Up Close and Personal With the Rolling Stones

Can the Stones Still Cut It?

Two a.m. in a motel room in Wisconsin. The room is thick with dope and cigarette smoke. Peaple of various sexes crowd the room, among them the Stones. No one looks healthy. Keith Richard, as usual, looks mor­ibund, wasted, and vaguely dangerous. He is wearing a toothy-looking earring in one ear and incredibly expensive, incredibly scuffed snakeskin boots. People are drinking whis­key and wine, snorting coke through rolled up five-pound notes. and, occasionally, pop­ping amyl nitrate. One big fat bearded man in jeans and shitkicker boots sneaks up behind a heavily made-up young woman and pops an amyl nitrate capsule under her nose. Her eyes roll back and she almost keels 0ver. Then she pulls herself together and looks ecstatic. I am not ecstatic. I am not even slightly at ease. If someone pops one of those things under my nose, I know I’ll fall down in a hideous, gibbering fit. l feel the way I did on the first night of sixth grade dancing class back in Loveland, Ohio, where I was the only girl in anklets instead of stockings and Buddy Borger didn’t dance with me once. The coke I’ve snorted has intensified this feeling. The dope is decorating it. Mick Jagger is across the room, looking bored and small and unobtrusive. I would like to go over and talk to him, after all, I am a reporter and he is The Stone. I can’t do it. Every time I start to, my knees dissolve, as they have been dissolving, on and off, in his behalf for the past 10 years.

Finally, I give up the whole misguided adventure and slink off to my room, where I can read a murder mystery and try to feel less ridiculous. I am doing this, unsuccess­fully, when I hear a light tap at my door.

“Come in,” I say. The door opens, and it is Mick. He has a bottle of wine in his hand, and he looks tired and friendly.

“Hi,” he says, “would you like to talk?”

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A fantasy, of course. It ran through my head on a repeating loop for two weeks, from the moment I got the assignment to cover the first week of the current Stones tour of North America until May 31, when I checked in at the Royal Orleans Hotel in New Orleans, thereby entering the world of a Stones tour.

It’s tight, self-enclosed, and intense; you’re pulled into it like an astronaut into a black hole. Swoop! and you’re in another world, within the larger universe but essentially sealed off from it, with the Stones as its gravitational center and everyone else revolving around them in a continually shift­ing hierarchy. There’s no room, or time, for fantasy in that world; you’re too busy finding your feet. And besides, the fantasy was wrong, as I had expected it would be.

After dropping my bags in the furnished closet that constitutes a single room at the Royal Orleans, I went with another reporter, John Rockwell of the Times, to the Stones’ floor to pick up a press kit. (The Stones’ touring party —upwards of 50 people — is large enough that they can commandeer a floor of every hotel they stay at.) While we were there, talking with Paul Wasserman and Suzi Oxley, the tour press people, Jagger walked in. He looked haggard and homely, with a mouth too large for his face, which at that moment seemed deeply lined, and a head too big for his body. He is small — all the Stones are, and they look slightly miniature, like 18th-century men. But to say he’s unobtrusive is too definite.


He is less unobtrusive than visually elu­sive. The parts don’t quite fit together; the subtle disproportion confuses the eye. And he turns on and off more than any other person I’ve seen. The difference between on and off is the difference between a lit stage set and a darkened one.

And with Jagger, on and off isn’t simply the difference between the onstage persona and the offstage person. The onstage persona is always on: however many different char­acters or moods Jagger might convey on­ stage — sexual, clownish, menacing, he shuf­fles them like a deck of cards — each is distinct and readable. But the offstage person is not consistently off, and the face of the person flickers continually with the masks of the personae. Charm gives way to boredom, boredom to irony, irony to humor, with no apparent sequential logic, and in between are moments of pure blankness, when there is no expression at all on the face. Perhaps these are moments of privacy for an extremely public person; if so, they work. Because at such moments the ob­server is left with nothing to look at but that confusing disproportion, and so you tend not to register him at all. Jagger is probably one of the most widely photographed people in the world, and yet if he wants to — and assuming there aren’t hordes of forewarned groupies behind every potted palm — he can pass through a hotel lobby virtually unre­marked.

When Jagger came into the room that Saturday, he was a small, tired offstage performer asking his PR people a question. Then Paul introduced him to the reporters present, and the air zinged a little with that “oh, a star” tension that arises whenever any of the Stones is being introduced to someone. Jagger seemed to come into focus; he straightened and smiled and shook John Rockwell’s hand in an attitude of formal courtesy. When he turned and did the same with me, I saw that above the smile his eyes were like blind walls. It was interesting, even eerie, but not the sort of thing to dissolve the knees of any but the most determined sexual fantasist.

If one’s fantasies of Stones’ life revolve around sex and drugs, around play, the reality one finds on tour is work. This was particularly true during the first week of the tour, when the band was still pulling the show together. In the course of that first week, between June 1 and June 6, the Stones did five shows, two at Louisiana State Universi­ty’s Assembly Center in Baton Rouge (the Stones commuted back and forth from the hotel in New Orleans by air-conditioned camper), another two in the Convention Center in San Antonio, and an outdoor show at the 60,000-seat Arrowhead stadium on the outskirts at Kansas City. The night before the first concert, there was a midnight to dawn technical rehearsal at Louisiana State with the full band — the four Stones, Ron Wood of the Faces filling the space left by guitarist Mick Taylor, Billy Preston on keyboard, and 22-year-old Ollie E. Brown, who usually plays with Stevie Wonder, assisting on per­cussion.

After most of the shows that week, the Stones continued to work, listening to tapes of the night’s performance, singling out rough spots, rearranging the song order to minimize guitar changes, and trying to find solutions to their most persistent problem in large halls, which is simply hearing each other. The night before the outdoor show in Kansas City, they held another rehearsal to incorporate fresh material — including a new song by Keith Richard called “Be Sure the One You Need.”

These are the longest sets the Stones have ever done, running a little over two hours and containing between 22 and 24 songs. The oldest is “Get Off My Cloud,” which segues out of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” — a typical­ly paradoxical Stones juxtaposition — and the show concludes with a bombardment of rockers. All week long, you could see the show evolving on stage through the individual concerts, its parts knitting together into something organic and alive.

Not that any show was bad or any crowd disappointed, but the first concert had an air of labor about it. You could see the continual effort behind the music on the part of every member of the band; the seams were visible, and the show only really flew — that moment when the music seems to take over the musicians and send them as well as you spinning off into some musical outer space­ — during the last half-dozen numbers. At the next performance that evening, the show took off much sooner, less than halfway through and on a number that isn’t even hard rock, a version of “You Gotta Move” sung by Keith, Ron, Billy, and Mick. And two days later, with the first show in San Antonio, everything jelled. The band seemed loose and high by the second number (“All Down the Line”). Mick used every available inch of the huge, starflower-shaped stage, Keith grinned frequently (Garbo laughs!), and Ronnie Wood skittered around in circles like a speedy six-year-old. Even Bill Wyman, ordinarily a solemn man on stage, was seen to smile.

After the show, back at the hotel, every­one was exhilarated. It was evident that a tension had eased. And no wonder. Because that first San Antonio performance answered the uncomfortable questions that hang over this tour more than any other: Can the Stones still cut it? Are they slipping, is this the beginning of the end? Yes, they can, no they aren’t, and no, the end isn’t in sight. That show was one of the best rock shows I’ve ever seen, all two hours and 15 minutes of it, and the ones that followed were just as good. The Stones are in their prime.

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My favorite souvenir of the tour is a yellow armband, a cheap piece of ribbon with three words on it. The armbands were a source of both pleasure and paranoia. They first came to my attention Sunday evening after the first show. A room had been set aside at the LSU Assembly Center for the press to use. There were a lot of us there. I don’t think any Stones tour has been as heavily covered as this one is turning out to be, with anywhere from a half-dozen to two dozen radio, television, and print journalists following the tour at any given point.

Some of us were feeling a little out of sorts. It looked as if we were going to have to spend the time between shows — a matter of some hours — stuck in the press room. A hospitality room, where there was food and an opportunity to talk to the band and where we had been permitted to spend some time the night before, during the rehearsal, was off limits to the press. Or was it? Because as I was glumly considering the sadly empty state of my stomach and my notebook, Frank Conroy of the Times Magazine wandered by wearing some kind of yellow ribbon around his arm. Worse, he was drinking a beer. Then, Geraldo Rivera showed up, also wear­ing a yellow armband and eating a plate of food.

Paranoia, envy, and panic mingled in my brain. My worst suspicions were confirmed. Not all reporters were being kept away from the Stones, just some. Like me. I strained forward to read the words on Geraldo’s ribbon. Something about access. Access to rockstars? My god, I thought, that’s laying it on the line. Then he turned, and the words became clearly visible. In large gold letters, they said: NO ACCESS BACKSTAGE.

Access is a word I’ve never had much occasion to use; it belongs, however, in any reporter’s lexicon of a Stones tour, right next to Hierarchy and Paranoia. Access means access to the Stones, the pinnacle of the tour hierarchy. And worrying about that access is a reporter’s own special brand of paranoia on a Stones tour. I got an armband eventually, along with some of the other reporters. The armbands were primarily intended for photographers, and what they did was let you stand directly in front of the stage during the first two numbers, a joyous, ear-splitting experience. It is fitting that the only special badge of passage given to reporters on the tour was one that told you where you couldn’t go.

This kind of thing can make you feel slightly crazy, particularly if you’re a reporter who is a Stones fan. Even if you know that should the Stones prove horrible you will go home and say so, that doesn’t really quell the feelings of love, affection, and gratitude for pleasures past that are bobbing around embarrassingly in the back of your mind. While the Stones and the people around them are treating you gingerly, as if you might bite, you’re feeling like an over­enthusiastic St. Bernard who’s about to roll all over the floor with unwonted, and un­wanted, adoration.

The press was finally given access to the hospitality room that night. We were led in, over a period of a half-hour or so, in little groups of two and threes. It was a large collegiate recreation room. Bill Wyman, looking pretty and artificial in his stage makeup, played Ping-Pong with one of the touring party while Astrid Lundstrom, the striking blonde Swedish woman who has lived with him for the past eight years, looked on. Geraldo was over near the buffet talking to Bianca, who is tiny and exquisite and chic. “You look very beautiful tonight,” he said. “Thank you,” she said, in an incredibly husky voice.

In the center of the room, at a round table, sat Mick. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and his eyes were almost completely obscured by the heavy black eye makeup he wore for the first two shows. (By San Antonio, Bianca had prevailed on him to change it to something lighter, which was smart; the black eyes were tacky, remini­scent of Alice Cooper, and they made him look blind and glaring on stage.) Sitting at the table with Mick were three British tabloid reporters and tour manager Peter Rudge; it was an informal press conference, and I sat in on it, resolving to be as un-St. Bernard-like as possible.

