Ben Winch's Reviews > The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth
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Jul 20, 2012

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Reading about the Stones makes me feel like the hero of the French comedy Brice de Nice, a 30-something surfer who hangs around his waveless bay on the Mediterranean watching Point Break and waiting for the perfect swell. Watching whoever is the latest craze on MTV doesn't help either; the man-made swells that power those 'stars' are less awe-inspiring than sad, conjuring visions of a time when things were different, picking away at the wound. What the Stones did was to ride an uncontrollable wave from out of an unknown ocean, and any book about them that claims to be more than a litany, a homage or just plain gossip should surely lead us to a greater understanding of the nature of that wave and that ocean. Stanley Booth comprehends this challenge, but ultimately does little more than describe (or suggest) the feeling at the centre - the sense of time standing still as the wave curls around you. Yeah, he was there; he took the drugs and watched the days/months/years slip away. But in a way his book feels like a purgatory, because what point in living that life without the release of being able to jump on stage or write a song or record it now and then? He's not quite a Stone but not a civilian, not entirely in the wave but unable to step out of it and see it from a distance. And ultimately maybe he too has something of Brice de Nice about him - a man waiting for a revelation that can never happen. Listen...

Mark Twain said if you wrote well enough your work would last 'forever - and by forever I mean thirty years.' The True Adventures, first published in the United States in 1984, has lasted slightly more than one half of forever. Whatever they are now, or may be in the future, the Rolling Stones, when they were young, put themselves in jeopardy many times because of who they were, what they were, how they lived, what they believed. During portions of those years, I was with them. Some people survived that era and some didn't. The True Adventures is the story of those days, when the world was younger, and meanings were, or seemed for a time to be, clearer. Almost forever ago.

I mean, wow, that's sad, right? 'Almost forever ago' - I feel that, I really do. And the guy can write, no question. But what does it amount to, this half-remembered transcript of a time when meanings 'seemed for a time to be' clearer? Not much, it seems - and I'm sorry, sorry for this kid who follows around a rock band as if he might find in them the substance necessary to animate his writing, sorry for the older man who looks back on it and wonders what has slipped through his fingers. Music writers, it seems likely, are often frustrated 'literary' writers. That Greil Marcus and Peter Guralnick (who supposedly called Booth's book 'The one authentic masterpiece of rock 'n' roll writing'(!)) should so revere this piece of autobiography-with-scenery-by-the-Stones perhaps says more about their own aspirations to something 'beyond' rock 'n' roll writing than about the value of this book to people who care about rock 'n' roll. Yeah, there's a neat summation of the Stones' careers up to 1969, a couple of vivid descriptions of gigs and a good few pages on the recording of 'You Gotta Move', 'Brown Sugar' and 'Wild Horses' at Muscle Shoals - but taken together that adds up to about a third of the bulk of this monster. I want to like this; I want to believe there's more to it than the realisation that what had seemed so simple and obvious on the drugs is no longer comprehensible; but after 600 pages of nameless dread and no revelation I don't think I can. Stones fans, read it, by all means, but don't expect any great insight. No matter what he says, Stanley Booth was too busy partying to comprehend what 'really' happened.
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message 1: by Liam (new)

Liam Before you pass such a harsh judgement on Stanley Booth, you ought to read Rythm Oil: A Journey Through the Music of the American South. While I agree with you that 'Dance With The Devil/True Adventures of the Rolling Stones' did not come anywhere near living up to its promise (never mind the hype), and while, yes, it is sad, you have to remember that this was his first book, and he took a damned long time to write it. I have a suspicion that he might have 'perfected' this book to death, probably because at the time he was too young & high to know any better. He writes beautiful prose, though, does he not?

message 2: by Ben (last edited May 31, 2013 04:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Yeah he writes good, but so do a heap of folks. Thing is, sometimes I feel like music writers should just stick to the facts. Me, I just want to know what happened. But sure, why not, I'll look out for Rythm Oil. Anything on Muscle Shoals in it, or is it mostly blues and country?

message 3: by Liam (last edited Jun 02, 2013 02:06AM) (new)

Liam I don't remember if he wrote anything about Muscle Shoals in that book; it's mostly blues and r & b, with a little bit of jazz and rock'n'roll... That actually brings to mind another book I think you might really enjoy: It Came From Memphis. I know that one has some stories about Muscle Shoals in it, and the book is so good that after I read it the first time, I started all over and read it again...

