Death of a Junky: the Rolling Stones

Sympathy for the DevilDigging through the archives, we recently realized that we had lost track of one of the finest items posted to GLONO. Back in the day, this was the first post that we pulled aside and showcased as a feature, but it somehow got lost in the shuffle of redesigns and content management system switches. We’re happy to bring it back. —Jake

Death of a Junky: The Rolling Stones


Derek Phillips

Drugs are evil. Make no mistake. Queen of Darkness Marilyn Manson takes the stage in front of a huge 12-foot tall neon sign that reads D-R-U-G-S. Drugs turn people crazy, especially the people trying to outlaw them. Drugs are the evil Lord and the Stones worshipped at its altar for 20 years and reaped the benefits before they fell from grace and lost their souls to Billy Blanks.

“Sympathy for the Devil” may be the most evil song in the world. The Stones forced anyone who dared to listen beyond the jungle rhythms to face facts–you shit in your bed, now sleep in it. Everything about that song is great. It is rock and roll. It is everything parents were afraid of. I’ve seen clips of the recording sessions where Keith couldn’t get up off the studio floor to listen to playbacks. They stood on the precipice of depravity and spit over the edge.

The Stones were bar-none the Greatest Rock Band in the World. They proved it time and again and were untouchable throughout the seventies and even into the early eighties. Some Girls was one of the best of their career, and though Tattoo You didn’t reach the highs (and lows), of earlier records, it still had gems.

Then something happened.

Something wrong… Something ugly… Something vile…

They got healthy.

I have long had a theory that anyone who survives on large amounts of drugs should never, under any circumstance, get clean. If they do, they die. Mark my words. The examples keep coming.

Jerry Garcia lived like a king, taking every drug he could get his nine fingers on. His music grew, his performance excelled. People who saw the Dead in their last years saw Jerry at the top of his game. Like a hopped up, drug-addled line backer ripping through bags of smack until his eyes bled. This went on for thirty years. He died in a rehab unit surrounded by doctors trying to rid his body of tainted blood, like medieval barbers trying to cure him of vapors and spirits.

Kurt Cobain brought us back from the hairspray death of the 80s with the roar of music long thought dead. He cut his hands with furious chords motivating a generation of Ritalin zombies to care. And we cared. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that we didn’t. Suddenly, everything seemed important because we were told nothing really was. We had no wars. Our parents made great money. We were at the front door of this country’s biggest and longest economic boom and we were depressed to the point of violence. Kurt Cobain didn’t invent the 90’s apathy and angst; he perfected it. And he was pumped to the gills with heroin the whole time. Some people blame his suicide on drugs, but it wasn’t until he tried to get clean that we found him smeared on the walls of his Seattle home. Some people feel the slight annoyances of life as death by a thousand cuts. Kurt Cobain needed to numb himself and found it in heroin. Drugs kept him sane.

The Stones, facing massive tax bills, concert deaths and fame beyond the limits of the human mind, dug deep into the sticky plastic bag of drugs and found the best music written in modern time. They wrapped the warm fuzz of heroin around their brains like a wet shaving towel and let the devil’s music rise out with the steam.

Welcome to the Party

Beggar’s Banquet is the invitation. The fore mentioned “Sympathy…” sticks its tongue out and licks your lips. You get so hard you can’t help but push back. “No Expectations” gently caresses you and puts you at ease. It’s just a set up. “Street Fighting Man” slaps you hard across the face and tells you you’re a bitch…and you are. Like a woman with battered wife syndrome, you come back. You get fucked hard like one of the Hell’s Angels’ mamas. By the time “Salt of the Earth” is over you’re on your knees draggin’ yourself to the door. This was the first step into the dark, crowded closet of self-medication.

They say that Mick Jagger was never really that much into drugs, but that’s a lie. He may not have drenched himself in the strychnine bitterness of acid or the scratchy throat brightness of cocaine, but he loved the lifestyle. One hundred percent. Mick Jagger threw drug references around like they were posh names at a social event. Mick Jagger lived in the drug world and surrounded himself with junkies. He exploited the lifestyle for all it was worth. He walked the fine line of pushers by ruthlessly fronting his shit while never getting high on his own supply.

It’s a delicate balance though and Brian Jones couldn’t walk it. He stumbled like a clumsy cat and ended up a pathetic man at the bottom of his pool with a gut full of amphetamines. The band that was his soul went on without missing a beat throwing a huge free show just months after his death–Mick Jagger prancing mockingly in front of a huge poster of Jones’s head.

The Hooks Are Set

Sticky Fingers gets you hooked on the shit. They feed it to you. Your eyes swell and your stomach tightens. “Sister Morphine” gives you the shakes. By the time “Wild Flowers” comes around you’re so drunk you don’t even know what order you’re hearing things. Finally you sweat out the night with the soft caress of “Moonlight Mile.” The Stones helped you through another binge. What you forget is that they brought it on in the first place.

