The Rolling Stones, it appears, have resolved to remain on the road indefinitely. Their ceaseless touring is only assigned specific names in the same manner that hurricanes are christened to identify those unstoppable masses of moving energy. Last year, it was the Bridges to Babylon tour, before that, Voodoo Lounge and Steel Wheels. Time seems not to slow them down, only to change the lineup slightly on rare occasions.
The Rolling Stones: A Life on the Road (Penguin Studio) captures the momentum and frenzy of the Stones' touring machine on paper. Essentially a series of interviews culled by Jools Holland (former keyboardist for Squeeze) and Dora Lowenstein, the authors allow the band to speak for itself. Mick Taylor notwithstanding, the book contains numerous quotes from all surviving current and former members of the band. By using a coffee-table book format -- brimming with an uncountable number of gleaming photographs -- A Life manages to reproduce the excitement and verve of the Stones as much as one could expect, given the limitations of the printed medium.
The book covers roughly 35 years of Stones mania from the band's early days roaming the English countryside in a VW Combi van to their current behemoth operation, which includes three 747s and a staff of roughly 300 full-time employees. A plethora of photos from clubs both large and small, ancient and modern, grace the book's 290 pages. Some of the venues include the Crawdaddy Club in '63, the Royal Albert Hall in '66, the Hyde Park dedication for the then recently deceased Brian Jones in '69, and Toronto's El Mocambo Club in '77, days before Keith Richards' legendary arrest for heroin possession.
In addition, the publication contains dozens of shots from recent outings such as the aforementioned Bridges to Babylon, Voodoo Lounge and Steel Wheels tours. The pages show Jagger and company in a kaleidoscope of colors at the Meadowlands (New Jersey), the Convention Center (Atlantic City), Madison Square Garden (New York City), L'Olympia (Paris) and Earls Court (London), among other stadiums and concert halls.
The typography and page layout of A Life on the Road works well for the subject matter. Fonts vary in size and leap out at you the way a high point in a Rolling Stones' song captures you at a live concert. Old shots are juxtaposed with recent photos producing an effect that celebrates the band's incredibly long and colorful history.
This history, I might add, is well documented in the book, from the origination of the band (Richards tells how Brian Jones named the Stones; Jagger, of course, claims the credit) to events as recent as 1998. Chapters in the band's evolution are covered in the members' own language, including the decline of Brian Jones, the relatively brief stint of Mick Taylor, the squabbling between Jagger and Richards, the entrance of Ronnie Wood, the exit of Bill Wyman, the aforementioned addiction of Keith Richards, the shopping habits of Charlie Watts... Have I left anyone out?
If you're a fan of the Rolling Stones and you have $50 to blow, you may want to plunk it down for this thoughtful and well-executed text. It's thorough, highly amusing and -- let's face it, more importantly -- chockfull of gazillions of pictures. Then again, you may want to hold on to your cash to apply to the price of a concert ticket. According to the Stones camp, the boys are coming to your town soon.
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