During my last year of art school, I became friends with a guy named Max who made these large-scale, intensely crafted voodoo dolls. They were scary and cryptic and everybody thought he was a genius. Max rarely showed up to class, but when he did he was completely out of it, either deeply hung over or totally high.
Asked to explain his dolls, Max would go off on some Greek mythology tangent and tell stories about finding bones in India that would later make it into his pieces. He was a strange cat, but we were drawn to his mystic vibe.
Max also fronted a glam-rock band that sounded like the New York Dolls. He introduced me to the Dolls, but I couldn’t get into them then (only later when I moved to New York did I understand why he recommended them). I thought they were a sloppy knock-off of the Stones, which they were in a way, but partially what made them so great.
Of course he was a huge Stones fan so we would hang out, drink Ortliebs and talk about how Beggars Banquet was dirtier than Let It Bleed, but Sticky Fingers had the dirtier grooves.
At some point I ended up at a party Max was hosting with his band and their friends. This was a group I didn’t hang out with. They seemed to be a dangerous, harder living crowd. Real drugs with no real safety net. I felt like I was watching a band at a backstage party about to explode.
At one point late into the night, Max put on a cassette of Exile on Main St. At this point I hadn’t been listening to the album all that much. The Stones were still one of my favorites but not a go-to listen every day. Max, who was most certainly drunk, was leaning over the stereo singing along. At some point he ended up on the floor singing “Sweet Virginia” (which could describe how Jagger sounds on the album). Max’s version sounded like Keith had replaced Mick, jumbled up the lyrics and re-phrased the song. It was beautiful in a fucked up sort of way.
It was at this moment when the full picture of Exile came into view. The songs sounded lost and desperate. The album was a vision from another time, a soundtrack to an approach to life.
Max and his friends seemed to embody the very essence of Exile on Main St. They had a fatal beauty about them, somewhat doomed but desperate to survive.
Since that time Exile has traveled well and expanded in mythic importance, but the essence has not changed. It is still the deepest, darkest rally cry for the beautifully wasted, and one of the Stones undisputed masterpieces. The album has lost none of its magic.
It’s gorgeously fucked.
Photograph by Dominique Tarle