BY JONATHAN VALANIA A candid conversation with former MOJO editor Paul Trynka [pictured, below right] — author of IGGY POP: Open Up And Bleed and DAVID BOWIE: Star Man — about his new bio, BRIAN JONES: The Making Of The Rolling Stones. (The British version has a much edgier, and dare I say it Stonsier title, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: The Birth Of The Rolling Stones & The Death Of Brian Jones. Guess Random House thinks the devil doesn’t get his due in America. We’re inclined to disagree, but that’s a conversation for another time.) DISCUSSED: Blowjobs, pills, genius, Mick Jagger, Mars bars, Morocco, dope, sympathy for the devil, dope, misogyny, dandy, December’s illegitimate Children, Robert Johnson, narcotics, Andrew Loog Oldham, drugs, Anita Pallenberg, Fop of the Pops, trad jazz, Howlin’ Wolf, Dick Taylor, The Pretty Things, the real origin of Keef’s celebrated Open G tuning, George Harrison, Winnie the Pooh, John Lennon, Knobby Pilchard, loveless parents, paranoia, pills, death by drowning.
PHAWKER: What drew you to the subject matter, to writing about Brian Jones?
PAUL TRYNKA: I really felt that Brian was a true visionary on the same level as Iggy and Bowie. Mick and Keith have spent so much time trying to write Brian out of The Rolling Stones story and I knew there had to be more of a story there. I felt Brian was almost like the last great untold story of ’60s rock music. There hadn’t been a proper book on him and that’s such a shame, it really is. When you look at the whole history of rock music and how iconic he was and obviously there’s a lot of debates and argument about the music but I thought it was undeniable, he’s a major influence on today’s cultural landscape.
PHAWKER: Let’s kind of jump to the end here before we get to the beginning and that is why do you think the Stones go to such lengths to write him out of the official story? Is it ego, is it guilt, is it something else?
PAUL TRYNKA: The only true answer to why they’ve written him out of the stories is because he’s so important. I think that’s why, the denigration of him is caused by the fact they don’t want to pay tribute to the fact that he was a visionary, some people don’t want to be reminded of that. However big they are, it’s rare for people to really acknowledge their influences. Bowie was unusual, he credited Iggy. I think it’s demeaning that [Mick and Keith] don’t, but yeah I think it is that Brian was so important. Although I would add the proviso, Brian was a pain in the ass as well.
PHAWKER: You’re pretty tough on The Stones, did you attempt to get their cooperation for the book?
PAUL TRYNKA: No I didn’t, and just because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I know the Stones really well and I did think seriously about really leveling with Keith and just saying ‘Look, tell me honestly what you think’ but I just didn’t feel I would get an honest answer from him and I didn’t want it to develop into a he said/she said thing. There are a lot of quotes from Keith out there about Brian and so I was able to use his impressions of Brian without the political agenda of him know I was trying to put Brian back in the center of the story.
PHAWKER: In the book you point to three key things that were formative in terms of Brian’s development as an artist and as a cultural rebel. First, he had asthma which sidelined him from school sports and isolated him from the inside crowd and established him as an outsider. Second, he embraced jazz music early on which has a whole different value system than the English middle class life he was born into. Third, he had a very loveless relationship with his parents. Do I have that right? That these were very key elements to determining the person Brian Jones became?
PAUL TRYNKA: Yeah I think that those are exactly the key facts. People forget how different Britain in particular was in the 1950s, it’s almost like a different planet. Back then there was no real emotional communication between parents and kids, especially in middle class families. Kids were expected to be little models of their parents, just clones, really. Brian was undoubtedly a difficult child, you have to acknowledge he had several kids when he himself was no more than a child which almost terminated his relationship with his parents. All of those factors were really powerful. The asthma kind of separated him from the rest of the kids and that made him an outsider. He had no home life so his own music gave him this kind of channel of escape and validation.
PHAWKER: The two troubling parts of Brian’s personality in his early years, which you reference very directly, is the misogyny and, as you already mentioned, the illegitimate children. The first part I’m guessing was largely culturally ingrained, that casual misogyny was just par for the course back then. But as far as having all of these kids out of wedlock, was it just a matter of him just being irresponsible or was it the fact that birth control was almost impossible to come by back then?
