THE LAST DECADENT
A Study of Brian Jones
By Jeremy Reed
Creation. 158 pp. Paperback, $17.95
THE MURDER OF BRIAN JONES
The Secret Story of My Love Affair With the Murdered Rolling Stone
By Anna Wohlin with Christine Lindsjoo
Blake. 246 pp. $26
Thirty years after his death, Brian Jones is still full of surprises. In 1969, when he was found dead at age 27 in his swimming pool, the media reported that it was a drug-related mishap, the sad but logical outcome of his reckless rock-star lifestyle. Two new books shed light on his complex personality and the circumstances surrounding his death one month after he was dismissed from the Rolling Stones--officially because of musical differences with lead singer Mick Jagger, unofficially because of poor health and because he no longer fit in with the band.
Anna Wohlin, Jones's girlfriend of six months at the time of his death, and Jeremy Reed, Jones's most recent biographer, tell of a talented and sensitive young man adjusting to being usurped as leader of the band he originated by the commercial success of the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards songwriting machine. They also write of Jones's devastation when live-in girlfriend Anita Pallenberg deserted him for Stones lead guitarist Richards.
Wohlin and Reed both report that Jones had become extremely cautious about using illicit drugs after two arrests and harassment by police, and that he was a strong swimmer. They say that on the day Jones died, Frank Thorogood, a contractor assigned to make repairs on his estate (the former residence of Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne), had learned that his payment had been frozen by Jones. Thorogood, they both assert, was responsible for Jones's drowning that night. Reed reports a deathbed confession by Thorogood that appeared in the book "Who Killed Christopher Robin?" by Terry Rawlings.
Reed's book, "The Last Decadent," is an intelligent, lyrical exploration of Jones's complex psyche and persona. He builds a persuasive case for considering Jones as an Oscar Wilde or Quentin Crisp for the turbulent '60s, pushing the boundaries of cross-gender expression and heightening bisexual consciousness, and compares the reactionary social persecution those men suffered to Jones's own (he was the target of police harassment).
Reed cites a story from Nicholas Fitzgerald's book "The Inside Story of the Original Rolling Stone" about Fitzgerald's girlfriend squealing upon meeting Jones at an elegant party. "Brian said, 'It's all right, I have that effect on women.' He gave me a hot look, clearly implying, 'and men, too.' " Fitzgerald, a Guinness brewery heir, was Jones's friend and occasional lover during the last four years of his life.
Reed's Jones is vain, extravagant, hedonistic, arrogant and misogynistic as well as insecure, delusionary, fragile and dysfunctional, subject to paranoia and depression yet capable of kindness and generosity. Reed also paints a rich portrait of Jones as a superior musician with refined artistic sensibilities, making us appreciate his singular contributions to the Stones: his dulcimer on "Lady Jane," marimbas on "Under My Thumb," sitar on "Paint It Black," slide guitar in "No Expectations," blues harmonica in numerous songs. Reed tells of Jones's discovery in Morocco of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, who would play New York's Town Hall in 1995. He also gives us Jones himself, speaking insightfully on music, revealing his artistic soul.
Though decadence might not seem a fitting tribute to any man's life, Reed uses the term eloquently to bring relevance and dignity to Jones's. And Anna Wohlin says she was attracted to Jones's combination of "elegance and decadence." Her "Murder of Brian Jones" is a love story, sentimental and emotional. Its relevance lies in Wohlin's disclosure of what she says she couldn't disclose in 1969 because she was young (22), foreign (Swedish), in shock, naive and afraid--information that, as she says in her prologue, "will help solve the mystery surrounding Brian's death."
She tells of a beam, installed by Thorogood's men, that fell from the kitchen ceiling, almost injuring her, and of the angry confrontation between the two men on June 30, 1969, that culminated in Jones firing Thorogood. Afterward, Jones worried that he had gone too far and exhibited what Wohlin calls an "unrealistic desire for reconciliation."
At 10:15 the night of July 2, Jones invited Thorogood to the house for a drink and a swim. Wohlin tried to discourage Jones from teasing Thorogood--he had been taunting the contractor as well as pulling him underwater--before she was called inside to take a phone call. Responding to cries for help from his girlfriend, who was near the pool, she passed Thorogood, in the kitchen shakily lighting a cigarette, before finding Jones spread-eagled at the bottom of the pool. Later, when Thorogood and Wohlin went together to the police station for questioning, he warned her, "The only thing you need to tell them is that Brian had been drinking and that his drowning was an accident. You don't have to tell them anything else." "Frank lied during the interview," she now says. "And I concealed the truth."
Though Wohlin's present account differs somewhat from Reed's, they both reach the same conclusion--that Thorogood was responsible for Jones's death. Brian Jones's death certificate read, in part, that he had been "swimming whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs. MISADVENTURE," a finding that Reed says was refuted by an autopsy. For more than 30 years, then, Jones's name has been tainted by the slanderous conclusion, however plausible at the time, that he died carelessly and by accident. How unjust. If Brian Jones was murdered--and these authors make a convincing case that he was--the record should be corrected.
Mary Ishimoto Morris, who writes frequently about rock-and-roll.