Junkies shooting heroin? Check. Cum-soaked groupies? Check. A little old band called The Rolling Stones? Check. All this and more are part of the controversial and rarely-screened Cocksucker Blues, a brilliant and disturbing documentary about the Stones’ 1972 American tour. Legally, it can only be shown four times a year and only in an archival setting, so if it ever screens in an area within a hundred-mile radius of you, get your ass to that theatre!
I had the pleasure of seeing Cocksucker Blues just a few hours ago at the Cleveland Cinematheque, and goddamn it did not disappoint! I had heard about this film over the years but knew nothing about it, but once I heard it was being shown in Cleveland I started doing a little research. Being a hard core Stones fan, I knew I had no choice but to see it. Who knew if I would ever have the chance again?
The film opens with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer about the “fictitious” events contained therein. The Stones commissioned director Robert Frank to film them as they toured America for the first time since 1969, but once they realized what was captured for posterity they fought to suppress the footage. I understand why they felt that way at the time, but all these years later? We all know what rock stars do. It’s not shocking that this shit happened. It’s a little surprising that the Stones allowed it to be filmed. But thank God they did!
Cocksucker Blues was shot cinéma verité, which is obviously perfect for this subject matter. The shakiness of the cameras takes some getting used to, but it really highlights how fucked up everyone—and I mean everyone—involved in this film was. Most of it is in black and white, which I love. It makes it almost seem like some old French film or something. I dig it.
In the opening scene we see the Stones rehearsing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and it’s fantastic. You think you’re just watching a typical behind-the-scenes tour flick, but then there’s Keith, playing a honky tonk song on the piano, while someone is filming a close-up of a dude—probably Mick—feeling his crotch through his pants. The mystery man rubs himself like he’s done this for the camera a million times, and then he unzips. Are we gonna see it? you wonder. He reaches inside, strokes it a bit, and almost pulls it out—but then he doesn’t. Dammit!
Not to worry, because there is plenty of other attention given to Mick’s giant cock throughout the movie. This is the tour when he really got into wearing those tight little jumpsuits, and we can see how blessed he is. Viewers are also treated to several shots of Mick’s bare ass, which is not as scrawny as it might appear when clothed. You could definitely saddle up and ride on that booty! He changes into some white undies, and the camera gets all up in his business. Yeah. He’s Mick Motherfucking Jagger, and he’ll split you in two with that thing!
The Stones have long been criticized as misogynists, and Cocksucker Blues definitely gives those critics a hell of a lot more fodder. There is a shitload of groupie action going on, but nobody should be surprised or upset by it. Groupies know exactly what—and who—they’re doing. There’s a scene on the Stones’ tour plane where a faceless groupie is getting fucked pretty hard by some faceless dude, and then we see another groupie just relaxing naked in the aisle. The camera pans around to show more laughing groupies hanging out and getting their shirts ripped off, all while the Stones are in the background playing tambourine as a soundtrack and watching as if they were at a Roman orgy. One guy from the road crew lifts a nude groupie—more specifically, her lady bits—up to his face, only to receive a round of applause from everyone impressed by his strength and dexterity.
The most graphic scene in Cocksucker Blues takes place immediately after the money shot between a groupie and someone from the Stones’ crew. She’s reclining on the hotel bed, legs spread wide open, with jizz all over her. The gentleman responsible for said jizz comments on how prolific he was, and the groupie proceeds to show the cameraman just how much she enjoyed herself. It’s straight-up porn, and I ain’t complainin’! But I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched this woman luxuriate in her cum bath if she were now somebody’s mother. Or grandmother.
Aside from all the sex there is a ton of drug use, from pot to coke to heroin. There’s one scene where Mick is offered some coke, and he walks over to a table with Keith who is explaining something about the rolled up money required to snort it. Mick sits down alone, rolls a bill to prepare for the powder he is about to inhale, and looks around sheepishly as others in the room talk about random shit. He knows he’s on camera, and everyone knows he’s going to do a few lines, but in this moment Mick looks exactly like a schoolboy who is afraid of getting caught cheating on an exam. It’s fascinating.
During a concert scene, Mick is performing “Midnight Rambler”—one of my favorite Stones songs—and he looks cracked out as fuck. He’s shaking and breathing heavily during the slow part of the song, and it looks like he is about to collapse. It’s weird to see Mick like that, because Keith has always been the messy one.
