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ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES VOICE OF THE AGES

Milton Glaser at the Voice – Short Time, Big Impact

First appearing on the masthead as Vice-Chairman in the October 10, 1974, issue of the Voice, graphic designer Milton Glaser was determined to bring to newsprint some of the same graphic verve he and the Voice’s new chairman, Clay Felker, had brought to the glossy New York magazine the previous decade. While the Voice already had the street-wise photographer Fred W. McDarrah and multi-media cartoonist Jules Feiffer enlivening its pages, the editorial look of the paper was hamstrung by the limited color capacity of that era’s newspaper presses, which left the columns of dense type too often outshone by the ads — especially the full-page extravaganzas for music that was already on its way to becoming “classic rock.”

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1976
October 10, 1974 masthead

In fact, a 1967 psychedelic poster of Bob Dylan is one of Glaser’s most famous works.

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In late 1974, when Glaser cast his eye over the Voice, one of the first things he probably noticed was its highly informative, if staid, front and back pages, such as this “what’s on” back-page bulletin board from October 3, 1974, and the front page that appeared the following week. (All of the images in this article are raw scans taken from the Voice’s ongoing digital archive project.)

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1976
Back page of the October 3, 1974 issue, front page of the October 10, 1974 issue

Within a few months, Glaser had jettisoned his formal title in favor of the more descriptive “Design Director,” and the covers and back pages were the proof in the pudding.

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the March 3, 1975 issue, front page of the March 10, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
First masthead with Glaser as Design Director

In one notable case, Glaser not only did the design but also the cover illustration, depicting a famously devilish “man of wealth and taste.”

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the June 16, 1975 issue, front page of the June 23, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the July 21, 1975, issue; front page of the July 28, 1975, issue

Whether politicians, film stars, rock gods, or literary luminaries, Glaser made sure the Voice did “show” every bit as much as “tell.”

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the August 25, 1975 issue, front page of the September 1, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the November 3, 1975 issue, front page of the November 10, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the November 24, 1975 issue, front page of the December 1, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the March 22, 1976 issue, front page of the March 29, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the May 24, 1976 issue, front page of the May 31, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the July 12, 1976 issue, front page of the July 19, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the October 25 1976 issue, front page of the November 1, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the November 22, 1976 issue, front page of the November 29, 1976 issue

But all good things come to an end — as with so many sad tales, this one had something to do with Rupert Murdoch, a story we’ll get to another time — and Glaser’s last appearance on the Voice masthead was in January 1977. He exited with a bang, turning readers into viewers with some Hollywood squares on his penultimate back-page layout and a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of a Village goddess on the cover of the January 17, 1977, issue. Not bad for a trip that lasted less than three years.

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the January 10, 1977 issue, front page of the January 17, 1977 issue

Milton Glaser: June 26, 1929 – June 26, 2020.

 

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

The Rolling Stones’ Soul Picnic

riffs: STONE SOUL SHOW
December 4, 1969

If you are American it is enough, and if you are also black it is much more — to make you reluctant to fall under the ironic spell of British skill in American black-roots music. But say “rock ‘n’ roll” in free association, and the people fire back “Beatles and Rolling Stones,” then and only then in diminuendo procession you may hear “Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Hendrix, Joplin,” etc.… Time and again over the last four or five years we’ve heard on these shores the Beatles and Stones knocked as recording studio bands who don’t really play or sing so well, as walking financial empires, as potential break-up groups and as opportunists who don’t pay dues. You hear that their compositional talents are running out — the Beatles just before “Hey Jude” and the Stones after “Their Satanic Majesties.” You don’t hear rebuttal from the Beatles-Stones complex for most of a year, and then usually around Christmas they each appear suddenly, lay an lp full of rock classics on you, and consequently wipe out all but the top competition. If the albums are — like Abbey Road and Let It Bleed — not a couple of juggernauts, you have to admit that they’re at least something you get intense pleasure from. And though you — and they — may know that Aretha, Ray, Chuck, Dylan, Elvis, Jimi, Janis and company are not to be outsung or outrocked by any Stone or Beatle it becomes clear yearly that the Stones and the Beatles have their own individual sonic worlds fused from scores of influences wherein they rule as monarchs, kingdoms which have as much extra-financial richness and lasting beauty as any in popular music history. It is clear, also — teenyboppers aside — that these two bands stay on top by basic dint of sheer musical gift. On Thanksgiving at the Garden it was wipe-out time again — this time live after a three-year absence — at the hands of the Rolling Stones.

