Monday, February 11, 2019

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones, by Tony Sanchez
October, 1980  Signet Books
(original trade paperback edition 1979)

In many ways this sleazy tell-all is similar to Frederic Seaman’s later The Last Days Of John Lennon; it’s written by a former assistant whose job mostly entailed getting high with his employer-slash-best friend, and it seems to have been written with a grudge to bear. But this book’s a whole helluva lot more fun, because the employer-slash-best friend is Keith Richards, and the documented events cover a lot more time than the few months that made up Seaman’s book.

“Spanish Tony” Sanchez, who died in 2000, is infamous in the Rolling Stones mythos as the band’s drug dealer; his name was immortalized on the original version of the Beggars Banquet cover, the one of the gross toilet seat with graffiti on the wall…Keith Richards, per Sanchez in this very book, is the one who scrawled “Spanish Tony where are you?” on the wall. Speaking of Keith, the man apparently has a gift for one-liners, as upon reading this book he supposedly commented, “Spanish Tony can’t write his own name, let alone a book.”

He wasn’t alone in his suspicion; it doesn’t seem to be well-known yet, but Up And Down With The Rolling Stones was actually ghostwritten by a British music journalist named John Blake, who still owns the copyright on the book and republishes it frequently. I guess he and Sanchez followed the template of all those William Shatner bios and other celebrity books – the celebrity tells his tale to the professional writer, who commits it all to paper (with a few embellishments) and doesn’t get a shred of credit. But I’ve read a few online reviews of this book that question the authenticity of “Spanish Tony’s” voice. Well, there’s the answer – it’s not his voice. It’s John Blake’s.

But this isn’t a criticism, because the book is a blast to read, and it’s everything you’d want in a Rolling Stones book. That is, if you want to read about their wild, drug-fueled adventures and don’t care as much about their actual music. And also if you don’t want to read much about Mick Jagger. Sanchez (or Blake) doesn’t much care for poor old Mick, it seems – or maybe it’s the other way around, and Mick didn’t care much for Sanchez. Because Mick doesn’t seem to have much use for Spanish Tony, other than an occasional request for coke. Otherwise our author(s) is content to let us know that Mick is an egalitarian prick, posing as a Cockney-accented rabble rouser but really worried someone might “spill something on his Persian rugs.” That being said, Tony does grudgingly admit that Mick is stronger than Keith, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Palenberg, producer Jimmy Miller, scads of others, and Spanish Tony himself, in that he never uses heroin, and thus doesn’t share the plunge into addiction practically every single character in the book experiences.

Sanchez comes into the Stones fold right as the glory years are beginning (ie the mid ‘60s), and stays with them up until the glory years begin to fade (ie the mid ‘70s). Coincidence? Probably! The book is very focused on Brian Jones, the “forgotten” Stone who started the group, gave them their name, got hooked on drugs and busted multiple times, was fired from the group, and died a few days after. In an opening sequence Sanchez never really returns to, Brian comes to him one night looking for coke and other goodies, and from there Sanchez flashes back to how he became the Stones’s unofficial drug dealer – though for some goofy reason he reminds us throughout that he’s not a drug dealer, per se.

It begins in the post-Aftermath era, and the Stones are just embarking on their psychedelic trip, which we’re supposed to hate but to tell the truth I love. For a very long time, Their Satanic Majesties Request was the only Stones album I had on vinyl, and that was for a reason. (I mean let’s be honest, “2000 Light Years From Home” is one of the greatest songs of the psychedelic era – or any era, for that matter.) Sanchez has various connections to the underworld and soon becomes the Stones’s go-to guy for grass, hash, speed, and eventually coke and heroin.

Keith Richards (though at this point he was still going as “Keith Richard,” per old manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s suggestion) is the Stone who gets the most study, with Brian Jones coming a close second. Jagger comes and goes in the text, and Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts basically don’t exist. As Sanchez writes, these two didn’t have much in common with the others from the beginning. Jones replacement Mick Taylor enters the narrative midway through, but he also doesn’t get much focus, other than being another example of a naïve, almost innocent soul who gradually sucumbs to the Stones’s dark demonic sway.

Sanchez himself doesn’t come off as the most likable guy; as with Seaman, he’s careful to present himself as level-headed, particularly when confronted with the continuous goofery of the rock world, and there is a definite air of judgment in his depictions of how the Stones treat their women and children. And yet for all that Sanchez freely admits that he abandons his wife and toddler son to be with some long-legged model chick (who eventually dies of a heroin overdose – spoiler alert). But then, none of the people in the book are in danger of winning a Parent of the Year award. At least Seaman made clear that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had various maids and nannies to look over Sean; Sanchez spends the entire book giving the impression that Keith’s son Marlon is being raised by a pair of heroin-ravaged incompetents, before slipping into the very final pages that there are nannies for the boy.

