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Topic: Review of 'Old Gods' from Wash Post Return to archive
12-21-01 10:54 AM
sandrew written by David Segal - a smug prick.

Let It Bleed
'Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones' by Stephen Davis

By David Segal,
The Post's pop music critic
Friday, December 21, 2001; Page C02

The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones
By Stephen Davis
Broadway. 590 pp. $27.50

This is a lousy moment for a tour-by-tour, toke-by-toke account of the Rolling Stones. The band's reputation has cratered to a new low after the unceasing release of sub-par albums by its increasingly gnarled members, who look sillier by the year trying to pander to the under-25 crowd. Once the band expires, its decade and a half of greatness will be burnished by nostalgia. Until then, time is certainly not on its side.

Stephen Davis, however, is. "Old Gods Almost Dead" is a mostly affectionate if occasionally plodding account of the band and its four decades of music, drugs, drug busts, infighting, groupie-bedding and romantic intrigue. And more drugs. And more infighting. It's a long story, and eventually there is something numbing about it. By the time the Stones hit the '80s, the troubles of lead guitarist Keith Richards and his addictions, as well as his hate-love relationship with Mick Jagger, seem a little tedious, especially because the band by then had become little more than an arena rock spectacle, a road show whose creative magic had all but vanished.

"Old Gods" excels when it reminds us why we first fell for the Stones, recounting the group's astounding run from its inception in 1963 as a blues-obsessed quartet called the Rollin' Stones to what was arguably its last great album, "Some Girls," in 1978. Davis wisely spends 440 of this book's nearly 600 pages on that period, beginning with band's genesis in London, when rock was still in its adolescence.

But hardly innocent. "Old Gods" makes clear that the Stones were carefully marketed from the get-go, positioned as the opposite of the Beatles, who had beaten the band to glory and were then a national sensation. "To the extent that they looked all clean-cut and good," Keith Richards says of the Fab Four, "we would look scruffy and evil." Forget uniforms, forget "I want to hold your hand." The Stones were pitched as rude, lewd marauders. When the band was interviewed by Melody Maker, a British music magazine, the story ran under a headline written by the band's pugnacious and opportunistic manager, Andrew Oldham: "Would you let your sister go with a Rolling Stone?"

By the day's standards, they were dangerously louche. Mick wore corduroys and a sweatshirt, for heaven's sake. By 1964, the London Evening Standard was spluttering: "This horrible lot have done terrible things to the music scene, set it back about eight years. Just when we'd got our pop singers looking all neat, tidy and cheerful along come the Stones looking like beatniks." Ed Sullivan refused to book the band on his show in 1964. Instead, they showed up on Dean Martin's variety program, where they were insulted by the host. "That's the Rolling Stones' father -- he's been trying to kill himself ever since!" Martin said after a trampoline act exited the stage. The band was furious, as was Bob Dylan, who wrote "Dean Martin should apologize t' the Rolling Stones" in the liner notes to "Another Side of Bob Dylan."

In reality, the Stones weren't nearly as grimy as advertised, particularly drummer Charlie Watts, who stood above most of the mayhem with a dapper smirk, and Jagger, who hailed from a distinctly bourgeois background and never took to squalor. Bassist Bill Wyman hunted for groupies with a compulsive's fervor, boasting that he'd bedded a baker's dozen of ladies on a single tour. And there was Brian Jones, the moody, ill-fated original lead guitarist, who was happy only when he was beating up his girlfriend.

Prodded by the Beatles, the Stones rampaged through a variety of genres, digesting every African American musical tradition they could unearth at a time when most Americans were utterly indifferent to their home-grown treasures. The band taped its second album at Chess Records, birthplace of the recorded electric blues, and were shocked to find their idol, Muddy Waters, making side money as the in-house janitor. Richards had a seemingly endless supply of riffs and Jagger rooster-walked and sang with genuine soul -- a combination that sent white kids into a frenzy.

Little could stop the band on the ride up, not even a disastrous show at Altamont in 1969, where four kids died in a poorly planned festival with a security team headed by the Hell's Angels. (They were paid with beer.) Not even assorted drug busts, which landed Jagger and Richards in jail for brief spells. (Both narrowly escaped longer sentences.) Not even the death of Brian Jones, who was fired from the band and died in a drug-related swimming pool accident in 1969. By 1972, Jagger and Richards hated each other but the enmity barely impeded their output. They made "Exile on Main Street," a double-album masterwork, the same year.

