A MEMOIR OF LONDON IN THE 1960S
ANDREW LOOG OLDHAM
(ST. MARTIN'S PRESS; 355 PGS.; $23.95)
The singer Marianne Faithfull was enamored of the man who would guide the Rolling Stones to fame and fortune, Andrew Loog Oldham, from the moment she met him. Although she would be linked with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and bouts of debauchery, she says, "The urbane and exotic Andrew Loog Oldham was an altogether different kettle of fish. Andrew was all edge; he exuded menace, shock, razor-blade hipness." Her portrait of him, however, clashes with his slow and studied self-rendering in "Stoned," a book more about subtext than an actual life.
It's 1995 when Oldham begins the book, his life clouded by cocaine and booze that leaves him incontinent and incapable of anything other than reaching for another snifter or pint or rolled-up pound note. His sorry state is quickly abandoned as he springs back to his post-World War II youth and, in overly explicit detail, recounts his pre-Rolling Stones years for a good two-thirds of the book.
Oldham's viewpoint is a perfect one for the birth of British rock 'n' roll as he worked with the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein in their early days, and then delivered the news of a holy grail to the Stones -- a recording contract, which led to their long association. Eventually, with only a few pages left in this tome, he tells, "I allowed myself to go mad with vanity" and we're left to our own imaginations to conjure up visions of a 2 1/2-decade slide.
He saw thesp Laurence Harvey as an early role model and, growing up fatherless in a series of boarding schools, he turned to the movies to develop style and personality. His circle of friends included Lionel Bart, who would later write "Oliver!," and other tunesmiths who frequented the same London clubs and coffee shops. From there, he sprung into rock 'n' roll as an extension of the lifestyle he had already been living.
Although subtitled "A Memoir of London in the 1960s," book is lacking in grit and detail on the famous folks who were by Oldham's side; the London that will pull in the most readers would track the whereabouts and goings-on of the Stones, scenes of which only Oldham would have access. He allows too many foreign voices to enter his picture, suggesting that he needs help with his memory and even an ego boost from old mates to ascertain that he, too, was a star.
There's a need for a second part, something to explain what happens to this character as he falls from grace with cash and coke to buffer him. "Stoned" works as a character study, a close examination of what drove one man as he came to define himself. Were his legend on par with Mick, Keith and the boys, "Stoned" would hold far greater interest. This, however, is a blueprint for yet another examination of rock 'n' roll, be it on film or in fiction, from the perspective of the manager, an "Almost Famous" from the side that actually gets to see the money.