That, as it turned out, was easy. It was like a parody of the dumbest sort of pop star press conference, with everybody playing unnatural roles. Rudge, ordinarily a brusque man with the press, was alarmingly sweet — according to someone I spoke to later, because he’s going to be introducing a couple of his lesser groups into England in the fall and wants friendly coverage. The reporters, who had been sufficiently hard-assed and wisecracking back in the press room, now seemed afflicted with their own case of St. Bernardism. They were solemnly respectful, starting their questions with a ponderous, “Tell me, Mick…” and asking Jagger questions like did he feel that England was no longer a force in world politics? and what did he think should happen there? and what were his political views? Etc. ad dozium. He, in turn, distinguished himself by emitting such pearls as “I would like to see a social revolution (in England) but I dunno how you go about doin’ it.” He also said that he thought most people in England “have been enslaved by a stupid kind of materialism; they spend all their time watching telly.” As he said this, he gestured with his left hand, the third finger of which flickered with the light of a large, square diamond ring.

A moment later, one of the reporters asked, “Tell me, Mick, have you sung ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ since… then?

Thus respectfully was the touchy subject of Altamont broached. “Sure, sure, hundreds of times,” said Mick, cheerfully lying. “We were going to do it tonight, we just forgot.” And into the small silence which followed this absurd statement, he suddenly sang, in a high, sweet falsetto: “Please allow me to introduce myself…” Just the first line, nothing more. But then you remember the line that follows. A man of wealth and taste indeed.

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I see I am in danger of doing what reporters too often do — make Jagger seem like 90 per cent of the Stones. Theatrically, that’s true. He’s more than a singer, after all; he’s a performer and one who works at the level of spectacle, attempting to cast visual images large enough to reach people who may be sitting many hundreds of feet away from him.

But offstage, Jagger recedes, taking his place, along with Keith Richards, as first among equal Rolling Stones. Nowhere does this become so clear as on tour when you have a chance to watch the work behind the show. In one sense, the experience of that week was a process of watching the other members of the band emerge.

The first rehearsal evening at LSU was almost a capsulized version of the process. The rehearsal was supposed to begin around 9 p.m. It actually started three hours later because everyone thought Ronnie Wood was in someone else’s car, so a driver had to make the 90-minute run back to New Orleans to get him and bring him to Baton Rouge. Mick stayed backstage (no access rock stars); the half-dozen reporters present hung out in the hospitality room with various members of the tour and, as they came and ­went, the band.

Ollie Brown and Billy Preston came in, moved through the room looking like char­acters out of an Alvin Ailey ballet. They wear enormous Afros (Billy’s is a wig), and they are showy, dramatic-looking men. Ollie, who talked with frankly star-struck pleasure about being asked to join the tour, looked like a tough, flashy street dude, with his brightly studded jeans rolled up to show off high silver platform boots. Billy is older and more remote; playing Ping-Pong in slick, expen­sively tailored black trousers and yellow satin shirt, he might have been a rich young Harlem preacher on his day off.

Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman sat at a small round table in the middle of the room, and talked with reporters about the latest Stones album, Metamorphosis, and about the tour. The Stones are angry about the album, a collection of old, unreleased studio tracks put out without their cooperation by Allen Klein. “It’s nothing to do with us,” Charlie said, “the liaison was nil.” Bill called the album “just a load of junk, really” (in fact, it’s not that bad) and said that the Stones had put together their own album of unreleased material from the ’60s with songs dated and running consecutively from 1963 to 1968 — “so it’d have some historical interest, some sort of value for collectors” — but that Klein turned it down in favor of his own. “His isn’t as good, but he’ll make more money from it,” Bill said.

Bill Wyman seemed, in some ways, the most “normal” of the Stones. He was vir­tually free of that wary, slightly hostile tension that the Stones sometimes radiated around reporters, perhaps, in part, because the press tended to overlook him. Personally, this amused him. “‘Everybody says I’m so quiet, that I never talk. Know why I never talk? ’Cause nobody ever asks me any­thing.” Professionally, it isn’t quite so funny, although he was wry enough about it. “Take a movie like Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones. That’s what it’s called, and yet, y’know, you’re in it for about 20 seconds. Gets to feel a bit weird, that. You begin to think, well, what the fuck’m I doin’ here?”

Talking to Wyman, that night at LSU and in a private interview at the end of the week with him and Astrid, I was struck by his openness. He expressed emotions — affection for Astrid, the pleasure they take in raising his 13-year-old son, who will travel with them for much of the tour — with the kind of unself-conscious frankness that is surprising in almost any man but especially one who is — however silently — a star.

Musically, one associates Wyman and Watts, the oldest Stones; they provide the basic ground in which the Stones’ music is rooted. Offstage, that evening, they were like bad cop/good cop. Wyman was agreeable and talkative, inclined to a kind of mild humor; of all the Stones, he was the easiest to be around. Charlie, on the other hand, had the comic irascibility of a Dickens character. He has a reputation among the band for humor, and, he just now, he looks eccentric enough to be out of Dickens, amazingly thin, with a protuberant Adam’s apple and facial features sharpened by the fact that he has, for some reason, cut his hair so short that, with the small bald spot at the crown, it suggests nothing so much as a cross between a mad monk and someone who got out of Dartmoor Prison a week ago.

That night, as we talked about the design of the show — which was done by Robin Wagner in consultation with Mick and Char­lie — he seemed to respond to half our ques­tions with “Wottaya mean??!!” Then, hav­ing made it clear that the question was ridiculous, he would answer it. The last night I was on the tour, after doing the interview with Wyman, I ran into Charlie in the corridor and for once, he asked a question. He was looking at the remains of a room service buffet that Paul had provided for the press. “Wot’s this, then?” he asked, seeming interested. Assuming he was hungry, I pointed out a relatively unscathed avocado with crabmeat and suggested it was still edible. And sure enough… “Edible??!!” he howled, and then muttering something about how he certainly wasn’t goin’ to eat that ghastly stuff, he tromped off down the hall.

At one point during an informal interview with Charlie and Bill, Keith came blasting into the room with a small entourage, took one look at the reporters, and veered off to an upright piano standing against one wall and started pounding out a blues. It was like a metaphor for his whole relation to the world, to the press and to music. Throughout the week, I never once saw Keith alone; he was always with one or two people, often another musician like Billy or Ron Wood, and fre­quently a man named George Pappanjou. George remained a rather mysterious fig­ure; he avoids the press even more as­siduously than Keith does, looks rather like him, is said to be Hungarian, and was seen to keep Keith’s cigarettes lit and his glass filled; yet, when I asked one of the tour staff if George was Keith’s gofer — each star had somebody assigned to him in that capacity­ — she looked shocked and emphatically said no, George was Keith’s friend.

As for Keith blasting into rooms, well, he does. Offstage, Keith has the same intensity of presence as he does on, and so, of course, it stands out more. He’s amazing looking — all tatterdemalion satin jackets and flapping silk scarves, tight jeans, hollow cheeks, black artichoke hair, and huge iridescent eyes. He doesn’t look decadent; he looks vigorous and infernal, as if he just strode forth from the jaws of hell.

By the end of the week, it seemed odd that Keith could ever have been called decadent, with its connotations of decay and artifice and over-refinement; he seems utterly en­gaged in his work. The intensity of his involvement was evident onstage, where his role as the guiding force of the music was obvious. But the involvement was evident offstage as well. Night after night, some­times after spending an hour or so going over tapes of the night’s performance, he would slip off, with Ronnie or another member of the band, to listen to music somewhere and possibly to jam. He lives hard, and God only knows what exotic substances he takes along the way (the only drugs I saw that week were Paul Wasserman’s tranquilizers and my own), but his life seems to revolve around music.

Keith isn’t really as unfriendly as he seems, but it was intimidating to talk to him in a way that it wasn’t with Jagger. Talking to Jagger feels appropriate; he interacts with his public. Talking to Keith you feel a little as though you are bothering a busy man.

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During the reporters’ group conversation with Charlie and Bill the night before the first concert, Frank Conroy told an unflat­tering anecdote about a woman he described as “one of those high-pressure girl report­ers.” I know the woman he was talking about; she’s in her late thirties. Later in the same conversation Bill Wyman was talking about some studio work the Stones had done recently. Many of the songs don’t have names yet. “In the studio,” Bill said, “we call them any old thing, just to get a name on the box for convenience — ‘Dustbin Lid’ or whatever.” Then he described one song which was called “Vagina.” “It was ‘Cunt’ in the studio — not really, y’know, but because somebody had called somebody else a cunt, and so we used that. But then we didn’t want to write that, so we used ‘Vagina’ instead.”

Most of the time on the tour, I was just another reporter, neuter, doing my job while everyone else did theirs, but at moments like those, I felt self-consciously female, isolated and engulfed by an all-male world. The world of a Stones tour is very male. Out of a tour staff of 56, six were women. Of the half-dozen or so reporters following the tour that week, one was female — me. The result for a woman covering the tour is that you spend almost all your time with men; it’s a peculiar, alien sensation, as if you were visiting a planet where the female population had been de­cimated by an unnamed plague.

Of course, the plague does have a name — sexism. I had expected to encounter that, although not in quite the form it took in the Stones tour world. In the world that exists around the band, the sense you get is not the hey-honey-wanna-fuck mentality of an aggressively macho world where men are men and women are sex objects, but rather of a much younger sort of machismo, a world where boys are boys and this is their club­house so girls keep out.

It’s a world where it’s hard to imagine men and women simply being friends. Bill Wyman and Astrid Lundstrom were some­thing of an exception to this; their rela­tionship had a quality of friendship and mutual respect about it, and they seemed — ­and much of the time, literally were — some­what apart from the clubby, boyish atmo­sphere that most frequently surrounded the rest of the band. But their relationship reflects some old-fashioned assumptions. When I asked Astrid if she had a separate profession of her own, she said no, although she had considered modeling or acting — and then Bill broke in, saying, “I wouldn’t let her; if she got involved with something like that, she mightn’t be able to come on tour.” It was a striking remark if only because except at that point in the conversation, Astrid seemed very much Bill’s equal.

Feminism hasn’t made much more of an impact on the women who are part of the rock world than it has on the music itself, perhaps because that world is still so overwhelmingly dominated by men. I talked with some of the women on the tour about this, asking the most general sorts of questions about what it was like to work on the tour, and how did it compare with the rock world in general: They tended to confirm my impressions of the clubby, boyish atmosphere, but their reactions to the feminism implicit in such questions varied widely, from cautiously sympathetic interest to flickers of outright hostility. And every woman I spoke to at some point mentioned the groupies.

The hotels in San Antonio and Kansas City were besieged by groupies, not simply fe­male fans, but female fans on the make. Some of their clothes were incredible, the stuff of pornographic fantasy — barely opaque dresses with no backs, no sides, and hardly any fronts; halters that didn’t halt much of anything; constrictingly tiny short shorts; even one brief, weird arrangement of black leather and industrial zippers. They crowded the lobby like fervid mendicants, stalked the halls like big game hunters, but to no end. They were held at bay by double ranks of security forces, in the lobby and on the Stones floor of each hotel, while the Stones themselves stayed safely out of reach.

There was a kind of comedy to that scene, but it had its depressing moments. In San Antonio, as I came out of my room, I met a girl standing by the elevator. She looked very young, with a fresh round country face, and she was wearing an awkwardly fitting black evening gown that looked as if it might have come from her mother’s closet. Noticing my notebook and tape recorder, she asked me rather desperately if I knew where the Stones’ rooms were. I said I didn’t, less out of loyalty to the tour than out of embarrass­ment for her. As I started to get on the elevator, she called after me, in a kind of shriek, “Can you get me an autograph?” “No, no,” I said, jumping on the elevator as the doors closed, and for a minute I hated rock music and stars and sex and men and women, and I wanted to be somewhere else entirely. Not that there was anywhere else to go; running from that girl, I was just running from part of myself.

