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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

In the Sahara, Searching for the Rolling Stones

Arm-wrestling the Midnight Rambler to a draw

Last November I read an article in Harper’s by Professor William Irwin Thompson of the Humanities program at York University, Toronto, entitled “Planetary Vistas.” It was prefaced with three italicized analogies, the first of which ran as follows:

ANALOGY ONE

“Imagine insects with a life-span of two weeks, and then imagine further that they are trying to build up a science about the nature of time and history. Clearly, they cannot build a model on the basis of a few days in summer. So let us endow them with a language and a culture through which they can pass on their knowledge to future generations. Summer passes, then autumn; finally it is winter. The winter insects are a whole new breed, and they perfect a new and revolutionary science on the basis of the ‘hard facts’ of their perceptions of snow. As for the myths and legends of summer: certainly the intelligent insects are not going to believe the superstitions of their primitive ancestors.”

***

We left Massachusetts the day of the first snow, for Africa. I will not tell you what country we went to because the next time I need to lick my index finger and hold it up to the solar wind I won’t want a gallery. Suffice it to say that it was the geographical ozone of the pre-Saharean mountain wilderness, a place where the map makers fudge and the guides shill. We did not know what we would find where we were going which was just as well since in the ozone if you think you know where you are going you will get lost but if you don’t know where you are going you may lose yourself. We drove toward the Sahara on a corugated track that was wider on the map than it was on the ground. An hour after the sun went down it might as well have been midnight and when after 50 kilometers of pre-Saharean zilch we turned a switchback and the Fiat headlit the rusted-out exoskeleton of an upside-down Land Rover, we realized that the end of the road would not be when the road disappeared — the one we were on hadn’t appeared in the first place — but when it became more treacherous to try to turn around then to keep on going, that what is terminal about the end of the road is not that it stops you, but that past it you may go further than you can.

“I could really dig finding a place where there was mountain music,” I said.

“Like in that Leary book,” Alison said.

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We had holed up for a few days that summer with a husband and wife dealer team in the Santa Cruz hills and they had a copy of Timothy Leary’s “Prison Notes,” in which the acid exile tells how novelist and ab initio way-station on the hash trail Brion Gysin had taken him from Tangiers into the Rif Mountains to hear the piping and drumming and singing of the Master Musicians of Joujouka who, Gysin had discovered, still celebrated — on the pretext of the Muslim Ramadan — the Roman Lupercalia, the annual feast of Pan, patron of forests, pastures, fields, and flocks. “The World’s Oldest Rock and Roll Band,” Leary, blown quite away, called them.

“Too much to ask,” I said.

We had long overdriven the odometer reading that should have put us in a village with a small inn before we came in sight of a group of buildings, windows dark as a pre-Saharean midnight, which we took to be the hotel. “Check-out time,” I announced, and began to backtrack four or five hours to the last place we had stayed. When I went forward the Fiat bottomed out on the mount between the wheel-ruts; when I went back the Fiat began to slip down the embankment toward the desert floor several thousand feet below.

So, we stopped and waited for an intervention.

The geographical ozone is a realm of supraordinary synchronicity so we didn’t have long to wait. Down the hillside came a flashlight, carried by — why, a waiter, of course, in a white coat, carrying a towel over his arm. He motioned us in the direction of a switchback so steep it looked like a hill you would build a switchback to climb. It led to the parking lot of the hotel. We were not burdened by relief any longer than was necessary to step into the entrance hall of the place, a long room with a bar at the end. Along the left-hand wall sat two young German couples staring goggle-eyed at the opposite wall along which were sitting 12 young Berber men, mumbling, moaning, and grunting, occasionally coming into phase rhythmically just long enough to resolve a melody, then lapsing into a silence whose discomfort they attempted to relieve by much adjusting of burnooses and subrespiratory chuckling.

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“Too much — ,” I said, taking my seat opposite them.

” — to ask,” said Alison.

The boy behind the bar brought us a bottle of wine. Delightful boy. Most remarkable boy.

We drank it.

He brought us another.

We drank it too.

Still the burbling up and down of rhythms and melodies. Some ten­tative finger-tapping on table tops. Some clapping of hands. Silence. And then, at length, a young man at the far end of the room spoke.

“Bon soir m’sieur madame. Est-ce que vous connaissez … ‘Sex Machine?’ ”

It was the only time I had ever felt like I needed a drink when I was already drunk.

“Oui,” I managed.

Affirmative aahhing and urrhing from underneath the hoods across from me.

“Par Zhems Bquun?” he asked. Zhems Bquun? Oh!

“Oui. Oui Oui,” I ouied.

“Pourriez-vous le chanter?” he asked.

I tried to sing it as best I could — I did James Brown all right, but the Famous Flames parts were sort of rough. When I was done they all shook their hands out of their burnooses and applauded.

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”Maintenant, connaissez-vous ‘Hold On, Ahm Comingue?’ ” said he for whom it was too much to ask.

“Oui,” I said, “mais nous desirons vous ecouter!”

“Non,” he laughed, and spoke to the others. in Berber. “Non, non, non,” said the others, laughing.

“Oui!” I insisted.

“Non non non,” he said.

“Oui, nous voulons que vous chantez pour nous.”

‘N’est pas possible.”

“Je vous en prie, messieurs!”

“Nous vous en prions,” he said. “Nous ne pouvons pas chanter comme Sam et Dev.”

“Non! Pas Sam and Dave!” Oy. “Votre musique — un chanson, er, natif!”

“Eh?”

“Uhh — un chanson … local?”

“Nous ne vous comprenons pas,” he said apologetically.

“Mmmm — un chanson de ce ville-ci.”

“Est-ce que vous voulez dire, un chanson folklorique?”

So that’s what they call folklore in French Africa — la folklore.

“Oui, oui, bien sur, folklorique, oui, s’il vous plait.”

