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Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with the Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It) Hardcover – February 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For 17 years, German recorded the comings and goings of the Rolling Stones in his fanzine Beggars Banquet; in this surprisingly lifeless memoir, he documents his relationship with the band. German's fandom with the Stones began when he was 12. When he heard songs like Bitch and Sweet Virginia, he was inexplicably hooked on the band's music, and he envied the DJs who got to play their music and the journalists who covered the band. By the time he was 16, German had decided to produce a newsletter devoted to his favorite group, printing the first 100 copies of Beggars Banquet on his Brooklyn high school's mimeograph machine in 1978. Although his classmates were unenthusiastic (they were more interested in disco and Saturday Night Fever than Exile on Main Street), the Stones and their management eventually became aware of German's efforts. By 1983, the Stones wanted to make Beggars Banquet the official fanzine of their fan club and stuffed the record sleeves of their new release, Undercover, with it. When the Stones' manager reneged on his promise of payment, German learned a hard business lesson and ended the arrangement, but he never lost his affection for the band. He chronicles his close relationships with Keith Richards and Ron Woods (with whom he coauthored a book) as well as his lukewarm relationship with Mick. Richards emerges from German's memoir as a sweet and loving guy, while Jagger appears an arrogant prima donna who has little time for his band mates or his family. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


From Rolling Stone
"The hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a fan who got too close to his heroes."
From the Newark Star-Ledger
"[German's] proximity to the action makes this an essential Stones book, while his casually engaging writing style will appeal to non-fanatics as well."
From the Montreal Gazette
"Impossible to put down. ... Under Their Thumb is filled with priceless, often laugh-out-loud anecdotes. ... [Here's] what makes the book so compelling: German is one of us. ... We identify with his every small victory ... and feel some kind of personal rejection over his setbacks. ... Under Their Thumb is a cautionary tale, but a hugely entertaining one."
From the New York Times
"Under Their Thumb offers some memorable details from the [Stones'] inner sanctum. … In 1978, the 16-year-old German started sneaking into the mimeograph room at his high school to print the first copies of Beggars Banquet, a newsletter devoted to the Stones. He published it for the next 17 years before finally letting go - or at least letting go enough to gain perspective and write this affable account of chasing the world's biggest rock band. … Miraculously, German retained his innocence [around the Stones] and he never once went near any of the easily available cocaine. ... Under Their Thumb is a story of retaining faith, of keeping a flame burning through bad records and band squabbles and even through discovering that your heroes aren't Golden Gods."
From Booklist (starred review)
"German is party to all sorts of Stones' doings, many of which are enjoyable, quite a few of which are scandalous. Great rock 'n' roll Babylon stuff."
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
"German's anecdotes are often priceless - whether it's spilling orange juice on Mick Jagger's rug and watching the singer clean it up, or recalling when Richards stopped his limousine after a concert to give a limping fan a ride home.  But there was also a price to be paid. ... Under Their Thumb is a cautionary tale about life on the edges of rock 'n' roll."
From the Sunday Times of London
"This [is an] unassuming but highly readable memoir. ... Hypnotized by his idols' 'sexuality, sarcasm, and rebelliousness,' German gives up his education 'to interact with the Stones directly.' He spends the next 17 years following them around the world. ... German is, to a degree, an innocent abroad. ... As a devout non-druggie, he arouses the hostility of the dealers swarming around Ronnie Wood, who suspect him of being an undercover cop. ... This [is a] remarkable tale."
From the Greensboro News-Record
"Spanning a 15 year insider/outsider roller coaster ride, and, of course, dishing up great stories and solid journalistic research about the Stones. … This [is] one of the best rock memoirs ever written."

From the Ottawa Citizen
"Under Their Thumb [is] essential reading for any Stones fan. … German lived the story seen in Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous - a teenager who finds himself on the road with rock royalty.  [German's] stories don't have the icky, self-aggrandizing voyeurism of most backstage books. ... He was just the guy behind a tiny mag that grew out of a bedroom. He never pretends to be more."
From Kirkus Reviews
"First-rate, firsthand account of the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band, and a disenchanted chronicle of its increasingly crass commercialization."
From Andrew Loog Oldham (Sirius-XM Radio; former manager of the Rolling Stones)

"This book is absolutely great. … I think it's possibly the best book I've read about the Rolling Stones ... since [1979's] Up and Down with The Rolling Stones."
From Mojo magazine
"An endearing tale ... something we can all relate to. ... German, an A student who discovered the Stones through his sister, wrote a newsletter (typed in his bedroom, printed at school) that showed immense flair. The band definitely thought so, and soon he was spilling orange juice on Mick Jagger's 16th-century Persian rug and sitting in on sessions. He heard how Woody [Ron Wood] shagged Chrissie Hynde but couldn't remember it, and how Bill Wyman was convinced Jagger wanted him out."
From Michael Smerconish (CBS Radio)
"I'm lovin' it. It's Under Their Thumb. It is a great book and it's such a departure. I think people will really be taken in by this. My listeners know if I weren't into it, I wouldn't say it. … This is a fun, fun read."
From the Grand Rapids Press
"Chockablock with anecdotes. ... Fans of the Stones and their music need this behind-the-scenes look at one of the longest lasting groups in the history of rock and roll."

