Picks and Pans Review: Rock 'n' Roll Babylon
We're a long way from the time when anyone will have enough perspective to assess what impact rock 'n' roll has had on Western culture. Assuming the eventual answer won't be "none to speak of," though, these two anecdotal books may serve as useful references someday. Charone, a London music writer, makes no pretense at objectivity in her book (Dolphin, $10.95). She once lived with Richards, the Rolling Stones' poisonous-looking, fascinating second banana, and his common-law wife, Anita Pallenberg (inexcusably, she doesn't even mention that fact in the book). She refers to him, in all seriousness, as "a great musician and a fine human being." Her portrait also suffers because it was first published in England in 1979 and includes only a scanty update on the events since, especially Richards' breakup with Pallenberg. But because she was treated as an insider by the Stones, she has amassed some telling material, notably about Richards' unapologetic attitude toward his drug use and the chronic feuds, artistic and otherwise, between Richards and Mick Jagger. Talking about the band's work on the LP Exile on Main Street in 1971, Richards sneers, "Mick spent most of his time during Exile away, 'cause Bianca was pregnant; ya know, 'royalty is having a baby.' " Jagger, for his part, accuses Richards of having a shaky ego; bassist Bill Wyman agrees: "On the surface Keith seems to be confident but he is insecure, and he hates people to be aware of that." Herman, another British rock writer, chronicles the depressing history of pop musicians' excesses with drugs, sex, violence and idiotic behavior in his volume (Perigee, $9.95). The tales are by now too familiar: Elvis organizing orgies so he could film them, Jim Morrison urinating on the rug of a friend's New York apartment, Joplin and Hendrix skidding toward death, even the sainted John Lennon being thrown out of a Los Angeles nightclub in 1974 after wearing a sanitary napkin on his head and yelling, "Do you know who I am?" Discussing all this sad, unnecessary behavior does point out, however, that much too often what these performers have been engaged in is not healthy rebellion against a rigid Establishment but only stupid, selfish, exploitive tantrums directed against those around them and, ultimately, against themselves.