I never fancied myself a huge Stones fan, which doesn't explain why I have 35 of their albums. It's the early years of the Fugly Five that do send me. No one would dispute that the early Stones were the best white blues band around. (Only ex-schoolmate Eric Schaefer would. He believed with all his heart that The Who were better at it than Mick and Keith, but Eric thought The Who were better at everything than anyone else. Paul Lukas and I recoiled in horror!).
It's Keith's reflections on the beginnings of the band that were the most interesting and sincere. The struggles of Mick, Keith and Brian, starving and cold as they pursued the Holy Grail of Chicago blues reads true. It's not an image; it's pre-"Bad Boys of Rock" bullshit that permeates the other bits. The travails of druggie Brian, the love triangle between Jones, Richards and Anita Pallenberg lack passion. Keith says it all in the origins piece; girls came way last for the band. Though the Stones' persona is wrapped around chicks, they never seemed to really care. Anita giving Keith a blow job in the back of his Bentley is delivered with the disinterest one would have in flicking away a fly. Keith tells it as if he's watching as an outsider. There no love on those pages. Hey, no one really believes the Stones love anyone, do they? Think of "We Love You" from Satanic Majesties. Totally false.
When Keith talks of music, now there's a love story, and it brings me back to the start of the Stones. From 1963-66, they were the best at what they did, but who really listens to that period anymore? Compare that to how much we hear of the early Beatles, and how their first records till fly off the shelves. Rolling Stones Now? 12 X 5? Only die-hards buy the Stones back catalog, yet it's their shining hour, when their commitment to what they were doing was all-consuming.
Yesterday I stumbled upon a precious bootleg, Beat Beat Beat, the Stones BBC sessions from '63-'65. They are a powerhouse and loads of fun. I defy anyone who's heard their version of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" to not break out in a huge grin. And no one did Chuck Berry like The Stones. The radio take on "The Last Time" is a marvel and, boy, they could play. Listen to "Satisfaction." The interplay between Keith and Brian is their sound, never recaptured after Jones' death (or was it murder?).
Though there's no studio chatter that makes The Beatles BBC recordings so enjoyable (and, in fact, I'd rather hear The Fab Four talk than the Stones play), a brief interview reveals what The Rolling Stones always knew: they were never going to stop. Poor Brian, he makes that point though he wouldn't make it into the next decade. Keef always said to whoever would listen that this band would play forever. It's only their audience and the media that came late to that realization.
The Rolling Stones of 1963 would be proud that those band members who survived into 2010 were still rocking, mirroring the lives of the aging bluesmen they revered when they set out on their journey to spread the music they worshipped.