Monday, January 11, 2016

Nathan's Favorite Records, 2015



1. Tame Impala, Currents
Great psychedelia is intoxicating and messy. It should lead your imagination toward one place and then zig when you expect it to zag. Which is to say this album is a rabbit hole of “holy goddamn, how did they think of that?” songwriting.  

2. Kamasi Washington, The Epic
A muscular, form-defying three-hour jazz odyssey from the saxophonist in Flying Lotus’ cutting-edge stable. From Coltrane to Sun Ra to funky fusion, Washington channels every permutation you can think of and add a few more.

3. DāM-Funk, Invite the Light
In a time where retro is king, the man means to carry his namesake forward. Layers of synths grind and sputter into something grand. It takes a few listens to fully access the many levels of this record.

4. Dr. Dre, Compton: A Soundtrack
The retirement album of a master, who to everyone’s surprise had something new to say. Yes, Compton is as self-serving a cartoon as the movie that inspired it. I could knock the hustle, but the beatsmithing and guest verses are up to normal exquisite standards, and there’s something else too, new to Dre: a sense of playfulness.

5. Destroyer, Poison Season
Kaputt from 2011 could never be imitated, and luckily, Dan Bejar does not try. Heavy on orchestration but light on groove, quality still shines through these lonely symphonies.

6. Blur, The Magic Whip
Damon Albarn’s track record continues almost unblemished, and here he returns to the band that made him famous. An older band less interested in showing off, and better for it.

7. Dawn Richard, Blackheart
Taking a page from Janelle Monae’s multi-album conceptual journeys, Richard composes a sequel to Goldenheart that is, as she would say, “on that new shit.” She defies pop rules as cannily as she invents new R&B sounds.

8. Deerhunter, Fading Frontier
This is the first Deerhunter album I felt was seriously extraordinary. A mixture of pleasing classic rock and noise, it's quite the collection of weird anthems.

9. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone
Slight? Maybe slightly. This was an unexpected pleasure Badu dropped out of nowhere, with a satirical edge I never expected. Beyond the takes on Drake and the Isleys and the Andre 3000 verse, even at 36 minutes, it still feels smooth and complete.

10. Jay Rock, 90059
West-coast rap was too rich to believe in 2015. Yet somehow this brisk, uncompromising entry in the nu-rap canon was regarded as a disappointment. I defy anyone to listen to “Money Trees Deuce” or “Gumbo” and tell me Jay-Rock is somehow lesser than Kendrick.


Favorite Songs*
A$AP Rocky Feat. UGK and Juicy J, “Wavybone”
Boogie, “Oh My”
Cashmere Cat Feat. Ariana Grande, “Adore”
Drake, “Hotline Bling”**
Freddie Gibbs, “Fuckin’ Up the Count”
Ilovemakonnen Feat. Migos, “Whip It (Remix)”
Mutemath, “Used to”
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, “All the Gold in California”
Young Thug, “Best Friend”

*No reason to limit myself to just singles or radio hits
**The heart wants what it wants, and the ear likes what it likes

Friday, January 1, 2016

Aaron's Favorites, 2015: Music In The Year Commas Got Fucked Up




1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
You can live at the mall, or you can groove to Kendrick Lamar Duckworth’s funk odyssey of limitless ambition and acumen. K Dot is our Gil Scott.

2. Destroyer, Poison Season
Bejar reaches a little further back to find his melancholic haze this time, but continues to make the only thing he’s capable of: a Destroyer record.

3. Jessica Pratt, On Your Own Love Again
A moonlit blur, our generation’s I Often Dream of Trains.

4. Low, Ones And Sixes
A freezing blast of Duluth intensity, from a band writing some of its best songs in decade number three.

5. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone
Badu tries on the styles of the moment, sounds ten times more comfortable in them than actual young people. The technology she could do without.

6. A$AP Rocky, At.Long.Last.A$AP
Didn’t expect 2015’s trippiest album to come from Pretty Flacko, but here it is. He had good taste, but he’s turning that into vision.

7. Blur, The Magic Whip
A reunion album that finds the band where they are, not where they were. Basically Albarn’s world-weariness in widescreen, with brilliant details from Coxon and crew throughout.