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Rock on, man. I'll check it out.

message 5: by Liam (new)

Liam Cool, I hope you like it. I followed the link on your page & listened to your music, by the way; not bad at all, particularly given that they're just demos- you are a damned good songwriter. It's too bad we live on opposite sides of the world, otherwise I'd suggest that we might jam at some point.

message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Ah man, thanks, that warms my heart. I haven't been playing much lately but on the weekend my girlfriend and I put on a party for her 40th and I got to kick out the jams a little with my best friend & long-time collaborator who'd flown 2000kms for the occasion. It was good, if he did get so drunk he fell over in a puddle just before going onstage and then forgot his cues. But I feel the energy growing again...

I notice you're from Detroit, and that is one place I've been interested in for a while, so you never know. I went there for a week back in 2000 and we just drove around checking stuff out. I like how stuff happens there off-the-radar, in ruined old buildings, etc. Coming from Australia, I like anywhere that isn't coated and suffocated with bureaucracy.

message 7: by Liam (last edited Jun 05, 2013 08:29AM) (new)

Liam That's actually pretty funny, about bureaucracy... At the moment, my wife and I are trapped in the suburbs (we are right down the street from the White Castle where Wayne Kramer talked Rob Tyner into singing for the MC5) and cannot wait to move back into the city; escaping bureaucracy is one of the main reasons. If you happen to come here again, let me know & I'll at least buy you a pint or whatever. Sadly, I know what you mean about not playing lately; my own best friend & partner in crime unfortunately died this past December. I haven't played a gig since the end of 1997, and it had been almost as long for him. We had planned to spend most of January in the studio, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.

message 8: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Whoa, that is BIG. I'm so sorry to hear that, man.

In terms of gigging, I've played a few desultory, half-assed shows over the years but what really got me back into it was going to Manchester a few years back - not cos Manchester's anything special these days, but cos it made me collaborate with new people. I hate to say look on the bright side about something so sad, but maybe with your friend gone you'll find the same.

Any chance of getting in the studio by yourself? Or setting up something at home? I've got this cheesy $100 Dr Rhythm drum machine that keeps me company sometimes. That and a mic and an analogue 4-track can serve as a decent sketchpad.

And yeah, I'll have that beer with you. I've made a couple of Philadelphian friends on this site too and wanna visit them sometime, and I wanna go back and see what they've made out of Pittsburgh since I was last there. And I've always wanted to explore the Rockies more - Boise Idaho, I heard years ago, had some kind of scene.

message 9: by Anandaroop (new)

Anandaroop I read the book for the first time twenty years ago, and then I did a re-reading recently. I felt it then and I felt it now. Booth is an engaging writer, but he doesn't get the music. Like at all. His descriptions are laughable. Mick Taylor making "terrible Bo Diddley sounds", Keith playing a solo "with a scream hidden in it" or suchlike. When he describes rehearsals, one gets the sense that the Stones were fairly uninspired musicians, and not the creative powerhouse one finds in the Maysles documentary or the recordings from the tour.

message 10: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Hey Anandaroop, sorry I didn't see your comment till now, I was away from a computer. It's a while since I've read this now but yeah, I certainly got the feeling Booth was chasing something else besides the essence of the music. Like he was fascinated by the power the Stones wielded or their potential significance as a cultural force, but seemed not to really hear them, or if he did hear them, to think their music was worth examining. I'd forgotten about the Bo Diddley comment though. I mean, I like Bo Diddley, but it's hard to imagine Mick Taylor ever sounding that clumsy!

To a degree, I share Booth's fascination with the Stones as a phenomenon, but then Booth's book also cured me of that fascination to an extent, because it all seemed so dull at the centre of that vortex. He's a good writer though, for sure. I preferred bits of Rythm Oil, when I finally got to it.

Thanks for the comment!

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