And they immediately struck up an air, 12 voices insinuating a song composed exclusively of grace notes arranged in synco­pated triplets. It was unques­tionably the most folklorique sound I had ever heard. And, strangely, I found it evocative of the Rolling Stones: How thoroughly bizarre, I thought.

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When they were done, my in­terlocutor, who, it turned out, spoke French because he was the teacher at the elementary school — the darkened “hotel” we had come upon — asked if I could teach them a song.

“Est-ce que vous connaissez,” I asked, “les Rolling Stones?”

The question drew as blank a blank as I would have expected 10 minutes before if I had thought to ask, “Pardon me, my new-found Berber friends, but do you happen to be acquainted with Stax-Volt product, most especially that classic Memphis tune ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’ by that hot buttered soul man, Mr. Isaac Hayes?” No, these particular tribesmen had never heard of les Rolling Stones.

Nevertheless, I tried, to teach them “Paint It Black,” which seemed to resonate with the song I had just heard — Nyaa-nyaa­nyaa-nycia-nyaa-nyaa-nyaa nyaa- nyaa-nyaa-nyaa-nyaa-nyaa-aah . . .

The Berbers stared at me like ­the Germans had been staring at them.

“I see a red door and I want to paint it bla-ack … “

Pre-Saharean zilch.

“A very German sentiment,” observed one of the German men. “In Germany zey vont to paint everyzing black.”

The Berbers just couldn’t get behind the Rolling Stones. As we sat there across that oddly shaped culture gap, at some points yawning abysmally and at others overlapping, the door opened and a slight young Berber man swaggered in. Suddenly the 12 began to clap and cheer and stamp their feet and laugh hear­tily.

My first thought was that this was their sarcastic greeting to a friend who had been out in the oasis making it with Aisha the Coleman lamp fuel-seller’s daughter.

Instead, the newcomer threw off his burnoose, cocked a hand on his hip, and, as an enormous flute appeared from under one bur­noose and drums appeared from under others, began to sing in a piercing reedy tenor with the 12 booming in with a choral response every other verse.

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The applause had been the pre-­Saharean rhythm section’s wel­come to their lead singer, who had begun to wail not merely immediately but, seemingly, retro­actively. This resonance with the Stones’ stage act and those with the music that followed were so concordant that I saw there was no point in teaching them “Paint It Black,” that they could already paint it any color they wanted. Too much to ask!

Retroactively he had us on our feet, Jews and Germans dancing with Arabs, and I would have pinched myself but I knew I wouldn’t feel anything. I can’t describe the double-time shimmy-­shake circle-dance he did as he sang because I was trying to do it too hard myself while simultaneously trying unsuccessfully to drink wine faster than I was sweating it out. How long this went on I cannot tell you. The end­ing of each song save the last was the beginning of another; the dance never stopped until it was done. Then the Berbers went home and the Germans and us went to sleep in the hotel’s bedroom

That’s right, its bedroom.

The bedroom.

I awoke in terror at some ghastly hour of the morning, flashing forward to trips I hadn’t taken yet. The bedroom was filled with psychomorphic squid ink, and as I held onto the floor I felt like the Desert Nasties were snuffling up to me like grim shades of the beneficent forest creatures who snuffled up to cop a visual on new­born Bambi in the movie of the same name. “Here on the edge of Forget It where the tech­nosphere’s penetration into the biosphere is at least energetic,” they said in unvoiced tones of pre-­Saharean menace, “there is no­thing to interfere with your recep­tion of our emanations. You para­noid twerp, the life-cycle of this plant will expunge Man before he manages the opposite. If you think your kind’s puny dereliction of mysteries of their own inven­tion has weakened the vital powers of the Zone, tell us what you think of these little green apples!”

And the floor began to fall away at the speed of darkness and me with it and I said to myself oh boy, don’t I get one telephone call to a party of my choice? And I struggled to fall fast enough to be able to hang in close enough to the floor to climb onto it and walk toward where I remembered the door should be and step —

Outside and close it on the Nasties. Whew. But now the cold gust off the desert was blowing on me naked and hung over and the air was cacophonous with dog­barks and donkeybrays and I decided I was going to go back in­side and go to sleep, anti-matter Bambi-snufflers or no.

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I went back inside and lay down. “Back for more, with your hand-wringing fantasies?” asked the Desert Nasties.

“Aw, go fuck a duck,” I said, and went to sleep.

Summer will come again to those who are hot for it, I dreamt. I have informed myself of my rites. 

We awoke in daylight, dressed, and went outside. We could see for the first time that the town was built on a steep hill. As we stood there a single line of women dressed in black appeared around a corner and began to file down the zigzag of switchbacks.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est que ca?” I asked the boy.

“Une femme a mouru pendant le nuit,” he said.

We watched the procession pause at a doorway as the woman’s shrouded body was brought out. They resumed their descent, carrying her to a rocky knoll just outside the town. There they lay her down and piled rocks on her and keened over her and consigned her to the desert.

I decided that the Nasties who had visited me earlier that morn­ing were ill-tempered outriders of the perambulatory vortical presence that had sucked the woman’s juice out of her. I don’t know that the Berbers call that mortifying infundibulum but we Hebrews call it Moloch Ha­movess, the closest English trans­lation of which is, Midnight Rambler — as in, ev’rybody got-ta go.

Soon a film crew arrived, complete with Arabs in tinted aviator glasses, bell-bottom trousers, and faded denim jackets. They interviewed an old man and his donkey. What was it that the Nasties had been saying about the penetration of the technosphere? The musiciens folkloriques of the night before trickled into the morning-after parking lot. We looked at each other like we had all balled together, which essentially, we had. Too much to ask, but not a moment too soon.