8. iLoveMakonnen, Drink More Water 5
He teaches you how to whip it, warbles about heartbreak, lies to his Mom about selling drugs and dispenses solid advice about staying hydrated. What’s not to love?

9. Vince Staples, Summertime '06
A claustrophobic rumination on one summer in the rapper’s teens. No I.D’s no-frills productions are about as far away from West Coast as it’s possible to get, but it all feels true to Vince.

10. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Surf
Chance—even while ceding the spotlight to his friends, rapper and jazz trumpeter alike—radiates a shamanic positivity. Just drink the kool aid.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rockaliser Radio: Rockcast V

For year five, Nathan and Aaron reconvene for the immense, 3.5 hour fifth installment of the Rockcast.


Who favors 19-minute noise epics more? What parts of the country might good rap music come from? Is Black Messiah the first great post-John Entwistle album?

Listen to find out the thrilling answers! You can stream above and download the podcast here.

And for good measure, here are Nathan and Aaron's lists:

Aaron's 2014 favorites:
1. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
2. YG, My Krazy Life
3. Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots
4. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
5. DJ Quik, The Midnight Life
6. Lee Fields & The Expressions, Emma Jean
7. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags
8. Ex Hex, Rips
9. ILoveMakonnen, ILoveMakkonen
10. New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

Nathan's 2014 favorites:
1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
2. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
3. The Underachievers, The Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium
4. Kimbra, The Golden Echo
5. Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron
6. Boris, Noise
7. Goat, Commune
8. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
9. Big K.R.I.T., Cadillactica
10. Run the Jewels, RTJ2

Friday, January 2, 2015

Everyday Be Listening to Nathan's Favorite Records, 2014


1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
Out of nowhere, D'Angelo and his appropriately-named backup group cast a spell of hypnotic jazz-funk-hard rock-flamenco-Great American Songbook-Beefheart-There's a Riot Goin' On jams so potent that they make up for 14 years of silence.

2. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
Culled from years of relaxed sessions between the Gary, Indiana emcee and former Stones Throw's vinyl virtuoso, Cocaine Piñata (the semi-official title) finds Gibbs smoking Madlib's best-laid rhythms like they were nickel bags. A soul sample lover's paradise.

3. The Underachievers, The Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium
As the title suggests, this LP is all about linguistic beauty unrelated to meaning. Issa Gold and AK have the endless back-and-forth energy of a young OutKast, and like that group, their tightness reinforces each other's skills.

4. Kimbra, The Golden Echo
With her stunning musicianship, ace choice in collaborators, unlimited vocal range, and twin allegiances to the groove and the avant-garde, the New Zealand pop star is in a class with only one other artist: Janelle Monae.

5. Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron
Schoolboy is the edgiest, nerviest, most unpredictable rapper in the Top Dawg roster and perhaps on the entire West Coast.  Oxymoron is a gangsta/confessional record that is alternately a scary, hopeful, and thrilling window into the mind of a restless thinker.

6. Boris, Noise
Another year, another Boris album with a so-generic-it's-audacious title, another set of explosive churning stadium rockers that never go anywhere one expects. "Angel" is the 19-minute monster of the year.

7. Goat, Commune
Do I care about Goat's devotion to Swedish vodou traditions and communal mysticism? Not really. But their music is enveloped in pleasure, bursting with dozens of uncharacteristic influences (afrobeat, psychedelia, drone, Beatlesque melodies) that will dizzy the listener who attempts to identify them.

8. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
The psychedelic qualities of this record are overstated--this is outlaw country-rock in the Kris Kristofferson, Gene Clark mode that is stronger because it demonstrates Simpson's authentic songwriting before lightly breaking the Nashville sonic mold (unforgettable album closer "It Ain't All Flowers").

9. Big K.R.I.T., Cadillactica
No one seems willing to anoint Big K.R.I.T. "king of the south," so he made this 15-song case. This time, he leaves the production to others and refines his songwriting and hooks. Is there a better rapper in America?

10. Run the Jewels, RTJ2
Best listened to divorced from thinkpieces on Ferguson, etc. (as if Killer Mike and El-P were the first rappers ever to protest police brutality), I prefer to think of RTJ2 as the best rap-rock record since the Judgment Night soundtrack.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On A Jape I'm Returning: Aaron's Favorites, 2014


1. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
Madlib paints with different colors than the rest of the game. He’s sui generis, way off the map. Gibbs, on the other hand, is a supremely gifted classicist. Their pairing shouldn’t work, but together they’ve produced the great lost blaxploitation soundtrack.

