Still, with so little real progress being made down in the basement, time begins to weigh heavily on everyone. For want of anything better to do, Andy Johns and Jim Price decide to set up a casino at the villa where they live. "We bought a full-sized roulette wheel," Johns recalls, "and people would come by and we would play roulette until one or two in the morning and then it would change into poker. Sometimes craps. And we were making quite a bit of money on the craps and the roulette. We were the house. Keith came once. And he didn't want to join in. I think that was because he might lose. Or we might win. Which of course would have been an act of lèse-majesté. It was the time that he shot me up."
Johns, then twenty-one years old, has snorted heroin a few times but never injected the drug. "During the course of that project," he says, "I started using. Because it was easy to get. Marseilles was just down the road, and you could get this China White that was very powerful for not a lot of money. So I started taking this stuff. I mean, it was so fucking boring most of the time. So much waiting around."
On the night that Keith comes to visit Johns and Price at their makeshift casino on the French Riviera, Johns goes into his bedroom "to change my shirt or for some fucking reason, and Keith had a needle and a spoon, and I'd been brought up to think that was very inappropriate behavior. But I was along the path a little bit by now, and I said, What are you doing?' And he said, 'Oh, do you want to do this too?' And I went, 'Yes. OK.'And he went, 'Oh, this needle's fucked. It won't work. We'll go back to my place.' So we jump in his car and drive all the way back to Nellcôte, and he takes me downstairs and cooks something up, and he didn't inject it in the vein. He just skin-popped me. And went, 'Now, you're a man.' Which I thought, looking back on it now, 'How adolescent of him.' And how adolescent of me. 'Oh, I'll do this, too.'"
Johns then goes back upstairs and is sitting in the mobile when lan Stewart walks in, takes one look at him, and says, "Andy, what's the time? Andy, what's the time?" "And of course," Johns would later recall, "I couldn't see. So I was looking at my watch and going, 'It's, uh, I think it might be . . . well . . .' And Stu said, 'You've been hangin' out with Keith, haven't you? Ohhhh, dear, he's in trouble . . ." So Stu picked up on it within ten fucking minutes. I said, 'Stu, no, I haven't done anything.' I just lied. He knew. I didn't become a junkie per se until a little later on. By the time we went to Jamaica to do Goat's Head Soup, I was deep into it."
One of the lucky ones, Andy Johns spends the entire summer at Nellcôte yet somehow manages to live to tell the tale. The same cannot be said for John Lennon — who passed through the house during the Cannes Film Festival — Gram Parsons, Jimmy Miller, Madeleine D'Arcy, Ian Stewart, photographer Michael Cooper, Living Theatre producer Olivier Boelen, Jean de Breteuil, the highborn drug connection who supplied Jim Morrison with his fatal shot, or Spanish Tony Sanchez and Michele Breton, both of whom are missing in action and presumed to be gone as well. To say that the human toll exacted during the making of Exile on Main Street was extreme is an understatement of major proportions. But then even if you had tried to tell the denizens of Nellcôte that far too many of them would, in the immortal words of Pete Townshend, die before they got old, no one would have listened. They were all too busy getting high.
This is a story from the September 21, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.
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