Sunday, May 18, 2008

Annie Leibowitz: "The Rolling Stones on Tour" (1975)

Bill Wyman. looking blue

While not on top of their game musically (Goats Head Soup and It's Only Rock'n'Roll had been less-than-spectacular follow-ups to Exile On Main St. at the time), in 1975 the Stones were at their most glittering and decadent on the road. The "Tour of the Americas" was a huge and extravagant undertaking (huge elephants! giant stages! inflatable props! Andy Warhol!) that set standards for stadium shows, both on and off the stage, and the 12-inch-square format of The Rolling Stones on Tour -- the damn hardback thing's big and heavy -- almost matches the flash and excitement of the live events themselves.

Is bigger better? Well, by the mid-70s the Stones were tax exiles to avoid paying the British government the lion's share of their earnings, and facing competition that their own extravagance had created. Robert Frank's 1972 documentary with the unprintable title had been such an over-the-top fiasco that the band refused to release it. (Imagine that.) But according to Marshall Crenshaw in the book Hollywood Rock, "the resulting movie was crowded with scenes of the Stones nodding out, roadies balling groupies, and assorted tour hangers-on shooting up." Mick was so embarrassed by this slice of real-life boredom-on-the-road (or so Allen Ginsberg claims of Jagger's solo bathroom antics) that Frank himself had to secure the rights from the Stones to show it -- which he does, once a year.

Still -- it was the 1970s, and the extravaganza must go on. This particular party might have been a little slow in coming together: the tour took place seven months after the release of It's Only Rock'n'Roll. Atlantic Records, no slouches, released the Made in the Shade compilation so the band would have something to promote, at least a souvenir that would recoup some of the tour costs.

Rolling Stone magazine photographers Annie Leibowitz and Christopher Sykes captured the larger-than-life Stones onstage in big, color close-ups, as well as the private moments in hotel rooms and backstage in black-and-white candid shots. Accompanied by daily jottings from Terry Southern -- himself even then a living legend -- and a brief note from Mick Jagger, the book is a great, oversized memento of rock in the mid-70s.

Quite an amusing interlude this PM, when Mick received what can only be described as a "billet-doux," or mash-note, from top-rated dancer Rudi Nureyev -- requesting (among other things!) "as many S/M nudie pics as you can spare!" Of course, this proposition did not go down too smoothly with a certain M. Jagger, as his fans can well imagine. "It's not my bag, man," he protested as Quid (tour manager Peter) Rudge started to press him, saying repeatedly: "There's P.R. milage aplenty in this, me lad! I'm laying it on, so be good enough to get your bloody act together!" By grand good chance, Andy Warhol happened to be "visiting" ("'lurkin' about' is more like it," said Keith later) the estate, and hearing about the mot from Rudi, he was quick to don his Sunday Leathers and volunteer his services as "poet of the lens.''
What follows in the next few pages is Mick in various stages of undress, or, as Southern describes it, "a few 'tasteful' photos which resulted from this extraordinary collaboration": Warhol snapped in action by Leibowitz, and a hand-tinted Warhol portrait of Jagger that would eventually lead to Warhol's cover artwork of 1977's Love You Live.

The only thing this book is missing is a coke-spoon. Here's a sample bit of unexpected phone conversation as recorded by Terry Southern "with my trusty Sony 130" the day of the band's L.A. Colosseum show:

M: Hullo.
E: Hi! It's El!
M: Wot?
E: Mick! It's Ellie!
M: Who ...

E: Ha-ha-ha! Ellie, you great ninny!
Elton John!
M: Oh. Hullo.
E: Listen! Guess what? I'd simply love to be on
the stand with you tonight!
M: Tonight?
E: At the concert, for heaven's sake!
M: Oh, yeh. Well, the thing
is, El, we've got it already all sort of worked out,
if you know what I mean.

E: Oh, don't be such a
Just one little number! Oh, puh-leeze, Mick,
I'll simply die if you don't!

M: Uh-huh. What did you have in mind, actually?
E: Well I only know Honky Tonk Women!
M: Uh ... well, that's our opening number ...
E: Oh, don't I know it! Tant mieux!!
M: (sighs) Yeah, well, just the one number, okay?
E: Oh! Of course darling! Afraid I'll steal the show?

Later, Mick reflected on it : "We should've kicked him off the stage, but we didn't. It's because we're both English -- we're too polite ... I mean, if he had been an American, like Stephen Stills, someone like that, we'd have kicked him off straightaway." They left it to Billy Preston to tell Elton his time was up.

Life on the road with the Rolling Stones: excitement, frustration, lotus-shaped stages, boredom, groupies, hotel rooms, security, gilt and flash, Steve Ford and Bianca Jagger at the White House ... yeah, of course The Rolling Stones on Tour is monstrous and druggy, overstuffed and even (depending on your viewpoint) bloated and verging on self-parody; rock ages fast -- by the end of 1975, while the Stones were cavorting at the Alamo, the Ramones were blasting a hole in the ozone over CBGB's. Yet the Stones are still here, and still touring, even if "the boys" are more of an industry than a rock band by now.

Silly-billy Mick's joined Ellie in knighthood, for services rendered to the British crown (read: still bringing in buckets of money). Time may not be on their side at this late date, but still: if these pictures are anything to go by, the old saying is true. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Amazing, wot? -- although we can only hope that the inflatable known as "Tired Granddad" for its inability to get it up every night on the tour doesn't wind up on EBay.

Note: The Rolling Stones on Tour has been out of print for many years; I found a copy in a library book sale for a dollar. In 2007, Christopher Sykes and tour manager Peter Rudge issued an expanded, re-edited deluxe limited edition without the Leibowitz photos, leather-bound, hand-assembled, and even more over the top than ever. (Coke spoon still not included.) Got 250 quid to spend? Head over to Feeling even more flush? Amazon has a copy for $2000.00 Comment



I have an original copy of this book (albeit with pages falling out). I bought it at a used record/book store in 1981 for $5. The absolute coolest book to lay your hands on!

Johannes Bols said...

Why were Annie's photograph's omitted from the new edition? I thought she would've been glad of a $ infusion seeing as she was swimming through a sea of bankruptcy at that time.

M Bromberg said...

I'm sure it was a decision on the publisher's part -- Annie's price would have run the price up considerably for the Genesis Publications deluxe edition reprint, which was priced at 345 British pounds (= approx $445) for 2000 copies. And it may be that Annie herself may have sold her rights to the photos.