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***

Shortly after our return to Babble-on, I discovered that while we were gone Rolling Stones Records had released a disc called “Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka.” Well what do you know. Seems Jones and his Nagra recorder had been escorted to Joulouka Tatoof by Brion Gysin in 1968, but it was only now that the Stones had their own label that they could get the master he made released — too late for Brian, who was found floating face-down in his swimming pool in mid-1969. The album included a text by Gysin:

“Pan, Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, dances through eight moonlit nights in his hill village, Joujouka, to the wailing of his hundred Master Musicians. Down in the towns, far away by the seaside, you can hear the wild whimper of his oboe-like raitas; a faint breath of panic borne on the wind. Below the rough palisade of giant blue cactus surrounding the village on its hilltop, the music flows in streams to nourish and fructify the terraced fields below … All the villagers dressed in best white, swirl in great circles and coils around one wild-man in skins. Bou Jeloud leaps high in the air on the music, races after the women again and again, lashing at him fiercely with his flails … He is mad. Sowing panic. Lashing at anyone; striking real terror into the crowd. Women scatter like white marabout birds all aflutter and settle on a little hillock for safety … They throw back their heads to the moon and scream with throats open to the gullet … Pipes crack in your head. Ears popped away at barrier sound and you deaf. Or dead! Swirling around in cold moonlight, surrounded by wild men or ghosts. Bou Jeloud is on you, butting you, beating you, taking you, leaving you. Gone! The great wind drops out of your head and you hear the heavenly music again. You feel sorry and loving and tender to that poor animal whimpering, grizzling, laughing, and sobbing there beside you like somebody out of ether.

“Who is that? That is you.

” … Up there, in Joujouka, you sleep all day — if the flies let you. Breakfast is goat-cheese and honey on gold bread from the out door oven. Musicians loll about sipping mint tea, their kif pipes and flutes. They never work in their lives so they lie about easy. The last priests of Pan cop a tithe on the crops in the lush valley below. Blue Kif smoke drops in veils from Joujouka at nightfall … ”

I could hardly be surprised at the kinship of the music on this record to the music we had danced to — such reserves of surprise as I still had were exhausted that night. The charts were different, shall we say, but the bomp was syncopated in the same hypnagogic way.

The album stiffed, of course. Music that people stoned on gelignite kif have danced to for eight nights a year for 4000 years could hardly be expected to engage the attention of rock critics, rack jobbers, and prog/rock play­listers.

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***

I was out at the farm in Walled Lake, Michigan, where Creem, America’s Only Rock and Roll Magazine, is put together, marshaling my faculties for a series of journalistic encounters with the Rolling Stones tour. Dave Marsh, the noted Teenage Dwarf, who edits Creem, flew into a rage at my eagerness. “It was Brian! The Stones are nothing without Brian. You’re going off to see a band with a hole in it!,” and he dragged me off to Ann Arbor to see a screening of “The TAMI Show.” Topping the bill of that kinescope of a 1964 telecast were the Stones complete with Brian. All I could see was a blond kid with a winning smile and losing bags under his eyes, strumming a guitar.

“Well?” pressed Marsh, dwarfishly.

“My gazoogo was not flonged, if that’s what you mean,” I said.

***

I guess I expected that the music of the Rolling Stones live and in person would sweep me off my feet. Instead it planted me more firmly on them. It was an ultrasonic brain enema, kilo-hertzing loose the scud of 50 per cent jive and 50 per cent bullshit and making me kiss it bye bye. It was was menschische music and I could not value it more highly.

But the audience response disappointed me to where I was flying to Detroit on my own nickel in the hope that I would be able to see the Stones perform before a live audience. I don’t mean that the audiences I saw didn’t hoot and holler and do a little light trucking in situ. I mean that in New Orleans the night before the Mobile date we went to Crazy Shirley’s on Bourbon Street and they were snake-dancing to Papa Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, but there was no snake dancing at any Stones concert. I mean, I watched Jagger try again and again to get an audience to sing along on the refrain to “Sweet Virginia,” the one that goes, “Come on, come on down, you got it in ya/ Uh-huh/ Got to scrape that shit right off your shoes,” before giving up late in the tour, and that I’ve seen solo accordionists at bas mitzvahs get more people to sing along. I mean it wasn’t long before Jagger stopped asking the audience to “kiss the person next to you” and that I’ve seen people do weirder things to each other on the Simon Sez-so of Borscht Belt tummlers.

I didn’t expect each audience to become a de Broglie wave of ecstasy — hmm, well, okay, maybe I did expect each audience to become a de Broglie wave of ecstasy. Why shouldn’t I have? “You gotta move,” the Stones had sung on their last album, and for this tour they had composed music to move by, music too powerful to capture on a piece of vinyl, which is why a lot of album reviewers do not consider “Exile on Main Street” their fave rave.

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My first analysis was that the audiences’ stolidity could be accounted for mostly by the fact that the tour management’s attempt to democratize the ticketing procedure — $6.50 top, computer-assigned seats, etc. — had created the first rock audiences chosen under the McGovern reform rules, i.e. what do you expect — 90 per cent of us have never been to one of these things before. (And upon all of us in discreet votaries of rock and stroll, O Orpheus, the curse of the Underground Gourmet: May you stand on line forever hungering to sup at the table you sold maps to.) The audiences were for the most part too stunned at being in the presence of the Rolling Stones to react — it was, after all, like seeing a resurrection right before your eyes, in that everything the Stones stand for is dead and gone except, wonder of wonders, them­selves. In meaner moments I chalked it up simply to the endemic callowness and inbred lethargy of the generation that dogged the footsteps of mine, slogging along zonked on Sopors. Kids today etc. etc. etc.

Which led me back to the liner notes of the Joujouka album and a reconsideration of whether it was possible that there was something lacking in the Stones’ music that sapped its power to actualize the rhetorical imperative “You gotta move” so that people would sim­ply have to move.

“I don’t know if I possess the stamina to endure the incredible, constant strain of the festival,” wrote Brian Jones. “Such psychic weaklings has Western civilization made of so many of us.”

