Midnight Ramblers

It's not surprising that Keith Richards is the most interesting talker in "According to the Rolling Stones," the band's own oral history and coffee-table photo book. In interviews, he's always been the most thoughtful, the funniest and certainly the frankest member of the group. (Best Keith line here: "I've always thought of songs as gifts that just arrive... I mean, after all, I'm the guy that wrote 'Satisfaction' in my sleep.") What does raise an eyebrow is that the second most interesting person in this book is not Mick Jagger but Prince Rupert Loewenstein, their business manager.

Prince Rupert is one of the people (Don Was, Sheryl Crow, Ahmet Ertegun) whose testimony is tossed into the book periodically to break up the round-robin story the band itself tells. He's the one who explains, although not this bluntly, that as their record sales have stagnated, touring on a global scale has become more of a financial imperative, as have merchandising, corporate sponsorship and licensing. (Remember Rolling Stone Visa and MasterCards?) He probably didn't mean to, but the prince has put his finger on the Stones' biggest problem. Their creative energy these days all goes toward things like stage designs that can be seen from the back of a football stadium. So, while they haven't managed to put out a first-rate single in a quarter century, they've gotten very good at selling the Rolling Stones.

"According to the Rolling Stones," their latest piece of merchandise, comes from Chronicle Books, publisher of the bestselling "Beatles Anthology," which was clearly the inspiration for this book. The problem the Stones have is that, unlike the Beatles, they've never gone away. So they have no nostalgia to capitalize on and precious few new stories. There may be fans who have not wasted quite as much of their lives as this reviewer has reading about the death of Brian Jones, Altamont or Keith's '80s feud with Mick, but it's doubtful. And the surprises (Jagger, ever the contrarian, doesn't much care for "Exile on Main Street") are just too few. Reading this book is like hearing some late-period Stones turkey like "Emotional Rescue" on the radio for the umpteenth time: you expect more from the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band.