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Book Review: Robert Greenfield's Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones

I'm not sure that Exile on Main Street is the Stones' best album - that honor might go to Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed - but it's probably the Stones album with the most fascinating backstory. In this book, Robert Greenfield skillfully weaves a tale of drugs and debauchery as he tells about how Exile on Main Street was recorded in the summer of 1971 at Villa Nellcote in the south of France. The villa was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War, it's almost as if something sinister lived on there.

At the start of the summer it's an endless party, with no work on the album getting done at all. Mick is busy with Bianca, and the rest of the Stones and the many hangers on are living it up in a non-stop party at Villa Nellcote. But by mid-summer, when the recording actually gets going, things get messy, in large part due to heroin. The book is a case study in the flaunting of bourgeois values that the Stones, and especially Keith, represent.

Relying heavily on quotation, Greenfield tells a lively story, and we keep turning the pages, pardon the cliché ... out of morbid curiosity. He is not much interested in talking about the music, the wall of sound produced by so many overdubs. Nor is he interested in telling the story of what the album means to him, as in the books in the 33 1/3 series. He simply tells the story of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle behind the making of the album. Keith, the book's "hero," is the most decadent of the many decadent characters in the book. Yet he comes across as mostly likeable.

My only complaint is Greenfield's occasional tendency to lapse into cliché: "Why is ... Funny you should ask ... How were ... and .. different? Let me count the ways ..." and so on. I might also note that this is the first book I've ever read that cites Wikipedia. But if you like to read about sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, you will enjoy this book.


Funny you should post this

I just seen the movie. Stones In Exile.
Nostalgic of the good ol' "real" rock star days to say the least.

February 2019



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