When I first considered the Joujouka album, I assumed out of hand that Jones’s flirtation with the music of the Moorish highlands was nothing more than late ’60s pop-star dilettantism, that it was nothing more than late rites practitioners wore fur vests and lolled about sipping mint tea and copping tithes. But having seen this tour and re-read that liner note, I began to wonder whether Brian hadn’t been searching the African hills for the musical root of incredible, con­stant strain, looking to incorporate that root, collected first-hand, into the Stones’ music along with other African musical roots that had been transshipped from Gambia to Virginia to the Missis­sippi delta country to Kansas City and Chicago, arriving as “de blues,” and thence by post to Richmond, England, none the better for wear. Was “Joujouka” recorded as a sample of a transhistorical eight-day full-tilt­ boogying rhythm track for the rest of the band to cop licks from like they had from old Chuck Berry sides? Did he as rhythm guitarist and multi-instrumentalist intend to build a set of chops into the band’s music that would have the same effect on audiences as the raitas had on the Joujoukans, i.e., “striking real terror into the crowd,” the Lupercalian panic we read about in “Julius Caesar”? That would expose those who were not got to move to themselves as psychic weaklings, made so by Western civilization? That would turn every Rolling Stones performance into a rite?

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We won’t know whether the Teenage Dwarf was right for the wrong reason or wrong for the right reason because Brian Jones is no longer with us, such a psychic weakling had Western civilization made of him. The question is far from moot, however: The Master Musicians of Joujouka are still there, as are the Master Musicians of the Rolling Stones. On the last two American tours there was no rhythm guitarist “replacing” Brian Jones — Mick Taylor plays second lead, augmenting the im­pact of de blues on audiences; at times he seems to play a blues track, as much a part of the Stones’ music as the bass track or the lead vocal track. I am beginning to think that it is arguable that the entire body of de blues, from Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” as recorded 50 years ago in a San Antonio hotel room to the  Stones’ version as performed July 26 at the Garden, is a music of, by, and for psychic weaklings — wound-down entropic insect-winter music.

I know that a bunch of kids in a desert hill town made sounds that put my rear in gear and somehow activated in me the vestigial ulte­rior consciousness that some of us have more of and some of us have ess of, and that within hours I had arm-wrestled the minions of the actual Midnight Rambler to a draw. I doubt many people were forced to have that kind of experi­ence in the aftermath of the con­certs on this tour, though, that Gambler rambles throughout this land as he does in no other, and baby, it’s no rock ‘n’ roll show, and how much you w11nt to bet he’s beefed up his security since Wallace got shot?

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

When The Angels – and 400,000 others – said Goodbye to Brian Jones

His was the driving sitar on “Paint It, Black,” the syncopated marimba on “Under My Thumb.”

Brian Jones, progenitor of the Rolling Stones, died 50 years ago today, drowned in his swimming pool not long after frontman Mick Jagger and rhythm guitarist Keith Richards invited him to leave the soon to be self-described — and generally critically accepted — “greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.”

The bad news from England arrived too late to make it into the July 3rd or 10th issues of the Village Voice, but other Stones tidbits could be found in those editions. It would not be until the issue of the 17th that downtown newspaper readers would get a report from London’s Hyde Park, site of the Stones’ tribute concert for the departed multi-instrumentalist, where they introduced Jones’s replacement — the 20-year-old prodigiously talented lead guitarist Mick Taylor — to the 400,000 fans crowding England’s green and pleasant land.

In the July 3rd issue, that cross-section of Voice readers who were also Stones fans were treated to a portrait of an androgynous Jagger (on the set of the then-unreleased movie Performance) by Cecil Beaton, aristo photographer of the fashionable and trendy.

A week later, in the July 10th issue, there was still no mention of the deceased bluesman (the folios of the paper designated the end of its weekly run, so that issue had probably been printed on July 2nd), but music critic Robert Christgau had something to say about the Stones in general in his “rock & roll &” column: “Even though music is my greatest pleasure, the pleasure is often casual. I rarely listen carefully to the lyrics or follow a solo note for note unless I’m reviewing something at length or I’m stoned. When I’m stoned, I rarely play records I don’t already love. (Stoned or unstoned I listen constantly to the Stones…)” Perhaps the self-described Dean of American Rock Critics was paying homage to some biting lines found in Leonard Cohen’s poetic 1966 novel, Beautiful Losers:

Do I listen to the Rolling Stones? Ceaselessly.
Am I hurt enough?

That same Village Voice also included an ad for The Third Eye® Inc, a poster shop that captured the aesthetic spirit of the times.

Come the 17th and Voice readers get a report — drenched in local atmosphere — from the Hyde Park tribute concert, written by Geoffrey Cannon, rock critic for London’s Guardian newspaper: “Hyde Park was soaked with travesties, reversals, clashes, of normality — like the Stone’s own music.” And, in an aside that would have ominous consequences at the end of that jagged year, Cannon noted, “The marshals were Hell’s Angels. Now, English Hell’s Angels are not professionals, true, but they’re no flower children, either.” As it turns out, the American Angels who provided violent and ultimately fatal “security” at the Stones’ last show that year, in December at Altamont Speedway in California, were certainly “professionals” — though on a whole other plane of existence.

Studded through the jumps of Cannon’s story were ads for other bands, other music. Even those exemplars of Gotham grit, the Velvet Underground, were getting down with the Carnaby Street look exemplified by Jagger’s flouncy Swinging London stage outfit.

Not to be outdone, London Records let the world know that although Brian Jones had gone on to his reward the Stones were still bringing it — in this case, with a cowbell (clonged by producer Jimmy Miller) and guitar overdubs from Taylor on “Honky Tonk Women.”  —R.C. Baker

The World Turned Upside Down

By Geoffrey Cannon
July 17, 1969

LONDON — It’s raining, in London. I walk down the street under an umbrella. I’m singing Joni Mitchell’s “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” to myself. “Telephone, even the sound of your voice is still new; all alone in California and talking to you.” And London is back to normal again, and I’m being a normal Londoner: hunched up, hurrying through the streets from one small room to another, dreaming of scenes utterly distant, making my own California in a space three feet in diameter and six foot six deep: under my umbrella, my little cylinder.

