When we look back on the epoch of “classic rock”, spanning from roughly 1964- 1975, we see that it was a colourful tapestry that was teeming with some of the most iconic characters the world has ever seen. The ample discourse that exists about those heady times, alongside the footage, pictures and music itself, combine to make you wish that you’d been there, even if your parents were still only in nappies.
Concentrating purely on the ’60s, it is not hard to see why it became known as the ‘Swinging Sixties‘. Excitement was in the air. The younger generation was casting off the shackles of the older generation across artistic disciplines. Significant advances were not just made in music but in fashion, art, sport and culture itself.
New haircuts, styles and attitudes were showing that the second half of the 21st century was not going to be destined for the monochrome mire of the world wars; instead, this time, hope and invention prevailed. Aided by the crucial development of technology, society was moving forward.
Post-war western society had never seen such a cultural explosion. You can trace the majority of the hallmarks of today’s culture back to that momentous time, showing the sheer gravity of the decade. By the middle of the ’60s, the counterculture, which was the spiritual successor to the beat generation, was in full swing. Attitudes towards civil and gender rights were starting to shift, and society was moving in the right direction. To say it was all roses would be totally off the mark. In actuality, the ’60s was still quite a grim time socio-economically and culturally, however, it set us on a more progressive course. Regardless, with so much upheaval, it must have been quite something to have been a young person back then.
Like with everything that is good, it came with its dark side, and as the dream of the counterculture died, and society moved into the dire socio-economic landscape of the ’70s, the flaws with rock ‘n’ roll became very clear.
Excess and the unwavering adherence to the concept of the self had taken over, and many of the classic rock “gods” of the ’60s had become contorted, Francis Bacon-esque versions of themselves, wracked by excess and the ensuing mental health issues that inevitably follow. The tragic stories of Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett and John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend“, are just two glaring examples of this.
Furthermore, some of the key figures of the optimistic flower-power movement had passed away owing to excess, and these tragedies helped bring the whole thing crashing back down to earth. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin – none of these titans made it past 1971.
The first of these tragedies was one Rolling Stones founding member, Brian Jones. Found drowned in the swimming pool in his country house in Sussex, retrospectively, Jones’ death in July 1969 can be taken as the first real warning that the ’60s was giving way to a decade that would be much darker. As such, Jones came to embody the dark side of the ’60s. The end of the Rolling Stones founder’s life serves as a reminder of the danger’s of excess, and how they weren’t known at the time. It’s a large part of the reason why the period had so many deaths owing to “misadventure”.
The Rolling Stones encapsulated ’60s hedonism, and as the decade wore on, they became increasingly notorious for their hard-partying and raucous lifestyles. Even today, it is a miracle that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards made it out alive. Struggling with mental health issues, and an increasing reliance on alcohol and narcotics, on 9 June 1969, Jones announced his departure from the band – “I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting”.
Bassist Bill Wyman’s asserted that: “There were at least two sides to Brian’s personality. One Brian was introverted, shy, sensitive, deep-thinking. The other was a preening peacock, gregarious, artistic, desperately needing assurance from his peers.”
This clearly shows that there was a deep-seated cognitive issue that Jones needed medical help with, as was the case with Syd Barrett. But given the time, as mental health issues and drug abuse issues weren’t spoken about or even widely known about, Jones’ problem exacerbated, creating a knot that he’d never recover from.
The worst part of it all is that his bandmates and even Jones himself seemed to have foreseen his premature death in the years preceding it. Once Keith Richards recalled: “There are some people who you know aren’t going to get old… Brian and I agreed that he, Brian, wouldn’t live very long… I remember saying, ‘You’ll never make thirty, man,’ and he said, ‘I know.”
How wickedly true Richards’ assertion was. Luckily, however, after Jones and his contemporaries’ passing, the cause of the problems became more apparent. Of course, his death did not stop the excess of the following decade, in fact, it was in the ’70s where rock’s casualties really started to be noticed. Now though, it serves as a glaring reminder that mental health needs and substance abuse issues always need to be openly discussed. His death was a tragic signifier of this.
Jones is immortalised through The Rolling Stones records he contributed to, which was undoubtedly their best period, and his story will continue to be told for as long as mental health and substance abuse issues plague society.
Watch a 1965 interview with Brian Jones below.