Sunday, June 26, 2016

Books: The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen (Spiegel and Grau, 2016)


The story of The Rolling Stones has been told in innumerable books and films, and while this one may not add anything previously unknown to the tale, it is a well-written one that provides insight not only on the band's history but their place in culture and society as a whole. Cohen juggles a couple of narratives, his own beginning with his opportunities to cover the band up close on their reunion tours in the 1990's but also his personal tale of discovering the band's music through his older brother and becoming obsessed with it. Woven through this is a well-written history of The Rolling Stones, beginning as a group of blues aficionados hoping to play like their Chicago heroes and then moving into their own original music. The band's history is recalled in detail up through the end of "the golden run," what Cohen sees as a series of classic albums released from 1968-1972 culminating with the epochal Exile On Main Street. Throughout this whirlwind tour, several important events are broken out for further scrutiny, starting with the early blues years and their friendship & rivalry with The Beatles, who helped them write their first hit song. The early years under impresario Andrew Oldham are fascinating as they show the group's rise to power, and their recording sessions at Chess Records. With the massive success of the "Satisfaction" single, things changed, Oldham was out and drugs and debauchery were in. Cohen examines the life of the brilliant but troubled Brian Jones, and his fall from grace and eventual death is covered over the course of two chapters. The band's drug intake is scrutinized in terms of Keith Richards' miraculous longevity, but also in coverage of the drug bust at his Redlands estate, which was a turning point in the bands history. Cohen covers the Altamont concert fiasco at length, combining historical research with interviews to try to piece together what happened and why is came to be such an important event in cultural history. With their finances in shambles the Stones decamped to France to avoid the taxman, and record their masterpiece, Exile on Main Street in Nellcote, Richards' rat-warren of a cottage. Sensing the band's best days end here, Cohen writes a brief section about the band since then, with the Jagger - Richards feud nearly ending the group, his belief that Some Girls was their last great record. This book was quite good, reviewing his notes section you can see that Cohen did a tremendous amount of research for the book and that combined with his own interviews and first-person knowledge of the band make this book very interesting. He writes well too, keeping multiple narratives flowing across the chapters and writing in a breezy and engaging tone that make the book recommendable to both the die-hards and the merely curious. The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones - amazon.com

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