Now, one day and 12 hours of rain later, the Rolling Stones’ concert seems a dream, too. It has all the sharpness and disassociation of the stories told in sleep. It wasn’t a bit like the Blind Faith concert. And I think I can tell why, too.

Looking over my notes. Mick Jagger sang 13 songs. Thirteen, at Brian Jones’ wake. Counting them, knowing the total would come to 13, I felt a breath of black power chill me. Mick Jagger can make the world turn upside down. He ended the concert with “Sympathy for the Devil.” And here is what happened.

A barrel-chested, very black African leaps on stage. He’s naked, except for swathings of dust-colored hair, apparently glued round his torso. His face is streaked white, and his arms and legs. He postures and limbos with a red spear. He feels like Jack Palance as the chief of the gladiators in “Barabbas”: I’m expecting a roar of evil from him. He sits at a great drum, and is joined by 12 other tribesmen, dressed ethnically, who pound their percussion. And all the time Jagger sings “Sympathy for the Devil.” Suddenly, I see flecks of black ash on the back of my hand. And I’m sure there are lightning flashes behind the stage. (I still can’t explain this last.) Maybe I am at Pompeii. What if the earth should shake now, under me and the other 400,000 people? Then I see the ash is caused by flares, lit at the left of the stage; and I’m coward enough to be grateful for this connection with the familiar world. As Jagger ends, and vanishes, a little girl behind me (who must have been in the park all night, to get where she was — collapses into spasms of hysteria. A familiar enough scene, at teenybopper concerts; but this time I understand. She’s in a dream, midway between Bosch and Breughel, and she can’t wake up.

Hyde Park was soaked with travesties, reversals, clashes, of normality — like the Stones’ own music. The marshals were Hell’s Angels. Now, English Hell’s Angels are not professionals, true, but they’re no flower children, either. The angel with “Wild Child” studded on his back was old, mean, knobbly, and alienated enough to wear a knife and use it, too. And at the end of the concert, two Angels got into a huddle behind my back. “If yer gotta shiv, throw it. We’re being searched at the entrance.”

Such words, from policemen! From the Angels succeeded in making a travesty equation with the absent police. Only the Angels wear a uniform which identified them as having a function as well as a style. And any sting they might have had as audience was brilliantly drawn by putting them in charge. There was an Angel with a papier-mache Nazi helmet and an orange-streaked face plus black targets on his cheeks, saying to a photographer: “Excuse me, could you please clear a path?” And the MC announces: “The Hell’s Angels are dealing with all sorts of problems caused by people being uncool.” Wow: what a culture-clash!

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Audience, performers, and press and television people: they were all interchangeable. Television cameramen wore light-meters as if they were medallions, with a purpose. A girl beside me takes photographs wearing a bra and panties, bikini-style. She’s using a Pentax, so the pictures are more likely to be for the Chicago Sun-Times, or the Sydsvenska Dagbladet, or Rock and Folk, than her bedroom wall.

Halfway through the after­noon, Family do the best set I’ve yet seen from them, transcending their show three days before at the Albert Hall. Rog Chapman is successfully beside himself. He shudders into “The Weaver’s Answer”: and I sense thrills passing through me into the crowd, and I turn round. Everyone is sitting down, their heads making a floor. Then: up, up, up: dancing starts. A very black boy, thin, around five foot four, flickers his arms. He’s wearing jeans, and a yellow and white headband: the Negro as Red Indian. Hendrix’s influence. Beside him, an English girl with a long multi-colored dress waves and sighs with her body. The hippie as Dutch gypsy. The influence of clothes made by The Fool. Behind, a boy wearing a yellow T-shirt with blue lettering: USA, in great Egyptian cap lettering. Surfing safari.

Nothing is successfully influencing this concert. London is the richest city on earth and this afternoon it’s saying so — at last. The sun is really hot. And, with Family, a couple of the supporting bands become inspired. King Crimson blare and jam into a space trip, and I’m reminded of the Chicago Transit Authority; but only reminded: King Crimson are good, at their loudest, too. Again, the singer of Screw looks like Arthur Lee, but he’s a London boy. “Take a look at your mind, you might not like what you find” he sang, and let himself go, with a tightened-up athleticism not seen since — well, since Mick Jagger. King Crimson and Screw. Two new good English bands.

So, before the Stones came on, the air was packed with sounds and sensations, buzzing, enriched, disassociating one’s mind from anything outside the colossal circle of the crowd.

And, every moment of the afternoon: the thought of Brian Jones. There were two huge color blow-ups of him, taken from the “Beggar’s Banquet” inside sleeve, by the side of the stage. A dog fawns on him. He’s sitting, arms raised above and behind his head, smiling, but seemingly looking into himself. His hair is silver. And he is lost.

Images. His body floating at the bottom of his swimming pool, like the sequence in “Sunset Boulevard,” only this time I care. Him in the dock, scared and white and alone, knowing the band can’t help him. For who can tell how much he needed the band? How much his psyche, his identity, proved to be borne up and mingled into that of the band? Who can gauge the magnetism of the Rolling Stones, formed so many years ago, and the most powerful band in the world? I think only Brian could tell, in the few days between his leaving and his dying, Perhaps he had felt dead already. The sadness of his death is violent, almost malevolent. It will cling to the Rolling Stones, always. I feared that many people might feel that the Hyde Park concert had killed Brian inside, before he died, and that its atmosphere would prove intolerably macabre.