When the Stones run out of gas, they don't stop running. Davis, a veteran rock biographer and author of "Hammer of the Gods," the story of Led Zeppelin, lacks the absurdist touch that could have made the final third of this tale entertaining. As the Stones grind into middle age and become an over-hyped arena act, the book grinds, too. And in his account of their wonder years, Davis provides far too little context about the Stones' place in rock's canon. We know how much they stole -- from heroes like Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson -- but what did they contribute?

In the place of analysis, "Old Gods" strives for encyclopedic scope, which means it must concern itself with the band's geezernalia, like 1997's "Bridges to Babylon," one of the dreadful offerings from the twilight years. We end up with plenty of detail, but not nearly enough sense of the debauched, tongue-wagging excess the Stones made famous early on. For that, you'll need a copy of "STP: A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones," Robert Greenfield's inside account of the band's 1972 tour, which was a wicked roundelay of liquor and Playboy bunnies.

It doesn't help, of course, that the band is still alive and strumming. Every great rock story needs a magnificent flameout, and the Stones are simply fizzling, gracelessly refusing to be bronzed in our imagination. There's even talk of yet another world tour. The story told in "Old Gods" isn't over yet, but you can count on this: The end won't be pretty.

12-21-01 11:22 AM
nankerphelge The funniest part of this whole thing is that for the last 10 years, it is almost as if there is a canned "Rolling Stones review" that all of the so-called critics pull down from the internet and rehash each time our heros release a CD, embark on a tour, or a book comes out. There is absolutely no original thought put into them at all.

Blah blah blah -- glory days of the 60s - blah blah blah - Brian Jone dies -- blah blah blah - 1972 tour wild -- blah blah blah - Keith hates Mick - balh blah blah - nothing good since Some Girls -- blah blah - wrinkly rockers look silly.

Sure thet are a spectacle -- how the hell could they not be -- the whole point of a live STones show is that you are seeing living breathing rock legends whose nearly every song from a 40 year career is a well-known hit. What on earth do they expect?

Did this twit listen to Voodoo Lounge? How is that not a great release? How about Stripped if dick wad doesn't like spectacle? Has he been to a Stones show in the past 10 years. There is still nothing like them live - regardless of any cliches. Does he mock them because they are sucessful? Why is that so bad? Do the rock critics believe that this is the one industry where being sucessful financially is a sign of no longer being sucessful musically -- the old sell-out argument. Please -- if they are delivering the goods, who cares whether they wouldn't associate with us otherwise. I sure don't care.

This kind of crap journalism is pretty common from the Post -- they personify the "what is everyone else saying" attitude so prevalent here in DC.
12-21-01 12:34 PM
sandrew I think you're exactly right; I wish that kind of unoriginal blather were confined to D.C. and politics, but it's a universal trait of the media nowadays. There's a whole set of mindless assumptions and predispositions that come with "polite opinion" about the Stones.

I mean, what do they want from the Stones? Who cares if their recent releases aren't "Exile"? How could they be? That era is over; no one, not even the Stones, can reproduce it. The worst part about these kinds of critics is that, when they're not bashing the Stones, they're saying how "potent" the new Creed album, or the new whatever - you fill in the blank.

I guess there's a positive side to all this: That they still provoke this kind of moaning - unlike, say, the Bee Gees - is a sign that they're still the biggest fish in the pond.
12-21-01 01:39 PM
sandrew Here's a letter in response:

Dear Editor:

It's fitting that David Segal writes about music in a town with a weak music scene; it's clear he doesn't appreciate the real thing. Case in point: His review ("Let It Bleed," Dec. 21) of the new Rolling Stones biography, Old Gods Almost Dead, peddled the same mindless clichés we've been reading about the Stones for years. "The band's reputation has cratered to a new low ..."? Maybe among the chattering class of unoriginal music writers, but not so among the millions of fans worldwide who made the Stones the biggest live draw of the 1990s. Who cares if they're old and "gnarled"? No one ever complained about blues legends Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker playing until they dropped. And, I'm sorry, but the synthetic tripe being served up by today's young and pretty "artists" -- Britney Spears anyone? -- just doesn't do it for me. Segal complains of the "arena rock spectacle" of Stones concerts. Perhaps they should perform on stools on an open-mic night at Iota Cafe. For my part, I'm glad the Stones are still around -- otherwise we'd be left with nothing but pale imitators like Oasis and teenage ciphers like the Backstreet Boys.

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