Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with The Rolling Stones (And Lived to Tell About It) is the compulsively readable account of Mr. German's not-quite-misspent youth among the highest echelon of the rock n roll elite. It's the tale of how a do-it-yourself labor-of-love saw all of it's young scribe's wildest dreams fulfilled when his bad boy heroes gave his Beggar's Banquet newsletter the thumbs up (eventually going so far as to make it THE official Stones publication) and granted him unfathomed access to the band. While still too young to have a legal drink, Bill German stepped behind the curtain of the biggest rock n roll machine on the planet, and I'm certainly glad that, as his subtitle states, he lived to tell the tale.
In a relatively short period of time, he went from chasing the Stones around the clubs and restaurants of New York City in the search of a "scoop" (Where was Mick eating? Who was Woody jamming with? Who was Keith checking out in the clubs?) to spilling orange juice on one of Jagger's priceless rugs, co-authoring a book with Ronnie, and getting life lessons from Keef over Jack Daniels and ginger ale. Unfortunately, he also went from the unfettered joy of being able to print everything and anything about the band to being subject to the whims of ego, eccentricity, and occasionally, malice. You can't say the Stones are "working" - that implies taxable income. No pics of Bill with his girlfriend - he doesn't want his other girlfriends to find out. Please stop calling Woody "Woody" - it's strictly "Ronnie" from now on. Please don't state that Mick wasn't at such-and-such function - his wife is reading this and connecting the dots.
If you're looking for the now-standard "tell-all" fare of raunchy sex, candy bars being stuffed up vaginas, overseas blood transfusions, and the like, you'll have to go elsewhere. While German doesn't tiptoe around any of the vices or debauchery that comes part and parcel with the gig, he succeeds in doing what countless writers before him have failed to do: humanizing the Stones. Not only does he succeed in doing so, he pulls it off with a deftness and honesty that makes the clay feet mortals a hundred times more interesting and intriguing than their larger-than-life rock star alter egos. The booze, broads, and blow become mere footnotes when Keith contemplates his mortality and the loss of loved ones around him, or when Woody's insecurities rise to the surface and try to trip him up.
German takes you inside the world tours, the video shoots, the parties, the studios, the planes, the limos, the full-tilt motherfucking boogie. You'll see it through his eyes as he scraps to keep his dream afloat, tries not to be crushed by the cogs inside such a monsterous machine, and finally has to ask himself if all the perks of being an insider are worth the price of having nothing in your life that doesn't revolve around The Rolling Stones.
I've read all the Stones books out there and I gotta say that this is top o' the heap material. Equal parts coming-of-age memoir, cautionary tale, love letter, and rock n roll journalism supreme, Under Their Thumb scratches all those itches most effectively, making it damn good reading for anybody and everybody, not just those with the Stones jones. After all, German and his journey wind up being the real stars of this story, the Stones merely players on his life's stage (damn interesting players, nevertheless). Pick up a copy and read the first page or two, odds are you'll be hooked and wind up reading it in a couple of long sittings like I did. It's that goddamned good.
Having myself come of age in that pre-internet time when hardcore fans exchanged info through the mail via cut-and-paste fanzines that made up for what they lacked in spit-and-polish with true blood-and-guts fervor, I salute Bill German for standing up and "being more than a witness" (as Al Flipside used to say). Despite the rocky road Bill travelled during the seventeen years he published Beggar's Banquet, this book will stand forever as a testament to the love of The Rock and The Roll - and all the crazy places that can take you.
Five out of five, baby. Go get yourself some Goat's Head Soup. http://www.billgerman.com/ - http://www.beggarsbanquetonline.com/, http://www.villard.com/. This review originally appeared at BLACK TEETH AND BUSTED DREAMS (http://www.thegdking.blogspot.com/).