Book Review — Experiencing the Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion

Experiencing the Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion by David Malvinni is a musical biography of the Rolling Stones. Malvinni a professional classical guitarist with a Ph.D. in musicology, whose passion is string instruments. In addition to Classical music, he has studied Gypsy violin music for the past ten years, which resulted in his book The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music and Film. He is also the author of Grateful Dead and the Art of Rock Improvisation.

It was summer 1978, I was 14, and grew up on AM Rock and Roll. I remember Bob Dylan and Lou Reed… David Bowie reading Peter and the Wolf and as well as being Major Tom. Suddenly everything changed. All the older kids listened to the “Stones” and I knew a few of their songs but now I had a new portable 8-track player my copy of “Some Girls.” Me, Bill, his sister Trina, Becky, and Dave listened to it. Dave was an FM guy and knew far more than we did. I do remember his irritation that the 8-track version “Shattered” cut out “Bite the Big Apple. Don’t mind the maggots.” It was that summer that the Rolling Stones became a permanent part of permanent music collection.  Later that year I watched mesmerized as the Rolling Stones played on Saturday Night Live. I always had “Some Girls” in some format from that time on — vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3.

The Rolling Stones have been making music for over fifty years now and, as a band, they have been pretty stable through the years. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been there since the beginning and Charlie Watts almost from the start. Ronnie Wood since the mid-1970s. Rather than write another band biography, Malvinni writes a biography of their music. The Rolling Stones perform as a rock and roll band but record as a blues band. They have twenty-four studio albums and yet, for their Rock and Roll fans, can condense that to “40 Licks.”

Malvinni discusses how the band started by reintroducing Americans to their own blues music. From their start as a cover band and throughout their history they have re-released and re-interpreted many American blues and African-American traditional song. There is a discussion of the individual songs with details of chords, riffs, and technical information that can only be delivered by someone with a doctorate in music and to be fair he does have one of the most interesting guitarists to work with. The Stones have been chameleons in the music scene and to survive fifty years one needs to be. They changed with society, and at times fueled change in society, yet remained a guitar-centric band.

Experiencing the Rolling Stones is an excellent companion for the complete Stones’ fan. The examination of the music and its form gives a unique look at the band putting the concentration on the music rather than the personalities, drugs, and controversy. There is much more to the Rolling Stones music than the opening riff of “Satisfaction.” Malvinni rounds out even the most devoted Stones fan education.

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