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The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones Hardcover – May 10, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of May 2016: Does the world really need another book about the Rolling Stones? After five highly scrutinized decades of music, drugs, busts, death, jealousy, women, and exile, there's not much new to say that hasn't been broadcast through countless books, movies, articles, and court records. But Rich Cohen's The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones--based on his coverage of the band for Rolling Stone magazine in the 1990s, as well as his own lifelong obsession--asserts itself as an essential addition to the canon, earning a place on the same shelf as Keith Richards' Life and the Maysles brothers' harrowing Altamont doc, Gimme Shelter. The success is in the storytelling. Yes, it's filled with detail and stories familiar to any fan, but also driven by prose fit for his gonzo heritage: he's wild within reason and funny in the Thompson style, unafraid of contrarian pronouncements and first-person perspective, with a high hit-rate for memorable, original sentences (to which my dog-eared galley attests). Cohen, who pulled off a similar feat with Monsters, his book about the 1985 Chicago Bears, understands that writing--and reading--works when it's personal, a little bit transgressive, and a hell of a lot of fun. Just like the Stones. --Jon Foro
“Fabulous . . . [Rich] Cohen interweaves his firsthand accounts of the men in the band with the well-trodden history of the Stones, from inception around 1963 through the golden period of 1968 to 1973 and then hopscotching through time to bring us up to when he met the band. The research is meticulous. . . . Cohen’s own interviews even yield some new Stones lore.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[Cohen] can catch the way a record can seem to remake the world [and] how songs make a world you can’t escape.”—Greil Marcus, Pitchfork
“No one can tell this story, wringing new life even from the leathery faces of mummies like the Rolling Stones, like Rich Cohen. . . . Cohen writes about survivors. Men who will not allow life to grind them down. . . . The book beautifully details the very meaning of rock ’n’ roll—the timeless swagger and the way the imperfections of the Stones—their meter, their faces, even Mick’s accidentally bitten tongue—embody the dangerousness of kid-oriented popular music.”—New York Observer
“Masterful . . . Hundreds of books have been written about this particular band and [Cohen’s] will rank among the very best of the bunch.”—Chicago Tribune
“Cohen, who has shown time and time again he can take any history lesson and make it personal and interesting . . . somehow tells the [Stones’] story in a whole different way. This might be the best music book of 2016.”—Men’s Journal
“[Cohen’s] account of the band’s rise from ‘footloose’ kids to ‘old, clean, prosperous’ stars is, like the Stones, irresistible.”—People
“Cohen approaches the Stones from two directions. He is the kid discovering the group from muffled, glorious sounds emerging from his older brother’s room in the attic. Later, he gets on the inside as a young magazine writer, backstage as he works his way into the good graces of the aging rockers. . . . You will, as with the best music bios, want to follow along on vinyl.”—The Washington Post
“A fresh take on dusty topics like Altamont and the Stones’ relationship with the Beatles . . . Cohen takes pilgrimages to places like Nellcôte, the French mansion where the Stones made Exile on Main Street, and recounts fascinating moments from his time on tour.”—Rolling Stone
“On the short list of worthwhile books about the Stones . . . The book is stuffed with insights.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Cohen’s fresh history of the Rolling Stones is a personal rock and roll memoir that covers the band’s long life with candor, humor and a little awe.”—Shelf Awareness
“With The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones, Rich Cohen has arrived as one of the greatest social and cultural historians of postwar twentieth-century America. By gracefully blending fastidious reporting, lucid commentary, and an unabashed love for his subjects, Cohen has managed to write about gods and elevate them into human beings. Even if the Rolling Stones were never your particular cup of musical tea, the author’s overarching exploration of what it takes to ‘make it big’ in popular culture—from adolescent anonymity to dream-come-true validation to the soul searching and sometimes destructive aftermath—will have you reading this book deep into the night.”—Richard Price
“This is a completely fascinating book. Rich Cohen locks into everything that’s crazy and passionate about the Rolling Stones while never losing his clear-sighted presence of mind. Funny, soulful, impeccably reported, and beautifully written, The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones will be the book about the Stones that will last.”—Ian Frazier
“Rich Cohen writes like Mick Jagger sings: He’s full of energy, swagger, and creativity. In one sense, this book is easy to categorize: File under ‘books that are awesome and delightful to read.’ But it’s also hard to categorize. It’s part memoir, part cultural history, part biography, part manifesto, part behind-the-scenes look at the joyful debauchery of one of the world’s greatest bands. However you label it, you’ll have a blast reading it.”—A. J. Jacobs
“Rich Cohen is one of the select few to be invited behind the curtain of the Rolling Stones’ real-life rock ’n’ roll circus, but he never loses the perspective of having once been a kid staring in awe at his brother’s poster of the band. With The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones, Cohen separates the men from the myth, while also reinforcing why this group means so much to so many of us.”—Alan Light
“I have no interest in the lives of rock stars. I could not put down The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones. Rich Cohen was born to write this book, and he waited just long enough to do it. Reporting the hell out of a lifelong obsession, he gives us the Rolling Stones in so many dimensions they stalk off the page. The fanboy becomes a man, with judgments seasoned, supple, razor-sharp, slyly funny, and still besotted. A great story, masterfully told.”—William Finnegan
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Top Customer Reviews
I started Mr. Cohen's book with very high hopes. He's an accomplished music journalist, an FOS (friend of the Stones, by virtue of his embedded magazine reporter time with the band in the 90s), and he has worked with Jagger, Martin Scorcese and others on the HBO series "Vinyl" (which I admittedly have not seen).
