Stanley Booth The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones

Sunday, 24 February 2013

TRue Adventures of the Rolling Stones.jpgThere are a couple of things that help when it comes to telling a story that’s already familiar to your audience.

One, of course, is to wait a while before you do it. Give the audience time to lose a bit of the detail in the fog of distant memory. With The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones Stanley Booth certainly did that. Fifteen years after the end of the Rolling Stones tour of the States at the end of 1969 the book Booth was wrangling about through the events he’s chronicling here finally appeared. 

Second, of course, it helps to be able to recast things so that your telling of the story is substantially different from what has gone before. Booth gets a walk up start in that department since he was on the ground in the Stones’ inner circle throughout the tour, so he saw things first hand that others could only pick up through hear say or rumour, and he’s found a three strand approach to the story that throws a new light on some of the circumstances.

Of course, it helps if you can really tell a story, particularly when you’re entering the same gonzo territory favoured by Hunter S. Thompson, where the narrator gets right inside the story and is an active participant. Thompson, for all his foibles and quirks, for all his wander and waffle, could, when the mood took him, write, and when he nailed a story it stayed well and truly nailed. His stuff might not have always worked, but when it did...

If you’re operating in that territory you’re not going to be over-prolific, and a glance at Thompson’s bibliography reveals a total of nineteen titles, four of them posthumous and most cobbled together from shorter pieces. Take a look at Stanley Booth’s bibliography and you’ll find, in the long form, a couple of incarnations of this title, a trio of Keith Richards biographies and the rather wonderful Rythm (sic, spelling taken from a mojo potion sold on Beale Street) Oil: A Journey Through the Music of the American South, which explains a fair bit of Booth’s access all areas status as the Stones toured the States in 1969 and collected articles Booth had contributed to magazines and newspapers including Playboy, Esquire, the Saturday Evening Post, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice.

Born in January 1942 in Gram Parsons’ home town (Waycross, Georgia) Booth spent his early years in a turpentine camp on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp where he saw a black man who worked for his family attempt to kill his grandfather. The family moved to Macon and on to Memphis in 1959, where he studied art history at Memphis State University before moving on to graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans, returning to Memphis without completing his degree due to lack of money and the fact that study distracted him from writing.

In between he’d done the Greyhound odyssey to Beat Generation Central in San Francisco, read Kerouac, listened to Miles Davis and met poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Zen scholar Alan Watts. That sort of CV would have allowed him to slot neatly into most hipster circles in the States and Britain, but by the middle of 1964 he was back in Memphis, acquiring a black belt, teaching karate and taking up a job with the Welfare Department that lasted until 1966, when, disillusioned with the system, he quit to try his hand at writing on a full time basis.

An ambition to be a full-time writer is all very well, but you need something (or someone) to cover the bills, and Booth got by on his girlfriend’s salary and what he was able to scrape together from freelancing, largely writing about music, which is where the link to the Stones, predictably, slots in. 

He’d already had an article based on time he’d spent at Graceland with Elvis Presley in early 1967 published in Esquire (allegedly the first serious article written about Presley) and had been in the Stax studios with Otis Redding two days before the singer’s death, watching the session that produced Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay. That one was a commission from the Saturday Evening Post. He’d also drunk bourbon for breakfast with B.B. King the day after Robert Kennedy's assassination during one of the last interviews for an article for Eye magazine, the source of another commission in September 1968.


© Ian Hughes 2012