In 1971, The Rolling Stones recorded their masterful double album Exile on Main Street, under some fabulous circumstances in the south of France. That same year, they embarked on their first American tour since the 1969 disaster at Altamont tarnished their brand. Photographer Robert Frank was there to film it all, and I mean all, with cameras backstage and everywhere else, wielded by band members, groupies, and roadies. The resulting film, Cocksucker Blues (short clip above)—named after an equally elusive and decadent unreleased single—was embargoed by the band, banned by censors, and only shown in 1979 and then only once every five years thereafter, with Frank present, under a strange agreement negotiated with much legal wrangling by Frank, the band, and the courts.
The film’s depiction of drug use and debauchery is to be expected, but it’s an artifact that deserves to be seen on other grounds as well, and it has been by many in bootleg versions circulating for decades. Don DeLillo made a pointed reference to the film in the fourth section of his Great American Novel (TM), Underworld, and as one of the few critics to review the film has said, it’s a movie as much about late 20th century America as about the Rolling Stones, “a far truer picture of the USA than anything else Frank ever did.” Now, British rare bookseller Peter Harrington has obtained one of the few quality prints of the film and offers it for sale for 25,000 pounds. On the Peter Harrington website, writer Glenn Mitchell cites Terry Southern’s remembrance of Keith Richard’s response to the film. When Robert Frank explained to Richards his idea by saying, “it’s vérité,” Richards apparently responded, “never mind vérité, I want poetry.” “Maybe,” writes Mitchell, “they both got what they wanted.”