*Note: All Wake County Public Libraries are closed today for the Independence Day holiday. In the mean time, enjoy this book review:
This week we’re featuring some of our “greatest hits” – the most popular Book-a-Day blog posts since we started this almost three years ago. Today’s is Exile on Main Street: a Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield, reviewed by Erik S.
It was the summer of 1981. There was a little boy named Erik who played little league for a team called the “Green Yankees.” As an outfielder, Erik was more prone to birdwatching than catching pop-flies. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before both Erik, and his parents, decided it was time for him to end his baseball pursuits.
Fast forward 20 years. It is the summer of 2001, and Erik is visiting his parents and going through some of the old childhood artifacts they have saved. He comes across an old Green Yankees roster with little mini bios for each of the team’s young players. Most of the kids’ bios had details about their playing positions and their power plays throughout the season. For Erik, it simply said, “Erik likes rock and roll. His favorite band is Kiss.” Point of the story, this kid was not born to play sports. He was born to rock, (and read ) And with a book like Exile on Main Street : a Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones, you can certainly do both. You will find yourselves intrigued and shocked with all of the carnal, cutthroat excess that occurs in this book; and more than likely, you’ll want to bust out of all of your Stones records and turn ‘em on up.
It was the summer of 1971 in the South of France; “a sunny place for shady people,” as described by the book’s author, Robert Greenfield. The Rolling Stones had rented the lavish Villa Nellcote on the French Riviera to record their latest masterpiece, a double record called Exile on Main Street. The Stones, surprisingly, were broke and had to leave England to avoid paying British income tax, (hence the “Exile” status for the record’s title). What occurred during the time of this masterpiece’s making was a hodge-podge of sex, drugs, crime, and ultimately, untimely deaths for many of the party-goers during that very debauched summer. Everyone wanted to party with the Rolling Stones. They were kings; loved and worshiped by nearly everyone, impervious to the long arm of the law, and more or less untouchable. If one could be remotely in the presence of these young British kings, it was truly a gift. Therefore, the cast of characters at Nellcote that summer ranged from actors, rock stars, daughters and wives of royalty, and other grandiose hangers-on. What this meant for the Rolling Stones was that they were granted the opportunity to live like emperors of ancient Rome.
The stories within this outstanding book range from orgiastic celebrating, to life-threatening drug habits, back-stabbing friends, affairs gone awry, close encounters with the law, and sadly, the inevitable deaths as a result of all the reckless abandon. Some of the women, who at one time were high society debutantes who could simply snap their fingers and get anything they desired, ended up dead in back alley streets less than a year later; reduced to nothing more than anonymous, homeless junkies. The book is a baffling one because it greatly romanticizes rock mythology, (which is hard not to do when discussing a group as decadent as the Rolling Stones), but as the title suggests, it does not shy away from the hell that surrounded this extravagant era. Exile on Main Street is still considered one of the best rock and roll albums of all time. Needless to say, you will never listen to it in the same manner ever again. All of the love, death, and celebration that went into it’s creation are now a permanent testimony to one of the most mythical and dangerous times in the history of rock and roll.