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Popular Music, Biblio File
An Interview with Author & Rolling Stones Insider Bill German
When Bill German was a teenager, he created a zine about his favorite band, The Rolling Stones, called Beggars Banquet. The year was 1978, and little did he know, but the pages he was diligently printing at his Brooklyn High School would later lead him to become the band’s official historian for over two decades. He traveled the world with them, stayed at their homes, witnessed their concerts, recording sessions, and in-fights and lived to write a book about it: Under Their Thumb. Saturday May 21st 2pm at Tompkins Square Library, Bill German will share humorous Stones anecdotes and never before seen photographs.
Bill: They're all special in their own way and had a cultural impact when they were unveiled, but, because of my age, I can most relate to the Some Girls cover. I remember holding it in my hands the day it was released. It was a campy take-off of those old wig advertisements, and hinted at the sarcastic lyrics and biting sounds contained within. Elizabeth Taylor, Lucille Ball, and Raquel Welch threw hissy fits because their images were used on the cover without permission. The Stones lawyers' agreed to change it, but Mick's response was "F--- 'em if they can't take a joke." That's always stuck with me.
Bill: Can't pick Gimme Shelter by the Maysles? That would've been my winner, hands down. But of the two you've given me to choose from, Marie, I'll go with Scorsese. Sympathy For The Devil had some great scenes of the Stones, but was a bit scattered. Shine A Light, while not as good as The Last Waltz in my opinion, did capture the essence of the modern-day Stones, and I loved some of the old interview clips that were tossed in (like the one of Dick Cavett asking such a long question that Mick forgot what they were talking about). The concert portion of the film was shot in 2006 at the Beacon Theatre—near my apartment—and it's the last Stones concert I've seen to date (as well as the last one I'll ever attend with my late fiancee). So the film has some sentimental value for me. I get a little choked up at the end when Scorsese pulls out and shows the Manhattan skyline.
Marie: What is the best book about the Rolling Stones besides yours?
Bill: I'm kind of partial to Chet Flippo's On The Road with the Rolling Stones: Twenty Years of Lipstick, Handcuffs, and Chemicals. Of the gazillion Stones books that exist, there's only a handful like mine, written by people who actually knew and hung out with the band. As a writer for Rolling Stone, Flippo toured with the Stones in 1975 and '78, so he knows what he's talking about. The same could be said for Stanley Booth's True Adventures of The Rolling Stones and Robert Greenfield's STP.
Bill: In their heydays, I would've taken either one. Or both! They were beyond beautiful, but I guess they each came with their own baggage (as did their boyfriends). I'm glad to see that they are among the survivors, and I really enjoyed Marianne's concert in Central Park a few years back. I also caught her recently in a Tom Waits/William Burroughs play, "The Black Rider," and was really impressed with her acting.
Marie: What can people expect on Saturday May 21st 2pm at the Tompkins Square Library?
Bill: It'll be a lively, humorous afternoon, full of stories they've never heard before and photos they've never seen before. All about an innocent New York City kid (me) who hung out with the most notorious rock band in the world, the Rolling Stones. My book, Under Their Thumb, isn't just about the Stones, it's a love letter to New York—the only place where a story like mine could've happened—and it's full of Spinal Tap-like anecdotes about the Stones. (Like the one about Keith meeting my parents, the two kosher deli workers from Brooklyn; I'll show you a photo on Saturday.) Any rock 'n' roll fan, especially from the New York area, will relate to the places and events I'll be discussing.