Many music fans dream about meeting their heroes.
Rolling Stones fanzine writer Bill German accomplished that feat when he was 17, and became part of the band's inner circle during the 1980s, deftly negotiating the byzantine layers of political bureaucracy that cushion the British rock icons.
Now 46, the New York native offers a rare inside look at the band's drug-fueled machinations in “Under Their Thumb — How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with The Rolling Stones (and Lived to Tell About It).”
German examines a strange period in the Stones' history, including a bitter feud between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and the band's transformation into a corporate touring machine.
“Some people wind up leaving the Stones circle in caskets or handcuffs because they think that they can keep up with them on a nightly basis,” he told Reuters in a recent interview.
German walked away from the band, but not before his physical and mental health suffered to the point where he seriously considered committing suicide at a show.
Q: As far as I can tell you're the only Stones fan who's crossed to the other side and become part of the inner circle.
A: “Right! There may have been other fans who've gotten to hang out with then from time to time, obviously. But there was usually sex or drugs or celebrity involved ... You need to bring something to the table to make them want to hang out with you. Amazingly, my thing was this amateur little fanzine.”
Q: But you must have been walking on tiptoes: One false move and they would toss you?
A: “Absolutely. To be in a room with (Jagger and Richards) at the same time, from '85 to early '89, it was pretty tense. You knew that you just had to be a fly on the wall. You could not try to broker some kind of ceasefire between them. You couldn't even make a joke in the room, because who the hell are you? Especially me. I was just a kid in my 20s.”
Q: The Stones gave you unprecedented access. Do you worry about breaking confidences and trust with this book?
A: “The things I talk about — drugs — where's the surprise there? I'm just telling you a different side of the Stones but I think for the most part it's the nicer side of the Stones that people don't know.”
Q: Mick Jagger comes across as distant and hard to deal with.
A: “Mick is a very complex character in general as well as in this book. Listen, he did lots of nice things for me too, obviously. I think on both sides — the nice things that he did and the not-so-nice things that he did — were mostly motivated by business. which isn't to say that he might not be a nice person in his personal life, that he might not have liked me on some level. I'm sure he did. I was an innocent kid.”
Q: You talk about this love/hate relationship with Stones fans. Did that impinge upon your enjoyment of the Stones life?
A: “I had an entire chapter just about the fans, and my editor asked me to cut it out and I did. There were some really hardcore people, one guy I know who really did develop a heroin addiction because he loved Keith so much, just all kinds of crazy people out there.”
Q: You do go into explicit details about the Stones almost driving you to suicide. Did you have qualms about putting that in the book?
A: “I felt a little weird; mostly for my parents ... I did use humor to broach that subject. That was the only way I could do it. Even when I was absolutely miserable I did maintain my sense of humor which I think is something that helped me survive the Stones and all this. One of the many reasons I got out is because so many people around the Stones do not have that sense of humor. They take it so seriously. Even at a young age I knew we're not curing cancer here.”
Q: As a Stones expert, how do you see the Stones' future?
A: “I honestly think they can go on forever and ever. Really, why not? Like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. I don't see any problem with them playing until they drop. And they should.”