Exile on Main St., The Rolling Stones



I have been wanting to write about Exile on Main St. for a long time.  It’s such a massive album, and millions of words have already been written about it and the decadence that surrounded its recording in the early 1970s, so what would I have to contribute to the historiography of The Rolling Stones’ magnum opus?  So I’ve written about two of my favorite Exile songs—“Rip This Joint” (read it here) and “Happy” (read it here)—instead of attempting to tackle the entire album.


But now I’m ready to write about it, not as an analysis of the music and its place in history but as a study in the nature of creativity and inspiration.  I am in a particularly fecund frame of mind with my writing these days, so much so that I am unable to determine what to write first.  I am nursing a broken heart at the moment, and that is always the greatest muse.  I have so much to say about it, so many ways I want to describe it and make my hurt known to all (especially to the one who hurt me), and though I have written some pointed and moving pieces about it recently (my Adele blog can be challenging to read, but here it is anyway; and this poem really pinpoints some of the frustration) there are many other words I have yet to write.  I’ve tried to step back a bit from the emotion to gain some perspective and save my sanity, but still I am compelled to explore it further in writing. 

 Keith and Anita


And that’s where Exile comes in.  The Stones were all kinds of fucked up during the recording of this record, with Keith and girlfriend Anita Pallenberg full-on junkies by that point, Charlie drinking heavily, and Mick and everyone else around them partying non-stop at Keith’s French estate.  It’s surprising that anything this brilliant—or anything at all—came out of such circumstances.  But it’s rock and roll, and that’s the way they liked it.


Sometimes I feel like I’m more productive as a writer when there’s drama in my life.  For most of the past five years I have been drama-free.  I dumped my unreliable and chronically dishonest best friend five years ago, and stopped drinking a year before that, and the drama suddenly disappeared!  I rarely leave the house anymore, so it’s difficult for the drama to find me.  But I also wasn’t writing a whole lot except for grad school papers, and then two years ago I started this blog which I work on every week no matter what.  And while I was seeing this wonderful man who just dumped me the only things I wrote about my love for him were in texts, Facebook messages, and his Valentine’s card.  When things started to go sour, however, I began to feel inspired.  

A few of the songs on Exile were written or recorded during the Sticky Fingers (read my blog about my favorite Stones album here) sessions, and I am pretty sure “Loving Cup” is one of them.  It has that sad, soulful, almost country sound that fits in perfectly with all the Sticky Fingers tracks.  And the lyrics are really speaking to me now as I try to work through the end of the relationship I’m mourning.


Give me little drink from your loving cup 
Just one drink and I’ll fall down drunk

I feel so humble with you tonight
Just sitting in front of the fire
See your face dancing in the flame
Feel your mouth kissing me again
What a beautiful buzz what a beautiful buzz
What a beautiful buzz what a beautiful buzz
Oh what a beautiful buzz what a beautiful buzz


There really is a Rolling Stones song for everything I’ve gone through.  These words are like poetry, and they capture the essence of what I want to say to the man who broke my heart.  I did express similar sentiments to him repeatedly, but still he left me.  I want to write this song and dedicate it to him.  I want him to understand how hurt I am that my love isn’t enough for him.  Not that it would change anything, but I wish it could.


How were the Stones able to negotiate all the addictions and decadence in the French countryside enough to create this masterpiece?  They’re obviously geniuses, but really, I am obsessed with how they worked all that shit out and came up with this brilliant collection of songs.  Mick never felt the album was cohesive, and the initial reviews were mixed, but it’s often considered not only the Stones’ best work but the greatest rock album of all time. 


It’s not an album I grew up with, and as I listen to it in my forties I wonder how different my life would have been had this been part of my world view as a kid.  Sticky Fingers was my jam, and it’s totally wrapped up with and interminably connected to all my teenage drama with the fucked up boy I loved who never paid any attention to me.  What would Exile, an album twice as long as Sticky Fingers and featuring a greater array of themes and styles of music, a work of art that embodies all that was right with the art but all that was wrong with the lives of the artists, have meant to me when I was younger and more innocent?  All the junkie songs on Sticky Fingers appealed to me in high school not because I was on drugs (though sometimes I did enjoy taking a few too many allergy pills because they made me really hyper), but because I imagined how fabulous it would be to experience that sort of drama with the boy I loved (who was quite the partier).  Surely it would lead to great art, yes?


Sometimes you feel like trouble, sometimes you feel down.
Let this music relax your mind, let this music relax your mind.
Stand up and be counted, can’t get a witness.
Sometimes you need somebody, if you have somebody to love.
Sometimes you ain’t got nobody else and you want somebody to love.


So heartbreak really motivates me more than anything, and I think that’s probably true for most artists.  Writing about love is great, and it’s wonderful to be able to pay tribute to your lover in words, but I’ve experienced far more heartbreak than actual sincere love and appreciation from a man.  The Stones have written more fuck you songs than straight up love songs, and that’s what makes them so real.  The Beatles started out with happy love songs, but by the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver they had graduated to singing about real shit as well.  I’m all about real shit, as much as it hurts.  But real shit really does make the best art.  


4 thoughts on “Exile on Main St., The Rolling Stones

  1. This is a tremendous post on so many levels: great observations and commentary about the Stones and their music, deeply personal anecdotes about your own experiences and how the Stones’ music touched you, and your discussion about how for you, and many others, sometimes the best creative inspiration comes from the shit that happens in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: “Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Round to Be a Millionaire,” AC/DC | What I Like Is Sounds

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