2. YG, My Krazy Life
Not the first Compton bildungsroman, but one of the very best. A workmanlike MC, YG fights through every bar--with some big assists from a certain producer friend. Praise Mustard.

3. Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots
Understated and stately, constructed on top of a heap of scrapped-together rhythms, Robots is Albarn’s missive from a monochrome planet. Not so gray, however, that it won’t let a quietly brilliant album slip through.

4. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
The shapeshifter is back, meditating amid soul of such richness and complexity that it should last us another 14 years. If the album title was about him, would you really object?

5. DJ Quik, The Midnight Life
A tour through Quik’s ultra luxe LA rap, with a series of low-key legends riding shotgun. Too funky? Pretty much.

6. Lee Fields & The Expressions, Emma Jean
A soul footnote contends with life, love and mortality, makes case for his own legend.

7. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags
Crooked melodies, golden jams: Jagbags dishes out a jambalaya of everything the guy’s been cooking. May he never stop.

8. Ex Hex, Rips
Sometimes you just wanna rock the fuck out. Mary Timony feels you: these twelve garage tracks are vicious.

9. ILoveMakonnen, ILoveMakkonen
Makkonen contorts his voice six ways from Tuesday, ends up somewhere between “stream-of-consciousness rapper” and “warbling R&B singer”. He seeks shelter in molly, the club, Brianna, Sarah and watches, doesn’t find it.

10. New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers
Slinging the hulked-out harmonies that hooked you in the first place, cutting them with a few new flourishes.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: Jimi: All is By My Side

[Note: This was a film review first published on Joyless Creatures here.]

Like Deep Impact and Armageddon, right behind the James Brown biopic Get on Up is Jimi: All is By My Side. Starring Andre Benjamin (better known to many as Andre 3000 of OutKast), All is By My Side vividly recreates the slang and fashions of 1966 London, while only rarely falling into the trap of rock nostalgia clichés and, in fact, ends up becoming a celebration of the purity and fearlessness of Hendrix’s approach to music.

There are a few films that stand out in relation to Jimi: All is By My Side.
One is the 1995 film Backbeat, which covered the early, pre-songwriting
days of the Beatles, therefore avoiding mammoth Lennon/McCartney licensing
fees. The Hendrix family estate, which is notoriously protective of Jimi’s
catalog, refused to allow any songs in All is By My Side. Subsequently the
 film has to skip over some musical bits when showing the recording of the
 first album Are You Experienced? but otherwise the lack of Hendrix
compositions is not a major flaw in this film.

The other film this reminds me of is Velvet Goldmine, where David Bowie
notoriously forbade any of his songs on the soundtrack, marking a keen
absence in a film that is basically about his life. Like Velvet Goldmine,
Jimi has a narrative threadbare quality and does not shy away from the
ugly side of its subject’s behavior.
Picture
The movie is also distinguished in that it gives almost equal time to female
roles. Imogen Poots is Linda Keith, the teenage model who first discovered
quiet guitarist Jimmy James playing backup for Curtis Knight & the Squires
to an audience of a dozen people. Keith, then the girlfriend of Rolling Stones
guitarist Keith Richards, tries to enlist the help of their manager Andrew
“Loog” Oldham, who pronounces him “rubbish.” Keith is tenacious and goes
through every connection she has in the music industry. No one is interested
except Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), bassist for the Animals, who is
planning to quit and manage some new acts. He knows the blues and realizes
 that Jimi is something special. Before long, he has managed to convince a
reluctant Hendrix to go to England, where white audiences are more receptive
 to black blues players.

Jimi and Linda have a connection, but it is promptly cut off when Kathy
Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), a hairdresser, enters the picture. Theirs is a
romance that has its shares of troubles. Director John Ridley does a great job
making each of these women full, rounded characters—yes, Kathy is portrayed
as sometimes frivolous and in love with her partner’s rock n roll stardom, she is
also acutely human, capable of warmth and understanding, not always jealous or
mean-spirited or soul-sucking as these types of roles tend to be. Atwell does a great
job inhabiting the part.

