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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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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"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."
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
AGAIN, I WILL RESTATE: THIS IS A MUST READ BOOK FOR STONES FANS! YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.
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. German earns less than $20K a year, lives in a roach-infested tiny apartment, foregoes dating and sex, and lives "under the thumb" of the Stones, who change plans on him at a whim. He is horrified when he discovers that the 'zine he lovingly puts out is viewed by many fans as -- gasp -- a way to access the Stones, not as a way to revere Bill's research and writing. He defines himself as -- and strives to be -- a serious journalist, but can't understand why he is not taken seriously when he covers just ONE topic (at one point, he seriously compares his "beat" to covering ONLY the White House!)
In short, it's written by a man who loses perspective and who can't imagine a life away from the Stones...and who believes that being a Stones groupie is one of the most important things in the world. That may not be the book German set out to write, but it is the one he DID write. And that's the most revealing part of all -- and well worth the read.