If the last few albums were crazy nights you can’t remember but regret none-the-less, then Exile on Main Street is a five-day bender from which you awaken and find that your parents hate you. You take it in the tail pipe for four sides’ worth of abuse. The Stones hate you too and you can’t turn away. Why? Because they tell you time and again that no one else will have you. They’re the only ones who care. You’re worthless but they love you. But now you’re a junky with them. You can’t get a job because no boss in the world can understand how important this album is. That hatred turns to bile and you puke it all over the gray carpet of that condescending fuck’s cubicle.

Things do get better–In a way.

Death Before Disco

Your dirty lover switches drugs and takes you along. At least on coke you’re motivated. You move. “Miss You” actually makes you dance. The Stones make disco sound rough, though you can’t admit that’s what you’re listening to. Latin rhythms force you out on to the front stoop where you smoke weed and snort coke with Latino neighbors who moved into the neighborhood while you were zonked. They offer you grass and inexplicably you accept replying, “El gusto es mio.”

The early eighties kind of blend together like a smeared pencil drawing. You love “Waiting on a Friend,” though you don’t even remember what album it’s on. The neighborhood is alive and jumping. Things are happening.

Then it happens.

After years of backstabbing that would have turned the Osmonds into alcoholics, the Stones fall apart. Mick discovers clean living. He takes karate for Christ’s sake. He records She’s the Boss. This isn’t a hangover; this is a hemorrhage. You’re facing serious damage. Dear God, you actually see Her Majesty in a video called “Let’s Work” that must be some kind of community service message, but it’s not. Mick is serious and that sends you into a furious depression that’s needs medication.

Surely Keith is still holding. Can’t he hook you up for old times’ sake? Shit, where is Keith? Rumors of an o.d. are rampant. People say that he’s gone through rapid detox and had all of his blood drained, cleaned and replaced. One new rumor alleges he is a follower of Tae Bo and his new dark lord is Billy Blanks himself.

Charlie’s gone back to jazz. No surprise there.

Bill Wyman is a pedophile. OK. That’s good. There’s still some evil lurking in the bushes, even if it is in the form of an aging child raper. Never trust the ones who just watch from the side. They are the most deviant. But Wyman’s lechery can not stop the withdrawal and the spiders are really crawling.

There’s talk of a reunion. It’s a flop. They sold you a little baggie of Crystal Lite! You snort the shit and your nose bleeds for an hour. Now you’re strung out and confused. You got a little off the Black Crows, but it’s really just cut extra thin with a dash of the Faces thrown in. It burns your throat. Things are getting desperate.

Steel Wheels flattens you. Your guts are on the road. They backed over you again and again. You see them on tour with the hopes of hearing the old stuff and they give it to you. But it’s laced with Drain-O and you shit for weeks afterward.

Withdrawal is hell. You give up on it cold, puking and shaking but in the end you’re clean. You’re tempted in the late 90s by Stripped. Everyone tells you it’s like the old days. The Stones playing a small bar, just kickin’ it out. No production, no tricks. “C’mon baby, it’s me,” they whisper. You’re fooled for a minute until you read “Like a Rolling Stone” in the set list. Nice try, prick. You have had it. And just in time. Bridges to Babylon is a buzz kill. Not as bad, but compared to the old stuff it is straight shwag.

Still the Stones are the best. The fact that they are no longer the dirty demons of rock does not change the past or fade their legend. Just as I know two girls who claim they’d still nail Brando because of what he USED to look like, I still let the stones nail me. I listen to Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and Goats Head Soup like a middle aged woman pining over the faded photo of an old boyfriend long since wrinkled and fat. You can too.

Our days are numbered though, my friend. We’ve survived so long on the pure heroin the Stones have been feeding us that going clean may just send our bodies into shock. Thank God we can go back to the old records and lick the mirror for a little something. But that won’t last forever. Mark my words.

Glorious Noise recently celebrated its eighth anniversary. Be sure to check out Stephen Macaulay and Derek Phillips’ reminiscences on eight years of GLONO: Eight Years After, and It started with emails…, respectively.

9 thoughts on “Death of a Junky: the Rolling Stones”

  1. You forgot Exhibit #4-I seem to recall Stevie Ray Vaughn drying out and accepting Jeasus into his life just before he got into that helicoptor

  2. Excellently written, DP. Although for me, the Stones have always run hot and cold. I’ve just taken it as a matter of course that for me, they only have five masterpieces, scattered moments of greatness through the rest, and that despite those triumphs, they are spent forever more in giving us anything new that’s worth our time.

    And Stripped isn’t so bad… as long as you got it as a promo for free!!!

  3. “overwrought much?”

    Uh, did you see the motto at the top of the page.

    Still, the idea that people shocking their system to health – as Greil Marcus said about Lester Bangs – is dangerous may be true, but it’s not as dangerous as continuing to poison yourself at high levels.

    As for the other, more significant theme here, the music-as-drug metaphor will be understood by any music fan(atic).

  4. The song coming between “Sister Morphine” and “Moonlight Mile” on Sticky Fingers is called “Dead Flowers,” not to be confused with “Wild Horses,” the third song on the album.

    Some druggie you are. Get your facts straight.

  5. This point is almost as tired as late night comics who still trot out jokes about Keith looking like a zombie, or vampire. Lame, lame, and yet another lame.

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