Mick Jagger had to say goodbye to Brian in front of 400,000 people. I wasn’t interested in the power implied by his being able to do this: I just hoped he could. Mick opened a book, looking well thumbed and marked. My eyes pricked. “I really don’t know how to do this sort of thing, but I’m going to try,” Mick shouted, violently, feeling anger, and fear, too, I guess. Then he quoted Shelley. “He has awakened from the dreams of life.” And Mick was right, partly because there was no attempt at self-justification, partly because the concert was already a dream within Shelley’s dream, partly because Mick didn’t know the meaning of what had happened, and refused to try to work it out: and that was right.

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ALL RIGHT! Mick yelled. He was wearing a flounced-out trouser-suit, white, with a frock jacket. Underneath, a mauve shirt, and a studded belt. Keith Richards came on wearing silver shades. He took them off. Underneath, his eyes were heavily made up, black. He’s thin and violently strange. All of him is in a world I have no perception of whatsoever. Beside him, Jagger looks well-fed, content, usual. But he isn’t.

“Jumping Jack Flash.” Is this the first time they’ve performed the number outside a recording studio? At first, their physical presence seems banal: it doesn’t let enough legend in. Then, after an ordinary version of “Mercy, Mercy,” Mick does “Stray Cat Blues.” Now, when he used to sing “I just wanna make love to you,” sounding both mean and meaningful, shaking his body at the front row in old concerts,  that seemed strong enough. But singing “bet your momma don’t know you can bite like that, I bet she never saw you scratch my back” in front of, say, 50,000 groupies and potential groupies: the reverberations between the story and the actuality whizz and whirr back and forward until they are lost in themselves.

The middle part of the concert subsided somewhat. “No Expectations” “I’m Free,” “Down Home Girl,” and a Robert Johnson number, “Love in Vain,” were all performed. Mick Taylor’s guitar playing has no tension in it that I could detect. He sounded positively Hawaiian, in “No Expectations”; and there were signs that the band was interested in jamming, which would be a total disaster for the Stones.

Then “Give Me a Little Drink,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” and “Midnight Rambler,” from the coming album. I can’t tell what new songs sound like, when they’re played in concert. Mick did a modified tease during the last number, taking his belt off and on, and easing the top of his trousers. These quiet and new numbers were becoming a springboard. Everybody in the audience, everybody, knew exactly what was to come. Ready, ready:

“Satisfaction.” The best rock number ever, period. I had to stop writing notes at this point. No one can be other than a fan of Jagger when he does this number. All the experiences, thoughts, sensations I’ve just described melted, fused. If anyone doubts that the Stones are world No. 1 band, they weren’t at Hyde Park. Then “Street Fighting Man,” making the scene panted, focused. Then: I’ve told about “Sympathy for the Devil” already.

The Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park was the biggest most vital, most moving rock concert ever.

 

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‘The Rolling Stones: 50 Years on Film’

“There’s a sexual thing onstage between performer and audience,” Mick Jagger, then 22, dryly observes in Charlie Is My Darling, Peter Whitehead’s 1965 chronicle of the Rolling Stones’ Irish tour. Watching the band stir lust and other primal instincts in MOMA’s invaluable survey of the Stones on celluloid, commencing 10 days before the group plays a handful of arena gigs to mark its golden anniversary, ranks as one of this year’s most voluptuous filmgoing experiences.

Whitehead’s documentary, which shows frenzied Dublin and Belfast teens rushing the stage and tackling the band to the ground, reveals just how close Eros and Thanatos would always be at Stones concerts. But the film is also an essential record of the group, pre-superstardom, speaking earnestly about fame, at times with eerie prescience. Stones co-founder Brian Jones softly avows, “My ultimate goal in life was never to be a pop star.” Four years later, he’d get his wish, receiving renown of another kind: rock martyr, dead at age 27, less than a month after his bandmates had sacked him.

With its scenes of Jagger and Richards rehearing songs like “Sittin’ on a Fence,” Charlie Is My Darling presages other films about the quintet’s process. The evolution of the song that gives Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968) its title remains the most hypnotizing thread of the director’s wobbly cine tract devoted to Marxist revolution and the Black Panthers. Filming over several days in the studio, Godard captures multiple iterations of the ode to Lucifer, from a sluggish, acoustic-guitar-heavy number to the indelible anthem with the percussive, grunting intro.

I’m a man of wealth and taste: Jagger’s first-person identification with the Prince of Darkness enhanced his reputation as a snake-hipped Pied Piper leading fans to debauched excess. He’s an erudite Mephistopheles, though, as seen in The Stones in the Park (1969), a TV documentary of the group’s free concert in London’s Hyde Park directed by Leslie Woodhead. The event, occurring on July 5, 1969, just two days after Jones’s death, began with a high-minded tribute: Jagger reads Shelley’s “Adonaïs”; roadies release white butterflies as the band launches into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” By the time the Stones do “Sympathy,” Jagger, in skin-tight white trousers outlining the frontman’s signature bulge, has made the nearly half-million in attendance hard and wet; even the Hells Angels, providing security, can’t resist shimmying.

Five months later and more than 5,000 miles away, another free concert with the outlaw motorcyclists as security guards ended in blood. The infamous snuff rockumentary Gimme Shelter (1970), directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, features Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts in front of the filmmakers’ editing table, watching themselves that disastrous night at California’s Altamont Speedway. “Can you roll back on that, David?” Jagger politely asks, as Maysles shows, frame by frame, Meredith Hunter pulling out a gun followed by his fatal stabbing by an Angel—a murder that occurred while the band was performing “Under My Thumb.”