The main acting accolades, of course, have to go to Andre, perhaps my
favorite musician of the past 20 years. He had been rumored to be working
on the role longer than a decade ago, and now at 39, he is a great deal older
than the part—a decade and a half at least. But being far past Hendrix’s age
was probably a minor challenge, compared to other difficulties.

One thing about Hendrix that makes him so amazing to watch, and one of the
few guitar geniuses that no one can really imitate, is that he was left-handed,
but played a right-handed guitar upside down. Benjamin is right-handed and
switching to a left-handed guitar is no easy thing, let alone playing it upside
down. According to Benjamin, who actually is a guitar player (of limited skill,
by his own admission), it took months of grueling practice to mime the parts
in this film. He is not actually playing, but he did master the fingering to look
like a reasonable facsimile, and that by itself is almost as difficult. Imagine
being asked to play exactly like Mozart, but on a piano whose keys are inverted,
while hanging upside down. That should give you a general idea of the level of
difficulty here.
Picture
Then there’s the additional factor that Hendrix played these difficult guitar parts
 with such ease and confidence. Making all of his performances look natural and
unrehearsed must have been the hardest part. Benjamin even kept in character
during the entire Dublin shoot, speaking to Ridley and his fellow actors in Hendrix’s
 dated hippie-dippie slang. All of this is Daniel Day-Lewis-level commitment and far
 more than I ever expected from 3000 as an actor.

This fan of Hendrix’s guitar-playing appreciates that so much time was put into
making Andre’s fretwork look authentic. Often in music biopics, the actors, no
matter how much they embody the part, look less than convincing playing
instruments onstage. Benjamin’s past as a charismatic rapper and performer
comes in handy here. Considering Hendrix was so dedicated to pushing forward
 the guitar as a sonic instrument of infinite variety and capacity, it makes sense
that the film would put so much care into making the playing look and sound authentic.

Overall, it’s an uncanny impersonation, not just because Andre looks the part
somewhat. There are some things that even Benjamin cannot emulate—he
doesn’t possess Hendrix’s giant hands, for instance—but he changes his entire
voice, losing the nasal southern tones we associate so heavily with OutKast,
and replaces that with Hendrix’s pacific northwest gilt, his protruding lower
lip, and his overall soft voice and booming tone. Late in the film there is the
famous performance of the Experience doing an almost punk version of “Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” two days after the album release, in front
of an audience that included the Beatles. I have seen this performance many
times in various rock documentaries and was amazed at Benjamin’s
impersonation, his commitment to the moments I remember like moving up
the fret board with the palm of his hand, telling the audience to “cover your
ears,” the part where he throws the cigarette down just before singing—
overall, it was an uncanny recreation of the television experience. You can
see in this scene how Hendrix and Benjamin, though very different types of
artists, approach their music with a similar purity of intention.
Picture
This is normal subject matter in biopics, but Ridley does a great job illuminating
 his subject’s flaws while not ever treating them as the unfortunate but necessary
 affectations of the “genius artist.” Ridley portrays Hendrix as inarticulate at times
 and sometimes too quick to resort to stock hippie phrases like “when the power of
 love overcomes the love of power,” at one point rambling about aliens to a groupie.
 Race is not a major factor in the film, but it does come up a few times as Hendrix is
 accosted by British police and meets with radical drug dealer Michael X, who
describes the history of segregation in London and asks the guitarist to be a symbol
 to the black British as Hendrix tries to demure, saying “that’s not my bag, man.”
The subtext here, as is common throughout the film, is Hendrix’s relationship with
white women and his unease with African-American audiences.

In fact, Ridley’s script goes deep into Hendrix’s psyche. There is of course the matter
of his absent mother, which fed his idealized conceptions of the women he slept with,
as well as a distant, terrorizing father. Ridley also implies that Hendrix might have had
depression, social anxiety, acute fear of conflict, as well as violent mood swings and
dependency (both chemical and physical) issues. On the other hand, his generally mild
demeanor belied a lot of confidence about his guitar skills (as well it should). This is
most hilariously expressed in the scene where Eric Clapton invites Hendrix to play
Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” (a song he would later massacre at the Monterey
Pop Festival) with Cream onstage, and unplugs his guitar and walks out upon
realizing he is no longer needed.