Then I ran right back into it. My interview with Jagger was scheduled for the last night I was on the tour, following the Kansas City concert. It had been a long week. I was tired; he would be too. As I headed off for his room, I was prepared for blank-eyed ordinariness, even relieved at the prospect.

Mick was sitting in the middle of his bed. He was tousled, the bed was tousled, the room was softly lit, and lovely classical music played from a radio by the bed. He looked tired and friendly, like nothing so much as some exotic little animal in its lair, gazing out from soft, blue-shadowed eyes and smiling with lightly painted lips. I felt bewitched, and for a moment, dizzy, lustful half-thoughts collided inside my head.

Then the phone rang, the moment passed, and I pulled myself together and set up the tape recorder. It was, after all, not Arden Forest, but Room 521 of the Kansas City Royal Sheraton, a place where, among other things, a serious interview might be con­ducted — and almost was, until Ronnie Wood came in.

He entered just as I was asking Jagger if he’d done any solo work; Jagger said that he had been doing some work of his own and that, in fact, he’d done a lot of it with Ronnie. As he and Ronnie started talking, the whole tone of the interview shifted. When I’d been talking with Mick alone, the conversation had had a quality of professional seriousness about it. He was the serious artist-performer, talking about how performing a song changes it, making it diminish or expand, how the best ones always grow in perform­ance, and how that was one of the things that made performing satisfying. But as he and Ronnie talked about their work together, they sounded like kids talking about their favorite hobby. It was lighthearted and funny and very young, a glimpse inside the clubhouse. Mick launched into a story about how if he’s got a song then he and Ronnie have got this studio with a drum machine and they go down there and they have a girl usually — he grins — and Ronnie says yeah, a girl engineer, and we lay down the basic track on guitars with the drum machine­ — and Mick says and we get the girl to run back the guitar track so we can sing the song — and I say, feeling somewhat confused but falling in with the general tone of things: Why a girl? Well, sometimes it’s Ronnie’s old lady ‘coz she’s there a lot (says Mick), or some­one stayin’ with her y’know, keepin’ her company while we’re locked away down­stairs (says Ronnie). And Mick explains: We need someone to do the machinery, just push the buttons, and we teach ’em that; they learn very easily. And sometimes they start comin’ jumpin’ out and playin’ the tambou­rine or somethin’ and y’say (he puts on a squawky Goon Show voice), “Git back to the controls, somebody has to play the guitar.”

There was more of this sort of thing, with much clowning around, and I found myself laughing even though the butt of all the jokes was girls-and-their-silly-ways. At one point Ronnie was talking about trying to explain to his girlfriend why it was a bother to have her along on tour; “You are a bother,” Mick interjected in a booming voice, “‘coz we don’t have more than one bathroom and your makeup is claustrophoberizing my fucking bath!!!” And then he toppled over on the bed, growling.

Funny machismo, but machismo just the same, and I asked Jagger if he thought the criticism of the Stones as macho was accurate. He said he thought the band was macho in a way, but the songs weren’t, or at least not since “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl.” I had half-expected a sneer at the question itself; instead, he was polite enough until I brought up “Midnight Rambler.” “Midnight Rambler,” he said, wasn’t a macho song. Oh you mean it’s tongue-in­-cheek? I asked, thinking of the Stones’ way with irony. But no, it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek, either, he said. it just wasn’t a macho song. I suggested that it might be a great song, but it played with images of rape and wasn’t really a song a woman could sing. And he got very sullen and said a woman could so sing it, and even when Ronnie and I started talking about something else, Mick went on muttering that it wasn’t a macho song, just wasn’t fucking macho, that’s all, wasn’t. Seeing as how we’d degenerated to the level of five-year-olds in a sandbox, I prepared to retreat to a friendlier line of questioning. Too late. No matter what I asked about anything, the answers came out in grudging monosyllables. So I put on my adult reporter face and said, “Well, thanks very much,” and he put on his polite adult performer face and said, “My pleasure, ” and there you have some irony.

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After the San Antonio concert, someone asked Keith about the Stones’ image as a band — did he think it had changed since the last American tour, and, if so, to what? Keith said he was sure it had changed, but that he had no idea what the band’s image on this tour would be, he’d be interested lo see. Then he talked about keeping the show fresh, with continual song changes throughout the tour. “It’s more work,” he said, “but it’s the only thing that keeps you from getting slick.”

If there’s an image for the Stones this time around, perhaps it is to be found in the extraordinary length of their shows, the effort going into them, and the amount of touring the band is planning to do. According to Bill Wyman, they hope to tour more or less steadily for the next year or so “in as much of the world as will have us” on a one­-month-off, two-months-on schedule. If that’s true, it’s remarkable; the Stones haven’t worked together like that since the 1960s. The image of the Stones that I came away with at week’s end was simply that of a great working band, working hardest while they’re still at their best.

The Stones might act like kids sometimes, but they aren’t, and they know it. Bill Wyman, the oldest Stone, now refuses to give his age to the press. “I feel silly about that,” he said, when I asked him about it, “but… well, I’m afraid it might somehow hurt the band.” Jagger was asked so often on the tour about age that he began after a few days to brush the question aside a little wearily. “I can’t think more than a few years ahead,” he said at one point, sensibly enough. The same has to go for the whole group. Their future is the same as their working image, and both are identical to their music. Because it continually acknowledges the power strug­gles inherent in matters of love and politics, that music may not always please us. But it will have to do.

“Midnight Rambler” is macho. Worse, one of the onstage gimmicks the Stones are using for this tour is a huge white penis. It’s made of parachute silk and comes blowing up out of a trap in the stage while Jagger is singing “Starfucker.” He achieves some wit by punching and kicking the thing as it recedes into the trap, but mostly he rides it, and the gimmick seems sophomoric and second-­rate, devoid of the multiple meanings that one has come to expect from the Stones. It’s dumb, and you expect the Stones to be smart.

But even if it were smart I would still wish it weren’t there. My politics make me want to believe that they give all their money to the revolution, that they didn’t really mean that part about the stupid girl, that in real life they refer to all females over the age of 12 as “women” and never fail to vote for the Equal Rights Amendment when they’re in town.

I have a perverse desire to make good guys of them. It’s perverse not because they’re bad guys — and I’m talking about them now not as people but as artists — but because they’re both good guys and bad, selfish and giving, arrogant and abjectly sad, joyous and continually aware of the limited life span of any joy. It’s their com­plexity, their capacity for paradox that makes them great, that makes the music resonate year after year in the mind. I have an impulse to clean them up, make them tidy and undisturbing. But it’s only the disturbing artists who are important, who fire our imaginations so that their art gives rise to our own.


CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Magnificent Rolling Stones

“Oh, the dazzle of it all”

The Stones were magnificent. Everybody thought so. Thank Christ. Report on the Stones ploughing through their own multi-multi-million dollar Suez Canal of rock ‘n’ roll, high life garbage, and Life covers across the flatlands to New York City, USA: tired but alive, still superbly capably of thrashing out the best music currently available. “Nice t0 be back in Noo York, Noo York,” says Mick with a quick and casual stroke of the mike. “They always do best here,” says Peter Rudge, tour manager on his way to bed down the staircase of the Four Seasons restaurant where we of the press had just been treated to a party to end them all. Naturally enough, everybody was there, all the way from Richard Meltzer who got thrown out to Truman Capote who didn’t, but then Truman wasn’t dancing on the tables. He’d already had his fun right there onstage with the Rolling Stones, squatting on an amplifier case in fedora and sunglasses with the fabled Super Trouper light ensemble dug in like an anti-aircraft battery behind him. Oh, the dazzle of it all. But you know all that already, of course. How could you possible avoid it? Ever since Altamont, the Stones are A-1 cover material.

Why have all the Stones stories from Life to Rolling Stone been practically interchangeable? Is it the God of Journalism speaking in tongues and conferring many uniform visions? I think not; a better reason might be that big blue loose-leaf folder they give out with the press tickets.

The first Stones concert in New York since “Ya-Yas” made that heady blast sound dull by comparison. The horns helped of course but mainly it was Mick Taylor who played a lead guitar which burned your ears off.

Production and Security have been emphasized. Production was brilliant, security unobtrusive, vibes so nice you’d almost be tempted to forget all nasty feelings about rock’s only surviving juggernaut. Long live Chip Monck and the Positive Philosophy of rock presentation. A feeling of great well-being surged through 20,000 fans, bouncing them all in perfect time to the rhythm of Charlie’s bass drum.

“Love in Vain,” their seventh number, got them fully in the groove. Until then, it had been messy. “Exile on Main Street” has partially obscured the fact that Mick can sing; the little Dervish in the white jumpsuit has one hell of a voice. He plays harp too, and dances. He whips the stage with a leather thong during “Midnight Rambler”; “Have you heard about the Boston — WHACK!!” Chip’s lights bathe him in blood red, but when the band slams into the final chorus, all the lights go on and everybody comes together. It’s called balance.

Keith is all spikes from head to toe. For some, he is the most interesting Stone; he retains a sense of mystery while Mick is but a brilliant showman, Charlie a drummer, Taylor a guitarist, and Bill a bass-playing lump.

Stevie Wonder’s set was, frankly, boring for the first half hour. He hardly sang at all and his big band sounded like an amplified milk churn despite all the technical wizardry you must have heard about. But he warmed up, got it on, and won more than a few hearts. After “Street Fighting Man,” Mick led him back onstage and the two of them — Mick in clinging white, Stevie in clinging black — bounced together through “Satisfaction.” Mick was all set to leave, but Stevie rallied the assembled company; he was delirious with the roar of the crowd, and he didn’t want to leave. Mick washed the front row with rose petals, but when he got to the water, a cop ran for cover smiling.

The Rolling Stones have gone. It’s all over.

— Patrick Carr

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THE ROLLING STONES make it all work. Opening a four performance stay at Madison Square Garden Monday night, they proved even for those of us who had not participated in the ritual pack in 1969 (or before) that the magic is real, that they’re not just playing games. Sure they had a beautifully elaborate lighting system — using mirrors and spot­lights operated from behind the stage — and a sound system which made even the mammoth Garden seem like a reasonable place to hold a concert. But the Stones themselves held it all together.

The crowds which had been dreaded, and which prompted even publicity material to proudly announce the tightest security measures in the history of rock concerts, never appeared in very large numbers. Inside, there was little of the screaming which had become so famous on the Stones’ previous tours. Aisle-crowding, yes, but not of a violent nature. The Garden is big, and people do want to be able to see.

Stevie Wonder and his group Wonderlove opened things, with Wonder coming on as though this was his only chance. If a lack of advance publicity did anything to Wonder, it was to make him come on that much stronger. No time was wasted in getting down to business. By the time he got to singing “Lean on Me” through a modulator which was controlled at the keyboard, everyone had joined in.

The Stones came on after inter­mission — Jagger in a silver jump suit with black shirt and red scarf, lights following him like a magnet as he went through his repertoire of dances and contor­tions. The exaggerated pan­tomimist’s movements provided what under other circumstances would have been simple facial expressions. All for playing to a mass audience — an audience of literally millions, for Jagger is not just performing for those within the confines of a particular limited situation. The whole group, in fact, gives the impres­sion that it is playing for everyone individually, with the stress on the everyone.

