Making 'Exile on Main St.'

Page 3 of 5

While Tony seems only too pleased to portray himself as the hero of the day in his book Up and Down With the Rolling Stones, it was his nemesis, Tommy Weber, who kept the situation from boiling over. "I was actually in the harbor with Jake and Charlie and Marion," he recalls. "I think the three boys were in the E-type and I had my car as well. One of the port uniforms tried to grab Keith and took a swing at him, and he missed Keith and nearly hit Marion. At that point, Keith pulled out a .38. And then a whole battle started." Tommy's son Jake, who was waiting in the car at the time, distinctly remembers being told that it was Keith who opened up the harbor master's face by punching him with his right hand, the one on which he wore his heavy silver skull ring, thereby proving that his signature piece of jewelry was not only ornamental but also of great use in a brawl.

"I," says Tommy Weber, "knowing the complexity and the politics of the whole thing, get the kids in my car and take them back up to Nellcôte to 'clean the place up' before we have a big, big bust, which is obviously going to happen. Even though we had protection from the local prefect, we didn't have enough protection from the Customs, and this was the harbor. So I knew it was really serious. Keith and Spanish Tony were having a lovely time having a serious 'Western brawl' with all these uniforms. Later, I'm told they thought I was running out on them, but I knew they were quite capable of looking out after themselves. So I took the kids to get them out of the situation and also to get up to Nellcôte to warn Anita and everybody there to clean up whatever was lying about because we were going to get a spin. And that was exactly what happened. I took the .38 and dumped it in the harbor, and Keith told the police that it was Marion's toy gun. I was the one who had taken the gun off Keith in the harbor. I had to disarm him or he would have used it."

When the police come to Nellcôte to speak with Keith the next afternoon, he explains that because of the harbor master's unprovoked attack, Marion banged his head on the ground and so Keith now intends to sue the man for assaulting his young son. The Stones' lawyers and the police then get together to discuss the matter. How much money changes hands during this meeting, no one can say for certain. That evening, however, the chief of police comes to dinner at Nellcôte. Keith provides him with a few autographed Rolling Stones albums. And, as Tony writes, "that was the end of that little problem as far as he was concerned."

Despite what Tony claims transpired in that crowded bed at Nellcôte the night before the punch-up, Tommy goes right on living at the villa. But then as a couple, Keith and Anita have already weathered so many storms of every conceivable nature that physical fidelity would seem to be the least of their concerns. All the same, doing it with someone else while your partner lies passed out beside you does seem a bit much even for them. But then, as Keith once said from the dock at Old Bailey, "We are not old men. We are not worried about petty morals."

On June 7th, 1971, after a four-day drive from London, the Rolling Stones' recording truck, also known as the mobile, finally arrives at Nellcôte. For a solid month before Mick left on his honeymoon, he and Keith had scoured the French countryside for places where the band might record. "Of course," road manager Jerry Pompili would later say, "no one liked anything. We wasted a month, and then in the end they decided to do it in Keith's house. Typical Stones."

In large part, the truck exists not just because the Stones have wasted so much money over the years by booking expensive studio time by the hour only to then show up late or not at all for sessions but also because of the residual guilt Mick and Keith still feel about allowing Andrew Oldham, the Stones' first manager, to boot original pianist Ian Stewart out of the band in 1963 because he neither looked nor acted like a pop star. "I think by way of making it up to him," recording engineer Andy Johns will later say, "they built the truck and said, 'Here ya go, Stu. You run this.'" The Stones have also pumped an astronomical 65,000 pounds into building what Johns will later call "the first proper mobile in Europe."

It has already been used at Stargroves, Mick's country estate in England, to record tracks that appear on Sticky Fingers as well as "Sweet Black Angel," which eventually makes it way onto Exile on Main Street.

Shortly after the mobile arrives, what in retrospect will prove to be the most significant event of the entire summer occurs. Keith and Tommy decide to spend the day driving go-carts around a local track.

Based on Keith's driving record in England, it should come as no surprise to anyone that calamity results. Deciding to have a go at Tommy, who in any vehicle is by far the better driver, Keith takes a running shot at him with his go-cart. "It definitely felt like murder," Tommy recalls. "He was trying to knock into me. He drove straight at me and the thing flipped . . . I was still trying to slow the cars down and I had him with his head in my lap, the go-cart on top of him, and his back was scraping along the tarmac. His back was like raw steak. A little later, he was looking at me and he said, 'OK, Tommy, I think it's about time you went to the doctor and get him to get us some you-know-what,' which everyone had been staying away from. And that was the beginning of it. The go-cart accident instigated the opiates."

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