Tag Archives: Mick Jagger

You Better Move On

cohen stones

The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen (Spiegel & Grau, $30.00, 381 pages)

When I mentioned to a couple of Rolling Stones fan that I was reading the new book by Rich Cohen, they asked, “What’s new in the book?” I told them I didn’t know, as I had not finished reading it. Now that I’ve finished, I can answer the question. There’s nothing new here; it’s the same band bio as you’ll find in any book about the Stones or Mick Jagger. And it’s told in chronological order, so you can guess what’s coming up next even if you have just a smattering of knowledge about the old boys.

In theory, Rolling Stone reporter Cohen was going to tell a new and unique story because he spent some time with the group on tour. But that information is minimal and far from being substantively interesting. In fact, the only new factoid I came across is Cohen’s claim that Eric Clapton unsuccessfully auditioned for the group after Mick Taylor’s departure. According to Cohen, Ron Wood was selected because it was felt he would fit in better with the band’s quirky personalities. Well, maybe this is factual and maybe not.

rolling stones and eric

There are factual concerns. For example, Cohen writes that Jagger destroyed all of the outtakes of “Brown Sugar.” But anyone who owns the Russian-made Melodiya CD of Sticky Fingers possesses two outtakes.

Cohen makes a bold attempt at arguing that the Stones were “even greater than the Beatles” – clearly appealing to fanatics who might purchase his account. But he rather quickly dispenses with this, first admitting that Their Satanic Majesties Request was “terrible, a disastrous by-product of an overripe era.” And he proceeds to quote multiple sources regarding how sloppy and undisciplined the band is in rehearsals. So, he set up a straw man only to knock it down. Yawn.

children december's

All in all, there’s not much to see here, folks. You better move on.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Muscle Shoals

Film Review: “Muscle Shoals” – Music Muscle from the Deep South

A 2013 documentary about an Alabama musical legacy, Muscle Shoals brings to light and life a group of musicians who never had their day in the sun.

Muscle Shoals

Two iconic recording studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – FAME (est. 1959) and its spin-off Muscle Shoals Sound (1960) – became the “must have” sound for, among others, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Etta James, and many other legendary Rock-and-Roll artists. The magic of a group of background musicians, who called themselves the “Swampers,” some of whom were classically trained, were the touchstone of FAME. The Swampers were all white (a fact that was to surprise Paul Simon). Keep in mind this is the early 60’s.

Muscle Shoals, which premiered at the Sundance Music Festival in January of 2013, is the love story of America’s music roots in the Deep South. For this viewer, some of the most spellbinding scenes focus on Rick Hall, the pioneer and open-minded founder of FAME studio. Hall’s own poverty and family upheavals allowed him to empathize with the racial hostility young music artists of color faced in most of the United States, not just the south. Before the Civil Rights Movement became a force shaping our country’s history, FAME gave some of our most creative musicians their break in the music business. The film gives the impression that the principals of FAME were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.

Hall was to bring black and white music together. He produced signature music: “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar,” and “When A Man Loves a Woman”. White studio musicians were to make unknown black artists famous.

Muscle-Shoals-sign

Muscle Shoals bears witness to how Hall’s color-blind passion for music infused a magnetism, mystery, and magic into the music that became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. The filmmaker allows the key players to speak for themselves, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Etta James. On its own, the cinematography of Muscle Shoals, the backwater town along the Tennessee River is an eye opener. And Muscle Shoals is not to be missed for its music history, racial progressiveness, and its imagery. It’s a visceral and magical vision!

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

Postscript:

1.) The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed in on The National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to turn the historic building into a music museum.

2.) FAME is still owned by Rick Hall and his son Rodney. Beats Electronics, because of this film, is underwriting the renovation of FAME to support young musicians.

3.) Actor Johnny Depp is developing this movie into a TV series, according to Variety.

You can read more from writer, artist and retired Stanford professor Diana Y. Paul at her blog Unhealed Wound:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Waitin’ On A Sunny Day

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (Touchstone, $28.00, 494 pages)

I was living in Los Angeles in the winter of 1975 when a live concert by a then-unknown East Coast band was stereo-cast late one evening by a Metromedia FM radio station.   The group, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, was playing at the Roxy Theatre and for all of Southern California.   The performance began with a song called “Thunder Road,” and the band proceeded to play all of the songs that we would soon come to know as the Born to Run album.   (I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band when they hit San Francisco the following year.)

Fans of Springsteen know that despite all of their digging, not much is known about his personal life.   Peter Ames Carlin, author of the well recommended Paul McCartney: A Life, and of Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson, attempts to remedy this in Bruce.   Carlin draws upon numerous interviews to flesh out a picture of a real human being behind the rock legend.

Some will be surprised to see how vulnerable Springsteen is.   He’s a man who often worries about what others think of him, one who has been unsuccessful in numerous personal relationships, one who has experienced a high level of depression and relied upon years of professional counseling, and one who has often sought a geographical solution to his problems (moving from East Coast to West Coast and back, to the South and back to the West before settling back down in New Jersey).   The mature Springsteen is now a family man, with a wife, son and daughter, who has repeatedly stuck his neck out for social causes and for political candidates – notably supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.

Carlin has an insider’s ear for music and provides a quite satisfying amount of information about Springsteen’s recording sessions over several decades; some of the insights may cause readers to purchase albums or revisit the ones they already own.   Carlin’s best, detailed work comes in reviewing how The Rising album – a work of healing and redemption if there ever was one – was recorded after 9/11.   His analysis is excellent except for the fact that it fails to mention the very best song on the album, “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day.”   (How did that happen?)

