“Goddamned Rolling Stones” - Stephen King, 11/22/63
I just returned from the U.S. premiere of Crossfire Hurricane, the newest and perhaps best documentary about the Rolling Stones to date. Held at the world famous Ziegfeld Theatre, where the red carpet was in full sway, the Stones themselves were in attendance. For a moment, at least.
Their obligatory red carpet appearance undoubtedly saw the same journalistic questions they've been asked during their fifty years-long existence in the pop culture lexicon. They also helped introduce the film alongside director Brett Morgen, punctuated by much deserved standing ovations. Their words were brief, and then they were out. As they proceeded out of the enormous, velvety theatre, all I could think of were the final words spoken by the titular character of Pee Wee's Big Adventure: “I don't need to see it, Dottie. I lived it.”
Damn, did they ever. Crossfire Hurricane covers just about everything pertinent to their first two decades: the tremendous live energy, the friendships, the drugs, the riots, the reckless passion, the successes, the departures, the drugs, the drugs, etc. Every Behind the Music-ready cliché seems fresh and new and is beautifully told in great detail, which is fitting, seeing how these one-time brash anti-Beatles have become as glorified and iconic as a country's flag or a crucifix. The editing, done by tag-team Stuart Levy and Conor O'Neill, is as loose, fast, and flowing as the band's glory years. It's a funny, eye-opening, entertaining story that abolishes the cynical view that death and failure are what make musicians important and worthy of idolism. The world loves survivors. The Rolling Stones are survivors.
It's only fitting that Brett Morgen, the man that brought famed movie producer/pussy wolf Robert Evans' entertaining autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture to cinematic life, documented the Stones' infancy. He knows how to present every seedy, lurid element of a person's life without demonizing or exploiting his subject. He does not betray the legacy. He breathes life into it; with the help of rare, never-before-seen footage and fresh revealing sound interviews Morgen displays the vulnerable side to rock's greatest bad boys. The Stones admit the fright of chaotic live shows (the apocalyptic Altamont concert, covered at harrowing length in Gimme Shelter, is among the haunting footage), the pressures of extroversion, and the confrontation of mortality (founding member Brian Jones drowned in 1969).
But it's not all drab and dull. Through their low points they've found success in the accrual of Ronnie Wood, their comeback after coming clean, the poignancy of their material in the face of death, not to mention their indelible charm. There were also a lot of naked women. Now that they are older, they can safely admit that it's hard to stay young, and since they have nothing left to prove, they can boast honesty and sincerity in their anecdotes. Over eighty hours of interviews were recorded, and not once did they pull a Bob Dylan and defy the questions, no matter how difficult. The music is nothing without the story, and the fans are grateful the Stones themselves are around to tell it.
Crossfire Hurricane premieres on HBO on Thursday, November 15th at 9pm. Don't miss it. I mean it.