'60s beautiful people and their ugly lives

Tommy Weber and Charlotte Rampling in France in 1968. Tommy Weber and Charlotte Rampling in France in 1968. (The Weber Collection)
By Carlo Wolff
Globe Correspondent / June 4, 2009
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The story of Tommy Weber and Susan "Puss" Coriat, a couple at the heart of swinging 1960s London, builds on "Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell With the Rolling Stones," Robert Greenfield's self-indulgent chronicle of the making of "Exile," the great Stones 1972 double album. Weber, whose key attributes were appetite and daring, was part of the Stones' inner circle then and effectively mimicked Keith Richards's prodigious attempts at self-destruction and self-absorption.

Whether such material - there is far more, including background on the Weber and Coriat families, commentary on race car driving, and documentation of the couple's high profile in the society pages - warrants a book is questionable. I don't think it does. Above all, this affirms Greenfield's expertise in a very narrow field: the intoxication of pop culture celebrities during the 1960s and '70s.

This book certainly attests to Greenfield's access to information; "A Day in the Life" is well researched, and the interviews with Jake and Charley Weber, the couple's tempest-tossed sons, are engrossing. But besides proving Tommy and Puss were beautiful and damned, he provides little insight; this aims for F. Scott Fitzgerald but comes up National Enquirer. It will be of interest mainly to Stones aficionados, students of recklessness in high society, and those curious about the details of illegal drug trafficking in the period.

Not many come off well here; among the celebrities I came to dislike were Charlotte Rampling, the sexy, aromatic actress Tommy left Puss for; Anita Pallenberg, Richards's muse and sometime Tommy lover; and the heiress Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who with Pallenberg concocted a plan to mount a Stones concert to raise money for the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern (it never happened).

Greenfield is a vivid writer with an unmatched grip on the tawdry. Many anecdotes are entertaining, though he has trouble maintaining the energy level after the incurably lonely Puss, who like Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett became schizophrenic after ingesting too much LSD, died in 1971. The last part of the book focuses on Tommy's growing drug dependence, his obsession with race car driving (he could have been a contender if not for many accidents), and his sons' penchant for survival (Jake plays a character on the TV show "Medium"). There are conclusions, such as Tommy's death, but scant interpretation.

Greenfield launches the book by putting it in the context of "A Day in the Life," one of the Beatles' most haunting songs. He ends with a reminiscence of hanging around Nellcote, the French redoubt where the Stones recorded "Exile" while Jake and Charley played. It may be time for Greenfield to deliver his autobiography rather than trade on celebrities whose dissolution, if not creativity, no longer resonates.

Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland.

A DAY IN THE LIFE: One Family, the Beautiful People, and the End of the Sixties

By Robert Greenfield

Da Capo, 338 pp., illustrated, $24.95

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