Thursday, December 01, 2005

NME: The Stone With The Golden Arm

This the original text of the Dick Tracy story that appeared in the NME on Noveember 18th, 1978.
Valuable additional research for the story was done by Jamie Mandelkau in Canada plus help from Kathy Kelly in London.

It seems it was just one of those strange coincidences that the bad boys of the old wave and the new wave were both in court within a week of one another. Down in New York, Sid Vicious was charged with murder at the Chelsea Hotel, while in Toronto Keith Richards was facing the trial of his life over a rather different kind of a hotel room incident.

Strongest of all connections was the junk network.

Vicious was undergoing methadone treatment for heroin addiction, a habit that Richards, perhaps more than any other rock star, had made chic. Richards' title of The World's Most Elegantly Wasted Human Being had served to make the hard drug socially acceptable in certain circles, the ultimate hip kick; Vicious subsequently earned the title of The World's Most Inelegantly Wasted Human Being . . .

Vicious only had a few friends, his mum, Malcolm McLaren and Virgin Records to call to his aid. Richards, an important lynch pin of the Stones corporate empire, had money, influence and power. The verdict should surprise no one, but the events surrounding the case have been undereported over here.

What follows is the fullest account to date in the British press of the case of the Stone with the golden arm.

The tangled tale began on February 24,1977, when Keith Richard, Anita Pallenberg and their son Marion arrived at Toronto Airport. Maybe they hadn't heard of the airport's reputation of being a 'suicide alley' for drug smugglers, with a crack narcs squad always on hand.

Anita had 28 pieces of luggage with her, and customs became suspicious. In the search a bag containing 10 grams of "high-quality hashish" was unearthed, plus a spoon with traces of heroin on it.

According to a source close to the Stones, Keith "was groggy at the airport and, when their luggage was being searched, actually thought it was record company people who had come to the airport to help him. He had no idea it was the RCMP."

Pallenberg, 34, was arrested and was later to be fined $400.

Meantime Keith and his family checked into Rooms 3223-24-25 at the Harbour Castle Hotel under the name of K. Redland. Another Stones employee reported that their suite was "almost a fortress, with security guards imported from Buffalo to keep watch." Inside, he said, "their room looked terrible, because they didn't want maids snooping around. Both Keith and Anita looked awful."

It was just three days after the airport incident, at 4.30 am on the Sunday morning, that the big bust came down.

Rumour has it there was a tip-off from another guest in the hotel. An unspecified number of Mounties and Ontario provincial police arrived at the hotel with a warrant in Pallenberg's name, spent 45 minutes locating Richards, burst in and searched the suite. In the bathroom they found a leather pouch containing heroin, a hypodermic needle and a teaspoon with traces of what later turned out to be cocaine. Richards and Pallenberg were arrested, their passports confiscated, and all hell broke loose.

MICK JAGGER arrived in town on March 3 and, by all accounts, took control of the situation.

The Stones were in town to complete their live American tour album and start work on a new LP. Out on bail, Richards attended the rehearsals held every night at Cinevision, a film studio in the suburb of Lakeshore.

A Stones employee later told reporters: "I was amazed Keith made it to rehearsal every night because his situation with the arrests had almost ostracised him from the band. They were supportive, but they felt uneasy about the pressure."

Worse was to come when the Stones appeared at the El Mocambo Club and in the audience was Canada's First Lady, Margaret Trudeau. She followed the band to New York, bringing scandal and sensationalist publicity in her wake.

Canada had been a bad place for the Stones — and the future of the band looked bleak indeed.

THE WHEELS of justice everywhere in the world grind slow, and it was almost 18 months before Richards
was to return to Toronto for his court appearance.

One can only speculate on the deals that went down over that period. Richards' only public interviews concentrated strongly on what was to be the main plank of his defence — his cure at a clinic in New York. The man in the dock was obviously to be presented as a reformed character.

With the huge financial investments at stake in the Stones' future, nothing was to be left to chance. Obviously, the Stones' power as a live and recording act wou'd be severely muted if Richards spent time inside.

Court Drawing: Laurie McGaw/Toronto Star

CUT TO Toronto a week before the trial is to begin. Down at the courthouse on University Avenue, special security precautions are being arranged. Rumours are circulating the city that Richards will not show, a story quickly squashed by Stones publicist Paul Wasserman, whose other clients include Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan.

"That's silly," he pointed out. "After all, if he didn't turn up for the trial, he could be extradited from almost anywhere, with the exception of somewhere like the Yemen. And they don't have 24-track recording studios, so he couldn't go there."

Sure enough Richards arrived, very much the family man, with his mother and two kids, Marion and Dandelion, in tow. There was no trace of the man who had a string of drug and other convictions stretching back ten years, the hedonist who had once owned a yacht called Mandrax. Richard was under heavy manners and facing the heaviest bust so far.

With money no object, the Stones had hired the best Canadian lawyer they could find: Austin Cooper, a 49-year-old criminal lawyer with 25 years experience, a man well respected in legal circles for being the prime mover behind introducing the legal aid system in Ontario. He was to tell reporters: "I'm just a lawyer and I'm really awfully dull. I don't even play the guitar."

The case was to be heard by Judge Lloyd Graburn, a 52-year-old with a college haircut and two sons. Unaware of who exactly Richards was, he had to ask around before realising the true celebrity credentials of the defendant.

As is common in most legal cases, plea bargaining was the order of the day.

With the judge's approval, the more serious charge of trafficking heroin was dropped, as was the cocaine possession charge, leaving Richards to face a simple heroin possession rap. This still meant, though, that he was looking at the chance of going down.

