Every writer comes up against this problem: how much do you need to explain in advance? Tell too much, and those who already know are bored before you've even started. Don't tell enough, and those that are new to the subject will be lost before you've even started.
How much to I need to say in advance about Cocksucker Blues? I have a tendency to think everyone knows everything I know, except sometimes when what I know doesn't match up with what I assume is the knowledge of the people to whom I'm talking. So I'll offer context in the next paragraph ... if you don't need context, skip two paragraphs down.
Maybe I'll do this chronologically. 1969: Rolling Stones tour America, ending at Altamont, ultimate bum trip of hippiedom. 1970: Mick Jagger writes a song, "Cocksucker Blues," and submits a demo to the Stones' label to complete their contract. Label refuses to release song. Also that year, Gimme Shelter, a cinéma vérité film about (among other things) Altamont, is released. 1972: The Stones release the last great album of their astonishing early period, Exile on Main Street. Christgau accurately calls it a "fagged-out masterpiece ... Weary and complicated, barely afloat in its own drudgery." Subsequent tour of America is filmed by Robert Frank, who ends up with another cinéma vérité film, this one documenting all sorts of "horrors" ... drugs and groupies and the like. The Stones sue to keep the film from being released, and in an odd settlement, it is ruled that the movie can only be shown once a year with Frank present for the showing. For this reason, the film has only rarely been shown, although bootleg copies are available.
Everyone back now? The Frank film (pun partly intended) isn't quite everything you expect. Sure, Truman Capote and Andy Warhol and Lee Radziwill show up, but only for one scene that lasts less than a minute. Yes, it shows the dreary nature of a rock and roll tour when the band isn't on stage, and yes, it makes its point about that dreariness, but, perhaps inevitably, the movie itself is nothing more than dreary during these segments, which feel endless and take up the lion's share of the film. Yes, the film comes to life during the all-too-rare concert sequences, which take up only about fifteen minutes of the movie (one highlight has Stevie Wonder and his band joining the Stones for an "Uptight/Satisfaction" medley). And yes, people shoot up on camera, and if they don't exactly have sex, they spend a lot of time on camera preparing to have sex, which may be the same thing for these people. And yes, Keith Richards and Bobby Keys throw a television off the balcony of their motel room, and yes, it seems staged, and yes, so do the drug scenes and the sex scenes.
What does it all mean, you ask. I think Cocksucker Blues accomplishes what it sets out to show: that the rock and roll life is sad and boring, that even the decadence is boring, that the only time the artists are alive is when they are on stage. It's like a zombie movie. But to make his point about boredom, Frank gives us a boring movie. It's not just a zombie movie, it's a dull zombie movie. And yes, that's Frank's point, but it means Cocksucker Blues works better when you read about it than when you actually watch it.
If you want to experience a work of art about the blasted world we live in, from the point of view of rich rock stars around the age of 30 who probably realize they are about to fall from their artistic peak even as they become ever more popular, listen to Exile on Main Street. If you want a taste of the staged tawdriness Frank is after, hunt down that recording of "Cocksucker Blues," which plays in the background of an early scene in the film but which needs to be heard on its own. And if you really want a hint of the future of the young-but-aging rockstar, go watch Performance.