Monday, June 17, 2019

The Quiet One: Bill Wyman, Formerly of the Rolling Stones

Bill Wyman is a rock star—and he has the top 40 hit to prove it. I was called “(Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star.” It charted in the UK, Australia, and NZ, but it never really caught on here. However, you might have heard of the band Wyman was in. They are called the Rolling Stones. They had a raft of hits and they are even credited with ending “The Sixties,” with their disastrous Altamont concert. Wyman retired from the Stones just as the band started slipping into self-parody, but he remains the foremost archivist of the band’s history. Wyman and his assembled scrapbooks, ephemerals, and memorabilia provide a treasure trove for filmmaker Oliver Murray to mine in The Quiet One, which releases this Friday in New York.

Arguably, Charlie Watts could just as easily be called “the Quiet One,” but he was always a jazz drummer at heart, so he made plenty of noise behind his kit. Wyman was not a blues fanboy like the rest of the band, but he was knocked out by the sound of the electric bass in early rock & roll. He heard the Stones were looking for a bassist and one thing led to another. Eventually, he was part of one of the biggest, most enduringly popular bands in rock & roll history, yet he still carried the insecurities and resentments instilled in him by his casually contemptuous parents.

Wyman’s parents will sound borderline abusive to most viewers, because they probably were, but they perfectly reflected the value system of the British Labour Party and its adherents, which insists on loyalty to the “working class” and scorn aspirations of upward mobility. Fortunately, Wyman spent considerable time with his more supportive grandmother, whom he even lived with for several years. In a tellingly moment, Wyman readily admits on camera his decision to change his surname from Perks to Wyman was indeed a partial rebuke of his parents.

For the most part, Murray chronicles the history of the Stones (especially the Brian Jones era) from Wyman’s perspective, because it is the most significant association of his professional/artistic career and it is what audiences will be most interested in. He also devotes some time to Wyman’s assorted marriages, his solo career, and his more relaxed work leading Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, whose ranks include Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, and British jazz musician Martin Taylor and Georgie Fame. However, Giallo fans will be disappointed Murray does not delve into the soundtrack work Wyman did for Dario Argento’s Opera and Phenomena.

Murray is clearly sympathetic to Wyman, but the musician-subject readily admits to numerous mistakes in his personal life and revisits difficult memories from his childhood, so the resulting film really cannot be dismissed as a puff piece. It is good to see Wyman get his turn in the spotlight, but Watts is even more overdue (for now, he’ll just have to make do with the pots of money he earns from the Stones’ tours and catalog sales). Recommended as an entertaining and reasonably in-depth portrait of a rock & roll survivor, The Quiet One opens this Friday (6/21) in New York, at the IFC Center.