The defence tactics soon became clear. Cooper explained to the court that Richards had bought the heroin in bulk to reduce the chances of detection. His New York score amounted to 22 grams of 34% pure smack which, when diluted, was enough for 440 injections with Richards shooting them up at the rate of 10 a day.

Cooper's oratory was overwhelming. Richards was described to the court as a man with "a poor self-image .... a tragic person who became addicted to heroin to prop up his sad personal life." His name was ranked alongside such other tormented artists as Van Gogh, Judy Garland, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

The Cooper version of Richards' habit began in 1967. "H was after a very gruelling schedule with the group, and he was exhausted after all the playing and touring. He experimented with drugs.

"In 1969 he started with heroin, and it got to the state where he was taking such quantities of the drug and getting no euphoria from it. He was taking such powerful amounts — as much as 2 1/2 grams a day — just to feel normal."

The first cure came in 1972, "but he fell back into the cauldron." Another cure attempt at a Swiss clinic the following year worked for a while. Cooper claimed, "but again he fell off the wagon, so to speak."

In 1974 he failed again, but since May 1977 Richards had been undergoing treatment at the Stevens Psychiatric Centre in New York, and this time he was winning the struggle.

Health factors aside, Richards' habit took a heavy financial toll. In just two years, the court was told, Richards spent $650,000 on heroin.

Cooper pleaded eloquently: "He should not be dealt with as a special person, but I ask your honour to understand him as a tortured creative person — as a major contributor to an art form. I ask you to understand the whole man."

Perhaps the strangest note of Cooper's defence came when he claimed that Richards was in the process of setting up an international addiction centre at an undisclosed location. Richards later told a press conference that he did not instruct Cooper to say that, and claimed: "It may be true and it may not. I'll let you know when I've paid the lawyers."

The defence rested, and the prosecutor asked the judge for a jail sentence on the grounds of the amount of heroin snatched, Richards' previous record and his age. The judge decided to retire and deliver sentence the following day.

THE VERDICT was a shock to nearly everyone. The judge said jail was out because Richards was taking the cure. "His efforts to remove himself from the drug subculture can only have a salutary effect on those who admire him." Secondly, because Richards had money — it has been revealed that in 1977 Richards earned some $300,000 — he was unlikely to resort to crime to support his habit.

So Richards was put on a year's probation, ordered to continue his cure and to play a concert for the blind. Richards gave a clenched fist salute to the packed courtroom before leaving with his bodyguard. Another trial, another day.

Reactions to the verdict in Canada were mixed. Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was outraged and urged an appeal, but the largest paper in Canada, The Toronto Globe, described the verdict in its editorial as "a model of enlightened sentencing, one which should pave the way for a more equitable and civilised treatment of convicted drug addicts in Canadian courts."

It should be made clear that less than half the people convicted in Canada of simple possession of heroin go to jail.

But it was the concert for the blind that raised most eyebrows. How had the judge reached that idea? Onestrong rumour was that Cooper had suggested it, but this was tracked down to blind superfan Rita Bedard,who attended the trial every day and was invited in by Cooper to meet Richards and get his autograph. It turned out that she was responsible for the story; Cooper dismissed it.

In fact the judge had called John Simmons of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) just 30minutes before going into court onthat final day. Simmons claims: "He asked me if I would object if he sentenced a young musician to play music at the Institute. We only foundout later it was Richards. We were *shocked and pleased."

But not everyone was that euphoric. CNIB's John Rae said it could negatively affect public attitudes towards blind people, and called the verdict "outrageous, bizarre and patronising".

"We're seeking equal rights, not a handout," he said. "If the judge intended to help blind people, there are a number of organisations besides the CNIB that should have the opportunity to benefit as well."

The big problem for the CNIB now is that their auditorium on Bayview Avenue only holds 200, and their switchboard has been jammed with people hustling for tickets. The owner of the 16,000 seatcr Maple Leaf , Gardens has offered his venue for the event, but no final decision has been reached.

THE COURT scene over, Richards arrived an hour late for a press conference, his last public appearance before waving Canada goodbye. Wearing jeans, a scratched leather jacket and a T-shirt with the legend 'Robbie Rocker' on it, he fielded a barrage of press enquiries.

How had the whole incident affected him?

"Oh it's all show business. Every day of my life is show business. I didn't give it much thought until the last few days. I mean, it wasn't as if I was waking up each day thinking the trial is coming."

Had he made any jail contingency plans?

"I just wondered if the uniform was with stripes or arrows?" He described his probation officer as "sweet".

On the subject of heroin, he said he gave up his addiction because it was boring and commented: "You lose your respect and confidence. Once you get to the stage of addiction it is just where you get to ask, 'Where is the dope?' You wonder what you're doing sitting in an apartment with four men who are dribbling . . .

"I'm happy to be off it ... I have become a lush."

When asked about the Stones' reaction to the verdict, he said: "They were very ticked off I didn't get put away for 30 years. I'm going to use the bail money to bribe the rest of the band to do the benefit."

Of the judge's comment that some Stones' songs glorified drug use, he said: "I think that is a misconception. There are drug overtones in about one per cent of the band's material and Mick wrote them, not me."

So Richards is out once more. Meanwhile Vicious spends time in Bellevue psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt. Another week in the history of rock and roll.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The Tony Sanchez book Ùp & Down...` suggests that Richards had to be summoned to Toronto via telegrams sent to him in England. Your article states that Jagger didn`t arrive in Toronto until March 3rd. Did Jagger leave town then come back? One thing for certain is that the band left Toronto as soon the club gigs were over leaving Richards alone.