Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Brian Jones - On This Day - 50 Years Ago

In his chronicle of the times, "Fallen Knights and Fallen Ladies" (from the book Nobody Waved Goodbye), Lou Reed said, 
After the Beatles came the Stones and of the Stones one could never have ignored Brian Jones with his puffed up Pisces, all-knowing, all suffering fish eyes, his incredible clothes, those magnificent scarves, Brian always ahead of style, perfect Brian. How could Brian have asthma, a psychological disease (we're told) and certainly something strange for a member of a rock and roll group. We read in interviews that Brian saw himself as the original lead Stone, a position he held until their American tour singled out Mick for the honor in the hearts of the American female. Can you remember 1964 when the Stones were called homosexual for long hair? (Were you?) Brian with two fourteen year old girls draped on each arm, must have laughed. And yet, the center of attention was drifting. In a group the attention may be evenly distributed (we all knew and loved John, Paul, George and Ringo) but in the Stones it was to be Mick. Now normally in a group an instrumentalist can never overshadow a lead singer (Exception: The Yardbirds where Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page did just that to poor Keith Relf). In the Stones there was Mick, the pivotal center. Charlie and Bill were for gourmets. That left Keith and Brian. Lead guitar always beats rhythm guitar for popularity, so that left Brian, who one assumes therefore turned to more and more exotic instruments to establish his presence to both himself and others. This is what I'm worth. Let me see you play the damn thing....but the great mass looked to Mick not Brian to be their leader through this Fall From Grace. And how can you take that? "But I started the thing," you might say. "It was my records in the first place, I turned them on, must I be a damn singer to turn on the world?" Yes, Or the champion of the guitar. 
Then, of course, there are more problems, the drug arrests, the constant mental turmoil. What if they tour without me? Financial. Could I starve? (He died well in debt). If they play without me I shall be disgraced and have nothing where as if I leave and strike out on my own I'm out before they get me (how sad! how inevitable!), and I create my own myth, style, voice, the eyes will be on me, I have a future, there's so much I know, music, music, music, who would know it from THAT, I can do it, I have to do it, I will do it. And of course the disorientation, am I backwards, forwards, the asthma attack (I am going to choke), the fall (where is the pool?!) and everything settles like a quiet bubble coming in spurts and then thin streams until finally the last one has popped itself right out of earthly existence.

It was in June 1969 that Jones quit the band he'd founded and named The Rolling Stones. Jones played a pivotal role in the Stones' success, with his blond hair, Bohemian dress and good looks, as well as his ability to play any instrument within minutes of picking it up. Jones, though un-credited, co-wrote and played the recorders and cello on "Ruby Tuesday," sitar and tamboura on "Paint It, Black," dulcimer on "I Am Waiting" and "Lady Jane," the lead guitar riff on "Get Off My Cloud," harpsichord on "Yesterday's Papers," the trumpet and trombone on "Something Happened To Me Yesterday," the marimba on "Under My Thumb," and the autoharp on "You Got The Silver." All, today, unnoticed.

He began losing control of the group when Jagger and Richards began their songwriting partnership in 1965, which slowly moved the band away from Jones' blues-based direction. By 1966, Jones' mental instability and drug abuse had become a liability to the Stones. Due to his substance abuse problems, Jones frequently missed tour dates and recording sessions, and was unable to function within the band when he did attend.

While there is controversy over whether Jones quit the band or was "fired" (based supposedly on Jones' inability to obtain U.S. working papers for the upcoming North American tour). While Jones claimed that he quit the band, a settlement was reached that he'd receive $200,000 as severance and $40,000 per year for as long as the Stones remained a band. (With Mick Jagger's net worth at $305 mil., it doesn't seem like much in the way of severance.)

A month later, July 3, 1969, Jones was dead, found at the bottom of the swimming pool at his Cotchford Farm home. "Death by Misadventure" was the analysis of the coroner's office. A memorial service was held on the 10th at Cheltenham parish church, attended by Rolling Stones Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (Mick Jagger was in Australia, where girlfriend Marianne Faithfull had been hospitalized following a suicide attempt). But the most lasting memorial was held two days after Jones' death, when his former bandmates paid tribute at the free concert in Hyde Park. Jagger, asking the audience to "cool it for a minute," read a poem by Percy Shelley before thousands of butterflies were released above the crowds. A fitting homage to a rock icon, and YET – were I a conspirist, I'd go into the whole murder thing, but I'm not; I'll leave that to the pale guy on ABC ("Could it be…murder?").

Better to leave off with the homage of Marianne Faithfull: "One of the best things about visiting Anita [Jone's gf] and Brian was watching them get ready to go out. What a scene! They were both dauntless shoppers and excessively vain. Hours and hours were spent putting on clothes and taking them off again. Heaps of scarves, hats, shirts and boots flew out of drawers and trunks. Unending trying on of outfits, primping and sashaying. They were beautiful, they were the spitting image of each other and not an ounce of modesty existed between two of them. I would sit mesmerized for hours, watching them preening in the mirror, trying on each other's clothes. All roles and gender would evaporate in these narcissistic performances, where Anita would turn Brian into the Sun King, Francoise Hardy or the mirror image of herself." 

On a personal note, I made a pilgrimage to Brian's grave in the mid '80s. Even then, the locals were still talking about him, and were eager to tell me stories in the pub about his funeral. At his grave was a crazy chick who was crying, all the way from Denmark.