Before Gimme Shelter shifts into an uneasy countdown to a killing, it reveals, in its first half, the band ecstatically nearing the peak of its power at a concert at Madison Square Garden. That same bifurcation marks the two films chronicling the 1972 U.S. tour, to promote the masterpiece, Exile on Main St. Never released, Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues begins with this disingenuous disclaimer: “Except for the musical numbers, the events depicted in this film are fictitious.” Those “events,” which dwarf the amount of time devoted to concert footage, highlight the depraved indulgences and tedium of life on the road: orgies on planes; Jagger snorting coke off a knife blade; Richards playing cards; an unidentified woman tying off as another, seemingly soaked in cum, says, “I saw fireflies last night.” Rollin Binzer’s Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones (1974), in contrast, is nothing but the group onstage during that ’72 tour, assembled from four electrifying dates in Texas. Jagger, strutting in velvet bodysuits, is a foxy pansexual sylph—or, as Anita Pallenberg says of Turner, the louche character the singer, in one of his first acting gigs, plays in Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance (1970), “He’s a man—a male and female man!”

That film also features another spot-on line directed at Jagger’s AC/DC pop recluse, from co-star James Fox: “Comical little geezer. You’ll look funny when you’re 50.” The prediction held true even before Jagger turned 40, as he rehashes the greatest hits with the band in its 1981 arena tour, documented in Hal Ashby’s soulless Let’s Spend the Night Together (1983). The three remaining original Stones—Jagger, Richards, and Watts—were all sexagenarians by the time of Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light (2008), a hand-jobbing document of yet another victory-lap concert. “The only performance that really makes it is the one that achieves madness,” Jagger says in Cammell and Roeg’s film. This series reminds us just how many times the Rolling Stones surpassed that benchmark.

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Robert Palmer’s Daughter Delves into his Past in The Hand of Fatima

The late Robert Palmer (no, not the “Addicted to Love” guy) wore many hats before dying of liver failure in 1997: He was a famous rock critic and musicologist, a not-so-famous clarinet and sax player for ’60s psych-prog rockers the Insect Trust, a blues producer, and a negligent father. In a confused search for catharsis and profundity, director Augusta Palmer—daughter from the first of Robert’s four wives, whom he abandoned just after her birth—tries to reclaim some of her dad’s essence by delving into his greatest musical obsession: the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Following Palmer the filmmaker as she ventures to Morocco with her baby and one of her dad’s ex-wives, the documentary introduces the current generation of this 1,000-year-old band of Sufi villagers whose complex pan-flute drones were also endorsed by the Beat poets and Brian Jones. August gets misty after hearing a cassette tape of her father playing with the Masters and seeing a lamb gorily sacrificed in his honor. But unless you personally knew the man—so, inclined to nostalgia—all the slapdash animation, stock footage, fake Robert narration, and cred-boosting testimonials here (Yoko Ono, Donovan, Genesis P. Orridge) offer less insight than father Palmer’s own book-turned-doc Deep Blues.

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‘Rolling Like a Stone’

On fire back in June of ’65, the Rolling Stones rocked their first-ever Swedish gig and then spent the night partying at a private house in Malmö alongside shaggy local bands and sundry cool cats. Mick, Keith, and the late Brian Jones likely forgot all about that soiree by their next tour stop, which makes Rolling Like a Stone‘s unearthed Super-8mm footage of the event such a bittersweet treasure. This delightfully pensive 65-minute doc catches up with a semi-connected group of those partygoers to examine through a colored gel of hindsight four decades’ worth of aging, identity crises, and expectations realized and adjusted. Think of it as a variation on Michael Apted’s Up series, as some major players—i.e., the modern-day Stones—don’t show, while others open up to the camera. There’s pensioner-to-be Tommy, who gets his group, The Namelosers, back together again for a sold-out reunion show; single dad Ola, a former member of The Gonks who sifts through his dusty love letters from fans; and Mona, who wonders if Jones would still be alive had she run away with him. More touching than bleak, their brushes with fame long ago are only a jumping-off point to matters more
personal.

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Trite Rabbit: Predictable Psychotronic Pseudo-Biopic

Construction foreman Frank Thorogood allegedly admitted on his deathbed to the murder of Rolling Stones founding fop Brian Jones, and Stoned, the first feature directed by veteran British producer Stephen Woolley, takes this confession at face value, portraying the passive-aggressive relationship between the smug, infantile dandy Jones (Leo Gregory) and the uptight, working-class bloke Thorogood (Paddy Considine) as a “death by misadventure” waiting to happen. Stoned stumbles upon any number of possible themes—songwriting, performance, fame, addiction, class conflict—and toddles distractedly away from all of them, its smothering style an amalgam of the standardized pretensions of a turn-of-the-’70s head movie (free-associative editing, an LSD trip scored to “White Rabbit”) and the stultifying conventions of the biopic (a BBC report explains Jones’s influence, Jones himself is prone to reciting autobiographical flashback cues, etc.). The pointlessly jumbled chronology suggests a film assembled at random, and the parade of miming look-alikes (Mick & Keith, Anita Pallenberg) and dutifully restaged anecdotes resembles an animated waxworks—the period upholstery is a death shroud, while the lysergic flow of lurid color acts as embalming fluid. The rock hero starts out dead and so does the movie.

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Clap Your Hands Say No Rain: Folk-Rock’s R. Kelly

Donovan opens his autobiography in Scottish dialect, as he and a pal wage a tin-can grenade war against the Anderson Gang in 1954. The trippy Glaswegian folk-rock icon evokes Portrait of the Artist‘s language games and adolescent playgrounds before switching gears and delivering a “Bohemian Manifesto,” unmasking the “Mellow Yellow” crooner as the R. Kelly of ’60s psychedelia. Leitch didn’t shoot scandalous videos with underage fans, but he digs forced couplets, peppers reveries with phrases like “a lover’s bleat,” and claims that in ’66 he was “both sensual and spiritual.” His belief that he stopped the rain by having “eighteen thousand souls” in L.A. clap their hands reveals a man capable of releasing a tie-dyed “Trapped in the Closet.”