What makes it all work, from “Satisfaction” to “Midnight Rambler” to “Jumping Jack Flash” to “Tumbling Dice” is as much a mystery as ever. The Garden, however, is an appropri­ate enough house for this popular mass art form — one which may well take the title away from another (faltering) Garden at­traction, the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. Yes, the Rolling Stones just may be the Greatest Show on Earth.

— Ira Mayer

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The Stones: Long view from the viscera

As I sit down to write, the Rolling Stones are staggering toward the end of their most suc­cessful American tour. Thousands upon thousands of fans have turned out in cities across the country to sit mesmerized, stomp and shout, or struggle to touch the personification of their fantasies. Thousands more had to be turned away. A riot in Vancouver. Busted in Boston and the concert delayed until Mayor Kevin White intercedes in their behalf. Wild nights in Hugh Hefner’s mansion. An entourage of swaggering dandies, stylish ladies, tarts, bodyguards and international ce­lebrities waiting patiently outside dressing rooms to tell them they’re marvelous. Truman Ca­pote covering the tour for Rolling Stone! Terry Southern on assign­ment for the Saturday Review! Mick on the cover of Life. Don Heckman, in the Sunday Times Magazine, reports that Mick’s “genitalia are pushed up and out… as aggressively protuberant as a ’50s teen-age girl in a pointy bra.”

“Is Mick Jagger a transves­tite?” the woman downstairs asks me. She can’t quite understand her son’s devotion to Their Sa­tanic Majesties. “I don’t believe so,” I reply off-handedly, “but that’s a logical question.” I clomp on down the hall, a bit self-cons­cious now in my stacked-heel boots, feeling a twinge of guilt about not being able to explain to her what the Stones are all about. Where would I start? With a defense of existential creativity? A rap on art reflecting reality? A Jungian analysis of societal sym­bolism and its relationship to primordial images? Or should I use the Stones’ current trade­mark, a bright red tongue lolling out of a wicked mouth, to suggest that it probably signifies the inev­itable solution to the population crisis, as well as a reminder that cunnilingus can be a quite effec­tive alternative to abstinence in cases where straight intercourse is not desirable in the absence of a birth control device. Or that it’s a perfect way for heterosexual couples to both enjoy the quite natu­ral desire to have a turn at being sex objects without the need for having traditional masculine-­feminine, passive-aggressive roles to play. Or that these thoughts can be inspired by a mere symbol, proving the effectiveness of pop art as a facile medium of vital and sometimes complex information for survival.

In a society where cosmetics, clothes and automobiles are extravagantly expensive objectifications for states of mind we could reach at no cost at all; where hypocrisy has become a social necessity and adulthood requires surrender to a suicidal technological routine where work becomes a spirit-crushing mind-fucking trap, it shouldn’t be hard to understand the Stones have remained popular for nearly 10 years by dwelling on themes of sexual exploitations, mental disintegration, drugs, violent politics, and the fragility of male-female relationships. In short, they are hip to the horror show and can articulate it in words and music. Thorough fantasizing, and intuition based on personal experience, they often reveal the reality of a complex set of circumstances.

But 10 years is a long time. Has their rage really been assimilated into the mass consciousness? Do the feelings they evoke linger, and provide a positive impetus for thought and action? Or has the effect of the Stones’ music been like that of a safety-valve on the feelings of their followers, a symbolic alternative to action? Has it all been a mind-dulling, technological film-flam, a “revolt into style” a diversionary tactic?

Jagger keeps hinting that he’s tired of doing the same primal rock ‘n’ roll melodies, although they still manage to sell a lot of records. He has expressed the desire on several occasions to experiment with other styles than the basic, blues-inspired material the Stones have built their career on. He speaks highly of Their Satanic Majesties Request, the sole departure from the group’s visceral brand of rock ‘n’ roll.

For that reason, and a growing belief that perpetual adolescence is going out of vogue as a life-style (as upcoming generations get hip to what’s real and what’s fantasy at an earlier age), I think that the Stones, next time around, might be singing a slightly different tune.

I also believe that the Stones, sooner or later if they continue working together as a band, will be forced to adapt, or be naturally and artistically inclined in favor of the changing attitudes of their over-all audience.

I think rock ‘n’ roll will continue to serve as a catalyst for the release of youthful frustration; that groups like the Stones, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath must continue to provide theatrical expression for fantasies and hard-edged reality, and create understanding among an audience which often has no medium other than popular music to find answers or share feelings.

Leonard Cohen once said: “Do I listen to the Stones? Incessantly.” Sometimes I do, too. I listen to other music also, Indian music, blue-grass, Satie, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, acoustic guitar players, and the chanting of Tibetan monks. It eases my mind or provides an aesthetic stimulation you don’t often get in rock ‘n’ roll. But when I feel the need for a little get-down-to-it, primitive expression, or an urge to do some howling or midnight creeping, I put on the Stones and either wind up staying home and letting them do it, or I absorb sufficient energy to swagger out myself for some boogieing, and beating the blues.

One more thing: In the Times Magazine article, Heckman criticizes the Stones for withdrawing into “protective isolation” after “having stirred the cauldron of violent, antisocial attitudes.” So what? Politicians do it all the time, and they have a clear-cut responsibility to their constituencies far beyond rhetorical display and public appearances. The Stones are artists, first and foremost, and their work is the only thing that we can legitimately criticize. Their private lives and how they spend their money are not our concern, unless they infringe on our lives.

They should at least perform some benefits, though, and invest some of their bread in social change. And they could also patronize and encourage other artists.

— Richard Nusser

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.



Rolling Stones/Guns N’ Roses: Stoned in L.A.

Los Angeles

Last week’s four concerts at Memorial Coliseum started as a battle of the bands, the old stones versus the young guns. As one dude-ette said to another on a toilet line, “Some people think this is a Rolling Stones concert. They’re so wrong.” She was among the hordes of nuevo L.A. hard-rockers hoping that the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band title might be passed to Guns N’ Roses, the nasty white boys with two albums out that have sold 12 million copies. They joined the Stones tour only for these gigs, a bill that had fans on other stops envi­ous. Forget about it. If you have tickets for this week’s four shows at Shea Stadi­um, count yourself lucky. You’re being spared, not cheated.

Shortly after sunset last Wednesday, a tidal wave of cheers arose and thousands of Bics flicked when Guns N’ Roses took the stage for their first hometown concert since they opened for Aerosmith in Sep­tember ’88. Singer W. Axl Rose started the show by demanding that we “calm the fuck down for a minute!” He had something to say.

“I’m getting fuckin’ sick and tired of all this publicity about our song ‘One in a Million.’ ” That, of course, is the notori­ous niggers-faggots-immigrants tune that was labeled a vile idiocy in the Voice and elsewhere shortly after the December re­lease of the album GN’R Lies. Months after it climbed the charts, The New York Times took umbrage, inspiring loads of op-eds on rock ’n’ roll bigotry and an Entertainment Tonight segment that gave yet more airtime to Tipper Gore.

“When I use the word nigger,” Axl ex­plained to 72,000 people at the first L.A. show, “I don’t necessarily mean a black person. I don’t give a crap what color you are as long as you ain’t some crack-smok­ing piece of shit…

“I don’t care who you have sex with. I just don’t want some faggot raping me…

“And I know there are a lot of immi­grants in America. All I ask is that they fuckin’ act like it…”

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Axl was on a roll. Wearing a backwards baseball cap and T-shirt, he was a greasy, long-haired redneck, spoiling the gig be­fore it got started. His remarks were hardly met with unanimous approval. While still substantial, the volume greet­ing each line was perhaps half as loud as the initial ovation. Axl finally concluded, “All you people calling me a racist, shove your head up your fuckin’ ass.”

This was winning the argument by in­timidation. It was only the first of a se­ries of disasters. Sounding more ragged than they looked, the five members ran through half of their songbook, though not “One in a Million” or the far catchier “Used to Love Her [but I had to kill her].” He had been storming around the set, keeping his distance from the band. Then Axl threw another grenade: “Unless certain people in this band get their shit together, these will be the last Guns N’ Roses shows you’ll ever see.” They stum­bled into “Mr. Brownstone,” a heroin-­laced adventure (“I used to do a little, but a little got more and more”). After sneer­ing and throwing the mike stand about, Axl fell off the front of the stage.

You might have thought he was under the influence, and he was, under the in­fluence of one of his infamous rages. (“He has a natural psychosis, a humongous temper,” an acquaintance of his told me the next morning. Another insider, also an admirer, echoed, “Axl’s a psychopath.”) His anger only escalated. None of the other band members spoke a word, and Slash, looking like Cousin It on gui­tar, didn’t show his face through his hair. At one point, Axl said, “Certain members of this organization were dancing with Mr. Brownstone,” i.e., shooting dope. That, it turned out, was why he was so furious.

The audience, subdued and confused, came alive only at the band’s break­through hit, “Sweet Child O’Mine.” The noise led to an encore, “Paradise City.” Before singing it, Axl announced, “This is my last gig with Guns N’ Roses.”

Well into the Stones’ 23-song, two-­hour-plus show, which sets a new standard for stadium concerts, Mick Jagger paused. “I think Axl did a good show,” he said, sneering the words, “but I wish he’d just shut up and play.” He then kicked into “Mixed Emotions,” the first single off Steel Wheels. He put an extra flip on the opening line, “Button your lip, bay-bee.”

The next night, Thursday, the tour­ openers Living Colour played in the waning daylight before a sparse au­dience. Singer Corey Glover wore a STOP RACISM T-shirt, and he and the band seemed particularly motivated. Living Colour’s very presence undermined at least some of Axl’s racism, especially this night. Two covers — the Talking Heads’ “Memories Can Wait” and the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” — sucked in the inattentive crowd, which had grown to maybe 20,000 people. As the half-hour set approached its finish, gui­tarist Vernon Reid stepped up to his microphone:

“Yesterday some things were said on stage that the band has a problem with. A certain person was trying to explain him­self.” As a founder of the Black Rock Coalition, Reid was duty-bound to speak, and he chose his words carefully. “Look, if you don’t have a problem with gay people, then don’t call them faggots. If you don’t have a problem with black peo­ple, then don’t call them niggers. I never met a nigger in my life. Peace.” The 98 per cent white audience roared. Living Colour careened into “Cult of Personality.”

Guns N’ Roses came on next, without Axl. Wearing a T-shirt that said BETTY FORD CLINIC, Slash came forward and asked for quiet. Now he had something to say:

“Over the years rock ’n’ roll has lost a lot of great ones.” He named Elvis, Janis, John Bonham, and rambled on. “Rock ’n’ roll and excess have become synonymous. There has been a lot written about this band and drugs. A lot of it is bullshit. A lot of it is true. Last night you almost saw the last Guns N’ Roses gig. I remember coming here as a kid to see Aerosmith and Van Halen and the Stones, dreaming of being up here. Last night I was up here and I didn’t even know it. Smack and all that crap ain’t what it’s about, and Guns N’ Roses isn’t going to be one of those bands who break up over it.”

Then Axl swaggered from behind the drum riser, to tremendous applause. To­night he looked ready to play. His hair was washed, even his tattoos seemed to gleam. “I wanna thank Slash for that intro, and I want to apologize for my comments and actions last night. It’s just that I don’t want to see my friends slip away.”

