Why Ronnie Wood’s Episode of “My Life As a Rolling Stone” Is the Most Essential One

The four-part docuseries offers few revelations about Mick and Keith, but it's Wood who proves most fascinating

August 19, 2022 7:01 am
Ronnie Wood in "My Life as a Rolling Stone"
Ronnie Wood in "My Life as a Rolling Stone"

When you’ve been a band for 60 years — and spent a good portion of those years as not only a band but one of the most popular bands of all time — it can be difficult to keep coming up with new things to say about yourself. After six decades, every story, every anecdote, every rumor and grievance has already been made public, studied and broken down ad nauseam by obsessive fans. What could a Rolling Stones docuseries possibly tell us in 2022 that hasn’t already been common knowledge for the better part of the last century?

It turns out, not much. My Life as a Rolling Stone — the four-part BBC doc narrated by Sienna Miller and airing on EPIX on this side of the pond — doesn’t exactly contain any major revelations, but it’s still a compelling look at one of rock’s most enduring groups. Instead of telling the Stones’ story from beginning to end like countless projects before it, the series makes the wise decision to focus each individual episode on one of the core four members. Episode 1 is centered entirely around Mick Jagger, naturally, while the second episode turns its attention to Keith Richards. The fourth and final episode, finished shortly after the death of Charlie Watts, serves as a tribute to the late drummer, with his surviving bandmates reflecting on his legacy and fondly recalling their favorite memories of him.

But it’s the Ronnie Wood episode, slated to air on Aug. 21, that feels most insightful. It’s a little silly to think of Wood as “the new guy” in the group when he’s been a full-fledged member for 47 years now, but he’s still arguably the one most of us know the least about. In a band with not one but two of the most iconic rock and roll personas serving as foils for one another and at times fighting for attention — and Watts, who famously hated all the trappings of fame, earning his own notoriety as The Serious One in the group — the easygoing Wood can sometimes fade into the background. But much of his episode is spent reminding viewers what an essential role he’s played in the Stones since he took over for Mick Taylor in 1975, not just musically but personally as well, often playing mediator during Jagger and Richards’s disputes.

Though they both insist that they’re getting along fine these days, the Glimmer Twins haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, to say the least. Comparisons to bickering siblings often get tossed around, but in My Life as a Rolling Stone, Jagger bristles at the notion that Richards is “like a brother” to him. “I actually have a brother,” he says with a laugh. “I know what it’s like to have a brother, and it’s not like being with Keith at all. It’s friendship, and it’s friendship and working together. As in friendships or love affairs, people have roles to play, but those roles change, and it’s in a state of flux, so it’s never the same. So if you’re talking about a band like the Rolling Stones who’s been around for such a long time, then all of these things apply.”

Being thrust into that existing dynamic 13 years later than everyone else would be a near-impossible task for just about anyone else, but as his bandmates recall in his episode, Wood fit right in immediately, striking up a strong friendship with Richards in particular (and of course perfecting the art of guitar weaving with him, something that’s since become a touchstone of the Stones’ sound). Though he and Richards were especially close — and during some particularly debaucherous years, codependent — Wood was well-liked by everyone in the band, so much so that they all repeatedly refer to him in My Life as a Rolling Stone as the “glue” that holds them all together. Jagger and Richards recall one especially fraught period in their relationship in the ’80s when Wood “saved the band” by convincing the two of them to call each other up and hash out their differences.

Of course, his tenure in the band hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, and some of the most interesting moments in Wood’s episode come when addressing his decades of substance abuse. (Wood has been sober for over 10 years now.) Richards’s struggles with heroin are more notorious, of course, and casual fans may be unaware just how bad Wood’s own problems with drugs and alcohol once were. Here, however, he’s an open book, speaking candidly about his experiences freebasing crack cocaine. “In the crazy days, it got out of hand when it was the base pipe,” he tells the camera. “I used to, quite innocently, think it was the best thing going. It got to the point where it wasn’t funny anymore, you know. Just getting high with that pipe was frightening, I’d do anything for it.”

The episode’s most memorable moments come when he and Richards recall one of the only disagreements they’ve ever had in their decades of friendship. By 1981, Wood’s crack problem had gotten so out-of-control that they couldn’t find anyone willing to insure him on their tour, so Richards agreed to cover any costs he might incur out of his own pocket, on the condition that Wood would “stay away from the hard stuff” while they were on the road. (“I need that man like I need breathing,” Richards explains in the doc.) Eventually, however, he got word that Wood was in fact using — and he was infuriated.

“Ronnie was on the other side of the hotel and somebody had come in, ‘He’s doing the stuff up there,’” Richards recalls in the episode. “He’d promised me he wouldn’t because I’d been guaranteeing that he wouldn’t, so he sort of let me down. So I flew into a rage and zoomed through the hotel. So I get to Ronnie’s room, knock on the door, I smell the stuff coming out, ‘You cunt!” Here he mimes punching Wood in the face. “We all fall into Ronnie’s room, he tries to land on me, the couch goes over, Ronnie’s about to fall out the window, so I grab him and then everything stops in laughter, so that was that.”

“We laughed it off, and I went into the next room, and there’s Mick and Charlie on the floor, they’re playing some game on the floor, and I went, ‘Look at me, I’m covered in blood’ and they just sort of went, ‘Right, okay, it’s your move,’” Wood adds with a laugh.

It’s the rare bit of Stones lore that hasn’t been repeated and rehashed a million times over, and it’s a major part of what makes Wood’s episode so enjoyable. Even beyond his various travails, My Life as a Rolling Stone delves into his childhood growing up in a family of barge operators (he claims he and his siblings were the first in their family to be born on dry land) and his pre-Stones career in The Faces, painting a more well-rounded picture of the guitarist than we often get to experience. You already know everything you could possibly want to know about Mick and Keith, but this time around, it’s Ronnie Wood who makes for the most essential viewing.

Episode 3 of My Life as a Rolling Stone airs on EPIX on Aug. 21.

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