While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are asking as much as $500 to experience the Rolling Stones this summer in massive football stadiums, their former bandmate Bill Wyman is showing his home movies of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band at a theater near you for about $10.
“The Quiet One” is an aptly titled documentary about Wyman, the Stones bassist from 1962 to ’93. All those years, the interview-shy musician was the band’s archivist, a role for which he was naturally suited. As a kid, he was an avid collector and aspiring shutterbug. As an 82-year-old, he has quite a treasure of mementos and memories.
Like the subject himself, the film is a modest one. Far from breaking new ground or offering anything revelatory, “The Quiet One” does have special moments, such as grainy footage of a young Jagger and Richards bowling, photos of the band cutting the terrific “Exile on Main Street” in the basement of Richards’ French home and a clip of Wyman recording with blues giant Howlin’ Wolf.
And there are surprises, too. After settling in the south of France, Wyman befriended the great painter Marc Chagall and celebrated expat author James Baldwin (“Jimmy” to Wyman), from whom he borrowed Ray Charles records.
In his first feature film, director/screenwriter Oliver Murray tells Wyman’s story, with the soft-spoken subject himself serving as narrator.
Bill Perks Jr. (he disliked his given surname) didn’t get along with his parents but adored his grandmother. The lone Stone from a working-class background, he served in the Royal Air Force in the mid-1950s, hearing country music and early rock ’n’ roll on Armed Forces Radio. He bought a guitar and, after leaving the service, joined a band called the Cliftons, which didn’t have a bass player. So he rebuilt his guitar into a fretless electric bass.
The Cliftons’ drummer left to join a blues band, and when their bassist left, Wyman got the invite in December 1962. Welcome to rock immortality. A month later, drummer Charlie Watts replaced Wyman’s former bandmate, cementing the Stones’ classic rhythm section.
In 1963, the band played 340 shows — remember, Wyman was the archivist — traveling in pianist Ian Stewart’s van.
Wyman was stone-faced, rake thin, with a Prince Valiant hairdo — much like the silver-haired version he still sports today. Director Murray is fond of showing modern-day Wyman, back to the camera, sitting at his computer, cataloging his shelves and shelves of photos, tapes, posters, ticket stubs, clothes and other ephemera.
The Stones’ history — from the beginning through the Steel Wheels Tour — can be found in Wyman’s archives. Notorious partier Richards jokes: “If I want to know what I did in those years, I had to ask Bill Wyman.”
“The Quiet One” assures us that, during those 31 years, Wyman didn’t get caught up in drugs. While the film acknowledges that he cheated on his first wife, it doesn’t note that he began dating his second wife, Mandy Smith, when she was 13. Wedding her in 1989 (she was 18, he 52) was a mistake, he admits. Divorce soon followed.
Wyman left the Stones because he wanted “to start life over — a normal life.” In ’93, he married model Suzanne Accosta, with whom he has three children and the normal life of a multimillionaire with estates in France and the British countryside.
By the by, Wyman does mention falling off the stage and getting hurt at one Stones concert, but he neglects to say it happened in 1978 in St. Paul, where he spent a night in a hospital.
While offering some insights into himself, Wyman doesn’t deeply explore the other Stones or anything that happened to the band. For instance, regarding the Stones’ seven-year hiatus from touring in the ’80s, he simply says Jagger and Richards “got into an argument.”
The bass player’s philosophy was simple: “If you do the right thing, you don’t get noticed. That’s how I played.”
This low-key documentary calls just a smidgen of attention to his quiet self.