Mick Jagger said at a press conference leading up to the legendary 1969 free concert at Altamont that he had just been asked if he had finally acquired all of the strange stuff he rhapsodizes on in his breakthrough song. But it fills a need. The four-part EPIX documentary series is a tribute to 60 years of rock and roll.
The Rolling Stones' core four members are shown in archival footage, including Jagger, weaver Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, and late drummer Charlie Watts. Brian Jones, the Stones' founding guitarist, and original bassist Bill Wyman are shown in the film My Life as a Rolling Stone. Clare Tavernor directed the television special accompanying Richards' autobiography Life.
My Life as a Rolling Stone is anchored by newly-filmed interviews with the band and fully appreciative breakdowns of the music from Tom Waits, Tina Turner, and other aficionados. Condie, who co-founded Peoples History of Pop, Can You Feel It, and The Story of Skinhead, continued the musical conversation with Den of Geek.
Do you remember the first time you heard the Rolling Stones?
Steve Condie: I have a story about that. My dad was an enormous Rolling Stones fan growing up in Scotland. I bought the first physical copy of Miss You by the Rolling Stones for my pocket money.
As a Stones supporter, what did you want to see?
First of all, it felt like a real joy to work with them on their own story. They seldom do this very often. We hoped that by doing that, we would gain an increased understanding of them as individuals rather than in a collective piece of storytelling. To capture the magic that makes them so successful and so enduring. Both in terms of the musical bond that they share and how the personalities work.
Both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles reintroduced Black music to America, highlighting lesser-known blues musicians. Why do you think it took outsiders to make the United States better acquainted with its own?
There has always been an enormous desire for Black American music in the United Kingdom, in many ways and in profound ways. This is just a theory, but there is a certain level of appreciation in British, and perhaps other European audiences as well, that isnt tainted with all the baggage that comes with American history. But maybe it's just deeper with the music.
The British at Work, The British Family, and the Stones' music is said to be a strong marriage of Americana and Britisha, and how does that make you feel in Britannia?
Talking to the Stones, since they are four guys from London, but with an incredible attachment to America. As we touch on, particularly in the Keith program, they became prominent exponents of American music, which I think says a lot about the country as a whole.
We lost an empire, and one of the ways we came to terms with that was we became really good at pop culture. We became extremely adept at soaking up American culture in particular, but then reworking it into something that was uniquely British. We didnt make cars or ships anymore, but we made culture.
The Stones are a perfect example of how Britain has negotiated its way into a really advantageous cultural position with America, where we just sort of chew on the marrow of the finest American products and recreate a version of them.
I knew that the Ron Wood episode would be the most entertaining, because it has the Faces and Rod Stewart. When you said England does not build ships, I thought: Ron Wood would, probably, if he heard that.
Ronnie Wood is one of the world's leading nice guys, right? He is simply wonderful. He invites you and gives you a hug. He asks you questions. He drinks a lot of coffee. That's what it's all about. Dan Aykroyd, one of the world's great comedians, comes on your program and tells you how funny Ronnie Wood is.
He is a genuine artist. A painter. And he is a thoughtful guy. I'm sorry you forgot about the Faces and Rod because I've heard them before. They've developed their own sound. Even if they were redrawing American sounds, they're still very British.
Ronnie was instrumental in the Stones' victory. He was instrumental in instilling an energy and a sense of purpose to the band in the 70s. He was instrumental in bringing the band back together again in the 80s, as they dubbed the Cold War. They saved him, and Keith in particular, dragged him out of his addiction. It's the pursuit of which he always dreamed of.
What is the key difference between doing a piece with the band's full endorsement, and the political documentaries like your Profumo scandal documentary or Skinhead?
Editorialally, the difference between making a film about something or someone and making it with them is substantial. For directors and producers, it depends on the subject. Despite their reputations, the Stones were extremely cooperative in the process. We were aiming to make a film that was also a celebration.
