TRACKS OF HIS YEARS
The extraordinary one-hour documentary, which was made under the auspices of the star’s production company Jagged Films, is about the creation of a legendary rock ‘n’ roll record, the tracks of which were first laid down some 38 years ago, just a few kilometres away from Cannes. The film features unseen out-takes from public appearances by the Stones and footage from a Robert Frank 1972 documentary which was never officially released, as well as new interviews with the band, Keith Richards’ former girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and musicians such as Bonny Keyes and Don Was.
The record in question is The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., which was composed between France and California, after the band had fled England to avoid paying tax. The easy-going atmosphere in Keith Richards’ seafront villa of Nellcote, which is to be found just outside the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer (a former Gestapo headquarters) was the perfect inspiration for creativity and, to announce the disc’s official arrival, Mick arrives on stage looking relaxed in a swish grey jacket, white shirt and trainers, to announce: “We were young, good-looking and stupid, now we’re just stupid.”
“Let me tell you a little bit about how it was like,” he continues. “It was 1971. Nixon was in the White House. The war in Vietnam was raging. Eddy Merckx had won the Tour de France. But you won’t see anything of that in the film – we simply didn’t know anything about it. We were in the basement of a house in Villefranche, making a record. Now that album is a legend but, at the time, the critics were not so kind.”
What was the genesis of the documentary project? “I thought it would be a good idea to make a film about it, to simply make a record isn’t enough – you need to see something of the period, which was amazing and I think this film evokes that. But I didn’t want it to be just people reminiscing. I wanted viewers to feel like they were there, living it, for an hour.”
Time is pressing – Jagger is obviously a man in demand, so I was curious to know how he felt looking through and listening to the old material: “When you look through a family scrapbook, you often get a really nice feeling, but you have to be professional. On the other hand, though, when you look through this stuff, you sometimes just can’t remember who the people were.”
A bit about The Beatles, of course: “They didn’t exist really on the scene, after 1966 – I don’t know what we thought at the time, but I think maybe we were sad. We had been rivals, but not at that point,” he explains.
What about drugs?: “It’s quite easy, really, to record on drugs, it can be done. But I’m not saying now that it’s a really great thing to smoke pot and sing.” Keith Richards’ partner, Anita Pallenberg, also features in the film, describing how the set-up degenerated somewhat as the drugs took hold, but somehow the band was able to finish the job.
Asked about The Rolling Stones’ appearance in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 film Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One), Jagger answers with customary swagger: “It is a very good film – no one has ever been able to explain what it’s about, but that doesn’t matter.”
My slot is over, and our man is leaving, but there was still time for a last question by a certain Together journalist: “What is your favourite movie?” After just a few seconds, Jagger answered: “Apocalypse Now (1979) – and it came out in the same year as Exile on Main St.” Actually Mick, it didn’t, because your album was released in 1972, but many, many thanks anyway!