The Brian Jones Documentary

“Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones”:

This guy must have never worn a condom. He fathered six kids out of wedlock and he died at 27!

Then again, Brian Jones was famous for being amoral, mean and manipulative. And when you mix these characteristics in with someone who cannot say no to any drug and who is incorrigible…you can understand why Mick and Keith took over the band and ultimately kicked Brian out.

Now if you’re under forty and you die and they do a documentary on you there’s gonna be tons of footage. Your parents have been shooting video from the moment you were born, and you’re posting pics to social media, but this was the sixties, cameras meant film, which was expensive and needed development, and most of what happened in that era has fallen through the cracks. So, the truth is there’s very little footage of Brian Jones in this movie. It’s really just an oral biography, but in movie as opposed to book form. Should you watch it? Yes.

If you don’t have a documentary on you you were never a factor in the music business. It’s astounding. And most are amateurish and barely watchable, for fans only. I watched the Bill Wyman doc because it got great reviews. Did I need to watch a movie on Brian Jones that I wasn’t even sure I’d heard of? Well, compared to the other music documentary offerings…I decided to give it a few minutes, especially since the blurb said the filmmakers were experienced and looking for the truth, although I took that with a grain of salt, but it costs nothing to dive in, in this case on Amazon Prime.

So the first thing you notice is Brian Jones lived a long time ago and the people who’ve survived are OLD! And they live up to the English rep, they have bad teeth. And then you’re watching the story unfold and you realize that these guys were all in their twenties. Look back from beyond that and it’s flabbergasting, they were babies, at an age when a breakup can devastate you, Anita Pallenberg leaves Brian for Keith and Brian can’t recover, and Keith was hanging with Brian and Anita because he was devastated that he’d been dumped. And you think being a rock star you always call the shots, never!

So Brian figures he’s gonna give it one more shot. He wrote film for this movie that Anita is starring in that’s opening in Cannes so he flies down with his buddy to steal her back, and she’s all lovey-dovey, but she’s not returning, so they fly in a babe from the U.K. to make Anita jealous, and this new woman, Suki, is about as good-looking, but she doesn’t have Anita’s personality, a limit tester who drags people into trouble and feels she’s invulnerable, making great conversation along the way. People are people, as Depeche Mode sang, and if you can’t understand why John Lennon was with Yoko Ono, you’ve never hung with a six foot tall cover girl with nothing to say.

Brian doesn’t suffer fools. He wants the stimulation of conversation. He wants to talk about blues records. So he’s mostly silent until he feels the resonance and then… He was the Stone hanging with John Lennon. He met Bob Dylan and then called him every day, he was so thrilled to CONNECT!

How do you make friends in this world? You know when you have that resonance, and the older you get the harder it is to find. And the truth is music and celebrity culture are not known for their intellectual rigor, so if you’re looking for that…

So Brian is born into an upper middle class family. He’s learning to play the piano, the clarinet, but then he discovers jazz, and his parents can no longer keep him on track, he’s all in. So they pack a suitcase, put it on the front stoop and lock the door, Brian is now on his own.

And he mooches and is broke but he follows the music.

But contrary to so many of the stars of that era, Brian knew how to play, so he was the focus. He started bands. The Stones were his band. Talk to Andrew, he’ll tell you. Brian was the spokesman, he was the one who negotiated. But then Brian took a secret five pound commission on gigs and the rest of the group never forgave him. But then it got worse, he lost control because he didn’t write, a friend testifies he was categorically unable.

So not only is there little footage, there’s absolutely no Stones music, they couldn’t pay for it, never mind whether it would be licensed to them. But it’s not really necessary, because this is a character study, of someone who’s been left to the past. And yes, his friends defend him, but just when it starts to slip into hagiography they talk about what a pain in the ass Brian was, a girlfriend says he was “a shit”…

So the film paints the Stones as dangerous, and the government out to get them. Which is hard to believe in today’s hip-hop world where porn is a cottage industry that you run out of your home. The Stones were blues purists, but then the Beatles blew it all up and you needed your own songs and…

The flourishes Brian added made so many tracks hits, like the marimba in “Under My Thumb”… Sans the marimba, it’s not a hit. And the sitar in “Paint It, Black.” And then when he’s fading, intransigent and barely showing up, he lays down the slide in “No Expectations,” which makes that track too. That was Brian’s calling card in the beginning, he could play slide.

But for every positive aspect, there’s a negative one. He would push people to the edge just for the hell of it. He would disconnect.

And the truth is Brian Jones has faded into the rearview mirror. He who writes history owns it. And all that happened over fifty years ago, all we’ve got is these geezers who testify, and so many, like Anita Pallenberg, are already gone. So now Mick and Keith are lions, and Brian Jones is a footnote. Proving, if you’re a budding musician…WRITE YOUR OWN SONGS!

Then again, musicians used to worry about publishing rights, now they don’t really care because it’s all about building your brand and cashing in elsewhere, where the real money is, so if you’ve got eighteen writers on a song, who cares? And they’re used to the labels not paying, so they believe they’ll get screwed on the publishing anyway. And who knows how long they’re going to live?

But everything today is an extension of what was developed in the sixties…EVERYTHING! Which is why if you were around back then, so much of it seems boring today. Concert promoters were like app developers, and just about as honest, didn’t Sean Parker steal the names from one app for another that went bust anyway? You cut corners in rock, as you did in tech, but not anymore…LIVE NATION IS A PUBLIC COMPANY!

So you’ve got to be into it for the music and the lifestyle, and these guys were primarily in it for the music, they’d sit around and listen to records all day. Life was slower, you weren’t interacting with everybody you know on a handheld device all day long. There were long stretches where nothing was going on, where you went deeper into yourself and your surroundings, ergo the music renaissance. Albums were not for listening together, but listening alone, they kept you company!

Unfortunately, the last fifteen minutes or so are an investigation into Brian’s death. And I hate to say it, but who cares? Dead is dead. No one has ever brought anybody back, and I’m doubtful about Jesus, but if you believe he did they killed him anyway. It’s kinda like the coronavirus. Other than blame, what would we achieve if we find out it was leaked from a lab? It’s not like China is gonna give a mea culpa. That’s one thing being a lawyer teaches you, being right oftentimes doesn’t pay.

So it was a long, long time ago. Almost all of the images are in black and white. You get the feeling of dark, damp England back then. The world these musicians wanted to escape from.

And I don’t want you to think that Brian Jones was a saint who was solely responsible for the band’s success, because that’s patently untrue, but he was a guy who was infatuated with the music, who lived to play the music, who was always exploring before the drugs got the better of him.

So it appears Brian was killed by his just-fired contractor. But the contractor is dead and…

The funny thing is the records remain. There may not be images, but we’ve got the records. Pull up “Paint It, Black” or “Under My Thumb” or “No Expectations.” They’re magic. I only had to hear “Under My Thumb” once to get it, and I can tell you where I heard it, in Howard Johnson’s on Mount Washington…”Aftermath” was literally the only album that was there.

And Howard Johnson’s was just a hut halfway up the mountain, it shared nothing with the orange-roofed enterprise that sold fried clams and ice cream. And I’d love to have video of the week we spent there, when our tent blew over, just below where the highest wind speed in history was recorded, but it’s all in my brain, it’s just memories.

But memories have feelings.

Watch “Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones,” that’s one thing it will evoke, feelings. You’ll feel the passage of time. You’ll marvel that you weren’t as hip or experimental. And even though it’s not on the soundtrack, the music will play in your head, it’s there forever!

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