Leaving the Stones Unturned : STONE ALONE; The Story of a Rock and Roll Band <i> By Bill Wyman with Ray Coleman (Viking: $22.95; 584 pp., illustrated) </i> : BLOWN AWAY; The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties <i> By A.E. Hotchner (Simon & Schuster: $21.95; 349 pp., illustrated) </i>

<i> Greenfield is the author of "S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones." </i>

For years, people around the Rolling Stones have talked about Bill Wyman’s book. As the only band member to have compulsively kept a diary throughout all those oh-so-tumultuous years, Wyman figured to have the goods on everyone. He alone clipped articles from the local paper wherever the Stones played. It was even said that he had a book of matches from every club the boys ever visited, either singly or in a group, after their show was done. By all accounts, Wyman’s story would be the one that told all.

Not so. Rather than “the story of a rock and roll band,” “Stone Alone” is instead the autobiography of a most peculiar man, one so particularly English that he can only be understood in the context of when and where he was born.

Wyman grew up poor in the England of World War II so brilliantly depicted by John Boorman in his film, “Hope and Glory.” Money and food and coal were scarce. All eight members of his family shared a single toothbrush. They bathed but once a week and then in a single tub of hot water. As the eldest, Bill went last. In the dead of winter when work was scarce, his bricklayer father would take out all his anger and frustration on his six children with his hands, beating them for what they had not done. From such circumstances, Charles Dickens wrested his great work.

In the hands of Wyman--and his co-author, Ray Coleman, who for 11 years served as editor-in-chief of England’s Melody Maker--all this very dramatic material comes across in monochromatic black-and-white. Bill has in fact forgotten nothing. But from him we get only the facts and never the real story. When the Stones play, it is no accident that this man stands stock-still on stage with what has often been described as “the great stone face.” At times, Wyman seems so completely removed from his own experience that his book reads as though it was all happening to someone else, with Bill just barely there to record the exact date and proper sequence of events.

“Stone Alone” also is proof positive that a metronomic, deadly prose style can serve to render even the most interesting subject matter dead on the page. Early on, Wyman tells us that his interest in the opposite sex began when he kissed the girl next door at age 4. Three hundred interminable pages and 25 years later, the Stones sit around a hotel room talking about how many women they have each had in their two years together on the road. Bill, of course, makes a list. It reads: “Charlie: 0. Keith: 6. Mick: 30. Brian: 130. Bill: 278.”


In the autobiography of Frank Harris or Vladimir Horowitz, such single-minded pursuit might give the reader some deeper insight into the creative process itself. For Wyman, it is just another entry on another of the lists that comprise this book: gigs played, day-by-day and night-by-night; women bedded in stops along the road; money earned, as constantly noted in overdrafts from his bank while Mick and Keith, the songwriters in the band, and first Eric Easton and Andrew Oldham and then Alan Klein, the businessmen, rake in all the dough.

Wyman always was both older and straighter than the rest of the Stones. Those 278 women notwithstanding, he also was always married, and with a son as well. As the Stones clawed their way to the top, Bill never was able to understand why people persisted in saying such awful things about them, so how could he?

Bill himself was never anything but a desperately poor boy from Sydenham who learned early on that his job in the band was to step back, shut up and play bass. And so he did until he was able to afford the castle of his dreams.

Of Brian Jones, Wyman actually writes: “Brian Jones, founder of the Stones, lived fast and died young.” Had Wyman ever dared to play this big a musical cliche on stage, Keith Richards would have swung his guitar at his head. Wyman’s book concentrates on the band’s first decade, ending not with Altamont but the free concerts put on by the Stones at Hyde Park in July, 1969, in memory of Brian Jones. (Unbelievably, the ensuing 21 years are covered in a very awkward 32-page “Flash Forward” at the start.) Weighing in at a hefty 584 pages, Wyman’s book is hardly a casual read. As both Barbara Tuchman and Robert Caro have proved, not even history need be this dull.

Wyman’s book does have the virtue of not making any great claims on which it then does not deliver. The same cannot be said for the extremely overblown “Blown Away: The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties” by A. E. Hotchner, once best known for “Papa Hemingway” but now perhaps equally famous as Paul Newman’s partner in salad oil.

Hotchner’s book purports to “solve” the mystery of who really killed Brian Jones in 1969, while at the same time laying the death of an entire era right at the front door of the Rolling Stones in general and poor Mick Jagger in particular. As historical theory, this simply will not wash. Back then, the Stones always were only just part of the beat, and never the song itself. To explain that to Hotchner, however, would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.

Not having been granted interviews by the Stones themselves, Hotchner is forced to make do with a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom have been out of the public eye for the past 20 years. Like a not-so-Young M.C., Hotchner brings us those who are primary sources only to introduce just as many who never were more than observers, and then from the far distant sideline.

In his own first-person sections, Hotchner writes like a prosecutor trying to mount a case against an entire generation for the heinous crime of having danced to the strains of “Street Fighting Man.” (To that particular charge, your honor, I plead guilty, and more than once.)

Despite all the years he spent doing research and conducting interviews, Hotchner essentially presents us with material that is not new--with the following very notable exception: When both Marianne Faithful and Anita Pallenberg, female consorts to Mick and Keith respectively as the decade came to end, speak in this book, the reader can do nothing but listen in astonishment.

From these two women who lived as hard as anyone ever has yet somehow managed to survive to tell the tale, we get the real story at last. We get the beat . We get all the emotional colors that neither Wyman nor Hotchner elsewhere in his book seem able to supply. In their sections only, we hear the raw, unvarnished truth of what it was like to be part of the inner circle on what was then the cutting edge, not only of rock and roll but of the entire culture as well.

Those eager for the “real” story of the Rolling Stones would do well to read the women’s testimony. Failing that, they could wade through the 25 other books on the Stones to be found at the Michael Ochs Archives, paying special attention to the work of Michael Lydon and Stanley Booth, both of whom were around the band when they and the Stones were still young and relatively poor enough to share a common point of view.

Better yet, we can all just wait for Keith Richards himself, the last of the red-hot rockers, to set his own memoir in type. For it is his volatile unpredictability, regal arrogance and distinctly dangerous way of doing business both on-stage and off that have made this band so fascinating, not only to the members of my generation but to the world as well.