"Exile On Main Street" by Robert Greenfield

by Susan Sliwicki

If the stereotypical mantra of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll wasn’t firmly entrenched in the music business by the summer of 1971, the tale behind the making of The Rolling Stones’ double album, Exile On Main Street, shows that the boys from Britain did their very best to make it so.

The Stones never tried to paint themselves as a group of choirboys, and perhaps that’s always been part of the raw, honest charm behind their music. But the accounts in Robert Greenfield’s book “Exile On Main Street” may make you wonder how the band ever managed to get it together enough to record the album, let alone classics like “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy.”

Greenfield’s account of The Stones’ time recording at a French Riviera villa seem so twisted and over-the-top with tales of drugs and depravity, I found myself checking the back cover more than once to make sure I wasn’t reading some hellish cautionary tale churned out by High Times magazine, The National Enquirer and “General Hospital.” But, no, Greenfield is a respected, award-winning journalist, and the stories he tells are the truth — at least as much of it as anyone who was there can recall.

If you like The Stones’ music, read the book. At the very least, it’ll get you wondering how Keith Richards managed to avoid joining the drug-related death roll of musicians in 1971. More likely, though, you’ll listen to their music with a new appreciation for what they could manage in the midst of a hot mess and wondering what musical highs they might’ve reached in different circumstances.

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