PAUL TRYNKA: I think it’s both. The fact that by that point Brian has already learned to flout convention, so having kids or having sex without thinking about the consequences, that was just part of flouting convention. Brian was unusual in that he wouldn’t think about the consequences, he’d live in the moment. There was misogyny there but I think that was a cultural thing, it certainly wasn’t Brian alone. I feel from the time I spent with the Stones, I kind of hung out with them in Toronto, there’s misogyny around the band, so Brian wasn’t unusual but I don’t want to tone it down, some of his treatment of women was very unpleasant. But it has been exaggerated, as well. A degree of it is cultural but there was this time in the ’60’s when musicians were given this kind of license to behave in a certain way and I think the institution was very misogynistic and I think that happens with loads and loads and loads of bands. The Stones were just the first ones, really.
PHAWKER: You referenced the fact that you hung out with the Stones in Toronto, when and why?
PAUL TRYNKA: That was when the 40th anniversary I went over to Toronto to watch the tour rehearsals. They gave me quite a good view of the shape of the band which was riven by feuds. I was shocked by the way that Keith would disparage Mick and he would also disparage Bill Wyman which is part of the reason Bill decided he’d had it with the band. They are quite a callous bunch and they’re almost kind of…there’s a lot of stuff around there that I couldn’t really go into but it’s alright to say it was quite an unpleasant atmosphere. Keith is a very lovable person who I like a lot in many, many respects, but his callousness is very hard to come to terms with for me. You want to talk about Brian Jones’ misogyny and that is certainly a character trait but Keith Richards’ extreme callousness about dead people and, for that matter, living people, I find just as disturbing. It’s a nasty business and it’s one that’s hard to come to terms with. That’s what art is, it often takes place at the edge of conflicting mores and in general artists are selfish people, they don’t really have that many people saying ‘no’ to them so it’s part and parcel of it all — but the music’s great.
PHAWKER: You make the point in the book that Brian was the first white electric slide blues guitar player in the UK, possibly in the US as well. Talk about that a little bit. At the time it really was a largely unknown thing outside a close-knit circle of black bluesmen playing slide guitar like that.
PAUL TRYNKA: I think Brian was the first white electric slide player who was a public figure. I guess there were a couple of western swing players or people who played Hawaiian slack key guitar, but in terms of making records with blues electric slide, it’s Brian. In Britain, that put him on the map.
PHAWKER: You make the case, interestingly enough, that Brian was very generous with this information, that he wasn’t just keeping this as a closely guarded secret, he was evangelizing about. He wanted everyone to be turned on about this music, to adopt these guitar playing styles and techniques. You go on to say that it was Brian who taught Keith Richards his famous Open G tuning, and of course Keith Richards gives no credit to Brian for teaching him how to do it.
PAUL TRYNKA: So why is Keith always saying that Brian only used Open G and Open E? Well as I said before we all find it hard to acknowledge our debt. Brian discovered this [style of playing] when there was no Internet or things like that, that was a heck of an achievement. Paul Jones was one of many who said that Brian would teach him this stuff and he opened these doors for him and so I find it really hard as a human being when people don’t give Brian credit for that. Even the Stones themselves, if they could just look into their own souls. I should point out that Brian taught Mick how to play blues harp and taught Keith how to play Open G and that’s what enabled those guys to make a living. Even If they did find Brian a massive pain in the ass they should give him credit because he undeniably deserves it.
PHAWKER: The Rolling Stones was Brian’s band in the beginning, he was the leader up until 1963 or so, the undisputed leader. Most of the biographies about the Stones say the turning point — where the band goes from being Brian Jones’ band to being Keith Richards’ and Mick Jagger’s band — was when Keith and Mick started writing songs. And most of those biographies insist that Brian couldn’t be bothered with or was incapable of writing songs, but you point out that, in fact, he was writing songs and that there are or were acetates of some of these early compositions. Have those recordings ever been located?
PAUL TRYNKA: No. There were a lot of rumors about where they might be, but nothing ever came of it. The titles of some of Brian’s early songs are known. The story of what happened to those songs is that the Stones considered them but just didn’t want to work on them. Remember, Mick Jagger refused to sing on Bill Wyman’s “In Another Land,” from Their Satanic Majesties Request, but they got really desperate for material that it ended up being on the album, so they weren’t particularly supportive of each other.
