Exile Reviewed In Issue No. 100 (march 2002) Of Mojo Magazine.
18 Feb 2002
WISH YOU WERE HERE
Rock's most decadent house party: the evidence.
By Andrew Male.
Limited-edition, gold-edged photographic record of rock 'n' roll's most notorious decadent house party and the classic double album it spawned.
It all begins so cinematically: a ragged rock band in exile, sheltering, sweltering under the eaves of a rambling, crumbling, once elegant white mansion in the South of France, perched high on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. The immense Villa Nellcôte, crammed with chandeliers, staffed by drug dealers, cut off from the world outside by its big black gates and jungle grounds, was the backdrop to one of the great rock 'n' roll stories - one which starts out with the making of an album and turns into rock's longest, most decadent house party, with sub-plots like society weddings, Nazis, heroin, diamonds, fist-fights, robberies, and a second exile, the French police on their tail.
And what a glorious cast of characters this story has. The narcissistic Jagger, immaculately turned out even in the grubby basement that has been requisitioned as a recording studio; Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, poker-faced, cool; Gram Parsons, stoned and trouserless; Mick Taylor with his serious baby-face, Paul and Linda; the impossibly beautiful Anita Pallenberg. The obvious star is, of course, Keef - stoned, magnificently dissipated, 'appy, wiv 'is crooked teef, his woman, his kid and his drugs. Here he is, showing Gram some chords on the balustraded patio, clutching his son Marlon to his chest, writing at the piano, or grinning like an anorexic Buddha in a dog basket in the big black-and-white opposite the foreword he wrote for this amazing record of an amazing time.
Dominique Tarlé's photographic documentary of the recording of Exile On Main Street (as featured in MOJO 98) is a thing of ruined beauty - like the stills from a lost movie or a fantastical photo-album glimpsed in a brief opium dream of out-of-grasp rock stardom. And yet, it's all true. Tarlé, a young French rock photographer who was living in London when the immigration department told him he had to leave the country at the same time as the Stones' tax advisers were telling them the very same thing, wound up joining them through the summer of '71 in Keith and Anita's mansion. 'I was rarely aware that he was working,' writes Keith, 'WHICH IS RARE!' That 'quality', as Keith calls it, 'of blending into the furniture' resulted in some remarkably candid shots, which are supplemented with blow-by-blow comments from the culprits themselves: the Stones, their sidemen, friends, family, crew and hangers-on. They fill in the details - the near electrocutions in the basement studio, John Lennon paying a visit and puking on the stairs, Anita Pallenberg going out of her mind trying to host this never-ending party.
Like Borges' Book Of Sand, you'll keep discovering ravishing pictures and strange tales long after the first read is over - Cap'n Keef, in cable-knit sweater on the prow of 'The Mandrax'; the whole gang reading Sunday papers on the steps of the villa; a rabbit in a guitar case. Even the snaps of a topless Bill Wyman playing croquet possess a curious period-charm.
There is more than enough here to keep you wilfully lost in this magic kingdom of ravaged rock lords for weeks on end. But it's the photos that you'll keep coming back to. Whether in washed-out Kodachrome or black-and-white, this is a magnificent record of high rock'n'roll ruin. Yes, it does cost a hell of a lot. But aren't there some kinds of pleasure you're meant to pay a price for?