The Brian Jones Trip
Thesereviews originally appeared in Goldmine, November 24, 1995. I haveedited out the part of the review that deals with Jajouka Rolling Stone
GOLDENSTONE: THE UNTOLD LIFE
ANDTRAGIC DEATH OF BRIAN JONES
St.Martin’s Press, hardcover, $19.95
PAINTIT BLACK: THE MURDER OF
VirginBooks, hardcover, 14.99£
WHOKILLED CHRISTOPHER ROBIN?: THE TRUTH
BEHINDTHE MURDER OF BRIAN JONES
BrianJones, who was the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones from their formationin 1962 until his dismissal in June 1969, drowned in his swimming pool at hisresidence, Cotchford Farm (the former home of A.A. Milne, author of theWinnie-the-Pooh children’s stories) near Hartfield, in East Sussex, Englandduring the night of July 2-3, 1969. The Stones, of course, have been thesubjects of numerous books, and Jones himself has been profiled at least acouple of times. But recently, for some reason, there has been a new outpouringof books. Here’s a roundup…
(Jajouka Rolling Stone by Stephen Davis
LauraJackson’s Golden Stone, in contrast, is a biography of BrianJones, though the appropriate word is hagiography, the term originally used forthe life story of a saint. At one point, describing Jones’s
Indulgence in drugs and failure to turn up for recordingsessions, Jackson writes, “It is very hard not to sympathize with Brian.”
Onthe contrary. Based on Jackson’s account, it is very hard to sympathize. Jones,born into the British middle class in February 1942, had a secure home life andupbringing. Testing at a fairly high IQ of 135 at the age of 11, he seemed tohave unlimited potential. But when he was 16, he impregnated a 14-year-oldgirl, and he dropped out of school at 17. He went on to father at least fiveillegitimate children (Jackson cites only three) and went through a successionof girlfriends, many of whom he physically abused.
Jonesachieved fame and fortune in the Rolling Stones, the group he founded andnamed, and he is credited with providing the instrumental variety found ontheir 1960s records, playing everything from sitar to Mellotron. But he lostground in the group in which he early on had claimed leadership, especiallyafter Jagger and Richards began writing the songs together.
By1969, his drug use and its attendant criminal convictions, along with hisfailure to contribute to the group’s music, made him a liability, and he left theband. Then he died.
Jacksondoes not ignore Jones’s failings, but she does find it hard not to sympathize.At Jones’s second trial for drug possession, for example, she gives us thisdescription of the jury deliberation: “Brian ought never to have been foundguilty…But there is something in us that wants to see privileged peoplepunished, a puritanical streak which needs them to suffer for their sins and,nothing daunted, the jury came straight back with a guilty verdict.” O.J.Simpson should look this woman up.
Thepassage quoted above also illustrates some of Jackson’s writing flaws. She isinordinately fond of alliteration. Describing the grammar school girls Jonesencountered in his youth, she writes, “Come mid-morning break the swing doorswould part and out would run the sweet and sheltered Cheltenham fillies,frolicking and frisking on the grass, beneath the eyes of the senior boysacross the way.” Who could blame Jones for wanting to seduce them?
Jackson’sother writing errors are more technical: run-on sentences, tenseinconsistencies, problems with noun-verb agreement, overuse of Britishidiomatic expressions and a complete disregard for normal comma usage. Herwriting is stilted and awkward, frequently indulging in periphrases (the use oflonger phrases than are necessary to make a point) and fracturing conventionalsentence structure. And she has a weakness for dangling participles, sometimeswith amusing results.
Forexample, when Jones visits a psychiatric clinic, Jackson writes, “Initiallydiagnosed as ‘Anxious, considerably depressed, perhaps even suicidal,’ Dr.Flood felt that Brian didn’t so much need treatment for drug taking, as forhelp to regain emotional stability…” One can’t help wondering why Jones wouldhave consulted a doctor who had been diagnosed with all those problems.
Jacksonisn’t helped by the frequent typos that also add hilarity to her prose, such aswhen the text reads, “ It is worth nothing” when “It is worth noting” is whatshe means. And if that weren’t enough, Jackson’s account contains enoughfactual errors—she gets the dates of the Monterey Pop Festival wrong, forexample, and claims inaccurately that “Ruby Tuesday” was #1 in America at thetime-to make much of it suspect, so that even when you can figure out whatshe’s trying to say, you can’t trust it.
BothStephen Davis and Laura Jackson suggest the possibility that Jones’s deathinvolved foul play. Davis, in one of his few references to Jones, off-handedlyrefers to “his considerable decline and murder.” Jackson, in a chapter called,“A Degree of Murder?,” points out inconsistencies in the statements of thethree people who were at Jones’s house on the night of his death-Anna Wohlin,his current girlfriend; Frank Thorogood, a builder; and Janet Lawson, Thorogood’sgirlfriend. But authors Geoffrey Giuliano and Terry Rawlings have no doubt thatJones’s death was not accidental, as their book titles indicate.
Suchsuggestions have been made before, notably by A.E. Hotchner in the extremelyunsympathetic 1990 Stones biography Blown Away. Giuliano, the author ofseveral books about the Beatles, devotes the first hundred or so pages of his250-page book to a biographical account of Jones’s life that is largely culledfrom Hotchner, Phillip Norman’s 1984 book Sympathy for the Devil: theRolling Stones Story, Bill Wyman’s 1990 book Stone Alone: TheStory Of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Band and Jackson’s Golden Stone, which waspublished in England a year earlier than it was in the U.S.
