Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Paul Trynka, _Brian Jones; The Making of the Rolling Stones_

I HAVE BEEN a fan of Paul Trynka since his Iggy Pop biography, which struck me as having found the golden mean between myth mongering and careful, fact-checking, almost inevitably diminishing journalistic investigation. Trynka did his legwork, got the interviews, figured out the timeline, compared accounts, separated the wheat from  the chaff. Yet Trynka also understood to the bone why Iggy mattered to so many of us, what his unique achievement was.

Split the difference between Hopkins's and Sugarman's No One Here Gets Out Alive--myth mongering at its most besotted--and Albert Goldman's mean-spirited Lives Of John Lennon and you are in Trynka territory. Well-researched and clear-eyed, but with a deep understanding of why we care about these musicians, foibles and all.

So, in this volume, Trynka does not bother concealing that Jones, intelligent though he was and charming though he could be, was narcissistic, selfish, lying, frequently cruel, utterly unreliable, and by the end of his career with his Stones more a liability than an asset musically (and legally, with his chain of drug busts).

But, at the same time, his was the haircut and wardrobe that every aspiring rock musician in 1966 copied. He was the first one in the Stones to be hanging out with Dylan, Warhol, Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Hendrix, Nico. The Stones were indeed, Trynka maintains, Jones's band, his vision; he defined the early attitude, set the repertoire.  He's the main reason, arguably, that the first album sounds the way it does.

Once manager Andrew Loog Oldham was in the picture, and once Oldham decided to turn Jagger and Richards into a songwriting duo, Jones was increasingly marginalized within the band, a process accelerated by the accumulated resentment against him (he could, after all, be a diabolical asshole).
Still, as Trynka points out, for a guy who reputedly was unable to write songs, Jones added distinctive bits to Jagger-Richard compositions that ended up as those songs' defining hooks and certainly worth a co-composing credit in most bands.

Can you imagine "The Last Time" without Jones' snaky, hypnotically looping guitar figure, or "Paint It, Black" without his sitar, or "Under My Thumb" without his marimba, or "Lady Jane" without his dulcimer, or "2000 Light Years from Home" without his demonic mellotron?

Mick Taylor--as many people will remind you--was a better guitarist, a virtuoso. Taylor certainly ushered in the band's live peak. But in how many Rolling Stones songs is the Mick Taylor part the part you remember first? Whereas, can you play "Ruby Tuesday" in your head without hearing Jones's recorder part?

Even when he was losing it, Jones came up with the slide guitar on "No Expectations" and the tamboura on "Street Fighting Man"--slight touches that lift those tracks into the empyrean.

I bought into Trynka's case, as you can tell. Towards the end, Trynka calls Jones "one of the most visionary musicians of the twentieth century." That seems hyperbolic to me--on the other hand, to see the pop possibilities in raunchy Chicago electric blues took a lot of vision, and Jones was interested in hybridizing rock with world music well before anyone was calling world music "world music." I don't think I would have let Brian Jones hold my wallet, but he changed the game on those early Stones records.

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