The film is meandering at times, focusing on intimate and small moments in
 Hendrix’s everyday conversations with women, while other parts are formula
 biopic, such as when Jimi’s Monterey Pop Festival gig is put on notice after he
 spends an entire performance tuning his guitar. Thankfully, by only spending a
 year early in Hendrix’s career, we are spared the common narrative of his
drug-fueled spiral and eventual death. In fact, All is By My Side ends on a happy
 note, as Benjamin-as-Hendrix tries to explain to his audience his pure and
transcendent love for music, and how he hopes it has the power to inspire
others. Maybe it’s not the note of realism that a typical biopic would choose to
end on (that would be a scene of Hendrix asphyxiating on barbiturates), but it
honors the musician’s spirit perhaps more than any other ending. For once, a
musical biopic is as much about the music as the man. I can dig.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Stones on Film: A Quick Break

We will be pausing our feature Stones on Film briefly in order to finish the remaining few installments. In the meantime, the Minneapolis film blog Joyless Creatures has been posting some of the highlights of this series, including Sympathy for the Devil and Gimme Shelter. In non-music related matters,  I have recently begun reviewing films for the site, here and here. Back shortly.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stones on Film Week Seven: Cocksucker Blues (1972)

Directed by: Robert Frank
Available: Nowhere

You are reading Stones on Film, a 13-part dialogue covering notable Rolling Stones documentary and concert films through a critical lens. Today is week seven. Archive here.

AM: Starting with an odd disclaimer stating that the events in the film are fictitious, Cocksucker Blues is a bluish blur of the Rolling Stones’ traveling circus as it stood in 1972. There’s groupie sex, on-camera heroin use, and the grinding boredom of touring life.

I actually wrote about this film for Rockaliser after my first viewing, in 2009 (the comments section features Nathan violently disagreeing with me about Sticky Fingers). I hit the typical beats--the band’s sybaritic lifestyle, the Jagger/Richards divide, the great music, the horrible misogyny. Given that these things dominate discussion of Cocksucker Blues, and that I already covered them (in the wordy, circuitous style I was taken with in 2009), I’ll try and avoid those and concentrate on the stray thoughts and questions that popped up as I watched the film.

But first, a couple paragraphs of context. Cocksucker Blues is the work of Robert Frank, whose eye for Americana led the Stones to use his photos on the cover of Exile. The footage here covers the 1972 tour of America, the first time the band had played in the country since Altamont. Frank basically loaned out cameras to the Stones entourage, and ran around shooting footage himself. Fans of high production values will be in agony at the extremely unstable, off-color cinematography here. To call it cinema verite or direct cinema is an affront to the talent of the people who filmed Don’t Look Back and Gimme Shelter.

When Frank emerged from his hole with a version of the film, Jagger reportedly said that he was worried it would get the group banned from America. Frank thought the public would find the Stones behavior “revolting.” One lawsuit later, Frank was only legally permitted to show the film five times a year, with the stipulation that he himself be present and the it be shown in the context of his work, not the Stones. (The Stones have loosened up about this in the last few years) The scarcity of the film--and the stories that grew up around it--led to Cocksucker Blues legendary status.

And it certainly doesn’t disappoint, in terms of prurient content. With an eye towards presenting the film in the context of the Stones work and world, five thoughts inspired by Cocksucker Blues:

  1. How absurd is it that the Stevie Wonder would open for the Stones? He was at least as big as the Stones, with two Number One hits in 1972 alone. Don’t get me wrong, seeing a young, sinewy Stevie launch into a Stonesified “Uptight” and seguing into “Satisfaction” is great. But he was in his auteur period at this point, and was huge. What does it say about the record business at the time that Stevie would have to open for a band who couldn’t score a hit in 1972? And why don’t we get any backstage interactions with Stevie? Did he partake in the Stones lifestyle?

It’s also interesting to plot Wonder’s evolution against the Stones’. Stevie was trying radical things, creating searching, spiritual music with synths. The Stones, for all their brilliance, were fucking around refining something they were already great at.

