Published on November 17th, 2020 | by Robert Barry Francos0
Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones
The documentary, Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones adds more to the canon of information about the late rock star and former Stone.
Over the past few years, Danny Garcia has been an important chronicler for the First and Second Wave of the punk movement, both in New York and England. Topics of his previous films include The Clash, Johnny Thunders, Sid Vicious, and the Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators.
For his current release, he delves a decade further back into Rock and Roll history, to a biography of Brian Jones, the infamous co-founder and guitarist (among a multitude of other instruments) of the Rolling Stones during what is arguably its most revolutionary pop-and-blues period. This ground has been covered before many times, but Garcia often has an eye for something different. I will be approaching Garcia’s release as a standalone, and not compare it to the information found in the other multitude of books and videos on just Jones, never mind the rest of the band.
Beginning with a quote that I’m not sure I agree with 100 percent – “When you think of the Rolling Stones in the mid-‘60s, you think of Brian Jones. You don’t think of Mick Jagger; you certainly don’t think of Keith Richards” – the film starts off where it ends up, with the farm built by Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne in Hartfield, Sussex, UK, bought by Jones to escape the insanity of being a rock star from arguably the second biggest band in the world at the time.
After the brief prologue at Hartfield, like a rock skipping over a backyard pool, the first act is based on Brian’s childhood into being an adult in Cheltenham. There are numerous home films (8mm, I’m assuming) and photos of him as a young man who by the age of 19 had fathered three known illegitimate children. Wild and rambunctious with a mixture of shyness and acting out, he turned to jazz as he learned to play multiple instruments and eventually blues as he settled in on the guitar, even perfecting the slide.
Meeting Ian Stewart (d. 1985) started the formation of the Rolling Stones. Ironically, of course, that the two who originally created the beast were the ones who were kick out. Ian contributes to this by telling his side of the formation via archival vocals.
The story is oft told about the Stones, but for me, I enjoyed the rare footage and stills; but the documentary really picks up at about the halfway point starting Act 2 when discussing the 1967 drug busts of the band, with Jones being especially singled out. Of course, it is not long after this affair that Jones is excised from the band in the middle of 1969, being in a rough shape from whatever he was doing on his own, including heavy drinking and being over-prescribed.
Of course, the significant third and final act revolves around Brian’s mysterious death. It’s here, especially, that the documentary shines in that it does not posit what happened that night as most Jones biographies tend to do; rather it presents multiple possibilities and leaves it up to the viewer. This is a smart tactic. Was it the builder Frank Thorogood, who according to Jones’ shifty manager Tom Keylock, confessed on his deathbed (how convenient? And what was Keylock’s and Stones’ manager Allen Klein’s’ involvement? Was he drowned elsewhere and dumped in the pool? Was the coroner and the police in on a coverup as they refuse to reopen the case with new information (the case is sealed for 75 years)?
Throwing all these and additional theories in together make it clear that there is more to the horse than just the tail, but we may never know exactly what happened in the Pooh pool in our lifetime, if ever. Not taking a position one way or another was a smart move on Garcia’s part, since it is all speculation at this point.
Some of the information used in the documentary are second hand accounts, such as by authors Simon Wells (Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust, 2011) and Chris Salewicz (Dead Gods: The 27 Club, 2015), and filmmaker Stephen Woolley, director of the non-documentary film Stoned (2005), from which some deleted scenes are inserted into Garcia’s release.
For me what was more interesting were the first-hand accounts of Brian’s personality and events around him by the likes of artist and author Prince Stash Klossowski de Rola who was with Jones the night of his arrest in 1967, PR specialist Keith Altham, Sam Cutler, who was the Rolling Stones tour manager in 1969, photographers Gered Mankowitz and Terry O’Neill, and musicians Alexis Korner, “father of British Blues” who mentored Jones as a youth, vocalist of the underrated the Pretty Things Phil May, Dick Taylor of both the Stones and the Pretty Things, and relatively obscure singer (on this side of the pond) Chris Farlowe.
It was the more personal interviews that I found the most interesting and informative, such as singer and actress and ex-lover ZouZou, and friends throughout his life, Graham Ride, author of Foundation Stone (2005), childhood friend in Cheltenham Richard Hattrell, and Pamela Wynn. Especially noteworthy is one of Brian’s daughters, Barbara Anna Marion, and the voice of his father, Lewis Jones, Brian’s supposedly overbearing father, talking about Brian picking up music.
An interesting side aspect for me is that there is not a single note of music by any of the Stones (I’m sure the costs were beyond the budget) – nor Jones himself – but there is appropriate music all the way through of Blues and bands that have written songs about Jones. Of note, for me, was hearing Greg “Stackhouse” Prevost, which is always a pleasure.
As a whole, on one hand this documentary is likely bound to eventually get lost among the Stones and Jones canon, but it nicely sums up a lot of the current known information and posits intelligently on what is not yet known, which makes it worth the watch.