And we do see a very, very sad portrait of the rock star as junkie. The band, some hangers-on, and a few industry people, including Ahmet Ertegun, are in a locker room (backstage at a show, I assume), and Keith is sitting on a bench next to some groupie who is smoking. There’s Keith’s ever-present bottle of Jack to her right, and Keith is to her left. He hangs his head, barely aware of his surroundings, and each time the camera swings back to him and his lady friend his head is lower. Eventually he is resting his head in her lap, his arms draped over her legs. She continues to smoke and touch his hair until she finally collapses on top of him. It’s upsetting to watch this, and it is definitely the most moving part of the film. Knowing Keith as he is now, it’s hard to see him like that, all junked up and seemingly near death, consumed by drugs and decadence and rock and roll.
Footage of Keith get shot up by a groupie is probably one of the reasons the band didn’t want this film to be seen.
A non-Keith junkie scene that is equally disturbing shows a groupie shooting up with the help of some guy from the crew. She’s wearing this very complicated dress with straps up and down each arm that are tied in a way that it looks like she always has a vein ready to shoot up. First she shoots the junk into the top of her wrist, and then she moves farther up her arm and announces that she took too much. Watching people shoot up makes me want to vomit. Shortly after she injects herself she asks the camera guy why he wanted to film it. I thought that was a weird question.
There is also a scene with people who I think are back-up singers and other members of the band or crew who are taking turns snorting coke out of a little spoon. One woman who had never tried coke before says that she figured it must be good shit since the Stones do it.
Bianca Jagger appears in the last third of the film, and she mostly mopes around the hotel room, smoking and playing a music box over and over. Mick is in the room with her, and he looks really happy. It’s a weird scene to spy on. We all know Mick is fucking groupies every chance he gets. I wish we could have seen more of Mick and Bianca together so we could get a little more insight into what her deal was, though I think the fact that we don’t see her until so late in the film is an excellent way to present their relationship. We see all the shit Mick’s doing when she’s not around, and then we see her looking unhappy while Mick smiles like the happiest motherfucker in the world.
On a lighter night, there’s a funny scene where a fucked up Keith calls room service to order fruit. The woman on the phone tells him they have strawberries and blueberries, but when Keith asks her to use her discretion to throw together a big bowl for everyone to share, she tells him it doesn’t work that way. Then he asks for three apples as well. It felt like Keith was prank-calling the front desk. I laughed a lot during this scene, because you see that the boys could still have some harmless fun.
Oh, and for a classic rock and roll moment, watch Keith and Bobby Keys throw a TV out of their hotel window in broad daylight!
There are also fun cameos by Tina Turner (who is so beautiful here that you cannot help but be hypnotized by her), Andy Warhol, and Truman Capote. Stevie Wonder also performed with the Stones on this tour, and when he and Mick duet on “Satisfaction” it makes you feel good inside.
I also love the scene where Keith and Mick are sitting on a bed and Keith leans over to lift the needle onto the 45 of “Happy,” which is another one of my favorite Stones songs because Keith sings lead. (See my essay about “Happy” here.) This scene is interspersed with clips of a live performance of “Happy,” where Mick sings a lot more than he does on the record. As I watched Mick dominate the mic I kept thinking about how Keith really does prefer to be in the background, even if this is his song. (He wrote it, after all.) He does get some time in the spotlight, and it’s exciting to see.
But Mick, of course, is the star of the show, and at the end of the film we are reminded of why he is the greatest front man in the history of music. They’re playing “Street Fighting Man” while Mick dances around like he’s in a trance. It’s quite extraordinary. Close-ups of his profile only add to the effect, as his facial expressions and enunciation and pure sexuality and energy are just as powerful as they are when we see his whole thin frame spinning like a whirling dervish on a confetti-strewn stage. Mick reminds me of a burlesque dancer here, taunting the audience and jiggling his ass and humping the air. I love everything about this scene, and I want to watch it every day.
To wrap up the experimental nature of Cocksucker Blues we are treated to a voice-over of Keith reciting “Brown Sugar” as if it were a Beat poem.
Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doing alright
Hear him with the women just around midnight
It is interesting to note that though this film centers around the tour the Stones did to promote Exile on Main Street, most of the music in the film is from Sticky Fingers and earlier albums. They hadn’t toured since before Sticky Fingers, so it makes sense that so much of it was on their set list for this tour. Another film that was filmed on this tour, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, features more music than does Cocksucker Blues, including more songs from Exile.
But we’re not really here for the music.
Cocksucker Blues is everything the title promises it will be.