SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL: The Rolling Stones Story by Philip Norman
Kirkus Star

SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL: The Rolling Stones Story

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Compared with the gush, sleaze, bias, and wretched prose of most rock-music biographies, Norman's generally competent, balanced approach is always welcome: his unexceptional Beatles book, Shout!, has become something of a standard reference largely by default; and the same thing might well happen with this uninspired history of the Rolling Stones. After a magazine-style evocation of the Stones' 1981 US tour (bombing in N.Y., recovering the old sass in Buffalo), Norman goes back to focus on the early London days of the three primary Stones. ""Keith Richards, the Ted from a council flat on the wrong side of Dartford, started to go around with Mike Jagger, the LSE student from middle-class Denver Road""; meanwhile, as guitarist Keith and the soon-renamed ""Mick"" were adoring black R&B, muscially gifted, ""amoral"" egotist Brian Jones was absorbing jazz-influenced blues. Their bands meshed, more or less, at little clubs--producing a harsh, aggressive, primal sound out of sync with early-1960s/Beatlemania tastes. Grimy tours ensued, with Mick fashioning his persona: ""to Chuck Berry's voice and Rufus Thomas' grimaces were now added James Brown's dance steps."" And, by 1965, with a rising counterculture, aggressive managers, and ""Satisfaction"" as a single (intended as ""a hymn of hate"" against the hype/show-biz world, not a sex-song), the ""World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band"" was born. After that, perhaps inevitably, Norman concentrates on the celebrity Stones' women and drugs: ""narcissistically self-absorbed:' the ever-cool Jagger moves from Marianne Faithfull (who tried suicide and heroin after being dumped) to Bianca to Jerry; Brian Jones has a horde of illegitimate children and a kinky relationship with Anita Pallenberg, with suicidal descent into drugs/madness (and cop persecution) as his band role diminished; Keith has a later Anita/heroin phase. As for the Altamont horror, Norman charges Jagger with ""incredible stupidity""--but, like Stanley Booth (Dance with the Devil, p. 609), puts blame on the press for pushing the Stones into giving a free concert. And the subsequent decade receives a quick runthrough--with Richards still the outlaw, Jagger (""incurably afraid to take a chance"") embracing respectability. Throughout, Norman's solid journalese has its lapses--into slangy archness (""plethoric screwing""), rock clichÉs, hyperbole. The music itself gets only a few serviceable glances--while the socio-cultural setting for the Stones' success remains virtually unexplored. And the research seems uneven, with too much recycled gossip. Still, if Norman offers none of Booth's sporadic vividness or comic zest, he does a sturdy, often-ironic job of sketching in the many personalities; he resists most of the usual mythifying impulses; and he presents a solid, generally readable, if far from infectious account--primarily for those who find the Stones more appealing than Norman seems to.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster