“Definitely one of the best movies about rock and roll I’ve ever seen. It makes you think being a rock and roll star is one of the last things you’d ever want to do.”
– Jim Jarmuch
Cocksucker Blues is named after a notorious Stones recording – just piano and singer Mick Jagger, in X-rated lonely-boy agony – that the band submitted as a final fuck-you single to their original, despised British label, Decca. (It was rejected.) The song, heard early in Frank’s movie, is blunt and drab.
– David Fricke (Rolling Stone Magazine)
The tale of Cocksucker Blues is as sordid as its title.
Cocksucker Blues is a film by photographer Robert Frank on the Rolling Stone’s 1972 American tour. Not released officially by the Stones… the film is chronicling The Rolling Stones American Tour 1972 in support of their album Exile on Main St.
Bootlegs – the only way I was able to encounter a copy – have circulated for years.
Yes, it is still quite shocking, but we can only guess how it must have startled it’s audience in 1973, we can:
• watch a lot of drug use
• see Bobby Keyes and Keith Richard as they toss a TV off their hotel balcony
• thrill as Dick Cavett asks Bill Wyman, “what’s running through your nervous system right now?”
• smirk as Wyman doesn’t answer• leer as Mick Jagger rubs his dick through his pants, then undoes them and gets his hand in for a better feel
• gasp as a girl trying to get into the concert complains her baby was taken from her because she’s always on acid
• laugh to discover a scalper is charging $10 for a $3.50 ticket
• chuckle as a totally stoned Keith tries to order room service for some strawberries, blueberries and “three apples”
• look at your watch as the boys play some very drunken poker. See Keith win.
• ooh as Charlie Watts makes a very difficult pool shot in a southern diner
•see a naked groupie rolls on a bed, legs spread, fingering her private parts
• make notes as Keith tells Mick it’s best to snort coke through a rolled up dollar bill
• hear Mick turns to the camera after a brief meeting with Tina Turner and says “I wouldn’t mind…”
• look at your watch again as the tour crew packs the group’s suitcases and cleans out their hotel rooms
• wonder in amazement as Bianca sits sullenly, smoking a cigarette and playing a little music box over and over.
Today it is all part of the rock’n roll textbook, but what we witness here are the writers of the actual book!
The film came under a court order which forbade it from being shown unless the director Robert Frank was physically present. This ruling stemmed from the conflict that arose when the band, who had commissioned the film, decided that its content was embarrassing and potentially incriminating, and did not want it shown. Frank felt otherwise — hence the ruling.
The provocative title, its nudity, needles and hedonism was enough to get the picture shelved, and this was during a liberal climate that saw the likes of Chafed Elbows, Deep Throat, and Cry Uncle! playing in neighborhood theaters. The fantastic concert film, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, was released instead, and Cocksucker Blues was indefinitely shelved.
Frank had come up with the definitive portrait of rock’n roll chauvinism and debauchery.
The court order in question also enjoined Frank against exhibiting Cocksucker Blues more frequently than four times per year in an “archival setting” with Frank being present.
Cocksucker Blues was shown on November 15th at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of a two-week festival, The Rolling Stones: 50 Years on Film. (The festival runs through December 2nd.) Frank did not appear at the screening, while the Stones had just left the building, having attended the series’ opening the night before and participating in an onstage interview with playwright Tom Stoppard. The near-collision was the closest thing to an official blessing the Stones have given Frank’s movie since he made it. (Rolling Stone Magazine)
Most of the film – where we watch the Stones wait backstage or pacing around the room with their instruments as the sound of crowd comes through as a humming ambient menace – everyone appears trapped and ill at ease. The feeling of the movie veers from unease to uncomfortable periods of waiting, Frank’s documentary/hand-held style of shooting cements this feeling. A lot of the 93-minute runtime is given over to shots of various band members looking bored, drawn, sitting around with nothing to do. It is an ugly film.
But is it any good? It is. It is strangely fascinating, strangely honest and quite touching at times. We feel for the band, but sometimes we can’t help laughing at the absurd circus on the screen. Keith Richards’s presence in the film is not just a study of debauchery; it’s also one of isolation and loneliness. Mick Jagger comes off as detached and sad. I think that the contrasts between, the boring routine and the music and the scandalous behavior is what makes the film a “good” film, at least for me.
As I said, it is not a pretty picture.
But man, when they play, they come alive!
Even so, those looking for a concert film may be disappointed — there is only about 15 minutes of music footage here — but when Stevie Wonder joins the band for a take on Uptight that segues into a soulful Satisfaction, man, it is bliss!
And the version of Midnight Rambler is maybe the best you’ll ever hear!
The Rolling Stones – Cocksucker Blues: