I sometimes feel sorry when artist's work leaks to the internet. While Jack White and Radiohead-level freakout/hissyfits are uncool, and smell strongly of the big egos involved, you have to feel for a guy like Bradford Cox. He got angry when somebody leaked the new disc from his pals in Animal Collective, and couldn't understand why people didn't funnel their energy into recording their own versions of highly anticipated albums instead, like he did for Pavement's Brighten The Corners. When Microcastle leaked 6 months before the album was to be released, Cox reconvened Deerhunter to record a completely new album, Weird Era Cont., which was packaged with Microcastle. That is how you respond to a leak, people. (Weird Era also leaked prior to the double-album's October release).
This is all a preface, however, to my main point: sometimes, unavailable/illegal things are so awesome they deserve to be leaked (I'm looking at you, unreleased and now unclear-able Paul's Boutique-era Beastie Boys tracks). Such is the case with Cocksucker Blues, the unreleased documentary that follows the Rolling Stones on their legendarily debauched 1972 North American tour. The film, which legally can only be shown in the presence of director Robert Frank, made its way to the internet recently.
Cocksucker Blues plays like a film of deleted scenes, a succession of unnarrated, uncontextualized images that flash before our eyes. It's verite to the point that you can hear the cameras rolling. Much of the documentary is presented in a spooky, bluish B&W, which lends a certain menace to the film's prosaic scenes, and an outright villainy to its notorious ones--public sex aboard a private jet, groupies and hangers-on shooting up, Mick Jagger doing lines of blow.
Of course, outright menace underscores the entire film, as the '72 tour was the Stones' first since their disastrous concert at Altamont, then and now as potent a symbol as any of the death of 60's idealism. The ghost of deceased Stone Brian Jones, a flower child felled by excess, also haunts the proceedings. Indeed, the Stones of Cocksucker Blues are hedonistic and apolitical, in pointed contrast to the radical Stones Goddard offered four years prior.
The version I streamed seems to be missing the very end of the film, but it's still fascinating stuff. The concert scenes, filmed in color, sizzle--in particular a duet between Jagger and Stevie Wonder that begins as "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and transitions into "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," a brilliant bit of "Midnight Rambler," and footage of Jagger and Richards listening to "Happy" that segues into the Stones performing the song, with Jagger handling some of the lead vocals.
The film--for shame!--has little interest in Watts, Wyman, or Taylor, much less the touring musicians, but Jagger's magnetism compels. His on-stage persona is sex incarnate, and his sartorial decisions are as glam as glam gets. Off-stage, and in snippets of interviews we hear, he seems tired and conflicted, wanting both celebrity and peace of mind, to be and not to be Mick Jagger. Most telling are Jagger's visible relief at riding the tour bus (rather than taking the Stones jet and mingling with the on-board entourage) and inattentive response to a parade of half-sincere birthday wishes.
It's one of the film's few clues as to what made the Stones so brilliant, so fascinating. The menace is a part of it--the Luciferian affectations, profane grooves, and lyrical raunch--but it hardly explains how the group, from 1964-1981, produced one of the most consistently brilliant bodies of work in the history of rock music. And in 1972, the band was on an equaled but never bested hot streak, having, in the space of five years, released three-and-a-half of the greatest albums ever made.*
It seems the Stones milieu, disgusting and warped by excess as it may have been, was key to their music. The hedonism--as well as the prodigious talent of all involved--provided the irresistible boogie and salacious licks, while a certain antipathy towards this world accounts for the more reflective, honest moments (usually the country songs and slower blues numbers). The Stones had it both ways with Mr. D, it seems, or at least regretted their sympathy for the satanic. The second verse of "Dead Flowers" shares something of the two impulses, and captures the contradiction well:
Well when you're sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac
Making bets on Kentucky Derby Day
I'll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon
And another girl to take my pain away
The narrator speaks to a sybarite but is himself a lowlife. Yet the sybarite was once a part of the underworld, and the narrator, with his easy access to drugs and sex, an alpha male of the underground. Neither has both feet in either world, an their coexistence and contradictions blur the boundaries between high and low society. The song's tone and lyrical content, a pensiveness via hedonism, clearly emanates from the ne'er-do-well, and there's little evidence of soul-bearing by his former accomplice (just as "Brown Sugar" is hardly introspective). The two poles of high society and demimonde are characterized by the popular perceptions of Jagger and Richards, respectively.
The value of Cocksucker Blues for Stones scholars is that while it exposes the band and its coterie's sybaritic side, the performances suggest that the self-proclaimed "world's greatest rock and roll band" may have been exactly that. A few fleeting images and sounds help us grapple with the questions why and how.
*Sticky Fingers has never been a favorite