The band was in somewhat better form. Here was the singer’s nice side, the charming, sexy misfit with a stage presence that rivals Robert Plant’s. Axl has this menacing sashay, a signature move, that allows his body to sway below the shoulders while his mouth hugs the mike. He has a screeching falsetto any number of L.A. rooster-tails would die for, and an earthy midrange that carries a big heart, which he poured into the ballad “Pa­tience.” On the rat-bag rockers, though, he would scrunch his eyes, open his throat, and nearly throw his arms off his torso. His mean side still erupted, “I’m gonna dedicate this to some psycho-bitches,” he said by way of introducing “Out Ta Get Me.”

In this song he complains of having his rights “raped,” a favorite word. The sta­dium’s three big screens zoomed in on Slash’s guitar neck during the solo, your standard arena-rock squeal. The doctor, an internist, sitting next to me noted, “He’s not that bad yet. U can still see some veins on his arms. If he’s an addict, he’s only a babe.” When the camera panned back to Axl for the conclusion, he struck one of his stock poses, the cruci­fied rocker. On some nights that might be convincing, but not this one.

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The Stones were fabulous. Their show is tightly formatted, with intricate lighting and video cues and justly celebrated staging, which could’ve come out of Blade Runner. It’s taken a beating since the tour’s August 31 debut in Philadelphia, and the wear only enhances it.

What’s surprising is how much room the Stones have left for screwing around, as seeing back-to-back concerts con­firmed. Mostly this comes in Keith Ri­chards’s and Ron Wood’s guitar dueling, though even Jagger took many liberties with phrasing and ad libs. One night he crooned the lyrics to “Paint It Black,” the next he barked them. (Let’s also sa­lute drummer Charlie Watts, who read The Art Pepper Story and ate sushi while driving the band to Memphis and back in three minutes.) Richards completely messed up the opening chords of “Satis­faction,” a seemingly deliberate prank he also pulled at the second Shea show earli­er this month. Despite nearly identical set lists and shticks — Richards sang two songs instead of only “Happy,” “Angie” replaced “Play With Fire” — nearly every performance had a different high.

On the first night, however, I was root­ing for Guns N’ Roses. Here was an op­portunity for Axl to back away from his ugly interview in Rolling Stone. I actually worried that the Stones might have been making a mistake by inviting one of the planet’s biggest bands to open for them on home turf. I was also worried that the Stones might suck. (Their tour eight years ago was nothing special.)

Yet from the explosion before “Start Me Up” to the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” fire­works at the end, the concert was a grand spectacle. It yielded a lot of laughs, a lot of funk, and the three new songs almost held their own. The most jaded bizzers and crits shook their tail feathers, and the paying customers were ecstatic. I fell in love with them again.

Of all the memories that stick — Keith’s voice sounding like shit and no one car­ing, the guitars roiling under the Uptown Horns in “Tumblin’ Dice,” my wife decid­ing Jagger’s not such a pratt after all­ — the one that’ll probably hang the hardest is Eric Clapton’s cameo during “Little Red Rooster.” Here’s an ex-addict joining a band that has had many narcotic diffi­culties of its own. Here’s a guy who once babbled from a London stage about how his green and pleasant England was being ruined by Pakistani immigration, now sitting in with a band that had to shake the dog of its own sexism-racism (“Black girls just wanna get fucked all night”). Here he was elegantly stinging a solo while Wood and Richards laid down grungy country-blues picking behind him.

Just look at all the records, all the con­certs and cops and divorces and child­-support payments behind these geezers. Compare them to the lives and maybe four first-rate songs of the bucks in Guns N’ Roses. It’s like putting a Honda scoot­er on a highway with a Harley. Has Keith Richards ever apologized? Has he ever got up in front of 72,000 people and blub­bered about how he’s messed his life up on drugs? More than any other shows on this Stones tour, which seems to be peaking right now, the concerts in L.A. put things in perspective. It was a battle of the bands, and Guns N’ Roses got blown off the stage. ■

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1988 Pazz & Jop: Dancing on a Logjam

When last we sat down for a serious chat, it was the end of the world as we knew it, and I felt fine. The Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll, conceived as a goof and evolved willy-nilly into a barometer, was plainly in a jam — a “logjam.” On the album chart, which dated back to posthippie 1971 or 1974, a plethora of well-crafted yet ultimately inconsequential records by postpunk post-Amerindies confounded electorate and dean alike; on the singles chart, instituted in 1979 after the twin ’70s movements of punk and disco jolted rock and roll back toward its original format and function, late-released songs from charting albums crowded out the striking yet ultimately arbitrary moments of passion that emerged on individual ballots. A crisis of consensus had moved the Poobahs to dispense with the EP chart and was also evident in sparse video voting. There were lots of great reissues, most of which nobody had heard.

Yet I really did feel fine, if only because I had just written something moderately cogent and entertaining about this mess, and obsessed the way I usually am in February, I made grand plans to bring Pazz & Jop into the present, or future — plans cut to fit the moderately cogent and very entertaining objective correlative of my good cheer. By which I mean the inevitable internationalization of a world-pop hegemony that’s been American since the end of World War I — new vistas, fresh blood. Baboon Dooley notwithstanding, I didn’t expect the impending flood of U.S.-released “world-beat” to show up on the voters’ 1988 chart: when I say internationalization is inevitable, I’m talking decades or generations rather than years, and I’m also talking a pluralism resistant to electoral quantification — more different kinds of good music than any sensibility can make sense of, created for the most part in blissful disregard of crippling late-capitalist doctrines of artistic decorum (though embracing, I’ll bet, crippling late-capitalist chimeras of superstar glory). Solution: a plethora of minipolls, panels of specialists reporting on African music, Hispanic music, Caribbean music, Amerindies, Europop, jazz, disco, whatever — even videos! Sounded pretty snazzy, assuming the cash cow you hold in your hands would allot personnel to the project — since I maim my marriage every winter with computation, analysis, and shitwork, I wasn’t about to devote the fall to beseeching specialists.

So instead I spent it pondering my future in journalism, just like my [colleagues at said cash cow, which on January] 4 came under its eighth editor since 1974, too late to budget any grand plans. And quite a decent chap he seems to be, cough cough, but there was less than no way to know that then, and — more to the point — no way to budget any grand plans. Hence I was doomed to pore over the same old graph paper and dot-matrix screeds in a year that would make the 1987 logjam look like Beatlemania. I couldn’t even figure a winner until a college student I know transformed Tracy Chapman into an instant favorite by dropping her name. I didn’t look forward to enumerating the shortcomings of this young black female lefty, the first alumna of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival ever to go double platinum. But at least she was all those worthy things, and something new to boot, and thus better copy than Talking Heads, R.E.M., or U2, whose well-crafted but ultimately inconsequential albums would presumably vie for place and show with the sonic youths of yesteryear, 1987’s 14th- and 12th-ranked Public Enemy and Sonic Youth. As for the other front-runners, maybe some legends — plenty of them out there shaking their bones. But all the contenders felt like 11-to-20 material to me.

As it turned out, my confusion was a premonition; statistically, the 15th (or 16th) annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll was the strangest ever. The album chart was completely dominated by three candidates: Tracy Chapman, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, and the overwhelming victor, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. Not that victory was overwhelming in absolute terms — though Public Enemy did break 1000, only the Clash in 1981 and Talking Heads in 1985 won with fewer prorated points, and several second- and third-place finishers have bested 1988’s number one, not to mention 1988’s numbers two and three. What’s more, Sandinista! and Little Creatures were winners by default, perched uneasily atop a neatly graded heap of less-equal works of art. This year, Public Enemy is an actively controversial positive choice: its 295-point margin is just 13 shy of the total accorded fourth-ranked Midnight Oil.

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Which brings us to the nut, because Midnight Oil would have been 12th or 13th in a normal year. In other words, the collective judgment is that 1988 produced only three major albums — the lesser contenders felt like 11-to-20 material because that’s exactly what they were. The 212 voters divided albums four through 29 by a mere 128 points, from 308 down to 180, a differential negligible enough to be bollixed utterly by a couple of partisans; indeed, perennial ballot stuffer Greil Marcus upped Randy Newman two places and Keith Richards three with his strategic 30s, and if the next two days’ submissions had made our deadline, Brian Wilson would have finished not 12th but sixth. Strangest of all is that U2’s underrated if grandiose Rattle and Hum squeezed in at 21st, with two fewer points than the sophomoric October got in 1981; Talking Heads accrued 193 points for Naked, an honest if unsustaining internationalist gesture hailed as a leap forward from 1986’s quasi-roots-rock True Stories, which got 187; and R.E.M., top 10 with all five previous albums, tied for 35th with their Warner Bros. debut, Green. Executive Poobah Doug Simmons, whose heart has never bled for the Georgia obscurantists, was appalled by this rank injustice. “But they’ve done nothing wrong,” he cried.

Except maybe living too long, but let’s put that on hold, because the evolution of one album logjam into another is only half our strange story. The bigger half takes place on the singles chart, which a year ago seemed at an impasse. The old Pazz & Jop plaint that singles matter more than albums seldom shows up in the results; just as there’s too much “world-beat” to absorb much less agree on, singles fans have so many options that rarely do they unite to overcome the casual nod vouchsafed the album cuts respondents remember from their hours with the car radio — their autumn hours, usually. I should note that in a classic Pazz & Jop fuckup, our original invitation requested five rather than 10 singles, which may have skewed our results a little. We rushed out a correction, but one in 10 ballots didn’t comply, a dozen of them from out-of-town, where the car-radio vote is strongest. An unfuckedup invite might have helped U2’s “Desire,” Talking Heads’ “(Nothing but) Flowers,” Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” Prince’s “I Wish U Heaven,” and either of two Pet Shop Boys singles (though they’re hardly an out-of-town-type band), all of which received 10 votes along with Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz,” Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid,” Steve Winwood’s “Roll With It,” and the Godfathers’ “Birth, School, Work, Death.” But album samples weren’t the trend. For the first time in years, even critics who don’t have much use for dance/rap chose real singles instead, so that “Roll With It” (one album mention) and “Birth, School, Work, Death” (three) and Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” (two) and Pursuit of Happiness’s “I’m an Adult Now” (three) and Edie Brickell’s “What I Am” (well, nine) all beat out, for example, Brian Wilson’s “Love and Mercy” and Randy Newman’s “It’s Money That Matters.”

Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” an unrelenting, unbombastic escape-to-nowhere so pithy and sisterly that several respondents claimed the long-player rides its coattails, got its landslide, one of just 10 top-25 singles from top-40 albums. That compares to 15 in 1987, 11 (all in the top 14) in 1986, and 13 in 1985, while in contrast last year’s singles chart made room for just two rap and two dance records, with only “Pump Up the Volume” from a non-album-chart group (and Eric B. begging to differ). This year, as AOR thrashed about and top 40 sunk deeper into a pap cycle, Teddy Riley’s versions of Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown and Spike Lee’s version of E.U. all placed, as did Ofra Haza’s sabra-cum-Yemenite stomp “Im Nin’alu”/”Galbi,” the sole “world-beat” finisher anywhere, which as it happens could also be heard in bits and pieces on Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” remix. And get this — “Paid in Full” was one of nine raps selected.

