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Can't Give It Away On Seventh Avenue: The Rolling Stones And New York City

Doug Collette By

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Can't Give It Away on Seventh Avenue: The Rolling Stones and New York City
Christopher McKittrick
256 pages
ISBN: #978-1642930399
Post Hill Press
2019

Based on his extremely well-wrought prologue, Christoper McKittrick's Can't Give It Away on Seventh Avenue would seem to be based on a very finite premise. But it's a deceptively complex one and to his great credit, the writer balances the main theme, accurately paraphrased on the back cover with the blurb 'A Complete History of The Rolling Stones in New York City,' with a penetrating excursion into the history at large of the iconic band. In doing so, he is also able to fulfill his stated ambition to connect the evolution of the group with the evolution of the great metropolis and, by extension, global culture over the course of over fifty years.

McKittrick makes it seem only fitting that the metamorphosis of larger-than-life celebrity figures like the Rolling Stones would dovetail with that of the similarly-daunting urban center. In doing so, he posits himself as a past master at reporting, so much so he might well have appropriated some editorial leeway for himself and injected some more personal opinion and analysis into this work of his. Still, a more inclusive approach along those lines might well have diluted the writer's most admirable virtue, his keen journalistic objectivity.

A self-avowed fan, Christopher McKittrick reigns in as his longstanding admiration of the Rolling Stones throughout Can't Give It Away on Seventh Avenue. In fact, his devotion to the group actually clarifies his perceptions at certain points, even (or especially?) when he's recounting some of the less than positive passages of the Rolling Stones' career; he only elevates the reliability of his research with the dispassionate accounts of the events surrounding the writing, recording and release of the album Dirty Work (Rolling Stones Records, 1986) as well as Keith Richards' jury trial for heroin possession in 1977-8.

It was certainly yeoman's work for the author to knit together this highly-readable narrative from, as he what he himself describes as existing media accounts, largely in existence through newspapers, covering the Rolling Stones activities in around and/or related to the Big Apple. Accordingly, so his consistent attention to detail enhances his credibility: readily verifiable minutiae include reference to the band's performance on The T.A.M.I. Show (Shout! Factory, 2010) in California on their second US tour, as well as Richards' romance with Ronnie Spector as mentioned in the man's own autobiography Life (Seinfeld and Nicolson; (2010).

Perhaps not surprisingly, given his contemporaneous source material, at the mid-to-late Sixties point the Rolling Stones cease regular touring, McKittrick's description(s) of the sequence of events involving the band and New York City threatens to become too speedy for its own good and thus borderline superficial. Yet as his reference materials also include original Stones bassist Bill Wyman's autobiography, Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock 'n Roll Band (Viking, 1990), the writer applies acute prescience in recounting Brian Jones' estrangement from the group he helped found. In that respect, it seems odd (or unduly arbitrary?) that certain salient points arising around that development escape even passing reference as Jagger, Richards and company return to the road in 1969.

Certainly the concert at Altamont deserves some more mention, despite the fact the event took place on the West Coast, if only because this debacle of December that year had such profound, ongoing influence on the group's future endeavors (see Joel Selvin's (Dey Street, 2016). The author does give more than a little space to the film Gimme Shelter (Criterion Collection, 2009), including mention of the scenes depicting the Stones recording in Muscle Shoals. As a result, it's head-scratching that he fails to cross-reference "Wild Horses," which he duly notes as the second single from Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones Records, 1971), as the very song shown in the process of recording in the movie. The apparent oversight becomes further confounding because he is careful to denote the band's establishment of that very record label of theirs comes to pass in affiliation with the New York-headquartered Atlantic Records.

Perhaps space considerations was a factor in precluding such acknowledgment. Christopher McKittrick offers otherwise astute rendering of the evolution of all manner of clubs in the city, including but not limited to, Bill Graham's iconic venue, Fillmore East. The frequent notation of Rolling Stones' visits to the likes of Ondine and Cafe Au Go Go, especially in later years when various bandmembers lived in the city, accurately emphasizes the bad boy image the group and its original manager Andrew Oldham utilized at the outset of their career distinguish themselves from their chief rivals the Beatles. It is thus worth offering kudos to the writer then that he does point up the self-contradiction between that reputation and a more glamorous (and thus respectable) high-society profile Jagger, Richards and company attained circa Exile On Main Street (Rolling Stones Records, 1972). McKittrick may fancy himself and his mission here as more reporting than commentary, but that irony is hard too hard to ignore and the writer is well to elaborate on it as he does.

He might've also done himself a favor by, again, injecting even more of his own perspective into the latter sections of the book, where a certain sense of cut-and-paste sneaks in. To promote a continuously smooth read, setlists of latter-day Stones shows might well have been relegated to an appendix (of which, oddly, there is none at all). There too, perhaps, the author could provide his own capsule reviews of their albums, if only on a selected basis, because, intentionally or not, McKittrick does depict how an increasingly workmanlike approach afflicted the Rolling Stones' recording and touring activities as the years rolled on; the rightful implication is that albums like Undercover (Rolling Stones Records, 1983) and Bridges to Babylon (Rolling Stones Records, 1997) suffer for their purely careerist inclinations, produced more out of mercenary obligation than creative inspiration.

Ultimately, the greatest faux pas Christopher McKittrick commits are well within the margin of human error, relegated to some stilted grammar in the form of unwieldy use of the past tense. His sharp reporter's eye precludes readily apparent factual mistakes or readily-discernible negation of generally accepted knowledge. Meanwhile, his astute mentions of noteworthy NY events such as the great blackout of 1977 dovetail in almost circular fashion with, for instance, the first chapter's depiction of Jagger and Richards' appearance at a benefit concert post 9/11.

Therein lie Christopher McKittrick's fundamental skills as a storyteller who knows how to document his work. In fact, if he did not exhibit those talents so roundly and consistently within these two-hundred fifty-six pages—to the point the absence of any photographs becomes moot—The Rolling Stones and New York City would be little more than just another merchandising opportunity, published as it is in tandem with their 2019 concert tour. As is, Can't Give It Away On Seventh Avenue stands as an object lesson in the craft of summer reading.
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