  1. Cocksucker Blues could not be more different from Stones In Exile. They cover roughly the same period, and Stones In Exile borrows footage from Frank’s film. But the slick professionalism of Stones In Exile is nowhere to be found here. Cocksucker Blues is like something you’d see mounted on a wall at an art gallery. It’s a bunch of context-less shards of their lifestyle. The camera will spin around a room, or cut to entirely different scenes while letting the audio track from that room play out. It probably captures the disorienting feeling of being inside this world better than a retrospective, talking head doc.

  1. There are tons of Spinal Tap moments here. None more so than the band’s long backstage march to the arena floor. It’s a half step away from this classic scene. What was your favorite?

  1. The excess is the appeal. Not breaking any ground here, but it needs to be said. Everytime I saw something sick--Keith nodding off, the band playing along to a woman being stripped of her clothes (possibly against her will), Mick rubbing his crotch and doing coke off a knife (separate scenes, those)--this thought struck me. You can watch it and think “lol rockstars”. You can watch it and say “it’s a historical record”. But this film became legendary because of the excess, the drug use and degradation. Why else would people still watch a shittily-shot and confusingly edited documentary about a band that features only a few, poorly-recorded concert snippets? The Stones tried to can a documentary that painted them as even more debauched than their quite debauched public profile. And then the rumors of that documentary further burnished their outlaw credentials, for good or ill.

  1. Just recording whatever’s in fashion that year. That, basically, is Mick’s response to a question about the recording of Exile. The band just records whatever’s in fashion that year. Doesn’t particularly make sense in the context of Exile, but it goes a long way towards explaining “Miss You,” Emotional Rescue and the shitty production values (and color palettes) that the Stones later embraced. Those weren’t artistic evolutions, that was Jagger willing the band to keep up with the times.

What do you think of the track “Cocksucker Blues,” by the way? I’m a fan of the full band version, myself, which you don’t hear in the film. The one we get here is spare and weirdly beautiful, a song about assfucking in the style of “Gates of Eden”.

For the record, the least Spinal Tap moment in the film features Charlie, sitting by himself in a hotel room and watching a TV commercial for Excedrin. Poor Charlie.

NS: Apart from perhaps Four Flicks, Cocksucker Blues is the Stones’ most difficult-to-watch contribution to celluloid. There is very little context for what is going on throughout, which consequently makes this film hard to review. Scenes and images go by, some of which are memorable, but there is no continuity or greater idea holding scenes together. It has no beginning or ending, nor any internal structure at all, really. It provides glimpses into the Stones’ backstage lifestyle, includes flashes of various drugs, sexual situations, and celebrities, and then ends abruptly.

You said “fans of high production value will be in agony.” I would broaden that category to fans of remotely passable sound quality. Maybe it was the version I saw, but Cocksucker Blues has frustrating sound throughout, juxtaposing live dialogue with TV and radio narrations as well as bits of live and studio Stones recordings, mainly from Exile. These sound collages are often random and make it even more difficult to tell what is going on. By comparison, the occasional mangled-sounding narration in Godard’s film is not even a distraction. Often the dialogue does not fit with the mouths of the actors, and the sound is clearly out of sync with the video throughout many non-Jagger shots in the live scenes.

You referred to what appears to be an amazingly dynamic Stones and Stevie Wonder live performance, where they do the “Everything’s Alright”/”Satisfaction” medley with Jim Price and Bobby Keys on brass. At least it appears to be--the film’s sound only gives hints of the gloriousness that audience goers were able to behold, I am sure. The young, skinny Wonder’s energy is infectious, but everything sounds tinny and blocked. My father owns many a Stones bootleg that sounds better than this.

It does not surprise me that Stevie Wonder would be opening for the Stones at this stage in his career. Remember that Wonder, for all his longevity, was still a “Black” act. He did well, but opening for the Stones put him in front of stadium crowds, which was a level I am not sure he could achieve on his own in 1972. I imagine that is what prompted many of the older bluesmen to open for the Stones as well. It was possibly the largest platform that many of these artists would ever get. Incidentally one of the more memorable parts of the film shows Muddy Waters and the band playing pool, and Muddy laughing at a terrible shot by Charlie.