That’s nine — nine! — when the previous high, reached once, was four. Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock’s nagging, whooping James Brown rip-out “It Takes Two” was beyond question the rap single of the year; anywhere reachable by boombox, it was in the world’s face louder than “Don’t Believe the Hype” from March to October, and it ended up an easy second. The other eight finishers leaned toward crossover while showing off the genre’s range. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” is a shameless bid to suburban wannabees, “Colors” a shameless bid to inner-city moralists, and “Wild Thing” just shameless. But both Salt-n-Pepa entries feminize an intrinsically male-chauvinist genre with spunk, soul, and imagination, “Follow the Leader” sums up a virtuosic, underrated album, “Paid in Full” is the big payback, and “Don’t Believe the Hype” is the slogan of the year.

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Anyone who knows much about the business of music may suspect a con here — how can the single be an augury when as a consumer item it’s staggering to its grave faster than vinyl? But don’t, don’t, don’t you-know-the-rest. The death-of-the-single line is self-fulfilling paranoia in a biz that’s forever scoping stillborn trends and a visceral response to the rack-space crisis created by its frantic promotion of two new formats. Which in their CD-single and cassingle minivariants are getting to second base with the convenience seekers who’ve made cassettes America’s musical long-form and CDs its measure of aural luxury. The 45 may be a promotional fiction and the gold 45 a relic, but in 1988 the single maintained the dollar volume bizzers live by, with a little help from the above-mentioned miniformats and a lot from the 12-inch, a high-profit item that happens to be the basis of the entire contemporary dance scene and its attendant promotional alternatives. D.J. CD and even cassette manipulation will no doubt come into their own (though they’ll be hell on scratching), but for the nonce an industry greedy for avenues of exposure isn’t gonna kill off disco.

So in effect the single, like vinyl itself, is turning into a specialist medium. It took the crash of 1929 to finish the cylinder, which had been a dodo for decades, and though vinyl will get harder to find, it won’t disappear for a long while even if it dips well below its current 20 per cent market share; maybe soon almost no one will sell little records with big holes in them, but 12-inch singles will persist for as long as the D.J. is a cultural hero, and like vinyl-only oldie and indie LPs, they’ll be sought by seekers, critics’ meat for sure. Fact is, as many locals as out-of-towners listed only five singles, and for the same reason — they didn’t give a shit. New York is a 12-inch stronghold, but the New Yorkers who failed to amend their ballots favored promotional fliers like “Slow Turning” and “It’s Money That Matters” and obviously didn’t figure good citizenship required them to rerack their brains for another five. In fact, more than one old new waver suggested changing to a song-of-the-year category to avoid vexing questions of commercial availability, but I like the way things came out.

This may also look like a con, especially to the dance-sucks brigade. “Very aesthetic, a little short on black music,” I wrote of the first or second poll back in 1974, and ever since I’ve been climbing on my soapbox preaching punk-disco fusion, funkentelechy, world-beat, etc. But if I sometimes seem a little repetitive, that’s because history doesn’t change direction annually no matter what the trendmongers want. Sure it was a Year of the Woman/Year of the Protest Song, sorta; we’ll get to that. But the numbers put something else first. To oversimplify for clarity’s sake, they divide 1988’s popular music into a meaning function, reflected in all its weary (and compromised) ambiguity by the album chart, and a pleasure function, reflected in all its subliminal (and cooptable) subversion by the singles chart. If the split were absolute, of course, the end would be at hand — the whole idea of rock criticism is that if pleasure and meaning aren’t made one then meaning will fail, not just as persuasion but as meaning. So say this dichotomy is close enough for rock and roll. Although Chapman’s single does pick up speed, it’s one of the most meaning-laden in poll history, while her album, if far from party-girl whoop-de-doo, proffers more simple enjoyment than Anthony Davis, Dick Hebdige, Jean Baudrillard, Kathy Acker, Andrei Tarkovsky, Z magazine, or 7 Days. Several of our rap singles make social statements, and several of our rock albums turn hanging loose into a middle-aged manifesto. Yet in general, the singles are about the future of fun, and the albums aren’t.

So even though only rap/dance inspired widespread optimism among our respondents, the meaning-laden winner was the sole rap album in the top 40 (last year there were three). What’s more, Womack & Womack are the only black finishers who could be said to play to a black audience, much less the black dancers who put new beats in action: we’re talking women’s music, fusion-with-brains, metal-with-brains, crossover blues, and, well, Prince, his official album a major dink after last year’s poll-sweeping Sign “O” the Times, his “black album” (clandestine copies of which finished eight points, five mentions, and three places behind 17th-ranked Lovesexy) withheld from public scrutiny out of fear it was well-named. And while over the past few polls not many black pop albums have deserved much better than the nothing they got, this time I’m not so sure.

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With hip-hop preoccupying a growing minority of young critics, rap albums did flourish twixt 41 and 100: meaning-laden Big Daddy Kane and Boogie Down Productions 45th and 47th, party-smarty formalists Eric B. and EPMD 54th and 68th, and girl-group-and-proud Salt-n-Pepa 73rd. But significantly, only Kane and EPMD were supported by even one of our 19 black voters, who preferred the street-sweet new jack swing of Teddy Riley (“same old crossover-cowardice in [a] brand-new suit,” saith white Schoolly D fan Chuck Eddy), giving 75th-place Keith Sweat four out of five mentions, 91st-place Al B. Sure! five out of seven, and Riley’s own 83rd-place Guy three out of six. For those closest to the heat, the producer’s cool, rapwise elaboration of Jam-Lewis signified, and what it signified was something like “B-Boys Can’t B Boys Forever.” In the grand tradition of unreconstructed adolescence, rock critics consider this defeatist. My bet goes with the wisdom of the ages.

Opting for Women and/or Protest, meanwhile, was an altogether different subset of critics, with not a single one of the 31 who backed fifth-place Michelle Shocked, for instance, naming any of the rap also-rans (and vice versa). Leaving out pornotopian egalitarians Sonic Youth (who this year as last did much worse with women voters than with men) and including Björk’s Sugarcubes and Linda’s Womack & Womack, eight women finished top-40, as many as in 1986 and 1987 combined, but what I find especially significant is that five of them — Chapman, Shocked, self-determined white blueswoman Lucinda Williams, neotrad outsider K. D. Lang, and pristine depressive Margo Timmins — can be described without stretching as folkies, five more than in 1986 and 1987 combined; all-singing all-songwriting Sam “Talk About Born Again, My Christian Name Used To Be Leslie” Phillips (69th) also fits the category. Respondent Roger Moore is right: they’re not all alike in the dark. From rock and roll to new-age world-music (and from good to bad, which isn’t the same thing), Etta James (62nd) and Voice of the Beehive (96th) and Toni Childs (44th) and Edie Brickell (60th) and the Primitives (72nd) and the Bangles (87th) and Sade (71st) and even the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir (50th) aren’t folkies. (Maybe the Miriam Makeba of 87th-place Sangoma is, or the Ofra Haza of 88th-place Seven Gates of Wisdom, but not to Americans — and not in the American sense.) Nevertheless, folk music, in all its respects for truths that we hold self-evident, was what Year-of-the-Woman coverage was really about.

None of our five folkie finishers projects a Baez/Collins-style purity, or comes on like one’s sainted mother — often punky or dykey, always autonomous, sometimes even funny, they’re very post-Joni (two mentions), and not just because they write their own. But men liked them a lot. The only female finishers afforded disproportionate support by our 39 female voters were rock and roll heroine Patti Smith and new wave pretenders the Sugarcubes; Michelle Shocked and Lucinda Williams did significantly worse with their own gender, and neither Womack & Womack (I blame Cecil) nor the Cowboy Junkies (I blame Margo) was named by a single woman. To an extent this may reflect new wave origins and loyalties — punk opened the music to some-not-enough female critics as well as some-not-enough female musicians. But beyond liberal guilt and headline lust, male journalists were happy to make 1988 the Year of the Woman because the folkie madonna, wise and soulful whether calm or passionate, once again seems a comforting idea to the kind of white former boy disquieted by rap and disco.

One reason for all the Protest play is that an equally reassuring aura surrounds folk music’s straightforward literary-political aesthetic, epitomized by 42nd-place Folkways: A Vision Shared, in which stars and legends underwrote the Smithsonian’s (i.e., the federal government’s) Folkways purchase by interpreting predominantly political titles from the label’s most trenchant fellow travelers, Huddie Ledbetter and Woody Guthrie. Although politics are heaviest among the leaders — of our top five, only Sonic Youth, whose anarchism laughs at ideology, aren’t staunch lefties in art and life — this was a year in which Richard Thompson and Patti Smith and R.E.M. essayed more or less conventional protest songs, in which Living Colour and Metallica aimed to focus metal’s antisocial tendencies, in which all but maybe half a dozen charting album artists imagined an audience that resented or despised the suicidal inequities of late capitalism.

This is nothing new in Pazz & Jop, but it keeps intensifying, and from Midnight Oil nurturing their muse in the outback to U2 preaching roots they hardly knew they had (not to mention Van Morrison taking up with Irish folk ambassadors), folkie notions of tradition and solidarity have come to constitute a collective vision of sorts. To an extent I share it myself — unlike, say, Greil Marcus, an enemy of capital who hears sanctimony dripping from almost every artist I’ve named and says a pox on them all. But straightforwardness has serious limits, and even Michelle Shocked, easily the most wordwise of the latest crew of singer-songwriters, gets tired pretty quick by me. There’s not enough fun or adventure in them — not enough pleasure function, not enough music.

Rap/dance singles weren’t the only quality product to address this familiar problem in 1988. Glance again at the top of the album chart and note an accidental but entertaining trio of groupings. The top five is fresh meat, young or at least new (if Peter Garrett isn’t pushing 35 he either suffers too much or does drugs on the sly). Then we have Pere Ubu and Was (Not Was), first- and second-generation new wavers who avoided the sweepstakes so long it looked like forever. And after that there’s the most incredible procession of old farts in Pazz & Jop history: seven artists who predate punk by at least nine or 10 years, their mean age 46, the youngest 39-year-old Richard Thompson. They got it up, too — except for poor simple Brian Wilson, every one deserved to beat U2, R.E.M., and Talking Heads. Ornette is as ageless as any jazz or pop musician in history, and this year like never before he was both. Richard Thompson finally recovered from walking out on Linda, and while I’m Your Man was only a half-step up from 1985’s unnoticed Various Positions, Leonard Cohen never got old because he was never young and thus remained ripe for rediscovery by the eight under-30s who selected him Dutch uncle. Randy Newman supposedly got more personal and certainly got more pissed, moving the old-sourpuss faction to shower him with points. And Keith Richards and the Traveling Wilburys boogied.

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Both Talk Is Cheap and Volume One smelled bad out of the box, and bigots will claim they stink forever. But if you think you’re gonna hate them too, you may be in for a surprise. Though I don’t know what place Talk Is Cheap deserves in my life, I’m happy to attest that somehow Richards has created generic classics — the kind of stuff you always forget until you hear it again and figure for collectorama covers until you check the copyright notice. As for the Wilburys, what could be more obscene than five overrated “superstars” getting together for some “fun” and then trying to foist it off on the suckers who made them rich and famous in the first place? Yet what we have here is not only Bob Dylan’s best record since Blood on the Tracks but a group that does as much for George Harrison as the Beatles, and even without Roy Orbison (who despite the gush is pretty much a fifth wheel) I sometimes find myself wishing they’d make a career of it — keep them out of harm’s way. Keith and the Wilburys address the future of fun. They make flesh Mick Jagger’s insulting contention that if Howlin’ Wolf could do it till he dropped, so could the Stones. They assume that great grooves need not surrender all pleasure function just because their novelty no longer tickles your fancy, and prove it with a spirit that renews one’s faith in humankind, for if it becomes possible to share a laugh with Jeff Lynne, then fellow feeling can know no bounds.

