Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Was It Suicide or Was It Murder?

When I was a kid, and actually to this day since I am doing it now, I used to ask a trivia question about the Rolling Stones' 1965 hit single Satisfaction. "What was the name of the song on the B-side?" If you guessed, The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man" you win. The 45 had a blue label with the London imprint.

It's a long time ago, but the original front man in the group was not Mick Jagger or the Jagger-Richards combo. The man, a youth actually, who put the Stones into the spotlight was Brian Jones. More than just a pretty face, he was a quite talented musician in his own right. He plays at least seventeen different instruments over the course of several early Stones albums.

Early on, however, their manager Andrew Loog Oldham felt that Jagger and Richards should be pushed closer to the spotlight and Jones accepted this re-arrangement of significance. In watching the Beatles rise to prominence he recognized that there were financial benefits to writing your own music. (Oldham proved influential in helping another famous rock star emerge, bringing Jimi Hendrix home to England at the urging of Keith Richards' girl friend. Hendrix's career ignited overseas.)

The flamboyant Jones was also a notorious party animal and did all the drugs that were in vogue at the time. He was highly visible in "the scene" and could be seen with all the top draws both East Coast and West Coast. In '67 he had a high profile relationship with Nico of the Velvet Underground, for example, and introduce Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Music Festival.

Ultimately, these "no boundaries" lifestyles take a toll, and Jones ended up at the bottom of a swimming pool after binging on alcohol and barbituates. Within a few short years, Jimi, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison would all join him on "the other side." Rock star self-destruction is undoubtedly a side effect of too much fame when mixed with the right concoction of personal instability, taking down many famous names. Just a few from the short history of Rock 'n Roll... John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Tim Buckley, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Rick Grech (Blind Faith), Brian Epstein (manager of the Beatles), Keith Moon (The Who), Kurt Cobain, Billy Holiday, Sid Vicious, and so many more.

When they found Jones in the bottom of that pool, the arc of his career had already declined. That it was a self-destructive act, or accident, seemed self-evident. His estrangement from the band, mood swings, and drug excesses led to an easy conclusion.

In the 1990's, however, a builder who had been present at that time, allegedly made a deathbed confession that he had killed Brian Jones. This led to a book, and then another. And yesterday, two months and forty years since that drowning, police re-opened the investigation of Brian Jones' death.

Was it suicide or was it murder? Will we ever really know?

EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge.

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