There’s an anecdote in this book by Rich Cohen in which he tells how he has been assigned to go on tour with the Stones by Rolling Stone and in a quiet moment with Mick Jagger, Mick tells him “your story should be called ‘why I love Keith Richards'”.
And Cohen really really does love Keef. It comes out time and again through this book and this anecdote shows that Mick is so sensitive, that after 50 years as a rock god he still gets hissy when Keith receives adulation.
Cohen inhabits that mysterious Saturnine ring: he’s not part of the Stones true inner sanctum, but he is close, having toured with them and having written about them extensively for various magazines.
The writer is pretty much the blueprint for the naive writer in the film Almost Famous and for some years he was working with Scorsese and Jagger on a film idea that became the series Vinyl. Cohen’s inside knowledge means he writes with a degree of insight not available to many Stones’ biographers, but you do have to filter his tendency to hero worship.
And the question that this book begs is: “what does it bring to our knowledge and understanding of the Rolling Stones that countless others, including Keith’s own book, haven’t already?” That’s hard to answer.
In The Sun the Moon and the Rolling Stones Cohen relates his growing up in the early ’70s in the US and how the Stones influenced his view of music and life. This story tracks the distance between Cohen – born in 1968 – and the band: “They overimbibed, lived to such excess there’s nothing left for us but to tell the story”.
There’s some great material on the genesis of British Blues through the medium of skiffle which spawned The Beatles and the Stones as well as myriad other acts. Cohen also charts well the rise and fall of Brian Jones; how the band started out as his creation, and was slowly and forcefully taken over by Jagger and Richards as Jones could not deal with success. Cohen writes that Jones was the “first victim of Satisfaction”. The role played by Andrew Loog Oldham as manager of the Stones, and the pusher of the Glimmer Twins as they became known, is also highlighted.
Cohen covers the infamous Stones drug bust in ’67, the trip to Morocco where Keith stole Anita Pallenberg away from Brian Jones, the “golden run” of music from Jumpin Jack Flash to Exile on Main Street and then Altamont and how the violent debacle of the night that stole the innocence of the Woodstock generation.
Whilst he sketches the same outlines as others have done in various accounts, Cohen’s attention to detail is first rate, and little nuggets of hitherto little known stories emerge to shape his narrative. He writes of the death of Rock ‘n’ Roll – referring to Nik Cohen’s belief that it all started in 1966 with the introduction of LSD into music – and connects that to the decline of the Stones, which he theorises came about because of the breakdown between Mick and Keith in the late 1970s.
The Sun the Moon and The Rolling Stones is not the definitive book on a huge chapter in the history of rock music through the 1960s and ’70s, but it’s a damned good read. I was inspired by it to re-watch Gimme Shelter and to track down some of the many books Cohen refers to in the course of the story. It’s a great example of combining the personal and the historical without self-indulgence nor self-importance. Cohen paints himself as a fan, as an acolyte to the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll band on earth and the book is better for it. Well worth picking up if you have any interest in the Stones and the era from which they sprang.
You can buy the book here