Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Breaking Butterflies: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the Paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover

There is no doubt that later this summer, all forms of media print, TV, radio etc., will be awash with the memory, however hazy, of the 50th anniversary of the similarly media-driven Summer of Love.  Never mind that if you ask the residents of the epicenter of this event, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, a great many of them will tell you that the real Summer of Love was 1965 and 1966, before Flower Children culture was appropriated and commercialized for consumption by mainstream America to become those dreaded dirty hippies.  The media got their kill for the establishment, and they won't pass up the opportunity to bask in the fifty year old glow of that victory when the chill of winter subsides.

But there is a different 50th anniversary I want to talk about.  Like the Summer of Love, this is filled with just as much drugs, sex and phenomenal rock music, but with enough paranoia, treachery and overkill in this drama to describe the event as a Winter of Discontent.  That would be the arrest and trial of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones for drug possession that began in February of 1967.  Part of what initiated this incident was the response of Mick Jagger to a News of the World story from February 5 that reported him consuming Benzedrine and sharing hash at Blaises, a London club.  Jagger was not even at the club when News of the World visited it (according to page 223 of Mick Jagger by Philip Norman, the Rolling Stone they most likely interviewed was Brian Jones), so he denounced the story as lies on a TV show broadcast that evening, then had a writ for libel served to the offending paper.  Mick and Keith decided to spend the following weekend with some friends at Keith's recently purchased cottage in the Sussex countryside to escape the London spotlight.  That might sound like a smart move, except for the fact that one of the "friends" they brought with them was a drug dealer with an attaché case full of LSD.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards  Photo courtesy of Flickr

The weekend began the evening of Friday, February 10, at Abbey Road studios where Mick Jagger, his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull and Keith Richards attended the Beatles recording the orchestral parts of the track "A Day in the Life," a Lennon/McCartney song that would be released later that year as the final track on their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The taping lasted until early Saturday morning, after which Keith and his guests for the weekend drove in convoy fifty miles away to his West Sussex cottage called Redlands.  After arriving, some enjoyed tripping on "Sunshine," a California-made variety of acid known to provide a more relaxing and tranquil trip than usual.  On Sunday morning, they enjoyed genuine sunshine with a brisk country walk through the woods.  When they returned they found two surprise guests, George Harrison and his wife, Pattie.  They left soon after though, as George found the atmosphere too low-key for him.

How ironic that at that time, around 5pm, a call was made to the West Sussex Regional Police Headquarters that a "riotous party" was going on at Redlands, including drug use.  The eighteen raiding police officers were surprised to find a rather mellow gathering settling down to watch a film on television.  They then searched each individual guest methodically for drugs.  Mick Jagger had four white amphetamine tablets in his jacket pocket confiscated.  Another guest, Robert Fraser, had confiscated what he told the police were insulin tablets, but were later tested to be heroin.  They also confiscated marijuana from a guest named David Snyderman, known as Acid King David.  Before leaving, they formally cautioned Keith Richards that if any of the items they confiscated proved to be illegal, he would face prosecution for letting them be used in his home.

The Rolling Stones  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There are a couple of myths associated with this infamous drug bust, likely perpetrated by the equally infamous News of the World.  One is that the police busted an orgy in progress.  This is false, spread mostly by innuendo surrounding the fact that Marianne Faithfull, after showering from the long country walk that afternoon, had wrapped herself in a fur rug from a bed that she was wearing when the police arrived.  When approached by a policewoman to be searched, she let the rug fall and shouted theatrically, "Search me!"  This made Mick Jagger beside himself with laughter.  The other related rumor is that Mick was discovered licking a Mars bar inserted into Marianne's holiest of holies.  A salacious rumor at the time, but one without a shred of evidence, aside from Keith admitting he probably had Mars bars in his home for guests with the munchies.

When the confiscated items were confirmed as illegal, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards received court summonses alleging offenses against the Dangerous Drugs Act on March 20, 1967.  Along with their art dealer friend Robert Fraser, they plead not guilty at a preliminary hearing on May 10.  The trial lasted three days.  The first day, June 27, the sole witness for the defense, Dr. Raymond Dixon Firth, stated he gave Mick verbal permission to take the amphetamine tablets and in his view, it was a legitimate prescription.  The judge, Leslie Block, who told fellow Sussex landowners in a speech a few months later that, "We did our best, your countrymen, my fellow magistrates and I, to cut these Stones down to size," instructed the jury not to regard his words as a prescription.  While they found him guilty in six minutes, Block deferred the sentence until after the trials of Robert Fraser and Keith Richards.  Then Fraser changed his plea to guilty in the hope of reducing his sentence.  Keith's trial took place over the next two days.  Judge Block then amplified the circus environment of the trial by allowing lurid details of the behavior of Marianne Faithfull (not so convincingly camouflaged as "Miss X") to be presented, then in summing-up instructed the jury to disregard it and pretend they never heard it.  They retired for an hour, then pronounced Keith guilty.  The judge sentenced Fraser to six months, Mick to three months and Keith to one year in prison.

