Monday, April 8, 2013

"Stone Free" by Andrew Loog Oldham

I'm totally obsessed with music in all its forms, and I think one of the great relationships on this planet is the one between the manager and their artist.  In other words the manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham and his artist The Rolling Stones. From 1963 to 1967, Oldham made great records with the Stones as well as building up their public image as the 'darker' brothers to the much lighter Beatles.    Oldham is a visionary who made The Stones into a compelling and fascinating narrative.  He was a genius to market the Stones as the anti-Beatles at the height of Beatle-mania.  Of course it was an illusion, and a great manager/producer should be an illusionist in the seductive pop music landscape.

In his third (and his best) book “Stone Free,” Oldham paints a picture of 1960's pop music world and beyond.  The book is a mixture of memoir with a focus on his fellow 'hustlers' and visionaries.  He writes beautifully on figures such as Serge Diaghilev (early role model for Oldham), Larry Parnes, Albert Grossman, and Allen Klein.

The most moving chapter is on Phil Spector, a man Oldham looked up to and knew quite well in the 1960's.  The downfall of this mighty talent is a mixture of frustration and deep sadness.  Someone with Spector's talent should be wealthy, healthy and still be doing creative work.  But what we get here is the total opposite and it is truly heartbreaking that Spector chose or went on a different self-destructive path.  His chapter on Spector is probably one of the best pieces written on him.  And it is also the saddest.

 Oldham has a keen psychology with respect to writing about his contemporaries.  There are two separate type of hustlers displayed in this book.  There's the bad ass border line thuggery of Don Arden and Allen Klein.  Both had an understanding of power and how to use it.  On the other hand, there is the manager as an artist in the manner they handled their business.  The visionaries in this grouping are Brian Epstein, and the endlessly fascinating Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, who managed The Who and started up Track Records.   Oldham belongs in that camp with Brian, Kit and Chris in that he sees the world as a large cinemascope presentation.   Music works on many levels, for instance there is the sound, but also the visuals that feed the aural aspect of an artist.

 The beauty of this book is one can hear Oldham's voice, and it is a mixture of showing respect, but still highly opinionated about the music business and the citizens of that world. Oldham was not only influenced by the Fashion industry, but also the world of cinema.  With the Rolling Stones and his books he made a film without a movie camera.  And that is what makes him such an unique figure in pop music.  He visualize the music business of the 60's as a theater piece.  Each actor or hustler has a role, and Andrew totally understood his part in the adventure that was the 1960's rock world.

Oldham has a deep appreciation for his fellow travelers in the entertainment world.   And all of them are deeply interesting figures. Oldham can 'read' people really well, and his ability to put that on paper makes this book such an enjoyable read, and in specific chapters, an emotional experience. Any reader that has an interest in 60's rock n' roll culture must get this book.  In one word, essential.

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