As a huge rock ‘n roll fan, of course I’m going to love a documentary where Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman talks about his band and shows rare footage. As a film critic, I was left wanting a little bit more, though.
So, who doesn’t love the Stones? Now, I can name 25 bands I like more than them (including Them). Yet I have two Stones T-shirts, six albums and four CDs, as well as the tongue logo belt buckle. If I were to name the best albums of all time, Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers would both probably make my Top 50. I’ve just always felt they could’ve been better.
As a documentary, this could’ve been better. Yet I was never bored and heard a lot of interesting stories.
The fact that they called Wyman “stoneface” because of his stoic nature, makes a lot of sense. He also played bass standing still, which was a big difference from Mick prancing all over the stage and Keith bending over, duck walking, and rocking out.
Although I’m not sure he should be labeled “the quiet one” when Charlie Watts was a lot “quieter.” Also, when it comes to bassists known as the “quiet one” it was always John Entwhistle (The Who) that came to my mind.
Just like Keith Richards did in his interesting autobiography, Wyman covered the war and his childhood in England. There’s some archival footage, but a lot of personal video and photographic stuff. He was known as the collector in the band, saving everything from their shows, even in the early days. I think he’s actually a hoarder, but my wife claims that since he had stuff labeled, he’s just a collector (his stamps are all in photo albums, but he has figurines, old cameras, typewriters, Stones memorabilia, etc.).
He had a rough childhood, with a difficult father. He adored his grandmother, but she died before he made it big.
Some things are just briefly covered in this: tax exile, Brian Jones drowning, recording the album Exile, the Altamont tragedy, and most controversial — his marriage to Mandy Smith. For those that don’t remember (or are too young), he was in his early 50s, and she was 18 when they wed. What made it worse was they started having sex when she was 13. An argument could be made, that he could be held in the same light as a Roman Polanski or Kevin Spacey. His son, who was 30, then married Mandy’s mom (she was 47). It’s probably the first time in history that a man’s son, also became his stepfather!
In Wyman’s book “A Stone Alone” — he wrote that after two years of being in the Stones, they all talked about how many women they had since the band started. Mick had about 30. Keith Richards had six or seven. Wyman had 278! In the documentary that number isn’t mentioned, but he does admit that he was probably a sex addict because he didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. There’s a clip where you see 100 women standing outside his hotel window, and he said he’d just go out and pick one up. Ah, the life of a rock star.
It was interesting to hear that writer James Baldwin was the one that introduced him to Ray Charles, and he became a huge fan (the story he tells at the end, of being asked to play on his record, will have you in tears).
It was great to hear him talk about recording with Howlin’ Wolf. And, I never knew he had a hit song when he did a solo album. I only knew Mick Jagger’s solo album sucked, and when I saw Keith Richards live with his band (The X-pensive Winos), I had the misfortune of standing behind Bill Walton (who is 6’11”) the entire show. It’s nice that watching this movie at the Ken, no tall redheads were in front of me.
Wyman became friends with artist Marc Chagall. What an interesting pair.
I did know about the bass he created in the early days. It was basically the first fretless bass ever. He told me that during an interview 10 years ago, and we were talking about a metal detector he had just marketed. When I asked him why he quit the Stones, he said he just got too afraid of flying. In this documentary, he said after the Steel Wheels tour, he just felt it would be great to go out on a high note. Hmmm.
It’s always fun to hear musicians praise others, and listening to Wyman talk about being influenced by Chuck Berry and Duck Dunne (who some may know from Booker T. & the MGs, others from The Blues Brothers).
You’ll get a clip of Green Onions, and Elvis singing Mystery Train, as well as lots of early Stones clips, obviously. Early in the documentary, it was the bluesier stuff (Bo Diddley, Not Fade Away, Route 66, I’m a King Bee, I Just Want to Make Love to You). We get to hear some Stones classics: 19th Nervous Breakdown, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Miss You, a live version of When the Whip Comes Down, and watching the Stones fly to America while we hear Street Fighting Man seemed a perfect choice. The film’s opening credit sequence features Paint it Black.
There were some interesting clips from the Dick Cavett Show, and a few of the talking heads include Mary Wilson, Charlie Watts, and Eric Clapton. It was a bit disappointing to not hear from Keith or Mick. Especially when Jagger was generous with his time for the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (which dealt with backup singers).
Jagger just had heart surgery and we all saw clips of him back to jumping around in a dance studio. I think you’ll be more interested seeing Wyman and this documentary, which you can catch at Landmark’s Ken Cinema this week.
3 stars out of 5.