It’s fun to watch Leitch polish his legacy: He takes credit for world music, folk-metal fusion, “All You Need Is Love” ‘s refrain, Warhol’s VU banana, pre-Dylan electro-folk, and New Age. Things get super-speculative when he ponders if Page, Jones, and Bonham’s contributions to “The Hurdy Gurdy Man” led to Zeppelin. Such pomp doesn’t jibe with travels to the maharishi for hardcore meditation alongside the Beatles, but whenever the solipsism starts to drag, he does something entertaining, like labeling Dylan “the Hebrew shaman with the Celtic name.” Less cartoonishly, he admires his boon Beat companion Gypsy Dave (“[we] stirred the cauldron of Bohemian power”) and discusses his polio- laden working-class upbringing.

The book is ultimately a love story. He pined for Brian Jones’s ex Linda Lawrence; she took time committing to Leitch, but they tied the knot in 1970, and he adopted the child she’d had with the Stones’ visionary founder. (Despite that happy ending, it’s depressing how badly “Flower Power” ‘s puff daddy treated Enid Stulberger, the mother of his two older children, including Ione Skye.) Leitch includes recent family photos and mentions “the second war in Iraq,” but the book closes in the ’60s, well before he can claim to have fathered punk, disco, new wave, and reggaetón.

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The Mountain Men

From the attention of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs in the ’50s, to that of Brian Jones in ’68 and latecomer Mick Jagger in ’89, the Master Musicians of Jajouka possess a celebrity cachet disproportionate to the three albums they’ve released during their ongoing millennia-long gig in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. During their second trip to the United States, the eight Jajoukans who appeared at the Knitting Factory last Thursday presented a scaled-down version of the spectacle one might see back home— where each year several dozen players accompany the randy antics of the goatskin-disguised spirit of Boujeloud amid clouds of kif smoke.

Part-time New Yorker Bachir Attar now leads the Master Musicians, as did his father before him. “Lead,” however, may be the wrong word for a group that functions like a solo-free ecstasy machine. The first and last of the early set’s five pieces were performed on five loud and piercing double-reeded ghaitas accompanied by drums. The horn players divided into three groups, each of which played a segment of an extended, continuously looped phrase with variations, while the drummers parsed the beat into a deeply subdivided pulse. Played either by eight or 80, this trademark Jajouka groove is African music at its most communal and polyrhythmically intense.

In between their ghaita threnodies, Attar and company played less feverish grooves on various combinations of gimbri lutes, lira flutes, and violins. Toward the end, one of the older drummers arose and did a coyly flirtatious Ed Grimley­style dance about the stage. His gambol was entirely in keeping with the Boujeloud ceremony’s fertility theme, which Attar referred to while introducing the final ghaita piece; he described it as “the real pipes of Pan” and added, “Take it with you to the bed.” —Richard Gehr


Box Bottom

Even when he has to sing “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Alex Chilton is a good sport. “I’m sorry about this one,” he told the crowd at the Box Tops’ show August 26 at the World Trade Center’s outdoor plaza. It’s a terrible song, but as Alex observed, audiences have been begging for it for over 200 years. Besides, it’s on four of the six Box Tops greatest-hits albums. The other Tops side with Alex: drummer Danny Smyth tossed him a towel to drape over his arm just before he sang, “the waiter brought a tray.” Hand outstretched to support an imaginary dinner, Chilton tried a deadpan, but cracked up.

Welcome to the alternate universe of the Box Tops. Direct from the Wisconsin State Fair, the band’s five original members closed out the Port Authority’s free post-work Summer Oldies series, which had already featured Gary Lewis, Mitch Ryder, and Little Eva. Above ground, Big Star never happened and Alex Chilton wouldn’t merit a mention on VH-1, but everyone can sing the first two lines of “The Letter,” which inevitably closes the show. Aging office workers nabbed the folding chairs, leaving Chilton’s hipster fans to mingle with bemused passersby. A member of the Clean standing among the Gekkos and longshoremen: only in New York, kids.

Chilton did his best to please everybody, following musty Dan Penn numbers with rock detritus like “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right.” He seemed pleased himself: the Box Tops’ Memphis soul is certainly closer to his solo act than last year’s mummified Big Star tour. To look at him, you’d think he’d spent the last 30 years in that waiter job, and couldn’t be happier to be back. —Josh Goldfein


Slow Burns

About halfway through the Arsonists’ record-release party at the Bowery Ballroom August 28, Q-Unique— one-fifth of the Bushwick rhyme collective, which also includes Freestyle, D-Stroy, Jise One, and Swel Boogie— stepped to center stage for a rendition of “Rhyme Time Travel.” Sort of a hip-hop version of “Through the Years,” it finds our man warping through three time zones— 1979, 1988, and 1999— and roughly emulating a paradigmatic lyricist of each era: Grandmaster Caz, Rakim, and El-P, respectively. The song encapsulates both the Arsonists’ cozy charm and their schizoid weakness, as they uprock their way through a mishmash of old-school revisionism.

Familiar, yes. But this was no typical underground show. The Arsonists are signed to alt-rock credmeister Matador, the first hip-hop act on the roster (now joined by Non-Phixion). So in addition to the usual baggy-cargo-panted and flyer-dispensing suspects, the crowd sported a healthy dose of rock journos and indie-rock guys in tight T-shirts and ratty jeans. As the Arsonists plowed their way through selections from their debut album, As the World Burns, the crowd answered with appropriately mild enthusiasm. But when they launched into the singles that made them stalwarts of the independent scene— “Session,” “Seed,” and the raucous “Venom” among them— the backpacking contingent hit its stride, chanting alongside the MCs and turning the crowd into a semi­mosh pit. Earlier, one of them had shouted at the stage, “Wassup with the open mic?” The closest the show got to spontaneity was a sketched “battle” between Swel and Great Scott (actually the kid who sells the group’s T-shirts), in which the pro took out the amateur with the boast, “To battle me, you don’t need a mic/You need an asthma pump.” Or a bigger record contract, it seems. As this night proved, independent hip-hop may no longer have to rap for its supper. At least not on the spot. —Jon Caramanica