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Book Review

The Impresario in the Throne Room of Their Satanic Majesties

STONED by Andrew Loog Oldham; St. Martin's Press $23.95, 400 pages

February 08, 2001|PAULA FRIEDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At the age of 16, rock 'n' roll impresario Andrew Loog Oldham worked days at the stylish Knightsbridge Bazaar and put in late nights at Ronnie Scott's, the world-famous music club in London. The two jobs allowed Oldham to become involved with his great loves, fashion and music, but left him little time to pursue his personal life. Between jobs one evening, Oldham went to visit his girlfriend Sheila and was told by her father, a respected London psychoanalyst, that his daughter could not leave the house until she had "finished the washing up," a response that simply enraged Andrew:

"I got furious, pulled out a starting pistol I carried, shoved it in the good doctor's forehead and instructed him to 'Analyse this!' I was losing it somewhat. . . ."

How seriously threatening Andrew intended to be with the pistol remains a mystery to all but the author of "Stoned." In his personal history and evocation of the '60s, Oldham describes his flagrant bad-boy image, one passed on to the Rolling Stones, who remain (arguably) the greatest British rock group of all time. When Oldham discovered the Stones in a dingy pub outside of London, he felt as if his whole crazed and creative life had found its purpose. Oldham rightly perceived that the rock world was ready for a British band with a ruder, grubbier image and sound than that of the sweetly melodic, nattier-looking Beatles.

Born in London on Jan. 29, 1944, to Celia Oldham, Andrew never met his American-born father. Andrew Loog (to whom Celia was not married) was a member of the 332nd Bombardier Squadron in the U.S. Army and was shot down over the Channel before his son's birth. Celia Oldham was a fairly aloof but strict mother, sending the boy to boarding school from his earliest years. To Celia, image was everything, a value Andrew would promptly turn on its head. At school, Andrew found compatible company and the opportunity to take boyish high jinks to the limit. Most important, the French New Wave films that he and his buddies skipped school for helped develop his passion for stylish clothes and tough-guy manners. Oldham's first musical love was jazz, and he himself took up playing drums. In Oldham's case, being on the business end of music was not a fallback position for a frustrated musician; he found this end of the industry most thrilling.

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Oldham organizes "Stoned" into a series of discussions on music and life in the '60s, which he interrupts with reflections by a range of other key figures--from his girlfriend Sheila Klein to a slew of musicians and record producers, including Mickie Most (musician and record producer), John Paul Jones (Led Zepplin bassist), Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones drummer) and others. Occasionally, Oldham's format can become confusing, as when he introduces a new speaker by name without identifying his or her role in the music industry. For the most part, however, Oldham does use clear introductions, structuring the book so that the content of previous speakers clarifies the roles of newcomers, a method that makes for a bit of back-and-forth reading.

"Stoned" begins with a preface written by Oldham in which he describes his state of mind and health in May of 1995. Staying in a Manhattan hotel, in what he terms the "James Dean Suite [one of Oldham's heroes], better known as two shoe boxes at the back of the Hotel Iroquois on west 44th Street," Oldham feels he has neared the end. Cocaine and alcohol have taken their toll:

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"Your circulation is shot, you have a permanent drip. . . . At five in the morning there are definitely animals in the soup, the hall and your mind, and the thought of them provides the only color in this bioflick. . . . You eventually open the door, the hall is empty, and silent and as lifeless, grey and oh-so-off-white as the lifelessness inside."

But with little explanation of how he managed it, Oldham announces his comeback, insisting--by the preface's end--that he will be with us for some time. Readers who are expecting a lot of details on Oldham's life with the Rolling Stones may be somewhat disappointed in "Stoned," which concludes not too long after he became the group's manager. After all, this is Oldham's story, and its most dramatic culmination occurs with his discovery of the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club one spring night in 1963. Musician and entrepreneur Adrian Miller tells us that Andrew once commented--in a tone of bemused wonder--that if there hadn't been a direct train to Richmond that night, he might not have bothered going to see the band at all.

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