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Philip Norman – The Stones: The Acclaimed Biography

The cover photo of this book tells it all. This Jagger-centric book glosses over giant swaths of time, cultural movements, personal interactions and entire albums (!) with horrifying rapidity, yet waxes poetic and covers minute detail for huge sections about the various drug arrests, Brian Jones’ death, and Altamont. It’s very obvious that this author prefers the prurient subjects.

Other band members get far less mention, except Keith but only then for his drug-related problems, and even then mostly only as it relates to Mick. It’s like Bill wasn’t even there (though we get an update about his post-Stones life in the epilogue – wow, thanks). And if Charlie gets mentioned, it’s that he lived quietly and collected antique silver. Thanks for fleshing him out for us! This author has also written a separate book about Mick, but no other Stones, so it’s obvious who gets the most coverage.

The book also hangs huge on the early years, up to the end of the 1960s. For a 501-page book (excluding author’s note and index), it’s only just finished barfing adjectives about Altamont by page 403. The next two decades get covered in less than 100 pages.

Worst (to me), the music is secondary, throughout this telling. The entire raison d’etre of the group, the creation of most of their albums, plays second fiddle to the goings-on and the minute details, for example, of all of Mick’s dalliances and marriages. So much space is wasted banging on about backstage garden parties and which house they bought, and yet, for example, Goats Head Soup gets more mention of its cover art than its music (and even then only about a paragraph), and the entire album of Emotional Rescue gets one sentence.

I’ve read enough about the Rolling Stones in the 3+ decades I’ve been a fan to know most of this stuff already, so I could fill in the incredible number of blanks myself. And yes, it is unrealistic to cover their entire career, and all of the goings-on both musical and extracurricular, in a mere 500 pages, but I wouldn’t blame a neophyte for reading this book and not knowing anything about the music at all when they were finished reading. It should have been titled The Stones: The Acclaimed Tabloid Biography (But Only The Most Salacious Bits About Which I Know The Most).

It all became clear when I read the Thank Yous at the end. This author spent time with the band on the 1981-1982 tour, and was a writer for the Sunday Times from 1965 up, so of course the main bit of knowledge would be the early years. But you can’t print a book about the Stones and just brush off sooooo much. I understand that a comprehensive biography would require multiple volumes, but picking and choosing like this book does is a disservice.

Much as I love the band, I wouldn’t recommend this book.

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