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Topic: Stoned on the Riviera (excerpt from the guardian) Return to archive
12-30-01 10:47 PM
Jaxx i saw some pictures posted back a few weeks ago. here is an excerpt and info on how to order the book

Dominique Tarlé
Genesis Publications £245, pp248
Early 1971 found the Rolling Stones still sucking on the sour, sticky end of the Sixties. Following the abdication of the Beatles, they were now rock's reigning monarchs, but after the death of Brian Jones (and those of Joplin and Hendrix), and in the aftermath of their personal Apocalypse Now at Altamont, the fancies of the previous decade looked suddenly remote and naive.

Keith Richards and his 'old lady' Anita Pallenberg were already into their destructive odyssey through heroin addiction. The group's finances were in chaos. Locked in legal dispute with their ex-manager Allan Klein, the Stones, whose income was taxed at 97 per cent, also faced a ruinous bill from the Revenue. So they bailed out into tax exile on the French Riviera.

Here Jagger and his bride-to-be Bianca settled into discreet affluence, along with family men Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts and new boy Mick Taylor. Richards simply transferred the baronial bohemia of his Cheyne Walk house to the Villa Nellcôte, a rambling, gone-to-seed mansion overlooking Villefranche-sur-Mer.

At first he, Pallenberg and their son Marlon, two, pursued a semblance of normal family life. Once it was decided to turn Nellcôte into a makeshift studio for the Stones' album Exile on Main Street - the follow-up to the world number one Sticky Fingers - the house quickly became a non-stop party, overrun by musicians, technicians, celebrities, friends and freeloaders.

Life at Nellcôte was on a scale as grand as that of any eighteenth-century aristocrat's. Up to 50 people would sit down to a lavish lunch, washed down by endless wine. More exotic substances were on hand - Marseille, Europe's junk capital, lay just down the road.

It was 'a mise-en-scène straight out of Tender Is The Night, with Keith and Anita as Dick and Nicole Diver,' says Robert Greenfield in the introduction to Exile, a sumptuous memoir of that summer by photographer Dominique Tarlé. A 23-year-old fan, Tarlé had befriended the Stones in London and Paris. At Nellcôte, he became an almost invisible presence, a camera-wielding Boswell there to preserve the never-ending party for posterity. Even then the Stones had a keen sense of their own history.

Tarlé captures several sides of the experience; the incongruity of making a rock 'n' roll record amid a circus of girlfriends, hangers-on, children and dogs; the formlessness of a life where pleasure, work, hanging out and drug-fuelled angst bled seamlessly into each other. Here's Marlon perching in a row of guitars, Keith and his heroin buddy Gram Parsons strumming into the small hours, Eric Clapton arriving for Mick's wedding, the band roasting in the sun nursing hangovers, and, in utter contrast to Richards's piratical swagger, Jagger in poses of composed narcissism.

Nellcôte provided a suitably florid and grandiose backdrop for rock's jeunesse dorée. Built at the turn of the century, it had been Gestapo headquarters during World War II (swastika air vents were still in evidence) - when a kitchen fire broke out in the basement, Richards shrugged it off as an outbreak of 'Gestapo vibes'.

With the Stones' newly commissioned mobile studio parked outside, and electricity hijacked from the mains, the recording took place in the mansion's barren, broiling basement where interminable jam sessions somehow coagulated into finished songs.

Everything revolved around Richards, then stepping out of his role as Jagger's foil to stake his claim as the soul of the Stones. With Mick commuting between the pregnant Bianca and Nellcôte, it was Keith's buccaneer spirit that marched proceedings along. Recording happened when Keith was ready, which was usually several hours behind schedule, and sessions were regularly interrupted while he put Marlon to bed, knocked off for a drink or became otherwise distracted.

Taking a spin around the bay in his boat, Mandrax, which he handled with the same abandon as his assorted sports cars, Richards would blow up the engine, run out of fuel, and send up distress flares. 'Not a day passed when he was not involved in some drama of his own creation. Sometimes it seems he had dedicated his entire life to never taking any shit from anyone,' says Greenfield, who visited Nellcôte for Rolling Stone and whose unusually revealing interviews with Richards are reprinted here.

At the end was Exile On Main Street, a double album of ragged intensity and raffish melancholy. Widely dismissed at the time as sprawling and unfocused, it has subsequently been honoured as the central record of the Stones' canon.

· To order a copy of this limited edition, contact Genesis Publications on 01483 540970 or visit the website: Exile

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