Cohen is an excellent and engaging writer, as many professional journalists are, and his prose certainly kept me entertained. I feel he did an excellent job of describing and cataloging early periods of the band, and even the pre-band times when "the boys" were quite young. Understanding these formative years is critical to understanding how the Rolling Stones came to be, where they have been, and where they are now. There are lots of books that mainly tell a sort of month-by-month history of the Stones. I looked to Cohen to spill the beans on the heart and soul of the band and of its members.
My verdict in that regard: the book succeeds here and there, but those "golden nugget" insights are spotty. For instance, I believe he does a masterful job of painting the picture of bleak, post-World War II England, and the particular reasons why kids there faced very different lives than those faced by American kids. This is why, he methodically explains, the British teens discovered the kinds of American black popular music that American teens scarcely knew existed. Yes, Elvis sang some "race music"-style tunes, but at the same time he seemed as white as he could be (his hips bothered white parents more than his genre of music).
None of this is new ground, but Cohen paints this early era canvas very vividly and convincingly. Still, there were obvious and important points he overlooked, regarding this race angle. The Stones championed black musicians by not only playing their music, but also by promoting the men (and occasionally women) themselves. In 1965, the Stones were invited to play on the American TV show "Shindig". They told the TV producers that they'd be accompanied by black bluesman Howlin' Wolf, but the show balked at that. The Stones were stunned, and said they would not do the show unless Wolf was featured, too. And, the Stones won and, that night on American nation-wide TV, there was a middle aged black man in a business suit singing the blues on the teens' "Shindig" program. Now, that's history! Or, how about July 4, 1975 in Memphis, when the surprise guest performance before the Stones took the football stadium stage was presented by 82 year old black bluesman Furry Lewis. A Memphis native, the Stones searched and found him, living in poverty and obscurity, and offered him the same big money that the several other opening acts were getting. In front of 60,000 stunned, stoned hippies and other assorted youngsters, the old man shuffled out on stage, told a few dirty jokes, and played a couple of tunes on his acoustic guitar. I was there, and that was history, too. There are numerous other, similar stories in Stones history, and they are meaningful with respect to the history of American black music. This deserved more of Cohen's attention, I feel. Perhaps I take this seriously because I'm a native Mississippian where, after all, blues music was born in our northwestern river delta. And, as Mississippian Muddy Waters sang: "The blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock-and-roll."
The birth of the relationships among Jagger, Richards and Brian Jones has been extensively covered by numerous authors, yet Cohen adds great depth and detail to these early years, and the complex personal chemistry and tensions that were afoot. How the Stones learned to write music, how Brian was fired and soon died, how the Stones chugged into their "golden years" with albums like "Let it Bleed" and "Exile on Main Street"....again, not new ground, but Cohen reports this "old news" with freshness.