“(Springsteen is) an artist fixated on the intimate stories of ordinary folks whose labors make wealthier mens’ dreams come true…”

Bruce provides the insight that Springsteen has crafted his albums in the same manner in which a movie producer crafts a film.   Each album is intended to represent a story, generally about the people left behind in an otherwise prosperous society.   It’s no wonder that Springsteen’s most recent release pleaded for us to take care of our own.

This story of a performer and his unique band of brothers is more satisfying than most musician bios and it makes for a fast read despite its length.   It is, however, likely to have a short shelf life as the “definitive” biography – to quote Publishers Weekly – of The Boss.   As with bios of Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger and other rock notables, there’s certainly more to come

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

“There are many things I could and should be doing right now, but I am not…  I am reading and rereading this book.   Why did you do this to me?”   Jon Stewart to Peter Ames Carlin  

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Get Off of My Cloud

Mick Jagger by Philip Norman (Ecco Press, $34.99, 622 pages)

A supreme achiever to whom his colossal achievements seem to mean nothing…  A supreme extrovert who prefers discretion…  A supreme egotist who dislikes talking about himself…

Record company executives often told Andrew Loog Oldham, the first manager of The Rolling Stones, that they would “never get anywhere” unless they dumped their generally mumbling lead singer, one Mick Jagger.   Of course, those executives were wrong and Philip Norman serves up these types of gems while delivering a Behind the Music-style account of the lead singer’s life.

One of Norman’s strengths is that he tends to call things in a supremely honest fashion.   He states that the music of the Stones “sounds as fresh (today) as if recorded yesterday” (something that’s likely up for debate), and he labels the band as the “kings of the live performance circuit” – both yesterday and today.   Still, he admits that the music of the Stones – with one possible exception – never “seriously competed with the Beatles.”   It was in the Winter of 1966 that the Stones released Aftermath which Norman views as one that challenged the Beatles’ Revolver.   Well, not really…  Aftermath was a very good, traditional rock album which, looking back, does not match the daring experimentation of Revolver.   It was if the Stones were content to stay in the present while The Beatles were creating rock’s future.

Norman’s engaging, relaxed style also benefits from a fine use of humor.   For example, in describing the release of the song Satisfaction in Britain, he notes that it “(nauseated) almost everyone over thirty.”   And the Prologue to Mick Jagger is labeled “Sympathy for the Old Devil.”

The problem is, in the words of a Beatles’ song, that “It’s All Too Much.”   Most presidential biographies don’t run 622 pages, and some quite reasonable editing could have reduced this account by a good 200 to 225 pages.   There are words, paragraphs, stories and more that could have been left out without harming the narrative.   More is not always better, and Norman seems to be desperately trying to compensate for the fact that Jagger has refused to assist any biographer, the singer always insisting that he has virtually no memories of events in his distant or even recent past.

What one should expect, after plowing through hundreds of pages, is to find some sense of the subject’s character, his nature,  his essence.   I note three things missing from this overly long treatise on Sir Mick: his mind, his heart, his soul.   That’s a lot that’s missing, and it may be that Jagger is such a clever butterfly that any attempt to capture him and place him under glass is futile.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Mick Jagger by Philip Norman.

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Exiled on Main Street

Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger by Christopher Andersen (Gallery Books, $27.00, 363 pages)

One would suspect or expect that a biography of a singer-songwriter-musician would deal mostly with the person’s music.   That’s not the case here.   Andersen’s quite tawdry bio of Mick Jagger might have been subtitled A Salacious Sexual Biography.   Yes, readers, there’s little about The Rolling Stones music in this account – other than some interesting background on the development and failure of the Her Satanic Majesties Request album – and what is contained within the pages are events you’ve read about elsewhere.

“Marianne’s (Faithful) ex-husband…  certainly appeared to be in a position to know who was sleeping with whom.”

What you likely won’t read about elsewhere are the specifics about seemingly every sexual encounter – with males and females and housekeepers – that Sir Michael (Mick) Jagger has had in his lifetime.   (Based on this account, that’s about 1% of the population of the earth, and may include a few aliens from other planets.)   The writer seems to  not only find these details interesting…  He appears to be obsessed with them.   Sadly, he does not provide a reason for us to care about these personal encounters as the nexus between the sex and Jagger’s – and the band’s – musical creations (with a couple of rare exceptions) is missing.   In other words, what’s the relevance of a bedroom diary?

This is clearly an intimate biography that’s supposed to sell based on its titillation value.   However, and you’ll have to trust me on this, the reader’s patience for dealing with “shocking” material is pretty much used up in the first 100 pages.   After that, it’s just more and more of the same jaded tales.

It’s a missed opportunity as Andersen has a nice, engaging and flowing writing style that makes for quick reading; but, there’s no substance for the music lover to grab onto.   Andersen’s also a bit too fawning when it comes to Jagger, meaning there’s minimal critical perspective or analysis of his subject’s actions.   Further, it’s hard to know what’s real and not real, true or untrue, in this telling as the listing of the author’s sources is quite vague.   A number of the “facts” cited seem to be at least questionable without authentication.

Even if every sexual event listed in Mick were to be documented, the question remains as to what it all means for the curious and/or Jagger’s fans?   The overly spicy details might have been interesting when Jagger was still a young man, but he’ll be 70 in July, and his most loyal fans are enjoying their retirement.   Why is it, exactly, that we need to know now about what happened back in the day?

This is a biography that reduces its subject to an almost microscopic level.   Jagger, a very successful artist in and of his time, comes off as a .5 dimensional character.   As Mick himself once sang, “What a shame.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger by Christopher Andersen.

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