Professionals so entrenched they’re beyond careerism, our exemplary boogie-men stuck to their guns with nothing up their sleeves, while former untouchables R.E.M. and Talking Heads were worn and torn by the biz. R.E.M. experimented with verbal and rhythmic specificity, a gutty move for a band whose sizable cult was built on murmur and airy flow, but the holes in their songwriting showed, and it cost them; David Byrne concealed the ricketiness of his current compositional practice by riding in on soukous’s jetstream, but the trick didn’t stick, and a record that looked sure top-10 in March finished 24th. Both bands were rejected by new wave stalwarts fighting midlife crisis. I refuse to write off proven artists of any era, but the thirties are a scary age in rock and roll, and I sense a changing of the guard. The dyed-in-the-wool rockers who cheered Richards and the Wilburys will plump for the same beat in perpetuity, but punks manqué are trapped in the tradition of the new — hard for bohemians who defined their own mission in contradistinction to hippie conservatism to sit tight in a logjam, settling for the same old well-crafted, revitalized shit. Such are the long-term perils of new wave commerce. Interesting, isn’t it, that rather than getting rusty during their long layoffs on the biz’s fringe, Was (Not Was) and Pere Ubu jes grew?

And with a few omissions, that’s how rock’s meaning function breaks down in 1988 — the old kicked ass, the new got old. Of course, as the ambiguously entitled “Hit List” attests, some would call the omissions the story — ironic pop hedonists the Pet Shop Boys, unironic pop hedonist George Michael, lying sons of bitches Guns N’ Roses. No consensus doesn’t mean no passion — to recall a church-library title that revealed the errors of Unitarians, Swedenborgians, Roman Catholics, and other misguided souls to a 10-year-old Poobah-in-the-making, it’s a “chaos of cults” out there, and some claim to want nothing better. At a tiny London symposium celebrating the literary event of the rock year, Simon Frith’s Music for Pleasure, the delegate from Rough Trade, this year’s only album-charting indie except Capitol-distributed Enigma, indignantly denied that music had anything to do with movements — The Disparate Cognoscenti, her label’s new compilation is called, and though I’d rather buy a bridge myself, embattled individualism is what holds the latest generation of diehard bohemians together and tears it apart. Punk-cum-Amerindie Gerard Cosloy, who signaled his disdain for consensus by joining a record 41 late voters and dubbed his own label comp, harrumph, Human Music, comes clean in “Future (No Future)”: to hell with “the music’s potential impact on the rest of popular culture.”

Out of respect for Amerindieland’s subcultural ideals, we brought back EP voting, and though boho hero Bruce Springsteen won with the worst record he’s ever made, deserving young indies did get free publicity — New York’s Caroline, Boston’s Taang!, and Seattle’s Sub Pop joined the eternal SST with two finishers apiece. Embattled individual artists Mudhoney and Bullet LaVolta turn out to be better-than-average garage bands who may go somewhere and may fall off the edge of the earth, Poi Dog Pondering’s word-of-mouth is better than its distribution, Pussy Galore and Live Skull are easy to spell, and let’s do this again soon. After all, even with seven votes good for fourth place, EP results were more meaningful than in reissues, which more than ever rewarded size: three of the top four were multi-CDs whose exhaustiveness could not but bowl over young crits filling out their collections and middle-aged audiophiles-come-lately seeking permanence in a troubled world. Far be it from me to put down Chuck Berry — given the chance I would have named a son after him. But let it be noted that MCA has both the most generous review-copy policy of any label doing serious catalogue exploitation and four of our 10 winners. I admire The Chess Box, but I miss the briefly available Great Twenty-Eight and 1964’s St. Louis to Liverpool, my (second) copy of which is badly worn. When the dubious Chess original-reissue program gets around to the latter, which like most original Chess LPs runs well under 30 minutes, I hope I get one free.

For most voters, internationalization will arrive late if at all, but unless this is just an abnormal year, which is possible (will they still yawn after the Replacements go pop and Lou goes political?), a pluralism resistant to electoral quantification may already be upon us. The Poobahs’ uncouth requests for demographic detail met with somewhat wittier resistance this year (see both “The Personals” and “I Gotta Be Me”), most of which I blame on the refusal of would-be autonomous subjects to recognize the determinations we’re all subject to (plus perhaps fear of math) (and, oh yeah, ressentiment). Ira Robbins has always been obtuse if not defensive on this issue, and — racist? moi? — Armond White isn’t much better, but note the japes of my cranky pal Greil, who complains that he could have listed many additional categories that impinge on his musical proclivities.

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No doubt. But unlike blacks and women, doowop fans aren’t systematically oppressed in this society, nor excluded from journalistic discourse, and though I’m sure some diddy-bopping anarchist out there thinks market-researched reissues exemplify consumer-capitalist exploitation, I trust he or she doesn’t find math so scary that distinctions of degree lose all meaning. Of the additional categories White sarcastically proposes, only “Greeks” wouldn’t produce interesting results, although I must note that until I can get critics to admit they’re bigots that one isn’t practicable. In fact, the main reason we don’t do a separate poll of gays is that homosexuals’ right to privacy comes first. Acknowledging oppression — and in the case of blacks, a fundamental artistic debt — is obviously the main idea.

So though we skipped the whippersnapper-graybeard breakdowns this year, our much-maligned all-black and all-female polls appear once again under the wiseass headings “No Whites Allowed” and “Boys Keep Out.” Wonder whether Robbins will think it’s, er, superficial for black voters to get behind 15 black acts (though three did give it up to Iceland’s musical ambassadors, for five points each, and many other white artists got one or two mentions). I mean, come on — do I have to keep restating the obvious? Speaking generally, demographically, quantitatively, African-American’s musical culture fosters shared “personal values,” values that whites, acculturated to believe their shared values are “objective,” are forever adapting after a decade or so has safely passed. That’s reason enough to find out what records our statistically unreliable sample of black critics has fastened on. Womens’ musical culture is far more indistinct no matter what the Michigan Women’s Music Festival thinks, and female cognoscenti are even more disparate than black, but with two of rock and roll’s most sexist subgenres in critical ascendancy, it’s worth knowing that our 39 women voters put the rap group behind the feminist and awarded double points to the unmacho metal band cited by one as a male chauvinist scam. Panels of experts or at least fans will be necessary if pluralism continues to reproduce itself, but it’ll take a lot to convince me that minority minipolls aren’t a better one.

As for your faithful Dean and Poobah, well — I, too, gotta be me. Once upon a time my ballot was a bellwether, but in 1988 I was a weirdo, an isolated internationalist — only four other voters put as many as four non-AmerBrit albums in their top 10s, never mind black African. About a quarter of my 60 or so gooduns were African, so many I can break them down by region — eight southern (Graceland fallout), five central (give me the chance and I’ll make it a dozen), two west (can’t fathom the groove); several are quite obscure, and one — my favorite, which I never heard of till last January — came out three or four years ago. I also named records from Brazil, Argentina, the French Caribbean, good old English-speaking Jamaica, and an English-born Indian who sings in Urdu, and if Amerindies are irrelevant, I am too — in addition to the above exotica I went for 10 rock albums, three rap albums, two jazz-rock albums, and a blues album from independent entrepreneurs, while maybe a dozen of my recommendeds qualify as straight major-label product and maybe half of those were hits. Yet for all my weirdness I’m down with the Pazz & Jop consensus in all its contradictions.

What sustained and exhilarated me in 1988 was the slick, deep, joyously cosmopolitan body music of the Paris-Kinshasa connection — except maybe for Lucinda Williams’s joyously uncountrypolitan blues, no domestic alternative approached the sheer playability of Omona Wapi and Zaire Choc. But there was nothing like the Pazz & Jop top two for pondering Michael Dukakis or one’s future in journalism — they stiffened the backbone, toned the blood, unlocked the pelvis, exercised the gall bladder, and gave the mind something to shout about. If Farrakhan’s a prophet my dick’s bigger than Don Howland’s, but that doesn’t make Nation of Millions anything less than the bravest and most righteous experimental pop of the decade — no matter how the music looks written down (ha ha), Hank Shocklee and Terminator X have translated Blood Ulmer’s harmolodic visions into a street fact that’s no less edutaining (if different) in the dwellings of monkey spawn and brothers alike (and different). Nor was Sonic Youth’s nation holding them back. For one thing, it ain’t big enough. Even though their commitment to chaos has outgrown the imitative fallacy, they show no signs of relinquishing their antistar status in commercial fact, and given the contradictions of consensus these days, there’s something reassuring in that. No way their marginality seems slight. I eagerly await their transmutations of George Ade, George Clinton, and Marxism-Leninism.

Had I located a physical copy of the thing, my single of the year would have been more esoterica — “N’Sel Fik,” a funkadelic love pledge by Chaba Fadela and Cheb Sahraoui said to have been the biggest record in the Arab world in 1985. Never having taken my Africanism across the Sahara, I’ve been known to dismiss rai as a Gallic fad, but when Rai Rebels arrived, the internationalist professional in me put it on and had a mystical experience exemplary in its intensity and serendipity. People complain when I call their singles arbitrary, and I certainly don’t mean they pick them out of a hat. But tastes are so undetermined, especially tastes that last two to eight repetitive pop minutes, that on a collective level they are arbitrary. No matter how acutely an autonomous subject rationalizes some special passion, it’s unlikely that even half of his or her readers — parties to the aesthetic consensus that distinguishes the most mutually contemptuous rock critics from Allan Bloom or Michael Dukakis — will be induced to share it, and there’s always the chance that nobody will know what he or she is talking about. So if on the one hand street and radio and dance floor make singles seem very communal and all, if “Fast Car” is a social fact and “It Takes Two” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” are inescapable in the land of the boombox, on the other hand singles typify our, harrumph, existential solitude, and hence all the contradictions inherent in, harrumph, our social, subcultural, and political alliances.

So if despite my isolation I’m down with the Pazz & Jop consensus in all its contradictions, that’s fine with me. The eight rap records in my top 10 constituted a personal high, and though four made the big list, others were off the wall — wrong Bobby Brown (could be), wrong EPMD (baloney), otherwise unmentioned 12-inch by the ordinarily ordinary Chubb Rock. I regret that I don’t hear more of them, especially on the dance floor — “father of three-year-old” and “wife needs sleep” are near the top of my list of impingements. But that would only make my list weirder, just like everybody else’s. In a crisis of consensus, everything is up for grabs. Chuck Eddy said that. The party’s not over yet. Guy said that.

