I really don't give a damn about Robert Frank's "The Americans," now playing at the Metropolitan Museum Bijou and, as is the case these days, turgidly being recelebrated and regurgitated in every publication from a dissection of its influence on the way we look at America by Luc Sante in the Wall Street Journal to further noodlings by Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning to Vogue and, for all I know, Mad magazine. There’s nothing like dose after dose of cultural castor oil to turn Americans into Americans and back again.
Nope, Frank's true masterpiece is his still unreleased chronicle of the Rolling Stones' 1972 American tour, Cocksucker Blues, named after another unreleased gem, Mick Jagger's tour-de-force torch number Cocksucker Blues, in which he soulfully serenades a London bobby who "fucked me with his truncheon." Gee, if you say "cocksucker" enough, you can forget all about the stupid Americans and really get your picture taken in the shadows.
I can proudly say that I attended the Madison Square Garden gig, celebrating Mick Jagger's birthday, featured in Frank's film. It was a memorable day on which the brother of a friend of mine left his ticket on his bedroom bureau and jumped to his death onto Park Avenue. My friend gave his ticket to a friend and we all wore white from head-to-toe in tribute to the poor bastard as we rocked to the Stones. I went to a couple of the Stones’ 1972 shows on the Cocksucker Tour (there's that word again). After sitting through the numbingly dull Stevie Wonder, shot by Frank yodeling over Jagger's birthday cake, the Stones launched into Rocks Off and the rest of Exile on Main Street, riding the whale waved riffs of the brilliant Mick Taylor on his last jaunt with the Stones, who would never be as good a band again.
Some years later Cocksucker Blues opened for a scandalously brief run at the Whitney Museum, in an era when a Robert Frank show was still revolutionary and not an excuse for elitist onanism. I saw it then and still have it on bootleg. It is a far truer picture of the USA than anything Frank ever did, equal parts recklessness, druggy joy and stupidity. The tiresome Stones publicity machine has beaten the dead horse of the famous airplane pussy-eating scene as being "staged," conveniently forgetting that, as Truman Capote, who makes a brief appearance in the film with Slim Keith and Ahmet Ertegun, pointed out, "everything the Stones do is note for note exactly the same night after night."
How could it have been different with all the opiates seeping through the 1972 noggins of those in the auditoriums, the film and the film's audience? The casual causality of hard drugs is what makes Frank's film so scandalous and still unreleasable. The late Marshall Chess, Frank's producer and the heir to Chess Records, waves syringes like shotguns and generally proves that your brain on drugs is that of a moron. A beautiful hippie girl, with elegant golden bush and assorted amulets, mainlines some douge (heroin) in an Indiana hotel room as we experience her nudie rush simultaneously.
Keith Richards gets to play pool with some Black guys in the South, throw a television out a motel window and, with Jagger, dismiss their support act, the mighty Tina Turner, as "the chick." Frank is not afraid to highlight the double-edged goblet of worship and condescension that some the British Stones lord over their (and I use this word with all the bitter irony it carries) Negro influences.
Through it all a different kind of avatar dominates like a leopard in the jungle, the newly married Bianca, whose androgynous suit, gay entourage, love of room service and general indifference to the rock and drugs caravan advertise her as a disco-ball prophetess. Half a decade in advance, she has the look of 54 down perfectly. Frank brilliantly zooms in her as the greatest and sanest creative force in the film and all Bianca does is NOT smile.
I would rather get my cultural bones from this great Robert Frank movie than view all the redundant and thematically pointless and essentially lifeless Kandinskys and O'Keeffe's on view in New York at the moment. Cocksucker Blues is as shocking as Rite of Spring or Sister Ray or Death and Disasters or The Wild One. It is what America was and has been trying to wash away with the politically correct, handwringing nannyisms of the same generation whose search for the dumbest, most searing highs turned Robert Frank's movie camera on. The gulf between the suck and the suckers has never been so wide.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).