COCKSUCKER BLUES (1972)
IN 1972, THE Rolling Stones toured the USA for the first time since the tragic Altamont concert (reviewed early in my blog series) with their masterpieve album ‘Exile On Main Street’. Stills photographer Robert Frank shot hours of backstage film footage and compiled it into the documentary COCKSUCKER BLUES, which remains unreleased as it very much shows the band uncensored (Mick about to snort cocaine for example) with groupie activity and drug-taking within the group’s circle. It’s a roughly edited , hand-held film and mainly available in poor bootleg quality, which does make it feel all the more illicit, but worth seeing for fans of the band. It lifts the lid on the truth behind the sex n’ drugs n’ rock ‘n roll of a touring superstar rock group, warts and all.
It begins with the mocking caption: ‘Except for the musical numbers, the events depicted in this film are fictitious. No representation of actual persons and events is intended’
Frank’s idea was to leave cameras lying around for anyone to pick up and film, on the understanding that no-one could say no to the final use of their image (Imagine trying to get a band to agree to that on tour in this era of corporate public-image protection).
Mick Jagger, shown being interviewed by someone, remarks that on this tour the Stones felt more relaxed then when they were in ’69. Hardly suprising considering how vulnerable they were during the murder/Hell’s Angels interface of Altamont.
There’s copious back-stage meanderings: guitar warm-ups before going on, the adrenaline rush of preparation, Mick as afore-mentioned is shown rolling up a bill tightly before snorting coke off-camera. Drug use and its plentifulness is a continual theme of the movie. A groupie is shown shooting up. She dozily asks afterwards: “ How come you wanted to film that?”. Terry ‘EASY RIDER’ Southern drops by. He is shown snorting coke and marvelling somewhat blurredly at the cost: “I don’t think it’s possible to develop a habit”.
There are fleeting cameos of other arts luminaries of the period coming to see the Stones: Andy Warhol, Tina Turner, Truman Capote, Bianca Jagger travelling by car briefly with Mick and Keith.
We see plenty of glimpses of the kind of cliched activity you normally read about rock stars getting up to. As their ‘plane takes off in another scene, one of the entourage shouts ”We’re airborne” and immediately begins stripping his shrieking, compliant groupie playmate of her bra. Amusingly, Keith Richards and Bobby Keyes are shown chucking a TV set off their hotel room balcony, Keith cautioning his pal: “ Make sure you hit the garbage area”. There’s also some low-grade ‘porn’ salaciousness of a groupie pleasuring herself, and Mick doing the same through his trousers.
There are also hints of the inevitable cooped-up boredom that must set in during the day while on the road, since the band would struggle to go out in public unmolested except maybe in small towns. A stoned Keith deals with the limitations of hotel order policy when he asks for fruit from room service ‘And three apples’. There’s an unintentionally wry moment, considering all the illegal drug-taking, when Charlie Watts is in front of the TV playing an advert for Excedrin.
The concert footage is variable. There is the excitement of Stevie Wonder joining them on stage for ‘Uptight’ and ‘Satisfaction’, and some lesser quality recording/performance scenes (such as a shouty ‘Street Fightin’ Man’ but they try to capture the live energy of the band which is very hard to do on screen.
Some vox pop interview tape of fans outside the venues discuss how they make money from ticket-scalping, and more alarmingly a young woman for whom the Stones seem to be all that stop her from ending it all. She recounts her life as a drug addict whose child was taken away by the authoritiies: ” What’s wrong with a mother that’s on acid and loves her child?…She was born on acid”. I wonder if she survived to have a sobering view of this clip later in life.
Incidentally, the story behind the title song is that it was written to fulfill a contractual obligation with Decca Records, so Mick delivered a tune about a London rent boy with inevitably explicit lyrics. The band enjoyed the blocking of the song by the label’s reactionary owner Sir Edward Lewis. Around this time was the famous censorship trial of ‘Oz’ magazine and Marshall Chess, the producer, had the idea of getting bands to contribute adult material to an album, including this song. The concept didn’t get very far. More’s the pity. It would have made a refreshing change to many of the self-righteous charity alternatives.
As the decades roll by, the Rolling Stones prove well nigh indestructable and arguably forever young in spirit. COCKSUCKER BLUES is an interesting and unathorised peek into their lives on tour…