The reviewer writes frequently on popular music.
"Up and Down With the Rolling Stones" is an utterly scurrilous literary project. The pages are littered with accounts of drug-taking, illicit sex, corruption, madness, arrests and trials. These details are rendered in a style that combines the scandal-mongering hyperbole of a daily tabloid with the emotional drivel of a True Life Romance. It is a disgusting story, disgustingly told . . . .
I read the book in one sitting.
Tony Sanchez has secceeded where all of the rock encyclopedias and quickie books have failed. He has captured that perfect blend of fascination and revulsion that is the essence of the appeal of the rock star persona. A lurid picture of young musicians spoiled by excesses of wealth and ego, it is both revolting and riveting.
Sanchez, a former employe and confidant of Stones guitarist Keith Richard, is hardly an objective observer. At times he waxes rhapsodic about his idols, while at others times he assumes a post of self-righteous indignation. Though no longer associated with his subjects he still seems intrigued by the swirl of celebrities, exotic locales, wild parties and extravagant carryings-on. He eagerly recounts his tale of life amidst the Stones with all the fervor of a true fan.
Because of this, "Up and Down With the Rolling Stones" is both a document and an artifact of rock culture. While the prose is sometimes hysterical, wringing every bit of drama out of even the most mundane events, the text does provide interesting footnotes to the group's music and career and is also an engrossing description of the rock elite.
The book opens in the mid-'60s, with the Stones in the midst of their first wave of popularity. Sanchez is informative on the background of the group and of the musical forces that shaped their early style. While the Stones have become the media darlings of the '70s, they initially were one of the first groups to bring American blues and R'n'B to the mass market. They were musical revolutionaries of a sort, going against the more pop-oriented Mersey sound of the Beatles and others. Sanchez manages to express much of that early excitement and in so doing, presents a comparison with the later lackluster Stones.
After the introductory musical sections, however, the writing descends to the level of decadent soap opera. The Stones, as described by Sanchez, appear to have been suburban, middle-class teen-agers who, suddenly thrust into a world of mega-money and fame, began to suffer jet-set lag.
Sanchez, by his own account, was an eye witness to some of his stories. He has an annoying habit of describing everything in a firsthand fashion, however, including events at which he could not have been present. Entire conversations are quoted verbatim and he adds seamy commentaries apparently designed to bring the reader into the action. After a while, one can believe only that he possesses prodigious shorthand skills or an equally impressive imagination.
Accompanying the text is a series of photos (many taken by the author) some of which have the most ludicrous captions -- "Brian Jones before dissipation set in" or "Keith . . . before the bust," or "The Stones circa 1967. Jagger had just discovered cocaine." Nonetheless, the photos do convey a sense of the remarkable effect the Stones have had on popular taste.
Given an environment in which any material whims are immediately gratified, the Stones, according to Sanchez, have led an oppressively hedonistic existence to relieve their boredom. The unending personal and professional tragedies -- drug overdoses, court cases, connivances, betrayals and breakdowns -- which he relates appear to stem from the group's inability to deal with all that money and power. The fantasies might be fun but the reality is much less attractive.