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Collaboration in Exile

December 31, 2013
Nice little run from '68 to '72

Nice little run from ’68 to ’72

“I’m working on a post in my head that describes the production of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street as a triumph of project management. Until it becomes more than a fuzzy-might-never-actually-become-a-post concept, I’ll just write about how much I despise business clichés.”

Don’t Drink the Cliché Kool-Aid – September 24, 2012

Since then I’ve listened to the 18 tracks and 67 minutes of “Exile” many more times. It mows my lawn and blows my driveway. It’s all over the road. A couple weeks ago, just before Keith Richards turned 70, my college friend and Stones curator, Phil shared a link to a Wall Street Journal interview with the walking dead about the creation of “Street Fighting Man.” It’s a fascinating read about the process of creating the song. Phil wrote:

“Really interesting insight into the song writing process. The planned, the unplanned, the serendipitous.”

It does sound like an enterprise software project…

For parts of my past two vacation days, I’ve researched the tales of the Stones recording “Exile” in the dank, dirt floored basement of Villa Nellcôte, Keith Richards’ rented mansion in the French Riviera during the Spring and Summer of 1971, and it killed my idea of a project management triumph. There simply wasn’t much planned at Villa Nellcôte, but the necessity of collaboration created the serendipitous:

“There is nothing Mick can do to make Keith write new music to which he can write lyrics. He is squarely under the thumb of his oldest friend. Similarly, without the help of Mick, Keith cannot complete the album on which the Stones are working. Without the album, the Stones cannot tour America. Without the money they will earn there, they cannot survive as a band.”

– Excerpt from Robert Greenfield’s book “Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones”

Having fled the UK for tax reasons, the band was desperate to complete the recording project, but from a workforce management and productivity perspective, everything was a mess:

  • Scheduling was nonexistent. Keith had his own arbitrary schedule usually involving darkness of various origins. Mick was shuttling back and forth to Paris to be with pregnant wife, Bianca. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman commuted back and forth from England and France. Mick Taylor was here and there.
  • There were HR issues everywhere. You know, “sex, drugs, and…” The local police were taking notice, and the boys illegally tapped electricity from a nearby pole to save Keith some Francs.
  • The basement was large, but divided into small rooms, each a Stone home that shrouded body language. As Keith noted, “We usually like to eyeball one another when we’re recording.”
  • The environment in the basement was hot, humid, and dusty, not great for microphones or guitar strings.
  • Speaking of technology, unlike in a studio, the band couldn’t record a piece and then listen back immediately. They had no analytics, so instinct would have to do. The recording was being done outside the home in a mobile studio. A cloud, if you will.

It was like each player was putting together their own sound pieces of a Dali jigsaw puzzle on their plot of dirt floor in the dark, each responsible for creating the bits and bytes from their own imaginations. Somehow they would overcome the project obstacles, and it would all come together in the end.

And it did.

This post is a bit of a mess, but hey, it’s New Year’s Eve, and this is harder than it looks…

“The problem is that the actual writing and recording of an album, as is the case with any creative work, tends to involve long hours of solitary struggle broken up by moments of inspiration that are really difficult to render on the page.” 
– Alan Light in the New York Times

Happy New Year.

Sources: If you’re a fan of the band, these are fascinating:

  1. Making “Exile on Main Street”
  2. The Stones and the true story of Exile on Main St
  3. Keith Richards Discusses the Making of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile on Main St.’
  4. Exile on Main Street
  5. Torn and Frayed

 

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