The Rolling Stones’ Rocky Road to Exile on Main Street


Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile
By Robert Greenfield
Da Capo Press, 196 pp. $25.99.

Like estranged lovers who can’t quite quilt each other, music journalist Robert Greenfield and the Rolling Stones have kept coming back together through the decades…at least in print. His first book on the band, S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones, was his personal, fly-on-the-wall account of much of the band’s famously debauched 1972 tour in support of Exile on Main Street.

More than 30 years later came Exile on Main St: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones, the definitive account of the making of what many consider the band’s best record. In this slim, third effort, Greenfield takes an even more personal memoir, mostly of his experiences in the band’s 1971 “Farewell” tour of England before they became (temporary) tax exiles on France, where they put down much of Exile.

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The chapters include factual retellings of the time and then, in italics, Greenfield’s additional commentary from his perspective today — a journalistic affectation which is often annoying, which even the author admits.

Other chapters detail his later interview encounters, primarily with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, often while reporting for Rolling Stone magazine.
And while some of the incidents and occurrences on the tour may ring familiar and not just for the Stones — the shows, the drugs and women, the internal power struggles, the groupies and hangers on — Greenfield’s anecdotes shed more light on the personalities (especially Jagger and Richards) than the incidents.

While he tells of hours in which the group and those in their orbit would sit around waiting to see if Keith would ever make it to the gig or recording sessions (sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t…and was usually loaded), on the flip side there is Jagger personally calling box offices along the tour to make sure they were enforcing a two-ticket-per-person purchase maximum.

1971-72 marked a line of demarcation in terms of how the Stones ran their unit as a business (which became much bigger) and also their second huge wave of popularity to reach the level of a truly iconic group.

It also showed the shift in the creative relationship of the Glimmer Twins from a more collaborative give and take to something else. And Greenfield notes that it went deeper than simply Keith’s love affair with heroin and Jagger’s with new wife Bianca (who, somewhat surprisingly, has noted that the pair’s marriage ended on their wedding day…).

Along the way, Greenfield offers short but potent journalistic snapshots of country-rock singer Gram Parsons, producer Andy Johns (both also heroin pals of Richards) drummer Charlie Watts,, lighting director Chip Monck, unsung pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart (who also served uncomplainingly as roadie and driver), and the larger-than-life sax player Bobby Keys.

That Greenfield also co-wrote legendary promoter Bill Graham’s autobiography Bill Graham Presents and the Ahmet Ertegun bio The Last Sultan (one of the finest books music bios ever), shows that he has a keen literary take on super-strong personalities. And Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye, for what it lacks in length, makes up for how it brings those personalities to life.

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