Peter Fonda Went Looking For America: The Stones Found It
London — Just past the midnight hour, Saturday morning, February 7th, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards arrive at Trident Studios to remix the ten tracks from the Stones' second Madison Square Garden concert for their "live" tour album to be released in mid-March.
And Al and David Maysles (the "Measles," as they're called by the Stones' entourage) who recently filmed the Stones in New York, Muscle Shoals, Palm Beach, and Altamont, California, are finishing their film by shooting tonight's scenes which will begin the film: Mick and Keith in the Trident studio listening to and remixing the tapes: cut to Madison Square Garden and the Stones playing their songs in America.
"Have you seen the rushes?" Mick asks. "Incroyable! And the album's better than the bootleg record." He's being modest. All the live versions (of "Sympathy for the Devil," "Midnight Rambler," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Live With Me," "Street Fighting Man," "Satisfaction," "Love In Vain," "Carol," "Little Queenie," "Stray Cat Blues"), brilliantly recorded on 16 track, sound tighter, more sustained and controlled, and harder-edged than on most of the Stones' other recordings.
In fact, the Stones are on such perfect musical and emotional pitch that it's hard to believe the recording is live. Mick says: "It doesn't sound as if it's recorded right up close as it's usually done when you make a live record, and it doesn't sound as if it's coming through the P.A. either, the way you hear it at the concert. So what we do is mix the voice and put a bit of echo on it."
Keith, in a bright red Marilyn Monroe T shirt, takes a swig of a bottle of Old Granddad Whiskey and passes it on. "Audience right, bass direct, OD drums and three open vocal tracks," Mick instructs the engineer. The tape rolls and "Sympathy for the Devil" blares out.
Keith: "What do we do about the buzz in the tape? . . . Not enough voice," as Mick's voice enters the song. Engineer to Mick: "You got hold of the bass mike and thought it was the audience mike." Then on comes the extraordinary guitar solo as Keith sits listening to himself dispassionately. "What didn't you like about that?" Mick asks him at the end. "It's OK," Keith says, "but the voice isn't close enough."
The engineer rolls on to "Stray Cat Blues" which Mick sings in the little boy blues voice of "Back Street Girl" and "2000 Man," as if the voice were not only singer but also the girl it imagines, emphasizing "You're so lonesome and so far from home," insinuating guitar lines drop like webs hanging down to catch the words phrased so strangely askew.
Four AM lights seem to shine forever in the small studio. "All these lights and large crews," Mick says as only a third cameraman enters, "it's becoming a major production. I like your slates [coyly]. Have you got any rotten old sandwiches you can give me at half past four?" Then it's five AM and the time's right for free association:
David Maysles: We've got to think of a title for the film.
Keith: I have no idea.
David: You can see the rushes and that will help you think of a title.
Mick: No one's going to come up with the first prophetic effort?
Al Maysles: The slogan we could use might be: Peter Fonda went looking for America. The Stones found it.
Mick: Call the film Old Glory. I don't know a thing about America. It's just the title of a song we wrote a year ago, so I'm suggesting it.
Al: It's Midnight this and Midnight that. Why not Midnight Maysles?
Mick: You're a writer [speaking to me]. What's your idea for a title?
Me: It's five AM [yawning].
Mick: That's the best time for thinking.
I suggest one to David Maysles.
David: Not too good. But don't say anymore or else Rolling Stone will take credit for it. What about Jumping Jack Maysles?
Mick: You can do better than that.
David: Too Many Crooks.
Mick: Love in Vain. Maybe we should call it that. Pictures of nude chicks. They loved in vain. Naked as they came.
Keith: Naughty Ladies.
Mick: Call it Naughty Ladies '70.
David: What was the name of that gun Hunter was waving? We could call the film by its name.
Mick: Perry Mason Strikes Again.
It's six AM and Mick is stretched out on a cramped modern style conch, legs crossed, unsmoked cigarette half falling in ashes from his fingers, overhead film lights half buzzing, and Mick, eyes closed, hums from somewhere far down as "Love in Vain" sounds through the studio — "The blue light was my blooose" — and while one of the Maysles' assistants sits alongside Mick, at the edge of the couch, head bent sideways, oblivious, dazed and half snoring, it looks like the last train station waiting room in the world.
A few days later I talked to the Maysles at their hotel and suggested that the Stones film follows the Hollywood formula: youth, drugs, rock, and violence, except that this time it's all real.
"Look," Al Maysles said, "of course that's true. We live in the days before the apocalypse. So it's honest for music to reflect that. It's unfair to say that our film promotes it and I don't think it exploits it. If the 300,000 at Altamont were the cast and we're exploiting that, then anyone who wrote about Altamont was exploiting it. We read about My Lai. Where the fuck was the film crew that day? They were where the money was for the sex film for the day. And now someone's written a script about My Lai.
"Our film is simple: it's structured on the idea of War and Peace. Critics ask why we don't make a statement. The film about Hugh Heffner, for example, is out to get him, and after ten minutes the filmmakers have made their point. In A Farewell to Arms or In Cold Blood, the book itself is the message. For us, our film is the message.
"I was upper left and I didn't see the murder. It wasn't until an hour later that I found out about it. David and a cameraman were in a tower behind the stage."
David: "The cameraman filmed the murder and he didn't even know it was a murder, he didn't see it. We just saw a guy dancing in a green suit and then it looked like a scuffle. The murder took place between 'Love in Vain' and 'Under My Thumb,' incidentally, not, as Rolling Stone reported, during 'Sympathy for the Devil.' The film is corrobative evidence, but the police need witnesses."
Al: "We have footage of the police watching our footage of the murder. We didn't get the Angels watching it, but, you know, they'd probably say 'Far Out!' You see, there must be two or three million Americans who know that if they step out of line they're going to be bumped off. So it's a moral thing for us to make this film, because it tells in advance what's going to happen."
What's going to happen is what has always happened. Old as the Bible. Old as Henry Fonda who might have a different life style from his son. But, as J. Effron has pointed out, as in Grapes of Wrath and Easy Rider, the oppressive forces remain the same. The Maysles' film — which they're thinking of calling either Love in Vain or Everybody Got To Go — is obviously going to contribute to the ferment it brilliantly portrays. If Altamont was the situation it was, imagine what your local movie theater's going to look like when the Maysles' film hits town.
London — The Rolling Stones are looking for a new record company. Their contract with Decca Records — which owns London Records in the United States (no connection with Decca Records in the US) — expires with their next album. It is a considered certainty that the Stones will never re-sign with Decca/London, following the protracted dispute over the censored Beggars' Banquet LP cover.
What the Stones and their management are seeking is not a "label" as such on which the Rolling Stones will appear, but a company to distribute Rolling Stones Records (the very likely title for the label which will be pasted on their records). The Stones and their management intend to control all phases of the product — not only the recording and packaging, but also the advertising, promotion and pressing. They will not be on another company's label.
Insiders say that there are four major labels under consideration by the Stones and their management. These are Columbia, Atlantic, RCA Victor and Capitol, all of which — with the exception of Atlantic, the most likely candidate — owning their own distribution facilities. The money that is being offered by these companies and others who are also in on the bidding is about the same for all of them — astronomical.
At this point, it is unclear whether the live LP would be the Stones' last product on London or the first on their new label.
This is a story from the March 19, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.