With the Rolling Stones scouring their vaults and releasing every alternate mix and scrap of arcana as a high-priced collector’s item, it’s hard to believe there’s anything left unissued. But as Jack Hamilton writes at Slate, there’s one piece of Stones history that remains resolutely off-limits: Robert Frank’s 1972 documentary Cocksucker Blues, which Hamilton calls “the most famous rock-and-roll movie that barely anyone has ever seen, the lost chord of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.”
As someone once said, you can’t always get what you want. The film that Frank delivered was a ragged travelogue of debauchery and despair, a work that pulled back the curtain on the Stones’ sex-drugs-and-rock-‘n’-roll image to reveal a gaping wound. The Rolling Stones took one look at the movie and blocked its release, for fear that it would cause them to be barred from returning to the United States. In 1977, Frank went to court and won the right to exhibit Cocksucker Blues four times a year, on the condition that the filmmaker himself was present; in years since, bootlegs have circulated among fans.
CS Blues, as it’s referred to by timid types, is notorious for its scenes of offstage debauchery: a groupie shoots heroin on camera; Keith Richards and Mick Jagger pounds drums like a Satanic house band as women are forcibly undressed on a private plane, shrieking with what could as easily be alarm as delight. Eleven minutes of footage was released on a DVD accompanying the 2010 “super deluxe” reissue of the Stones’ Exile on Main St., carefully edited so that the Glimmer Twins now preside over what looks like a mild outbreak of tickle fighting. But the rest remains locked away, although the Slate article includes two brief clips. (An atrocious-looking YouTube version, which includes the song that gave the movie its title, starts here.)
Accounts of Cocksucker Blues’ notoriety naturally focus on the above-mentioned sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; according to one account, Jagger told Frank, “If it shows in America, we’ll never be allowed in the country again.” But the movie’s greater sin, at least from the perspective of the Stones’ own mythmaking, is how dull it makes the life of the worldss greatest rock stars seem. When Frank cuts from the thrilling footage of the band playing “Happy” in concert to Jagger and Richards listening to the acetate of its studio recording, it’s as if all the air has gone out of the room. What a drag it is getting old.