The depravity in Cocksucker Blues reaches near-snuff film levels at times. We have commented on the thread through many of these documentaries where the Stones have repressed them, North Korea-style, but in this case I can very much see where the Stones were coming from. Even Robert Frank agrees that the Stones look appalling. Surely he must have known this as he was filming, right? Jagger seems specifically inhuman for the way in which he sort of glides through the naked, barely-conscious groupies philosophizing and professing his boredom and gradual dislike of the extended Stones entourage. The other members of the band, like Mick Taylor, are no better (at one point Taylor barges into the room of a naked groupie to smoke her joint--this is among the more casual scenes of groupies).

I can’t help but wonder how various celebrities like Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett, and Tina Turner thought about being included in the film. Possibly another motivation for suppressing the film, as well as its opening disclaimer (“no representation of actual persons or events is intended”). Relatedly, my personal favorite Spinal Tap-type moment is when Dick Cavett attempts to interview the group, and instead admit to his audience he only got Bill Wyman.

I think there is room for a great documentary about the bacchanalian backstage behavior of rock stars and their treatment toward women. This isn’t it; not even close. Some of the situations described in the film are truly shocking. Heroin use, right in front of the camera, abounds (not from Keith, though. Guess he was careful). A woman talks about how her child was taken away from her because of her acid use. She threatens to kill herself and says “my life is already half-wrecked.” This is heartbreaking stuff. The viewer instinctively wants to reach out and help this woman. How come no one filming seems concerned? As far as I can tell Robert Frank chose to shoot these vile situations for no other reason other than exploitative glee, or perhaps for “historical value”--all a matter of perspective, I guess.

How much pleasure were you able to glean from the live scenes? It is difficult to tell, but the 1972 tour marks another sort of musical turn of for the band, where the Stones started taking a more extended jam route. Led Zeppelin was the most popular group in the world and even artists like the Stones were paying attention, not that they would admit it. Check out the breakdown in the version of “Midnight Rambler” and watch at how the band members look at each other; they are trying to stretch the song out in new directions and are unsure where to go (look at Taylor’s face).

Today I view Cocksucker Blues as sort of the filmic equivalent of Robert Frank’s photographs in Exile’s liner notes. The photographs look impressive, but they are meant to be a supplement to the album. The photos do not convey any larger or coherent meaning because they are meant to look good. So is the case of Cocksucker Blues. Except ultimately  it does not look very good. Or sound very good. Refresh me: what good reasons are there to preserve this film again? You said “the excess is the appeal,” but are there parts of the film that are actually appealing?

AM: So...zero stars then?

Say what you will about the Stones, but they did have some great opening acts on the American tours. Stevie Wonder, Ike and Tina, even Prince. Then again, they apparently brought along also-rans The Groundhogs and Merlin on their 1971 UK Tour. Perhaps that’s why Mick called that jaunt “sad” in Stones In Exile.

But back to Cocksucker Blues. The best reason to preserve the film is because destroying docs is like destroying books. It just shouldn’t be done. That doesn’t mean this is a good documentary. I go to school with a bunch of folks who study documentary production, and I can assure you that it is Gimme Shelter and not Cocksucker Blues that they study.

If there’s value to Cocksucker Blues, it’s a few scenes of fleeting interest. Seeing Charlie struggle at billiards brought a smile to my face. The Cavett moment you point out is great. There’s also (one assumes) a large cache of unseen footage documenting this time. It’s a primary source--maybe for a better documentary, or the history books, or what have you.

It sounds like my copy of the film was slightly higher quality that yours. I enjoyed all the musical numbers. The fidelity isn’t great, but the songs were the high points.

A quick rundown: “Jumping Jack Flash” is ferocious, Exiled-out with horns and the counterpoint of the hyperactive Jagger against the motionless Taylor. “Midnight Rambler” is excerpted, but we get Jagger crouched and gradually rising as Richards and Taylor trade death blows on their guitars. “All Down The Line” is sweaty, with Taylor going wild. “Happy” is barbed, transformed into a duet between Richards and Jagger. And the “Uptight/Satisfaction” is a joy.

During these performances, we barely glimpse the audience. Who were these people? The wrecked life of an acid-eating mother is about all we get, and it’s sensationalistic. It would have affirmed every fear of the American Right, had this movie been released.