I thought he was particularly thoughtful and informative in analyzing the demise of the Stones as a productive music creating unit. Here, it felt to me as if he broke some new insight ground. In short, I agree with him that "Some Girls" was the last great Stones record. Jagger and Richards have not been able to produce any albums that approach the high quality of their "glory days" in large part because their friendship died in the mid-80s or so. They each tried solo careers, but Keith knew, and Mick soon figured out, that nothing could top the Stones as a world-class career success AND a massive money maker. They have, for decades now, been an estranged couple who've stayed together for the sake of having meaningful employment, and of course for the mega-money. Again, this is not news, but I thought Cohen rolls that all out very well.
So, yes, the Stones for decades now have been a performance band but, I'd hasten to add: they are a great one. I still love em! Say what you will about their lack of new music creativity, yet bear in mind that they have recorded something north of 400 songs, and constantly tour and lay down wonderful set lists for their concert goers. And, they still "have it" when they play live (or surely enough of it). And, when they do, the Rolling Stones, even now, play their hearts out on magnificent, elaborate stage settings, and they STILL give us, the world, this: the greatest rock and roll performances in the known universe....period. Say what you will about how great the Beatles were, but note too that the Fab Four quit and let us down way back in the last century while, more than 50 years on, the Stones are still with us.
If I've a gripe with Cohen, it's that his book feels to abruptly trail off once Mick and Keith divorce, and the band changes it's basic nature. I'd call foul on that, since much went on in the late 1980s, the 1990s, and during the past 16 years, as the band toured and members embarked on different solo ventures. Kudos to Cohen to paying quite a bit of attention to drummer Charlie Watts, who is so quiet and unassuming and thus often is overlooked. But, even there, I found myself wishing that Cohen had gotten more from Charlie. We've all heard enough from and about Mick and Keith, after all. And, I don't even think Charlie's wife Shirley was mentioned in the book. If she was, there wasn't much about her. I would love to hear more from and about her. On the other hand, Cohen had a lot to say about the women of Mick and Keith, such as Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg. That's legitimate history, but surely old hat history.
And, speaking of Charlie, there was only one other trauma that ranked with the likes of these: Brian Jones' death, the Altamont concert disaster, the drug busts and addictions, the Keith-Mick divorce and the recent and tragic suicide of Jagger's girlfriend. About a dozen years ago, Charlie battled cancer, and it shocked Mick, Keith and the others like nothing else had for a very long time. They rallied to him, he recovered, and that all led to an album and a new round of tours. From around 2005 and the "Bigger Bang" tour, it has felt to me as if a new, and possibly the last, chapter in the Stones saga opened. And, Cohen's work skips all that, which I find to be a weakness.
Still, it's a very entertaining read, a positive contribution to the reputable books out there about the Stones and, in certain important aspects, it is exceptionally good and plows some new ground of information, understanding and analysis. Job well done.
Cohen has all the insight of a lifelong fan, yet that doesn't prevent him from delivering a sober, clear-eyed view of the band's importance, and its flaws, over the years. Cohen's writing is like the band's music - tough, spare, but romantic. He gives proper focus to the important highlights over the years, giving the last 20+ years their proper, minimal treatment, while still conveying the band's place over these later years.
Cohen successfully combines autobiographical elements - the critical, dark appeal of his older brother liking this dangerous music; the absurdity of being in the present of your heroes - with sharp insight into the band (the Mick/Keith dynamic, a little more nuanced than the typical shorthand of Keith being the true believer and Mick being the calculated businessman - though there is some truth to that, here). Altamont receives a fresh look, bringing the various time-worn stories to new life.
In short, this is a thoughtful, smart, incisive look into the band. Writer Bill Flanagan once said that our parents hated the Stones and our kids don't understand them, and Cohen's clear-eyed book occupies the space in between, where all of us who have been struck by the band live.
Why does it finally, and just barely, fall short? It just ultimately runs out of gas and falls apart shortly before the end. Cohen's narrative tack of making the book as much about what the Stones mean to him as a Generation X fan of them works wonderfully until the final section, when it begins to seem merely solipsistic. His eloquent writing finally begins to seem showy. And--worst of all--he just throws the narrative away and abruptly ends the book, leaving the reader hanging! Also--as he did in his earlier and equally gripping and eloquent history of the Jewish gangster in America, TOUGH JEWS--he may explode many canards about his subject, but he ends up swallowing a few of them, too.
Don't get me wrong. This book is absolutely, absolutely worth reading. Parts of it are worth cherishing. It just makes it flaws all the more frustrating--more, probably, than they actually are.