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; First Edition edition (February 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066220
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066223
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,166,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Rolling Stones are one of the most studied and documented rock-n-roll bands in the world, second only to the Beatles. So I was a bit skeptical when I saw Bill German's book, wondering if there was anything left to write about Mick an' the Boys that hasn't already seen the light of day.
In truth, there are no earth-shaking revelations in German's book -- and that's just fine. Rolling Stones fans will still enjoy this fine account of a young super fan who -- through hard work and dedication -- found himself on the fringes of the Stones' inner circle -- close enough to smell the sulfur (literally, in one case).
And that's where the considerable charm in this book lies: Long-held beliefs about the Stones are confirmed: Mick is "a great bunch of guys." Keith is the cooly unflappable older brother we all wish we had. Ronnie seriously needs ADD medication, Bill is courtly and slightly above it all and Charlie is painfully introverted. And, as Ian Stuart points out to German, they're all at least a little bit crazy due to the insane lives they lead.
Serious Stones fans won't find much here about the creative process or inner workings of the band itself. But they will catch of glimpse of what life is like at the eye of the 40-year old storm that is the Rolling Stones. Ultimately, this book is Bill German's story -- but it's a great addition to any collection of works on the Rollilng Stones and adds a nice piece to the puzzle that is the world's greatest Rock-n-Roll band.
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Format: Hardcover
Bill German's book is a fascinating read, and not just because it's about one of my favorite all-time bands -- the Stones. It's also a great insider's view to the music industry in general and -- perhaps inadvertently -- into the life of an obsessive fan.

German began writing the Beggars Banquet when he was just a teenager; the Stones are so impressed with the 'zine that they allow him to hang out with them and gain rarefied access to their concerts and their life. The personalities become well-defined: both Ron Woods (Woody) and Keith Richards are surprisingly down-to-earth guys with solid marriages despite their zany lifestyles. Charlie Watts is an extreme brooding introvert who would rather not be bothered by anyone. And Mick? He's portrayed as a mercurial personality who is jokingly referred to as "he's a bunch of nice guys" because no one is ever sure which Mick will show up.

The business of rock and roll is unveiled in all its darkness; obscenely lucrative, merchandise-oriented tours where the original supporters are ousted and big business takes over...so much so that the Stones themselves don't have tickets to give to their own wives, let alone fans. Mick is the one politicking for these big tours, where each song is sung just the way it was recorded and no surprises or mishaps are allowed. One of the more humorous scenes is when Donald Trump "buys" the Stones for a weekend and fills his front seats with leading clients, most of whom are blue-haired and race out after the first few chords.

The insider information is priceless, but in the end, it is Bill German who is unveiled and the book REALLY becomes what it's like to be an obsessive fan.
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Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book the day it came out. From the moment I picked it up to read, I couldn't put it down until I finished it.
I was nervous that Bill German might tell stories that would scar my fantasies about what the Stones were really like. But I have to say, he wrote the whole book in a very tasteful and classy way. He did not bash the Stones, and always looked for reasons people could have possibly been in a bad mood when certain incidents happened.
I will say it's obvious that he adores Keith and Ronnie. And I'm so happy for him that he was able to become so close with them. Mick is a different story. Any Stones fan realizes though that Mick can be difficult at times, and Keith is the laid back, easy going one.

I truly hope if you are a Stones fan, you will purchase this book. Not only is it a great book, but you'll love Bill German. You want this book to succeed for his sake.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I couldn't wait to read this book. I subscribed to Beggars Banquet, German's Stones fanzine. I had high expectations that this would be among the handful of "must read" books about the Stones. In a way I think it still is, but not for the reason I anticipated.

German has written a "must read" book, but it's really about Bill German and his quest to be a rock journalist, as well as an insider's look at the Stones. But he can't just be a rock journalist, because he's also a huge Stones fan, and involves himself in the lives of his idols. He revels in the little details of spending time with Keith and Woody, going to great lengths to describe a farting contest between the two. He has no qualms about going "on payroll" and submitting his newsletter for review. After his contract with the Stones expires, he puts his personal life on hold in order to maintain his "friendships" with Keith and Woody, and to keep the newsletter going. He often agrees not to print some things at Keith or Woody's request, yet bristles when Stones employees lambast him for leaking information. He attends as many shows as possible, even when he no longer has any real access to the band during tours. German seems oblivious to the tension created by his dual roles. He simply writes off his strained relationships with everyone in "the Mick camp" as jealousy, based on a comment made by a Stones bodyguard. He notes a change in the band's public behavior in a post-Lennon world, but fails to see that some in the Mick camp seem to perceive him as a potential Chapman. When he considers shutting down the newsletter, the obvious result of losing all pretenses for any kind of access to the band causes him to contemplate suicide.
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