Legends of the Fall
Carmel author’s new book is a tale of the rise and demise of two British dreamers.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there was a band called the Rolling Stones. Not the geezers who’ve been making worldwide tours with Mick Jagger’s leering face staring down from a JumboTron at the boomers who’ve shown up in rented limos, but the original band of British ne’er-do-wells who turned a passion for blues-soaked American music and a disregard for the opinion of just about anyone else into… whatever it ultimately turned into.
Few people have had a better ringside view of the rise and fall of these elegantly ill-behaved gentlemen than Carmel-based writer Robert Greenfield, the author of Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones and S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones.
Greenfield’s new book, A Day in the Life: One Family, the Beautiful People & The End of the Sixties (Da Capo Press), is a departure from his past efforts, which also include biographies of Bill Graham, Jerry Garcia and Tim Leary and his current authorized project, the biography of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. He’ll discuss the book and sign copies Sunday, May 24, at Henry Miller Library.
It’s the tale of Tommy Weber and Susan (“Puss’’) Coriat, two of London’s beautiful people who became caught up in the excitement, and tragedy, of the times, and – separately – paid the price.
Fittingly, Greenfield first met Weber at Villa Nellcote, where he was interviewing Keith Richards during the drug-fueled madness surrounding Exile.
A charming sports car driver and perennial dreamer, Weber endeared himself to the Stones’ inner circle by smuggling a huge quantity of cocaine into France, strapped under the shirts of his six and eight year old sons, Charley and Jake, as a wedding gift to Mick Jagger, who was about to marry Bianca.
Although the gesture would probably now be seen as child abuse, the Stones admired his bravado, even though the blow was promptly confiscated by Keith Richards – Mick found another supplier.
Thirty-five years later, Greenfield reconnected with Jake, who has since become a successful actor, co-starring with Patricia Arquette in the television series Medium, and with Tommy, “who still had great charisma and style,” the author recalls.
“We spoke several times and it became apparent that there was a book there. This is not a gossip book on any level, and it’s not about celebrity misery – ‘Look, how Jake Weber grew up!’ It’s about two people at an incredible moment when a class structure that had been in place for hundreds of years in England began breaking up, in part because members of the upper class starting taking LSD, freaking out and breaking the grounds of conventional society.”
Freaking out is an apt term for Puss Coriat’s experience; as a result of her internal journey she ended up being hospitalized for LSD-induced schizophrenia, and ultimately taking her own life.
But not before, in a incident that Greenfield incredulously describes as “a coincidence out of a penny novel,” she ended up in the same mental institution as Richards’ then girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, who had come there to kick her habit. Instead, the two women ended up partying together and having a brief affair. (Tommy also got it on with Pallenberg; the woman got around.)
“The world was so much smaller then, and all these people knew each other,” Greenfield says. “They became pop aristocrats. It was so bizarre that Puss ended up in the same facility as Anita.
“The great tragedy was that she was trying to help Puss get to France and put the family back together again, but was unable to leave England because her family was running her life, and the trustees controlled the money.”
Like many people around the Stones, Tommy ultimately experienced his own exile from Main Street, in part because of his relationship with Anita, and later developed a heavy drug habit. He died, years later, hanging out with youthful rockers in the British town of Rugby, who liked him, Greenfield says, “because he was one of these guys who – as Charlotte Rampling, who Tommy also had an affair with – put it, created something around themselves that people wanted to be a part of. That’s something that’s lost in this world.”
“In this day and age, it’s really hard to find a story that no one knows,” he says. “Everything’s been Tweeted, Twittered or blogged – we have so much media! The good and bad news here is that the book is about two people who no one has ever heard of who I think deserve to be remembered.”
ROBERT GREENFIELD will sign copies of A Day in the Life at 3pm Sunday at the Henry Miller Library, on Highway 1, 26 miles south of Carmel, Big Sur. 667-2574. www.henrymiller.org.