Last week there was a Simon Pegg retrospective at our local cinema and Slim invited me back to his one bedroom apartment after we watched an early showing of “Shawn of the Dead”. Slim had prepared dinner and by that I mean he had peeled back the tin foil edge of a take-out carton of butter chicken, removed the cardboard lid, and handed me a plastic fork and a can of Old Style lager. He then lapsed into one of his silences.
I found myself noticing the beads of condensation on the clear plastic lid of the steamed rice container. The rice was long past fluffy. The evening stretched before me like a Sunday in Ottawa. My only recourse was to ask Slim an irritating question.
“So, Slim”, I said, “who do you think is the better poet, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen?”
Slim’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Bob Dylan’s not a poet”, he snapped,“ he’s a poetic songwriter”.
“And Leonard Cohen is…..?”
“Leonard Cohen is a poet who writes songs”.
“Ok then, what’s your favorite Bob Dylan line, verse, whatever”
“I can only think of the bad ones”
“So what’s the worst Bob Dylan line ever?”
Slim blinked once like he was accessing a folder in his brain with an internal mouse.
“John Wesley Harding, ‘As I walked out One Morning’, third verse:
‘Depart from me this moment
I told her with my voice’.
It’s like saying ‘there’s going to be a jailbreak somewhere in this town”
“But that’s “Thin Lizzy”.
Slim looked like he had taken a sip of battery acid.
“My point is they are expressing the obvious just for the sake of a rhyme. It’s obvious that the jailbreak will be at the f….ing jail and how else will he tell her except with his voice, they’re in a field, for f… sake!”
“Oh”, I said, reaching for a poppadum.
After Slim’s brief outburst, he lapsed into silence again and did his impression of a lizard sitting on a rock. The not unpleasant smell from the Indian take-out mercifully masked the usual faint odour of sour sweat emanating from Slim’s bedroom. His bedroom door was closed, a yellow light leaked through the gap between bottom of the door and the threadbare carpet. The room pulsed in a vaguely sinister way.
I began to panic; he could pull out his blueprints of the Star Ship Enterprise at any minute. I was about to ask him why so much depends on a red wheelbarrow, but thought better of it. I reached for my phone.
“Slim”, I said, “I was looking at Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 albums of all time, the other day, do you want to see it?”
“Not really”, he replied.
“Ok”, I tried, “what do you think is the most over-rated album of all time?”
“All right”, he sighed, ”show me the top 10 albums.”
I passed him my phone and he studied the list for a few minutes, then pounced.
“Number 7, ‘Exile on Main Street’, by the Stones”
“Because, it’s awful. It’s recycled 12 bar, refried boogie, Jagger sounds like a cat being neutered. It’s not even the seventh best Stones’ album. Creedence and The Band did this kind of thing a few years before and a lot better. This is the sound of the Stones throwing in their creative hand and saying, ‘enough, we’re tired’. It’s the artistic equivalent of taking a package holiday to Majorca. Look, it’s listed higher than ‘The White Album’ and ‘Kinda Blue’. Absolute bollocks!”
“It’s ‘Kind of Blue’ not ‘Kinda Blue’
Slim looked at me like he was wondering why he bothered to speak to the rest of the human race at all.
“Well”, I said,”why do you think Rolling Stone rates it so high?”
“Because, it’s a Keef album and, to rock critics, Keef embodies the rock and roll spirit, the dead romantic hero, except he’s not dead. He’s the guy who would never have hung out with them at school. Plus, there’s this legend of the Stones hunkered down in a house in France recording the album, escaping from the tax man where in fact, Mick, Charlie and Bill never stayed at the house probably because they didn’t want to be around Keef’s junkie friends. Anyway, Mick didn’t think much of the album at all”.
“Look it up”.
So I did.
This is Mick Jagger talking about ‘Exile’ in “According to The Rolling Stones” (Chronicle Books, San Francisco):
“Exile on Main Street is not one of my favourite albums”.
“…when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. I’d love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies.”
“Exile is really a mixture of bits and pieces left over from the previous album recorded at Olympic Studios…..These were mixed up with a few slightly more grungy things done in the South of France. It’s seen as one album all recorded there and it really wasn’t.”
“So there’s a good four songs off it, but when you play the other nineteen, you can’t, or they don’t work, or nobody likes them, and you think, ’Ok, we’ll play another one instead’. We have rehearsed a lot of the tunes off Exile, but there’s not much that’s playable.”
Photo of detail of a Botero painting in Museo de Botero, Bogota, Colombia