, from his mother – but generally Keef’s contributions were hackneyed comments about the hardships of the Blitz and youngsters finding ways to amuse themselves on bombsites, he and some mates finding the body of a dead tramp down by the shores of the Thames and being bullied at school. Insightful or revealing they were not. Frankly, to this viewer, Keith was on autopilot and it was not long before the only points of interest were his mannerisms, voice and smoke-drenched cackle laugh.
By 27 minutes in I had begun fast-forwarding the programme, seeking out anything which looked like the interviewee picking up a guitar and moving towards 1963. At 45 minutes exactly I stopped watching and deleted the recording. There was no point in staying with it.
[As it happens, two and a half hours later, at 9.00pm on BBC2, I watched a live transmission of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds edition of the BBC’s Classic Albums series, made in 2004 on the fiftieth anniversary of its original release.
This was a much more rewarding and satisfying piece and a welcome antidote to what I’d been watching earlier.]