“…I was carried away by the Rolling Stones. It was akin to my childhood dream of running off to the circus.” Rich Cohen had to pinch himself hard when he nabbed an assignment, covering the Rolling Stones’ 1995 tour for the Rolling Stones magazine. When a friend called to see how he was doing once on board, he responded: “Good, but I’ve been smiling so much my head is killing me.”

After enjoying a flight on a posh private jet, he ends up at El Mocambo, watching the band perform on a tiny stage in a smoky room. “I was seeing them in their natural habitat—a bar packed with fanatical drunks,” Cohen exclaims. He compared that gritty gig to seeing “the Ramones at CBGBs on the Bowery,” “or the Beatles at the Cavern in Liverpool.” Cohen soon establishes a barometer for what he considers the real Stones. He dismisses fans that complain about crowded, formulaic stadium shows. They don’t know the real Stones.

Cohen is no mere fly-on-the wall. His observations have legs. If he could rotate his head like a woodland owl, to see who is lurking in the darkest corners, I suppose he would. After all, he’s been catapulted into a thrilling, but paranoid world. He writes about drug busts, domestic abuse, professional rivalries and youthful rage.

But Cohen’s accustomed to observing tough characters. He cut his teeth, writing about New York gangsters and edgy record producers. And although he was born too late to stand in line to buy ‘Satisfaction’, he’s talked to enough fans and industry professionals to know what that first fuss was all about. And, of course, they say even those that were there, don’t remember. So Cohen has another leg up.

Setting up his encounters like a film noir director, Cohen cites the obvious street signs, song titles and flashy period garb, but gets to the emotional core through dialogue and insight. He’s conducted tons of interviews with all the major players, including Marianne Faithfull, Andrew Loog Oldham, the current line-up and previous players.

Keef burns holes into hotel carpets with one arm, whilst constructing a fabulous riff with the other. Blonde Brian Jones has a tantrum because “first they took my music.” His vision, when he formed the Stones, was that they would honour the Chicago blues, but fame forced the band to expand their range, leaving Brian feeling isolated and bitter. Cohen is only empathetic to a degree; he is quick to point out that Jones abandoned young, pregnant girlfriends and had huge anger management issues.

Mick appears as calculating, but brilliant. He understands structure and discipline. He whittles Keef’s Berry-inspired wares into honky tonk treasures. Shy Charlie Watts warms up to Cohen in record time; they resonate over jazz.

Then there are those tense, sometimes two-faced, outside forces. There’s the torrid Anita Pallenberg love triangle between the German model, Brian and Keith, and then between Keith, Anita and Mick during the filming of ‘Performance,’; the real and imagined rivalry between the Stones and the Beatles; and the managerial dream granting and disillusionment that drove a wedge between the band, Andrew Loog Oldham and Allen Klein.

Cohen reads about Altamont and asks, “What did the Stones see at Altamont? Their own demise, the fate of all those who held the grenade too long.” Cohen sees the forest through the decaying trees; Altamont was not only about the spectacle, the violence and the betrayal of the flower child generation; it was about the Stones coming to terms with a conceivable downward spiral, a knife-wielding fall from grace. It would be the last time fans would be granted such close contact with their heroes.

Cohen admitted at a recent book launch, that anyone who has had the pleasure of working with the Stones in any capacity has published a book, so there are a lot of choices out there for the loyal Stones lover. But Rich Cohen’s version of the truth in ‘The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones’ is special; conveyed with humour, irony, street smarts, nuance and phenomenal research. He gives as much voice to the band’s early inspirations, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon as he does to their incredible staying power and prodigious, collective talent.

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