Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Book review: Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

Paul Trynka’s biography sometimes overstates Brian Jones’ long-term cultural impact, but this biography, scrupulously researched and cogently argued, should be unfailingly interesting to any fans of the Rolling Stones

By Larry Rohter  /  NY Times News Service

Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, By Paul Trynka.

Brian Jones is to the Rolling Stones what Leon Trotsky was to the Russian Revolution: organizer, ideologist and victim of a power struggle. Jones founded the group, gave it its name and recruited the schoolboys Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who then marginalized him, eventually expelling him from the band. Since his death in 1969, a month after he was forced out, Jones has largely been airbrushed from the group’s history.

Paul Trynka’s biography Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones challenges the standard version of events, focused on Jagger and Richards, in favor of something far more nuanced. Although Trynka sometimes overstates Jones’ long-term cultural impact, his is revisionist history of the best kind — scrupulously researched and cogently argued — and should be unfailingly interesting to any Stones fan.

Specifically, Brian Jones seems designed as a corrective to Life, Keith Richards’ 2010 memoir. Trynka, the author of biographies of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and a former editor of the British music magazines Mojo and Guitar, has interviewed Richards several times over the years and obviously likes him, but also considers his memory of events highly unreliable.

“History is written by the victors, and in recent years we’ve seen the proprietors of the modern Rolling Stones describe their genesis, their discovery of the blues, without even mentioning their founder,” Trynka remarks in the introduction. Without naming Richards, he also expresses his distaste for an assessment that appears in Life, that Brian Jones was “a kind of rotting attachment.”

The portrait of Jones that Trynka offers here is bifurcated. Although he is impressed with Jones’ “disciplined, honed sense of musical direction” and his dexterity on guitar and many other instruments, he does not hesitate to point out his subject’s more unpleasant personality traits: He was narcissistic, manipulative, misogynistic, conniving and dishonest about money. It’s not accidental that this book is called Sympathy for the Devil in Britain.

Publication Notes

Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones

By Paul Trynka

371 pages


Hardback: US

Trynka attributes Jones’ downfall to a conjunction of factors, some related to those character flaws but others external to him. Much has been written about the drug busts that swept up Jagger and Richards in the mid-1960s and their court battles, although Jones seems to have been even more of a target, because he was such a dandy and so successful with women.

But as Trynka tells it, Jones did not receive strong legal advice or fight charges as hard or as successfully as the Jagger-Richards team. After his first arrest, he pleaded guilty, which drove a wedge between him and other band members, who feared it would mean they could no longer tour abroad, all of which left him feeling crushed, isolated and vulnerable. That, in turn, increased his consumption of drugs and alcohol and made him less productive as a musician.

Nevertheless, Trynka demonstrates convincingly that the original Rolling Stones were Jones’ band and reflected his look, tastes and interests, not just the blues but also renaissance music and what today would be called world music. (He recorded the master musicians of Joujouka in the mountains of Morocco.) In Life, Richards describes his discovery of the blues-tinged open G guitar tuning, familiar from hits like Honky Tonk Women and Start Me Up, as life changing, and says it came to him via Ry Cooder in the late 1960s. But Trynka notes that Jones often played in that tuning from the band’s earliest days and quotes Dick Taylor, an original member of the Stones, as saying, “Keith watched Brian play that tuning, and certainly knew all about it.”

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