But there were problems on Brian’s end. I was actually just looking at what Brian did with Volker Schlondorff who made A Degree Of Murder in 1967 and commissioned Brian to write the soundtrack. He pointed out that Brian lacked a certain ruthlessness. You know when you write a song you’ve got to finish it, it’s got to get out of the door and the first time you write it may be a bit of crap, but then you just say I’ve finished this one and then onto the next one. Brian did lack that, but if he had a good song writing partner and a good environment he could’ve certainly got around that problem. He was certainly capable of that in his soundtrack work and I believe quite firmly he could’ve written conventional pop songs because he liked pop songs and he came up with catchy riffs. Let’s not forget the guitar from “The Last Time” is Brian’s riff. So many times he took a mundane chord sequence and added a bit of magic to it, and he could’ve done the same on a songwriting level.
PHAWKER: Historically, Satan is regarded as the motivating deity behind rock n roll, but you make a very convincing case in the book that it’s actually Pan, can you speak to that?
PAUL TRYNKA: The devil is just part of our own mythology, he’s a complex creature but there are also all these minor demons who represent all these things that are part of the Judeo-Christian. Brian did come to identify with the god Pan, who was a benign, but a dangerous entity who represented fertility and represented syncopation and represented the rock n roll spirit. Brian travelled to the village of Joujouka in Morocco where they summon up the god Pan in a ceremony that goes back centuries, and that had a real resonance for him. Brian was certainly interested in Robert Johnson and Robert Johnson actually mentions Satan by name — the first time, it is believed, that’s been put on record. Brian was into all that mythology.
PHAWKER: There was a concerted effort by the English Establishment, more specifically the police department, to frame some of the biggest pop stars in Britain at the time with bogus drug charges. This happened to Donovan, this happened to John Lennon, this happened to George Harrison, Mick and Keith as well but they seemed to be gunning especially hard for Brian Jones. Like he was the great prize. And as you point out in the book this fueled Brian’s own burgeoning paranoia, with good reason, which further pushed him into self-medicating with drinking and drugs to stave off this anxiety.
PAUL TRYNKA: Everyone thinks Brian was a druggie who died from a drug overdose, and it’s true that Brian was taking drugs and he had asthma and he wasn’t a healthy guy, but in fact around the time of his death he was mostly taking legal sleeping pills because he was paranoid about being busted. He wasn’t taking heroin. He wasn’t really smoking dope very much. He was forced onto legal medications that were much more harmful and it had a big effect on his health. That’s the thing, when he died the coroner said he died because he wouldn’t listen [to the government’s warnings about the dangers of street drugs] and that’s manifestly a lie, when he died he wasn’t found under the influence of illegal drugs it was things I believe had been prescribed for him by a doctor. He wasn’t capable of coping with sustained harassment by the police because for one thing, he was just very isolated. [Then-manager of The Stones] Andrew Oldham couldn’t cope with it either, he went he had ECT treatment to relieve the stress and strain of constantly thinking the cops were going to break down the door any minute, which would break many a man and it nearly broke Mick Jagger, Keith it didn’t break but Brian certainly was broken by this.
PHAWKER: I was astonished to read that the coroner would moralize and wag his finger disapprovingly like that in his official inquest report.
PAUL TRYNKA: It’s obscene. And we know now that the News of the World was bribing police officers and hacking people’s phones, so at the same time they were moralizing about these people, they were engaged in illegal activities themselves. The News of the World needed to sell newspapers and Brian was a great way of selling newspapers. He was popular, he was outrageous, that’s why they hated him. It’s really important for people to understand that he wasn’t just a weakling who buckled under pressure, he was suffering from sustained police harassment, even more sustained than [the harassment of] Mick and Keith. I think they wanted to bust Brian [during the infamous drug raid] at Redlands when they famously busted Mick and Keith and Marianne Faithfull. He was supposed to be at Redlands, but he decided not to go at the last minute. So they were out to get him at all costs.
PHAWKER: This Detective Pilcher who was leading the charge on these busts and planting evidence, was there ever any accountability for this, was he ever may to pay for his actions?
