Brian Jones had The Hair. Of course, long hair was de rigueur for all aspiring rock ’n’ rollers at that time, but Jones’ coif stood out. It was like a sleek blond helmet immaculately conceived and maintained. In group photos, where he never smiled, his pallid, handsome face combined with The Hair for an image that seemed to embody the sexiness and daring of the new pop culture. Thanks in large part to that image, it seems, Jones dominated the early public perception of the Stones: he received far more fan mail than other members (and answered much of it personally) and elicited more screams in concerts.
That dominance didn’t last long. Jones, a middle-class kid and blues fanatic like his fellows, formed the band and gave it its Muddy Waters-derived name in 1962. By ’63, they were making records, getting media attention, and garnering fans. Soon enough, though, everyone’s focus shifted away from Jones toward Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. As Nick Broomfield’s doc “The Stones and Brian Jones” tells it, the group’s early manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, pushed the singer and guitarist to write songs—which they did with mounting brilliance for the next decade and beyond—and simultaneously worked to keep Jagger and Richards in the media spotlight and the other members out. In the film, there’s an old news clip where an interviewer keeps asking Jones about writing the band’s songs, and Jones, with evident chagrin, points him toward Jagger and Richards.
The rest of the story is a well-known downward spiral. Jones grew increasingly rich and famous as a Stone but increasingly miserable for being marginalized by his fellows. His drug use didn’t help. By ’68, he was a blighted wreck. In mid-1969, he was fired from the Stones and three weeks later was found dead in the swimming pool of his home outside London.
Why tell this story again? I’m a fan of Broomfield’s documentaries, which include many musical subjects, and I know that he often has a personal angle on the stories he tells. In recounting the romance of Leonard Cohen and his muse Marianne, for example, he actually knew the protagonists and has the footage to prove it. With “The Stones and Brian Jones,” the personal connection is slighter. Broomfield recalls chatting with Jones on a train as a teenager; he found the musician open and friendly. What the filmmaker really has to offer here is a thesis: he thinks Jones’ rise and fall were essentially determined by his relationship with his parents.