Friday, October 31, 2008
Exile on East High Street Or How I Learned to Start Drinking & Love the Stones
A while back the subject of the Rolling Stones's Exile on Main Street album came up in conversation betwixt thee JSH & JTD...here's an excerpt:
JSH: A few months ago I had a particularly satisfying argument with a table full of old Louisville hipsters over Exile on Main Street. They were all adamant that it was easily the best Stones album, and when I said I thought that award should go to Let It Bleed, they, in masse, snurled their noses and said, "No no no, it's Exile." So I said, "How does 'Loving Cup' go? Sing it. Right now." No one could. Ditto "Soul Survivor." Ditto "Let it Loose," etc.
JTD: I can sing "Loving Cup," Frank.
JSH: Well, I could too, heh
JTD: I know what you mean.
JSH: But I proved that they were only arguing on knee-jerk hipness, and they didn't really have a working understanding of the album.
JTD: Exile on Main St. has a rep that goes beyond people actually listening to it.
And then, my mind starts to roll back through time. See, as a teenager, I didn't listen too much to the Stones, outside of the basic "greatest hits" that were impossible to ignore via "classic rock" commercial radio (for a long time the only way I experienced the Stones via an album was a childhood buddy's copy of Sticky Fingers). I self-educated (or perhaps more appropriately self-medicated) myself in the Stones more as a man (or more appropriately, man-child) in my early twenties, when I had started to amass the sufficient amount of heart-ache, hangovers, and early dreams seeming already deferred.
Growing up, I was a bit of a reactionary, in a music-taste sense. With ears surrounded by the dreck of eighties pop country (I was born in 1976), I turned against "country music" (I was ignorant, as it wasn't around much, of most decent country). But arriving from the sticks of Jackson County to the "big city" of Lexington, and putting time in as a dj at WRFL, I drifted more and more towards an interest in jazz, specifically the history of it. Jazz led me to investigate the history of the blues. Which then led to rockabilly. And from rockabilly, I began more and more to reveal to myself the real story and sounds of country music, which then led me to cease being a "self-hating hillbilly."
I also met JSH in this period (actually, slightly before I relocated to Lex). Once he handed a copy of Nick Tosches's Country book, the death nail had been struck (in the forming of the predispositions that largely carry through 'till today). Brian Manley and I would go on to inherit his Late Late Show format and moniker at WRFL, the station's equivalent of "oldies" programming, a show which imposed no limitations on itself other than to not play music made past 1969 ("1869 to 1969," was our motto).
At this juncture, I was finally ready to hear the Stones. I was buying a good chunk of my music on vinyl, a collector, and this was how I began to truly experience the Stones catalogue. Not finding Exile on vinyl, which I knew almost exclusively by reputation, I picked up a compact disc remastered/reissue, which quickly went into personal heavy rotation.
I listened to it most at this little studio apartment I had for a couple of years on East High Street. I had moved into it after the dissolution of an affair with an artist chick ten years my senior. I experienced heartbreak. Or what I then thought of as heartbreak, least ways.
While living in this apartment, I got cozy with an underage gal (one has to play various angles), I got laid, I got stabbed, waited a night out in jail, I worked various jobs, including a part-time stint at a porn store. I drank, I wrote, I drew in my sketchbooks, I sold original art on eBay, I played "drinking UNO" with Brian Manley (who worked full time at the aforementioned porn store), I did some poetry readings, I played rock and roll, I met Hasil Adkins, I met Sexton Ming, I told a few lies, as well as a few truths, I took my phone calls, when the phone wasn't turned off, on an old heavy-duty rotary phone that doubled as a self-defense weapon (JSH called me one night, the electricity had been cut off, and the answer to his question, "What are you doing?" was answered, "Just drawing mutants by candlelight," a phrase, which altered to "Mutants by Candlelight" became the name of my one-man show at the now defunct Magic Beans coffee shop). I mostly drank.
While it might have helped my understanding of Exile, I never shot heroin in this place (never did get into that, heroin...like the guy in the New York Dolls sang, "I didn't come here lookin' for no fix"). Although a buddy did, shoot up that is, in the bathroom, which he later apologized for (he was supposedly clean), although I didn't even notice at the time (you see, I was drunk).
I recall that the way Exile worked for me is that I would usually throw it on early in the evening to preface a night out drinking and carousing. Downing a few beers and/or shots, to grease the old wheels. "Rocks Off," "Rip This Joint," & "Hip Shake" (the first three tracks) were the way to get a night of debauchery started. If I made it to "Tumbling Dice," I got a strong sense of the implicit gambling, my own toss of the dice into the evening.
I've read criticisms that the album is murky, and, yeah, I agree, but I would also postulate that the album is about murk and that's the point, pilgrims...it's murky music for murky people. I would imagine that those who level this criticism have perhaps not spent one-too-many nights haunting the dark chambers of the soul.
I would normally pause the CD after the first few tracks, knowing that if I made it back to the apartment alone, I would indeed hit play, pick up where I left off, and continue to inebriatededly absorb the album. If one makes it to the second half of the double album, "Happy" can pick up the spirits. Maybe one indeed feels like a "Turd on the Run." You may be drunk and/or blue enough to speak the language of "Ventilator Blues," drunk enough to no longer talk about Jesus; you "Just Wanna See His Face." One may wish to "Stop Breaking Down," even if the inevitability is unavoidable, despite Mick's admonitions. After you, "Shine A Light," despite all the amputations, you can perhaps be christened finally, a "Soul Survivor."
I lost the compact disc version somewhere in my further travels. Did I sell or trade it in a moment of weakness? Let some young lass with shapely gams borrow it, not to be returned? So for quite a few years I lived without Exile On Main Street. Then, last December, while in, of all places, Oahu, I picked up a used vinyl copy, which, brought back to the mainland in my carry-on bag, has again returned the sounds of Exile back into my life.
These days, it serves a purpose for all occasions, seemingly suitable for a sober afternoon's meditation. Alternately, I enjoy it while drinking, either swimming in the murk of my own private reminiscence and speculation, or as a fine background soundtrack for sharing a "Loving Cup" with pallies. As that song states, "I'd love to spill the beans with you 'till dawn." I am currently prone to repeatedly listening to side 2 of Exile like I'm autistic. Even more autistic, specifically side 2, track 2. "Torn & Frayed" is my current theme song. 'Cause, literally and figuratively, my coat indeed, just like the song goes, "has seen much better days."
Some days I may prefer Goats Head Soup or Sticky Fingers, I may side with JSH's Let it Bleed choice, or even some days Tattoo You, and then some days it's Some Girls. Out of Our Heads, anyone? Beggars Banquet? Between the Buttons? I could go on, but Exile, as a whole, not just individual tracks, is the tall glass of water to which I can endlessly return and drink of its nuanced elixir; it's the sustenance that can alternately shove me under and get me over countless emotions, various (if not in fact countless) ups & downs. And I don't care who knows it. "Make every song your favorite tune," Jack.
And, again, I can sing "Loving Cup," Frank.
- - JTD