There’s a lot of focus on Brian, and Sanchez goes out of his way to let us know how the Stones screwed him over, while at the same time implying much of it was Brian’s own fault. His growing dependence on drugs and troubles with the law pushed him into a corner the other Stones were incapable of getting him out of. Sanchez relates that in these earlier days whoever was pals with Brian was the boss of the Stones, and it was only around this psychedelic period that Keith went over to Mick’s camp, and the two went about knocking Brian from his throne.

Superbeauty Anita Pallenberg played a big role in this; the former “Great Tyrant” of Barbarella entered the Stones picture initially through Brian, then moved on to Keith, and also reportedly took the time to seduce Mick on the set of Performance, which she co-starred with him in. Like Brian, Sanchez presents Anita as a tragic figure, though again much of it is due to her own actions – her conniving, her heroin addition, her eventual pursuit of black magic, including a bizarro part where Sanchez has Anita dipping a piece of cloth into the blood of a man lying near death on a road in Tangier, the victim of a car wreck. Per Anita’s satanic guru Kenneth Anger, the blood of a dying man is quite powerful. And yet for all that Anita doesn’t seem to get much done other than hook herself and others on heroin.

Marianne Faithfull also enters the picture around the time of Anita, and Sanchez follows the now-cliched angle of presenting her as the ray of light to Anita’s shroud of darkness. However Marianne just sticks with one Stone: Mick. But the old boy treats her pretty rough; he’s not into beating her around, as Brian reportedly was with Anita, but he is guilty of ignoring her a lot. A funny thing about this book is that it’s pretty anemic so far as the sexual sleaze exploitation goes – Mick, we’re informed, enjoys the occasional dalliance, but Keith we’re told isn’t much interested in sex at all; he’s too heavy into heroin. In fact it’s not until near the end of the book in which Keith even says he finds a woman sexy (Ronnie Wood’s wife, fyi), and Sanchez is properly shocked because it’s the first time he’s ever heard Keith say he “fancies” someone.

The interchanging Brian-Keith, Keith-Mick alignments come off as petty bickering, because the biggest miss of Up And Down With The Rolling Stones is that Sanchez fails to tell us anything about what made the Stones so popular to begin with – their music. If you are looking for peeks inside the studio during the recording of their various albums, or even some of their historic concerts of the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Only rarely – very, very rarely – does Sanchez even mention the music of the Stones. He does take credit for inadvertently causing “Honky Tonk Women” to be recorded (the best Stones song ever, per Sanchez!?), given the piano he had installed in the London club he briefly owned with Keith; Mick and Keith, who were supposed to be helping decorate the place, sat down and started plunking out the song.

But Sanchez clearly wasn’t there for the recordings of Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers or etc, though he does sort of imply he was in Keith’s house while Exile In Main Street was being recorded, though he fails to give even a smidgen of info on the recording sessions. And that to me is the most damning thing about the book. There’s absolutely no understanding how these guys, who are presented as just looking for the next drug kick, could have recorded some of the most defining music in rock history.

I found though that the book is more enjoyable as just a gossipy tell-all, as was the case with Seaman’s book. And speaking of Lennon, he appears a few times in Sanchez’s book, and perhaps tellingly, he comes off pretty much identical as to how he did in Seaman’s expose – easily confused and overly bossy, but with a quick wit. Paul McCartney also shows up, if only briefly, at Mick’s birthday party at the aforementioned club, where – per Sanchez – he’s the last person to leave, and discovers the comatose hat-check girl. We also learn that he brought along an acetate of “Hey Jude” for the party, thus invoking Mick’s wrath for having been upstaged at his own party…and later Linda, not yet Paul’s wife, calls Tony and hassles him for the record back, lest bootleggers get hold of it. 