There seems to be very little interest in the little people, generally. That includes Wyman, Taylor and Watts, but the audiences most of all. Maybe that’s a relic of Charlie Is My Darling-era bad memories, or Rock God aloofness. But it’s hard to miss that the Stones and their retinue don’t seem particularly grateful towards the folks subsidizing their lifestyle. I listened to an interview with Ian MacKaye yesterday, where he discussed the needless greed and bloat of the touring industry--and the Stones embody that more than anyone. Such arrogance and entitlement, even then. The scene where Mick kvetches about touring is particularly telling, as if he doesn’t have more power than anyone to set the tone of the tour.

Also--what’s Mick’s deal with American food? He says during that car ride that you can only eat well in the American South. Like that guy wasn’t eating like a king in New York and London.

Stepping back a bit, I couldn’t help but reflect on how easy it would be to make a film like this today. We carry around cameras in our pockets that put Frank’s equipment to shame. So why don’t we have people chronicling the tours of the twenty-first century? Has music really moved that far away from the center of our culture? Are the 2014 equivalents of Andy Warhol and Truman Capote hanging out backstage at the Yeezus tour?

Or maybe tour docs are just a bad idea--like songs about touring that aren’t “Memory Motel”. Maybe we don’t really want to know what going on backstage.

NS: Mick claims that the best food comes from the South, which maybe isn’t true, but I do not doubt that the soul food he ate on the road was ways better than the British food back home. Wyman probably disagrees.

I may have came off as too harsh in the previous response. Certainly I do not mean to imply that historical footage should be destroyed if it captures acts I find disagreeable. Zero stars may be a bit much, but as I said in the previous response, this film is almost impossible to review. It sometimes views as the rough cut of footage that was never edited or shaped into a discernible narrative. I will look into finding a better version of the film’s sound (a search on YouTube yielded the same sound quality level).

I did not get to your question in the first entry about “Cocksucker Blues” the song. One of the more lucid moments of the film is at the beginning, where Marshall Chess, son of legendary Chess Records owner Leonard Chess, talks up a dirty song project that never came to fruition, which is where “Cocksucker Blues” came from. One can only imagine what that compilation might have been like, but one song was apparently Dr. John’s “I Believe I’ll Eat Some Pussy Tonight.” Anyway, I like the song. There is a lot of empty space in this spare version--perhaps not typical of the Stones at this period, but the crudeness of the lyrics adds to the melody in an odd way. It’s a song about loneliness, perhaps not surprisingly.

I thought a lot about the likelihood of a concert doc like this coming out today. Certainly it seems as if any modern artist who had the popularity to put out a concert film is likely concerned with his/her/their public image to the degree that these depictions could never be shown on camera. Justin Bieber’s recent flick is a good example. The rumors are that his public behavior is depraved and unsettling; the film features Bieber basically trying to explain away his actions.

If there is a modern antecedent to this today, it seems less any modern documentary style and more the sex tapes and naked pics of celebrities that get leaked and proliferate around the Internet. American culture is luridly fascinated with the excesses of rock star behavior, which is often coupled with a Puritan tendency to judge and castigate that behavior. I think that both approaches are extreme, and that an artist’s worth ultimately should be judged by the quality of the art. Which is not to say that bad behavior does not matter--it just does not figure into my overall appreciation of the art itself.

Maybe with the proliferation of personal cameras, such behavior would be easier to capture and portray. But today’s major artists have to be more careful now than the Eagles, Stones, and Zeppelin of the past. Rock stars don’t talk up their groupies the way they used to, and those who do (Kings of Leon come to mind) seem crass and old-fashioned, and the backlash is often severe. Filming groupies naked and in their moments of weakness would be considered a sexist and unconscionable act by today’s standards, unless there were a damn good reason for doing so. A documentarian would have to be very careful about portraying this behavior without making it look good.

Honestly, to Frank’s credit, he doesn’t make it look good. The listless, bored look on Mick’s face tells us everything we need to know. Here the Stones were, in perhaps their greatest iteration, on their greatest tour in support of their greatest album. There is a special purity to their live show here. And yet the joy completely leaves the band as soon as they get off stage. The world’s greatest rock n roll band was becoming a brand, and Cocksucker Blues, to its credit, didn’t come close to fitting within it.

Addendum: Hate to be the classic rock pedant again, but “Thank Christ for the Bomb” is a great song by the Groundhogs.