Marianne Faithfull  Photo courtesy of Rate Your Music

The reaction to this obvious attempt to make an example of the Stones as a scapegoat for generation gap disdain was outrage.  The severity of the sentences for crimes which an ordinary first time offender might be expected to pay only a modest fine upset many fellow Brits sense of fair play.  This sense not only occurred among the Rolling Stones contemporaries such as the Who, who released cover versions of two Jagger-Richard songs, "The Last Time" and "Under My Thumb," as a protest during the trial with all proceeds going to charity, but also among older establishment voices.  On June 30, an appeals process began where with a 7,000 pound per person bail, Mick and Keith were released provided they surrendered their passports and agree not to leave the country before their full appeal was heard.

The next day, July 1, William Rees-Mogg, the editor of The Times, wrote a scathing indictment of the trial titled, "Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?"  The meaning of the phrase, originally coined by satirist Alexander Pope in 1735, is that subjecting a defenseless target to a brutal attack is as pointless as strapping a butterfly to a medieval torture rack.  The butterfly in this case was Jagger and Rees-Mogg made such an articulate case for why his treatment was an injustice that it helped accelerate the appeals process with Lord Chief Justice Parker intervening to hear Mick and Keith's appeal on July 31.  The result was that while Mick's conviction was upheld because the amphetamine found in his pocket, Stenamina, was illegal in England, his sentence was erased.  Keith did even better, having both his sentence and his conviction overturned.  The appeals court even censured Judge Block for allowing the titillating testimony about Marianne Faithfull to be presented in court when she wasn't even on trial.

Keith Richards with Acid King David   Photo courtesy of conspiromedia.wordpress.com

Yet even with this near-full vindication, there was still the nagging question of who tipped off the police in the first place and why.  There were only two guests at Redlands who were under suspicion, Nicky Cramer and Acid King David.  After "Jagger's pet gangster" David Litvinoff and fellow London thug John Bindon declared Cramer innocent (after beating him to a pulp) that left the possible pool of informants at one with Acid King David, who fled England the day after the bust.  At the time, the party thought to have the greatest motive to see the Stones busted was the News of the World after Jagger had sued them for libel, which Keith had suggested in court that they used Acid King David as an agent provocateur.  But according to the real Acid King David, who dropped the last name Snyderman upon returning to the USA and was known as David Jove until he died in 2004, his real employer was much higher up the food chain.  As told in pages 264-265 of Mick Jagger by Philip Norman:

In fact, at Redlands just before the raid, he had come close to giving himself away when - his guard possibly lowered by drugs - he'd started talking enigmatically to Michael Cooper about spying and espionage, "the James Bond thing ... the whole CIA bit."  Three decades later in L.A., he confessed to Maggie Abbott that he'd been recruited by MI5 on behalf of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation, specifically an offshoot known as COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) set up by the FBI's director, J. Edgar Hoover, in the 1920s, to protect national security and maintain the existing social and political order.  For almost forty years, COINTELPRO operated against so-called subversive elements, from Communists and socialists and Soviet spies to the civil rights movement, black radicals, the campaign against the Vietnam War, and feminists, unhindered by any normal restraints of democracy or morality.  Its methods, for which it would finally be wound up by a horrified Senate investigation in 1971, included illegal surveillance, black propaganda, burglary, forgery, conspiracy, and harassment.

By 1967, COINTELPRO had switched its focus to the subversive effects of rock music on America's young, particularly the kind coming from Britain, most particularly the kind played by the Rolling Stones.  Getting two Stones busted for drug possession would ensure they were denied visas for any further U.S. tours in the foreseeable future.  Britain's security services had been more than happy to assist in the thwarting of these public menaces.  And once they were nailed - so Snyderman had been led to understand - the next ones on the hit list would be the Beatles.

On page 435, Norman quotes a former FBI operative saying, "J. Edgar Hoover hated Jagger probably more than any other pop-cultural figure of his generation."  There certainly are numerous incidents throughout history where Hoover's legendary paranoia drove him to great lengths to nail the perceived offender of his own warped sense of justice.  But what happened fifty years ago certainly qualifies as one of the most colorful and bizarre examples.

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