But to make films that are authorized, that feel authentic and have some journalism in them, and that have a sense of inquiry, you need your subjects to appreciate what you're trying to accomplish, and not to think of it as a challenge to them. I think we've got that with them, which I really appreciated. They allowed us to ask questions that werent always comfortable for them.
The Stones were quite open about both sides of their drug journey. What did you learn about the band's musicians and rock and roll mythology?
Isn't it a fascinating combination? Part of the Rolling Stones' attraction, as a cultural artifact, is their love for rock and roll enthusiasts around the world, for whom rock and roll is the rawest and most pure and adrenaline-filled experience. This connection with narcotics is part of the attraction, and its part of the attraction. The Stones are remarkable in their most wasted beauty.
Ronnie, Keith, Charlie, and all of them were fortunate to survive. With a bit of distance, they now have a greater appreciation of the danger they themselves faced. And other people. In this film, Ronnie is open about how long it took to get back on track.
Charlie Watts' mid-life crisis surprised me.
Charlie had his moment, and that's one of the surprises in the film. He seems so in charge, and too detached from the other aspects of rock and roll life. But he had his moments partly because his great jazz heroes experienced the same thing a generation before.
Keith is, of course, the most interesting character in this regard because he is a living testament to both the dangers and the sometimes inspiring quality of a relationship with narcotics. However, in the film he said something that perhaps he hasnt said before: It's a difficult ride, and maybe it wasn't worth it.
Keith always said it wasn't for everyone, but I could hack it. But this time there was a glint of acknowledgment when he said that maybe it wasn't worth it. I thought it was really interesting. I think they're all circling around to acknowledge the costs as well as the pleasures of a drug-free existence.
Was there ever a plan for a Bill Wyman/Brian Jones condensedence?
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We decided to focus on the musicians who are still with us when we began the project. Unfortunately, we lost him last September and therefore we could not record a film with him. We always knew that this was our special focus.
I was surprised to learn that Ian Stewart was not included in the book. Were there any details that needed to be removed, or was this a gradual process from the start?
I recognized a few, but we were quite specific on what we were going to focus on. As a fellow rock and roll enthusiast, I sympathize with you. Ian was an exceptional figure that was often overlooked. So, I agree with you, and I wish we had the opportunity to do more.
Before directing the Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham worked for Brian Epstein. When Keith explains that the Beatles were just as nasty as we were, the conflict appears to be friendly complicity.
Do you know what I think? I think they were closer than most people think. They were part of a shared environment. They both had really clever managers that decided to take them in slightly different directions. It works. It feeds interest and all that stuff.
I think both parties were quite content to leave the whole thing up to the manufacturer. When you hear Mick talking about when he used to watch television and how you look on camera and things, you realize how smart they were about the business. And the same goes for John and Paul in their own ways and their management.
The Stones' first song was a Lennon-McCartney song, which I dont recall hearing in the documentary.
No, we did not cover it. Although we did talk about the Beatles' friendship, and I love Keith's comments about how they were just like us, they were also a bunch of kids. I like them even more.
Mick's reply about Keith studying the Beatles was pleasant to me, and I think it strengthened his dedication to riffs and hooks.
Isn't it? Keith's a myth, which is that he was just interested in blues, but he was equally intelligent. He understood that if they were going to go beyond doing clubs in London and being the finest blues band in the city, they had to learn from their peers.
Mick and he talked about how he would summarize the first Beatles songs and say, Ah, thats how that works. They knew they had to go beyond being a great blues tribute band. And they wanted to achieve greatness. I think thats absolutely fascinating. This connection between these two bands is such a fascinating story that were still obsessing about and adding new information to it.
Do you think the Rolling Stones will continue to influence society?
I do, actually. I do. The bands were recently broadcast in the United Kingdom, and we were surprised by their demographic. They obviously have a loyal fan base, but they are important to every new generation. I think the streaming experience allows people to enjoy music from previous eras more readily.
My Life as a Rolling Stone is available on EPIX beginning August 7.