PAUL TRYNKA: Yeah, he was imprisoned. I can’t remember the year, I want to say ’73, but he was finally convicted of perjury. I can’t remember the technical term but essentially it was planting evidence, so yeah he was convicted of it.
PHAWKER: You say there was no truth to the rumor, this talk that Brian was going to strike out on his own and form a super group with Hendrix and John Lennon.
PAUL TRYNKA: No, sadly I think it’s just a sad rumor. Certainly Hendrix wouldn’t have entertained it for a moment. I spoke with Eddie Kramer, who was producing Hendrix at the time, he said Hendrix liked Brian, he thought Brian was a genius but [Kramer] thought the idea was laughable. And likewise Lennon. Lennon wouldn’t have gone for it either. No, it’s just a fantasy. Brian could well have made great music by himself but this super group is just an idea that someone made up just to sell a few articles or books.
PHAWKER: You cast a very cold eye on the conspiracy theories about his death. In fact, you go to great lengths in the coda of the book to debunk the prevailing conspiracy theories point by point. Please speak to that a little bit, was this really just a matter of people not willing to accept the sort of mundane truth that he died accidentally, drowning in a weakened state under the influence of drugs, possibly having an asthma attack, etc. Or do you think it was more insidious, that people were just looking to make a buck off it by lying about it?
PAUL TRYNKA: I think it’s both. I think certainly some people cynically peddle stories about murder hoping that it will sell books. As soon as you take a hard look at these stories and see people change their stories, that people told their friends that Brian drowned, and then later he is telling stories that Brian was murdered you have to make your own conclusions about all of that. The way that Brian’s death was handled by the police was a mess and a lot of people around him at the time were dodgy. But I think, in the main, it was all just a distraction and none of it stands up to scrutiny.
Admittedly, the official version sounds dodgy, but only until you read all of the conspiracy theories which are far more arcane and complicated and implausible than the official account. So I lay it out in the book and let people make up their own minds, but I firmly believe it was an accident that he wasn’t set up or murdered by the mafia, etc. The bigger crime is what happened to all of his money really.
PHAWKER: That was my next question, I was really shocked to learn that his estate only brings in about 20,000 pounds a year at this point, that is astonishing to me considering the bazillions of dollars The Stones are generating, although I’m guessing that the lion’s share of the Stones’ revenue stream comes from touring especially since they were so fucked over on publishing rights and royalties by Allen Klein. But can you talk about that a little bit.
PAUL TRYNKA: Well, yes a lot of it does come from touring. My understanding, from talking to people that would know, is that in order to get the continuing rights for their music from 1971 on, the Stones had to give away a lot of their rights to their ’60s catalog to ABKO, which is the publishing company of their second manager, Allen Klein. I don’t know how much money they get from the ABKO but they do get something. You would need a good lawyer to follow the money and it might be that the Stones are simply not looking out for Brian’s interest. Or it might simply be that anyone would need a very aggressive and good showbiz lawyer to go up against those people.
Also, remember that the Rolling Stones brand is much more lucrative than any of the band members as solo artists. Jagger puts out a solo album under the name Mick Jagger and it will sell a tenth of the number of copies that the brand name of The Rolling Stones would, and who came up with that brand name? Brian. So that is actually scandalous. And although it would be hard for a lawyer to assert that Brian actually owned the whole name, he’s a big creator, he’s created that brand and that brand is worth a lot of money.
PHAWKER: What is your favorite Stones album?
PAUL TRYNKA: The debut. Really I loved it, the best debut album I can remember. It’s just them running through blues classics, and then “Route 66” but it’s a very powerful album. You hear all of them, it’s got great work by Brian, it’s got great Chuck Berry guitar, and mixing is great because it’s just very naïve, kind of snotty.
PHAWKER: That came after, and what would be your favorite Brian Jones Rolling Stones song?
PAUL TRYNKA: I could pick so many, but I’ll give one I’ll say “Ruby Tuesday” because that is all Brian and that represents all of his sensitivity, and he did, according to Marianne Faithfull, come up with the major melody and the recorder part but he needed Keith to say ‘Right, well we’ll use this part here and this part here’ cut and paste it in order to make a song out of it. It has a real sweetness, it is a beautiful song which, sadly, the Stones play very rarely these days.