Things really pick up when Keith takes over the baronial Redlands out in the and gets in one goofy adventure after another. Unlike the major events – the infamous drug bust, the disastrous Altamont concert, and every single recording session – Sanchez is actually present for most of this. So we have Keith shooting arrows across a lake and then skimming over it in his hydrofoil to collect them, and also his increasingly hostile run-ins with the locals. I also got a post-ironic chuckle out of Keith’s immediate response to the rash of crime he endures in the area, mostly from locals who keep breaking into his house: that’s right, friends – he builds a wall…

There’s a lot of intentionally funny stuff throughout, most of it involving Keith. Like for example an altercation in the Exile years where he gets in a fight with some guys at a wharf in France, and starts waving around Marlon’s toy pistol like it’s the real thing. There’s also Keith’s quickly-dashed plot to sink a boat once belonging to Errol Flynn so he can reclaim it and thus get it for a fraction of the price. As Sanchez elaborates, with his growing heroin addiction – which matches his growing bank account – Keith becomes increasingly price-conscious. This is another parallel to Seaman’s book, where millionaire John Lennon also came off like a cheapskate.

The book also answers the question of how one becomes a heroin addict; as Sanchez relates it, the experience starts with coke, which the performer needs to constantly get up in front of the masses and do the same show over and over. But eventually the performer needs a comedown, otherwise sleep is impossible. This is how heroin enters the fray, initially snorted but eventually injected via “the works.” This process happens to virtually every person in the book save for Mick, and in many cases – so Sanchez claims – Anita Pallenberg is responsible. Per Sanchez, junkies are only happy when their misery is shared, so Keith and Anita relish in getting people in their orbit hooked on heroin, even if it’s just some harmless young rock reporter.

It’s hard for me to review a book like this. It’s engaging and witty, and at times hard to put down, but at the same time you come away from it with little understanding of what made the Stones one of the greatest rock groups of all time, if not the greatest. Overall I enjoyed the book, even if I didn’t come away with a better appreciation of the Stones, their music, and their legacy.


Johny Malone said...

These junkie stories bore me utterly. I do not say it from a moralistic stance, not even from a moral attitude. But because they have a lot of idiots inflated artificially. Possibly the Rolling have been less idiotic or more astute than others, but it does not matter.

Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

I bought this paperback when it was first published and enjoyed the hell out of it at the time, purely for the antics described in it. I think I remember Bianca Jagger's observation that the best cocaine is pink. Oh well. It got panned fairly quickly in interviews later as being trashy. Still it was a fun read.

Stephen Mertz said...

A great book & I share your assessment right down the line. The music itself is documented in just about every other book about the Stones. This is the view from inside about the dark center of this point in time. A time, it's should be noted, that passed as all time does. Keith's autobiography is a fine companion piece to Sanchez.

Drew Salzen said...

John Blake is an interesting fella - ex-newspaper journo specialising in showbiz and pop/rock, he founded Blake Publishing on the back of this and built up a very sizeable UK indie publisher which majored in celebrity and true crime (from reality and rock through to hard man enforcers and murder hack jobs - in every sense). He moved from ghosting to editing, and made a tidy pile, selling up a year or two back. Published Paul Di'Anno's 'The Beast' which is wonderfully sleazy, and Ginger Baker's autobiography which is - well, just Ginger...

Went to the same school as Blake, a few years after, and met him a few times. Amiable and hard-nosed, very adept at this kind of trash.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Kurt, your memory hasn't failed you -- Sanchez relates that at one of their first meetings a trying-to-be-worldly Bianca mentioned that "pink cocaine" was the best, but Sanchez knew this was not true.

Stephen -- loved the Exile track reference in your first sentence. Speaking of more music-focused Stones books, I plan to read Stanley Booth's Dancing with the Devil/True Adventures of the Rolling Stones soon.

Drew, thanks a lot for the note on Blake! I totally forgot to mention this in my review, but I came across a blog post claiming to be a "lost chapter" from Up And Down With The Rolling Stones...there are some typos and gaffes, but it does read very similarly to Blake's writing. Even more curious, it's the only post on this blog. Check it out here.

Drew Salzen said...

Thanks for that, Joe - fascinating that it's on it's own...

Stanley Booth's book is the best Stones book I ever read - about four times, actually - when I got it way back at the end of the 80's. It's one of the best books on rockers period, really - rivalled only by anything by Lester Bangs or Mick Farren (and maybe some Nick Kent - his stuff on Brian Wilson is the rival of Steve Gaines' Heroes And Villains book). If you've not read the Booth before, you'll love it.

Makes me realise I've read way too many rock books over the years...

Aaron Jeethan said...

The book was reissued a few years back under a much better title: 'I Was Keith Richards' Drug Dealer'. Spanish Tony was actually a much more hardcore character than he comes across in the book. Others saw him as a toughish guy with some pretty heavy gangster connections in London. Some link to the Kray Twins firm, I think.