[Illustration by Enkeling]
NEW YORK TIMES: As their popularity grows, so does their stardust. “Suddenly we were being courted by half the aristocracy, the younger scions, the heirs to some ancient pile, the Ormsby-Gores, the Tennants, the whole lot. I’ve never known if they were slumming or we were snobbing.” It’s a blue-collar fairy tale, but distance between Mick and Keith begins to steadily expand — so much so, Keith confesses, that “I haven’t gone to his dressing room in, I don’t think, 20 years.” The Glimmer Twins, once so close Keith claims they had “identical taste in music,” now get caught up in the drug-fueled circus that defines middle-period Rolling Stones, the late ’60s and early ’70s. These are the golden years, the years of “Sticky Fingers” and “Beggars Banquet,” when excess converges with success in such a way as to make it all seem causal. But a certain guest at the party makes quite an impression and stubbornly refuses to leave: heroin. Keith’s drug habit progresses, but he moves into one of the most prolific writing periods of his career. He and Mick compose most of the songs for “Beggars Banquet,” “Let It Bleed,” “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street” while Keith is under the influence. Pulled by the poppy and pushed by cocaine, Keith acquires a taste for working unholy hours in the studio that damn near kill his colleagues. He goes round the clock and considers it mutiny if anyone toiling with him leaves the deck. “I realized, I’m running on fuel and everybody else isn’t. They’re trying to keep up with me and I’m just burning. I can keep going because I’m on pure cocaine . . . I’m running on high octane, and if I feel I’m pushing it a little bit, need to relax it, have a little bump of smack.” He’s trying to impress upon his readers not the foolishness of this diet but rather the impossibility of its being replicated, since drugs of this caliber are no longer available, and few have the discipline to stick to the recommended doses. No wonder Johnny Depp modeled his “Pirates of the Caribbean” character, Capt. Jack Sparrow, on this rakish and tippling taskmaster. MORE
RELATED: On a recent morning, the journalist Bill Wyman received a UPS package containing a typed manuscript. On reading it, he saw that it seemed to be the thoughts, at some length, of singer Mick Jagger on the recently published autobiography of his longtime songwriting partner in the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards. A handwritten note on an old piece of Munro Sounds stationery read: “Bill: For the vault. M.” From this, Wyman surmised that the package was intended for Jagger and Richards’ former bandmate, the bassist Bill Wyman, who has assiduously overseen the band’s archives over the past five decades and with whom Wyman the journalist coincidentally shares the same name. Wyman the journalist, a longtime rock critic, was once threatened with a cease-and-desist letter from Wyman the bassist’s Park Avenue attorneys and felt no compunction about perusing the contents of the package. The manuscript he received is reprinted below. MORE
ME: You used to say Exile In Guyville was a song-by-song response to Exile On Main Street. I was always under the impression that was just bullshit and people bought it.
LIZ PHAIR: Oh my god, no. I absolutely took it dead seriously. I sat around with stacks, like hundreds of pieces of paper — you have to remember, I was stoned a lot. I was a twentysomething no-job. I hung out playing guitar all day. I had all this education, I thought analytically and someone had made a dare. I think an ex-boyfriend was like, “Well, why don’t you do a double album? Why don’t you do Exile On Main Street?” And it fit perfectly with what I was pissed about at that time: that no one thought that I could do anything of any value in the musical sense. So I just thought the bigger the mountain, the more motivation I had to climb it. I still have that problem. I had little symbols, each song would be listed, and I would do the songs on Exile, the one with the little symbols next to them, there was one with a kind of asterisk, I can’t remember. That was a pop song, and then a long, wavy line meant a slow song, a cross was another kind of song, a rocker was diagonal lines sort of like on Charlie Brown’s shirt. The symbols went so far as to be both in terms of musical style and also content, like if it was a depressing song about sorrow or angst or something, there was an arrow pointing from the top-left down to the bottom-right.
ME: So you put them all on little index cards that you kept arranging?
LIZ PHAIR: Yeah, I went nuts with it. I can’t tell you. We would go into the studio, and I’d be like, “You have to have this big guitar solo three-quarters of the way through because that’s what Exile On Main Street has.” And the lyrics had to be an answer or my equivalent. It had to either be putting him in his place, like if he was talking about walking down the street, and he’s talking about he’s mister footloose and fancy free, doesn’t meet anybody who gives a damn. I had to write a song about how much pain you could cause someone with that kind of attitude. Or I’d write my own song about walking down the street, being footloose and fancy free and not giving a damn. It either had to be the equivalent from a female point of view or it had to be an answer kind of admonishment, to let me tell you my side of the story. No wonder it’s such a good album — I put so much into it and uninterrupted attention, it was like a doctoral thesis. MORE