Cast: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Danny Seymour, Bianca Jagger, Tina Turner, Truman Capote, Stevie Wonder, Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett, Terry Southern, Princess Radziwell, Cynthia Jones, various groupies, roadies and scalpers.
Directed by Robert
1972, Unreleased; 95 min, color (no video release)
Drugs, Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll (and drugs & more sex)
Of all the tours the Rolling Stones have made across North America, the 1972 tour is still remembered as the most outrageous, most provocative, most inventive musical outing the fab five from London ever performed.
I was fortunate enough to see this juicy juggernaut when it made its stop in Vancouver on Saturday, June 3rd, 1972. As Stones expert Harold Colson has written elsewhere "The fabled summer 1972 tour through the U.S. and Canada is revered by Stones fans worldwide as arguably the band's greatest ever, and it remains enshrined in the annals of rock lore and popular imagination as the masterpiece speedball of indoor triumph, outdoor maelstrom, and backstage debauch. In powerful testament to this enduring sway, vast quantities of audio recordings, books, magazines, photographs, films, videos, and other memorabilia have since issued through licit and sub-licit channels to keep the coveted sights and sounds of the Stones Touring Party alive, rolling, and fresh to this very day."
Cocksucker Blues is one of those enduring sub-licit channels which not only celebrates the fore, middle and background of this tour, but which also presents itself as one of the very best rock tour movies ever made, and never seen.
Have You Heard About The It's Not One Of Those
Here's the scene: the Stones have not visited the US since the 1969 disaster of Altamont -- also immortalized by the Brothers Maysles in the tour/performance flick Gimmie Shelter -- and the group is riding high and hard on the success of their definitive album, Exile On Main Street.
Myth-mad Mick, despite the surprisingly frank shots of Gimmie Shelter, decides to do the film thing one more time and enlists the talent of famous photog/filmmaker Robert Frank (he shot the pix on the Exile album cover, and shot a brutal documentary on madness, called Me and My Brother).
In comes producer Marshall Chess, who, early in the movie, gives the plotline: Mick has already written a song called Cocksucker Blues, about a gay hooker in London, to fulfill the group's contractual obligations to Decca records, which was run at the time by an old fart named Sir Edward Lewis. Apparently, during a meeting, Mick gets up and plays a demo of the song to the uptight geezer the lyrics of which are:
Well, I'm a lonesome
Needless to say, this winsome ditty had the desired effect, and the song was never released. Chess goes on to say some cat in New York was organizing a benefit for Oz Magazine, which was being hassled by the government in an obscenity trial, and the idea came up to do a porno album, with rock stars contributing "adult" material to raise dough for the underground magazine.
Cocksucker Blues was one song, and there were others, like Dr John (The Night Tripper)'s "You Can Never Eat Too Much Pussy". Then the idea expanded from an album to a film which this isn't.
Shot cinema verite, docurocku style, Cocksucker Blues is a pinball machine of images -- soft, warm, harsh, exploitive, funny, sad, boring, stupid and smart, jammed with images of excessive hard drug taking, nodding-off Stones, roadies fucking groupies, backstage parties, naked women, heroin shoot-ups, and, yes, some great concert footage. It was, however, so over the top that the Stones banned its release and obtained a court injunction against its distribution. Cinematographer Frank finally got the rights to screen the flick once a year, but one can only obtain this movie on video in bootleg form.
I'm Bored. How About Some Sex & Drugs?
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, commenting on Cocksucker Blues, called it "definitely one of the best movies about rock and roll I've ever seen. . . . It makes you think being a rock and roll star is one of the last things you'd ever want to do." Amen to that. One has the feeling these guys are soldiers, waiting for the next battle, the next opportunity to feel alive. In the meantime, there's the tedium, confusion, boredom, and good old angst & ennui of being locked into a big money, big stadium, big everything rock tour.
Director Frank unblinkingly reveals these patterns of unrest behind the Stone's bulletproof window of fame, showing us the ever-present drugs and groupies, Keith Richards' addiction to heroin, Mick Jagger's problems with the high-maintenance Bianca (who looks like Sade at a Nirvana concert) and, most interestingly, just how adroit the Glimmer Twins are at concocting and manipulating their outlaw reputations.
One of the sadder themes Frank also films is the degeneration of his friend and co-cameraman Danny Seymour, who finally succumbs to the temptations of drugs and sex around him. While not downplayed, Frank underscores the concert performances with his fascination of the backstage world, and allows the mundane sounds of the tour to set the film's themes and feel: raw and inconsequential conversations; Bianca's tiny music box; a bluesy, poignant piano theme; yammering local disc jockeys; and the nervous practice of antsy musicians just prior to going onstage.
Some Great Music. But Not Much Of It.
For a 90-minute flick, only about 15 are concert shots. We watch the boys perform the opening song for pretty well every night of the tour, Brown Sugar, as well as Midnight Rambler, Uptight (with Stevie Wonder), Happy, and Street Fighting Man. Midnight Rambler is notable for Mick's haunting harp opening, and the band, blitzed as they are, still play very well, with Keith laying down his usual heavy chops against Mick Taylor's intelligent fills.
Mostly Classic Self-Indulgent Stuff.
No doubt shocking when shot, but now mostly cliches, given the excesses of bands which followed - Led Zeppelin being first and foremost -- Cocksucker Blues reads like a litany of rock high priest thou shalt's:
The Picture Quality Sucks As Much As The Groupies.
OK, we're talking bootleg here. Gawd knows how many times this video has been copied before falling into my quivering hands. It's not pristine 35mm, that's for sure. On the other hand, the film itself is so zany that the highly degraded picture quality (the sound has remained pretty good) can actually add to the ethereal nature of this strange trip.
My copy shows massive colour shifts to mostly blue, and the definition between colours has degenerated to almost a posterized effect. In some shots you can't really tell who the people are anymore -- but does it matter? This ain't Spielberg, this is hardcore rock 'n' roll, and it still has the backbeat, so you really can't lose it.
I think this is the greatest rock movie ever made -- probably that ever will be made, combining a talented, artistic filmmaker with the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band at the height of their glory on their craziest tour.
Doesn't get much better than that.
© Rick "Ojo" McGrath July/2001
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