Thursday, 11 June 2009

Like a Rolling Stone

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is a 1964 novel by Dave Wallis that portrays a world where adults have become so bored with modern life that they begin to kill themselves en masse, ultimately leading to a new society where all institutions and establishments have broken down, the ‘grown up’ population is all dead and the ruling class are violent teenage street gangs battling for supremacy and survival.

Despite its sometimes lurid content, the book is written in a very spare, matter of fact way, presenting itself as reportage rather than pulp fiction. Naturally, the main selling point is the sensationalist idea of kids running a disintegrating world, shagging and killing each other with abandon and taking over places like Windsor Castle and turning them into anarchic crash pads, but the narrative is actually well done, detailing the travails of the Seeley Street gang as they struggle to stay alive, foraging for food, for fuel, for shelter, always on the move and under constant threat of sickness, starvation or rival gangs.

In May 1966, Rolling Stones svengali Andrew Loog Oldham announced that he had bought the rights to the book, and that it would form the basis of The Stones first film, with the group (plus Marianne Faithfull) playing the various members of the central gang, as well as providing the soundtrack, although, ultimately, the film never actually progressed much farther than the press release.

There is a temptation to describe the concept as a ‘great lost film’, but the evidence is not particularly compelling. Although it could be argued that The Stones were never stereotypical pop stars (the were stereotypical anti-pop stars), it’s hard to imagine that they would have been able to carry off a film of this ambition: Mick Jagger, for example, who presumably would have starred, is actually one of the worst actors in the world or, at least, the worst actor in the world to get regular acting work: he makes David Bowie look like Laurence Olivier.

In the end, The Rolling Stones never actually made any feature films, falling at the first hurdle whilst lesser groups (Hermans Hermits; The Dave Clark Five; Gerry & The Pacemakers) completed the course, albeit without breaking any records or winning any laurels. The nearest The Stones got was ‘Rock & Roll Circus’, a sort of psychedelic variety show that is notable for a good performance from The Stones, but a great one by The Who. Recognising this disparity The Stones shelved the film for 25 years like a petulant kid who spoils their own party because someone else is briefly the centre of attention. In-between the musical performances, however, there are a number of scenes where The Stones are called upon to act or, at least, speak scripted lines: they are amongst the most unconvincing and embarrassing moments in pop history, so perhaps we all had a lucky escape.

But when you consider Stones tracks from 1966 that may have found themselves on the ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ soundtrack if they’d ever got that far, the nagging doubt remains that maybe, with the right direction, they might just have got away with it. Either way, triumph or disaster, the film would have had a bloody great soundtrack. ‘Mothers Little Helper' could have been very easily tweaked lyrically to fit the 'Only Lovers Left Alive' premise, and 'It's Not Easy' would fit into any number of scenes, perhaps most appropriately a montage of the gang foraging and looting in the semi-deserted streets of London.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What would you expect by a very over rated band anyways ?