Thoughlargely second-hand, his version of Jones’s story shows far greater disapprovalthan Jackson’s: At about the same point that Jackson is finding it hard not tosympathize, Giuliano’s feelings are nearly the opposite. “Much as the peoplewho worked with him liked him,” he writes of Jones in the spring of 1967, “itwas hard to empathize with Brian.”
Butthe heart of Giuliano’s book, of course, is the 90 pages he spendsinvestigating the circumstances of Jones’s death. Repeating the sameinconsistencies Jackson finds in the testimony of those who were with Jones, hegoes on to discuss the findings of forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht withregard to the coroner’s report, which cast doubt on drink, drugs or an asthmaattack in explaining why a good swimmer like Jones would drown suddenly. He speculatesthat the builder, Frank Thorogood, who, he says, Jones was planning to fire,may have been involved.
Andthen he comes up with a “Deep Throat,” a man who approaches him at a booksigning, claims he was one of the workers at the house and confesses that heand another man, during a drunken party, teased Jones and held him under wateruntil, unintentionally, he was allowed to drown. “ Joe,” it seems, just had toget it off his chest after 25 years and, having read Giuliano’s previous books,decided he was the one to tell.
Tohis credit, Giuliano does not present this mysterious figure as the answer toall questions regarding the final hours of Brian Jones. He cites otherinformation, drawn from such previous books as Mandy Aftel’s Death of a RollingSton/The Brian Jones Story and Nicholas Fitzgerald’s 1983 book BrianJones/The Inside Story Of The Original Rolling Stone.
Giulianoalso offers comments from “author Terry Rawlings,” who is said to be making adocumentary called Who Killed Christopher Robin with the consultation of TomKeylock, the former Rolling Stones road manager, whose involvement in the deathof Jones Giuliano suspects.
Butinstead of a documentary, we have yet another book and, as it turns out,another murderer!
LikeGiuliano, Rawlings lets us know early on, on page 1, in fact, that Brian Joneswas murdered. And like Giuliano, he then spends the bulk of his book, 141pages, on a biography of Jones. In doing so, he presents a middle path betweenJackson’s sympathy and Giuliano’s lack of empathy, neither is he excusing norcondemning Jones, but simply presenting him as a range of witnesses saw him.
WhileRawlings is a better writer than Jackson, he shares some of her technicalflaws. But if Jackson badly needed an editor, Rawlings’ needs are for aproofreader and a fact-checker. He spends relatively little time on the Stones’musical activities, but when he does cite recordings or tours, he tends to getthem wrong, for example misdating both the Stones’ first and third U.S tours, calling“Not Fade Away” their third U.S. single when it was their first one (one orpossibly two others were withdrawn before wide release, making “Not Fade Away”the first to be commercially available to the general record buying public) anddescribing their album Their Satanic Majesties Request as the follow-upto Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) when it actually followed Betweenthe Buttons. (In America, it followed the compilation album Flowers.)
Heisn’t much better on pop music in general either, such as when he suggests thatthe Stones came to America after British Invasion groups like Herman’s Hermits,though it was the other way around. Even some of the important dates in Jones’sstory are off: the month of his departure from the Stones is moved from June1969 back to May, and his death is moved back from July to August.
Evenworse, however, are the typos, which range from simple misprints, such as when“1967” appears as “1957,” to repetitions of phrases within a sentence to theuse of phrases such as “three days later” when no previous date has been cited.
Namescome in for particular abuse, as Nicky Browne becomes Micky Brown, DonaldCammell becomes Robert Cammel, Anna Wohlin becomes Anna Vohlin and Janet Lawsonbecomes Janet Lawon. At one point, Cotchford Farm, even becomes Crotchford.Those mysterious workmen are Mo, Johnny and David on one page, Mo, Johnny andCorey on another, and later Mo, Johnny, David and Reg.
Suchsloppy writing, of course, does not well prepare the reader for the crucial 50pages in which Rawlings discusses Jones’s death. These last three chapters seemto have been written on three separate occasions. The first, Chapter 9, “Deathat Pooh Corner,” concludes the biographical section by describing Jones’s deathmuch as it has been described in the past 26 years, as an accidental drowning.Chapter 11, “Who Killed Christopher Robin?,” then repeats much of the latermaterial in condensed form, bringing us up to date on such posthumous mattersas the Stones’ financial split from Allen Klein in 1970.
It isonly the 10 pages of Chapter 11, “Jigsaw Puzzle,” that attempt to reveal themystery of Brian Jones’s death. Here, Rawlings writes that Frank Thorogood, ina deathbed confession on November 7, 1993, revealed to his friend Tom Keylockthat he had in fact drowned Jones during an argument because he found out Joneswas firing him.
So,there you have it. Case closed. Brian Jones drowned accidentally. Or, Brian wasdrowned accidentally by a couple of laborers. Or, Brian Jones was drowneddeliberately by a dismissed builder. Take your pick. Whichever choice you makeabout Jones’s death, however, you are probably better advised to stick PhilipNorman’s or Bill Wyman’s biographies of the Stones than to any of these booksfor a readable and reasonably accurate account of his life.