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Top 10 Albums of 1988

1. Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam)

2. Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (Blast First/Enigma)

3. Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman (Elektra)

4. Midnight Oil: Diesel and Dust (Columbia)

5. Michelle Shocked: Short Sharp Shocked (Mercury)

6. Was (Not Was): What Up, Dog? (Chrysalis)

7. Pere Ubu: The Tenement Year (Enigma)

8. Keith Richards: Talk Is Cheap (Virgin)

9. Traveling Wilburys: Volume One (Wilbury)

10. Randy Newman: Land of Dreams (Warner Bros.)

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Top 10 Singles of 1988

1. Tracy Chapman: “Fast Car” (Elektra)

2. Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock: “It Takes Two” (Profile)

3. Guns N’ Roses: “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (Geffen)

4. Prince: “Alphabet St.” (Paisley Park)

5. Midnight Oil: “Beds Are Burning”/”The Dead Heart” (Columbia)

6. (Tie) Public Enemy: “Don’t Believe the Hype”/”Prophets of Rage” (Def Jam)
Traveling Wilburys: “Handle With Care” (Wilbury)

8. Bobby Brown: “My Prerogative” (MCA)

9. (Tie) Eric B. & Rakim: “Follow the Leader” (Uni)
D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince: “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (Jive)
The Primitives: “Crash” (RCA)

—From the February 28, 1989, issue


Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.



Keith Richards Refuses to Die for Our Sins

If you were born any time after, say, 1965, when “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” hit the airwaves, you’ve been listening to Keith Richards all your life. In our age of fractured media and micro–attention spans, it’s hard to remember those days when one song was blaring from every car radio, jukebox, or plastic portable on the beach — so pervasive that even if you were in your mother’s womb you were getting hit with those top-of-the-charts vibrations. “The Summer Man,” an episode of Mad Men, captured the ubiquity of “Satisfaction” during the dog days of ’65 when slick adman Don Draper, questing after a healthier lifestyle, hears it on a transistor radio as he sits in a locker room. The song hits full volume as he lights a cigarette outside the New York Athletic Club, his gestures and attire in sync with the tune’s rollicking ennui:

When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tells me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me
I can’t get no
oh no no no hey hey hey
that’s what I say

To celebrate Richards’s 75th birthday today, we’ll relate his oft-told tale of how that monster hit came about. Richards was 22 years old when he fell asleep one night with a tape recorder by his bed and awoke the next morning to see that the tape had been run to the end. Then, as he related to an interviewer many years later, “I put it back on, and there’s this, maybe, 30 seconds of ‘Satisfaction,’ in a very drowsy sort of rendition. And then it suddenly — the guitar goes ‘CLANG,’ and then there’s, like, 45 minutes of snoring.”

In the studio Richards employed a newfangled fuzz box as a stand-in for the horn section he planned to add later, but the band ultimately decided to leave the distorted guitar licks in the grooves, and a fuck-all anthem for the ages was born. In fact, according to the performing rights organization BMI, “Satisfaction” is the 91st most performed song of the twentieth century. That gaudy stat can be added to the Stones seven other No. 1 hits, and 66.5 million (and counting) concert tickets sold.

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Writing one of the most popular songs of all time — in his sleep — seems S.O.P. for Richards, whose lifetime of consuming copious quantities of hard liquor and even harder drugs has left observers long wondering when Keef’s wiry little body would give up the ghost to join his Rolling Stone bandmate Brian Jones, and such other exemplars of the form as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse, in Hell’s hottest rock band. But despite preacher Billy Graham’s warning that rock ’n’ roll was “ever working in the world for evil,” the devil’s music has been good to Richards. As he relates in the opening of the audio version of his 2010 autobiography, Life, he’s outlasted the doomsayers. “For many years, I slept, on average, twice a week, and this means that I’ve been conscious for at least three lifetimes.” He then adds, “I used up my nine lives long ago, but here I am, I’m still playing, and I’m still rockin’ and still rollin’.” Indeed, the Stones will be rolling into America next spring for their No Filter Tour.

To celebrate, we are resurfacing an up-close-and-personal feature story from Voice staffer Karen Durbin, from 1975, when the Stones were barnstorming America with a giant inflatable penis.

As in many articles about the Stones, you’ll get a healthy dose of Mick’s musings, but Durbin’s descriptions of Richards leave no doubt as to who is the brains and who is the soul of the band.

As for Keith blasting into rooms, well, he does. Offstage, Keith has the same intensity of presence as he does on, and so, of course, it stands out more. He’s amazing looking — all tatterdemalion satin jackets and flapping silk scarves, tight jeans, hollow cheeks, black artichoke hair, and huge iridescent eyes. He doesn’t look decadent; he looks vigorous and infernal, as if he just strode forth from the jaws of hell.

Happy birthday, Keith.

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And yes, it’s Keith’s birthday, but Jagger celebrated his 75th this past July — and when you’ve got a great Milton Glaser portrait on your front page, you gotta blow it up big. Happy Birthday to the Glimmer Twins.


The Cult

British hard rockers the Cult began life as a swirly, gothy hippie-punk hybrid, playing “whoa, dude!” anthems like the tongue-twister “She Sells Sanctuary.” Then they met barefooted producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin, who turned them into riff-minded hard rockers who weren’t afraid to cover Steppenwolf. The LP they recorded together, Electric, broke the band out of their cult audience and eventually went platinum, thanks to singles like the overly trippy “Love Removal Machine” and “Lil’ Devil.” Tonight, they play every Keith Richards—worshiping riff that album had to offer.

Thu., Aug. 22, 7 p.m., 2013


Aaron Neville

It took a lifetime, but the gnarliest, sweetest-singing Neville brother, 71, finally recorded the doo-wop album of his dreams with Don Was and Keith Richards. Neville has often recalled listening to his older brother Art and friends harmonizing outside their Calliope Projects home in New Orleans, and My True Story is a remarkably fresh-sounding celebration of the Drifters (“This Magic Moment”), Imperials (“Tears on My Pillow”), Clovers (“Ting-a-Ling”), and their manly ilk.

Wed., Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m., 2012


Achim Bornhak’s Exasperating Eight Miles High

Groupie Uschi (“ooh-she”) Obermaier has a name that’s fun to say and a youth that reads like it was even more fun to live, but Eight Miles High, Achim Bornhak’s exasperating biopic, is the biggest buzzkill that could possibly come of so much raw material. Raw is how Bornhak likes his heroine, and actress Natalia Avelon obliges; the opening shot, in which Avelon’s bare, buoyant breasts get as much real estate as her studiously jutted pout, is as close as this film gets to a thesis statement. Uschi, a gorgeous German woman of little discernible talent or personality, leaves home at 22 and ends up in a pseudo-radical commune in 1968 Munich. Item A on the agenda of the commune’s hairy overlord is convincing the lost lambs who wander in that they aren’t liberated until they nail him—and then watch him nail someone else. From there, Uschi follows several men (including Keith Richards and German adventurer Dieter Bockhorn) around the world, her spectacular rack and middling modeling career in tow. But the vitality of the time, and often Uschi’s own experiences, get lost somewhere in Avelon’s towering headdress of hair. Stoned on the story’s ’60s-sex-bomb potential, Bornhak piles on the sex and forgets the bomb; the result is unaffecting filmmaking, as slack-jawed and superficial as its subject.


Sympathy for the Devil

In his seven-foot-square riff on the Stones’ 1972 Hot Rocks album cover (in which the band members’ darkened profiles nest within each other like Russian dolls), Gerhard adds a pair of glowing, drippy eyes that confront the viewer from the depths of Keith Richards’s unfathomable brain. In The March (2006), a mob of black figures, their eyes mere streaks of white as if caught in motion by a blinding photo flash, wade through the Washington Monument’s reflecting pool toward an indistinct, backlit blond couple. Is this canvas, covered with gouts of paint spattered across a hellish pink sky, predicting a day of reckoning after four decades of unfulfilled promise? There is a baleful cast to this German painter’s work, but his complex compositions of faux lens flares obscuring outdoor festivals and abstract arcs of bright pigment slathered over idyllic country houses prove darkly alluring.

Mayumi Lake
Children often have imaginary friends; the 40-year-old Lake conflates the companion of her own youth with the silicone fantasies available to men in Japanese “love hotels.” Taking a pass on the one-use-only, take-home vagina, she rented a sex doll and photographed herself cuddling and communing with her silent playmate. And although it’s an old bit to—spoiler alert!—photograph the crook of an armpit as a stand-in for female pubes, an image from Lake’s “Poo-chi” series, with its pink schoolgirl-skirt ruffle, places kiddie porn squarely in the eye of the beholder. M.Y. Art Prospects, 547 W 27th, 212-268-7132. Through June 24

‘Girodet: Romantic Rebel’
A rambunctious Spielberg to his teacher David’s more elegant Coppola, J.L. Girodet (1767–1824) filled his neoclassical canvases with blockbuster effects: Shafts of light cascade onto a sleeping shepherd, his fey, marble-white curves echoed by the arc of a snoozing dog’s back and a swooping cherub as flamboyant as a flamenco dancer. A small sketch, The Burial of Atala, is animated by quick ink flourishes; an even tinier oil study for a battle scene consists of color daubs as atomized as any impressionist painting. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710. Through Aug 27

John Salvest
The beauty of Salvest’s work lies in his transformation of workaday detritus into witty, at times profound, memento mori. Chewed gum forms a two-foot cone suspended from the seat of a wooden stool, the sticky ghosts of generations of schoolkids; thousands of wine corks coalesce into a pitted Doric column. In the gallery’s courtyard, 247 weathered milk crates are stacked in rough red, white, and blue rows, and a smaller flag is conjured from pencil leads and erasers—ruminations, perhaps, on the transience of empire. Morgan Lehman, 317 Tenth Ave, 212-268-6699. Through June 24

Ed Musante
This San Francisco artist paints birds on cigar boxes, sometimes letting existing graphics show through his well-observed avian bodies, wings, and feathers. A Western bluebird perches on a strand of barbed wire, its warm brown breast framed by the green-and-yellow “El Verso” box border; a bluejay opens its black beak wide, hectoring the surgeon general’s warning visible over its shoulder. Kestrels and falcons stare directly at the viewer, as remorseless as lung cancer. Paul Thiebaud, 42 E 76th, 212-737-9759. Through July 1

Stanley Goldstein
Using home videos as source material, Goldstein imparts easy, natural movement to his figure paintings. A pyramid of weaving bodies, each cut off at the waist by bright-blue water, is capped by swift acrylic strokes delineating a girl dangling her legs in the pool; oils of dancers at the barre are observed from outdoors and juxtapose tree branches and window frames against the sinuous geometries of the ballerinas. George Billis, 511 W 25th, 212-645-2621. Through June 10

Rebecca Norris Webb
Webb photographs reflections in the glass walls separating us from captive animals: A chimpanzee seems to hug a little girl to its breast; a reclining orangutan is joined to a brunette-haired family, the image as darkly atmospheric as a Caravaggio; a beluga whale swims in the sky over the heads of bundled-up onlookers. Surreal and tinged with sadness, these images capture a fundamental, if unequal, communion. Ricco Maresca, 529 W 20th, 212-627-4819. Through June 24

Gutenberg Bible
There it sits, the ur-book of Western civ, its hand-illuminated, colorful drop caps providing relief from regimented columns of gothic script. Printed circa 1455, the paper has retained its flexibility, the black ink glossier than what you’re reading now. Although the book form was already understood from previously hand-scribed tomes, Johann Gutenberg’s developement of movable type broadened the church’s Mass into everything “mass” we take for granted today: media, production, education, entertainment. Make the pilgrimage—jpegs simply cannot compare. NYPL, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Ave & 42nd, 212-869-8089. Through Aug 31