Until the Stones arrived last Thursday with amplifiers adjusted perfectly and the crowd reduced for near-perfect listening, I was about to mount a crusade to close the Garden to everybody but the Knicks and the Rangers. James Brown, Blind Faith, and troops of big names had been through there with their performances piped poorly from revolving stages, and I frankly didn’t want to go up there any more. But it is now a truth that the Garden is playable. The simple matter of Stones acoustic acuity (not one of their strengths in the past) made much of the difference. The audience, too, was cool. Though there was a charge to the stage by hundreds mid-way in the concert, never was there 1964-style screaming and sobbing to drown out the music. I think that the spirit of Woodstock and 1969’s relative musical sophistication have made American youth appreciate that music drifts in through the ears and that Stones are only human beings with a message coded basically in notes, words, and in this instance dance, since Jagger’s the man.

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It was a beautiful evening, graded out in a crescendo pattern from Terry Reid’s disappointing low-key, nature-intimate songs, through B.B. King’s guitar wizardry and audience participation warmth, through the outrageous sex machinery of Ike and Tina, to the revival gospel show of the boys from London. The moment of orgasm was reached perfectly in Jack Flash Jagger’ s crowd-participation ejaculations of “Satisfaction” and “Honky Tonk Women,” as the full lights of the Garden came on, to reveal 12,000 extremely non-Nazi groovers doing together what rock and roll and its progenitor gospel music are supposed to make you do — namely, come together.

You heard Mick Jagger, in powerful, full voice all through the set, and a band that was tight and powerful, giving out unashamedly with a lick from this c&w cat and a growl from that soul man. Even Mick’s own “Satisfaction” was filled out by himself to include some of Otis Redding’s recorded interjections (“I’ve got to have satisfaction”). But the results were pure, elemental Jagger-Stones alloy.

The results also represented the kind of path to authentic music power that many American and suburban white singers who love blues and country might adopt. Rule one: don’t be bashful. Rule two: imitate and steal from everywhere for a year or so, then let your subconscious mix it into your own thing — do not go back to copying once you’re in phase B. Rule three: happen to be born angry with cause for anger. Rule four: happen to be a bitch of a composer-musician. Good luck. America needs you. Or at least music needs you.

—Carman Moore

AS THEY SAY, Mick Jagger is quite a performer — unfortunately and perhaps sadly too, because that’s about all he is, a performer, an actor, and even then you have to wonder what all the fuss is about. Off stage he may be something more, and in fact did seem to be at the press conference last Wednesday afternoon at the Rainbow Room. But some part of him didn’t make the trip from atop Rockefeller Center to the stage in Madison Square Garden. Maybe he has a stand-in. Who then is the real Mick Jagger: the cool and elegant young man of the press conference, unflappably answering each question as politely as possible under zoo-like conditions, or the skinny kid in the Marvel Conics get-up, mincing his precious way through an act as contrived and programmed as anything presented by Lawrence Welk?

But still — isn’t that the point, aren’t the flitting and the flouncing and the mugging intended to create an effect? Aren’t the Stones striving to create an aura of outrageousness. Isn’t that what they are all about, their evil, their badness (God knows the hype sure says so)? Well, no doubt that’s the thrust of Jagger’s act, to be ominous, to be a threat to the virtue of sons as well as of daughters. Maybe unisex will solve man’s most pressing problem in a future when all the world is the caricature that Jagger presents. But it’s banal. Its hard to feel any sort of threat from Jagger toward anyone.

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The truth is, if you’re a feeling person, there ain’t much of anything to feel from the Stones. There’s no soul, there’s no heart, there’s only the body. Big deal. Of course, they did do that — they and others — get the body into white music. But by now that’s an old movie, a re-run, circa 1966 at the latest, and solidly in the category of camp.

Like Bogart, who said he came to Casablanca for the waters, I felt misinformed at the Garden last week. I had swallowed the hype. For instance, I had been told Jagger was a great dancer. Absolute tripe! You can’t be a great dancer unless every fiber in you is in the movements. And I had been told there’s no one like Jagger for getting an audience together. Aaagh! When an audience really gets together, the stage is merely a focal point, not a pedestal. Yes, true, he did have the whole damn gymnasium writhing in Sheer Orgiastic Abandon, but that was merely part of the program. It wasn’t spontaneous, it wasn’t real.

Sorry about all this — and I wouldn’t be quite so terse if room permitted — but it seems to me the Rolling Stones are just another sacred cow, and a pink one at that.

—Brian Keating

AND NOW FOR a word from the back of the house: Two on the aisle, and far down front, is the usual privilege of the critic, and though I’ve often thought of writing of the lot of the 99 per cent who pay, I’ve never been willing to do the research involved. I’ve never sat out a concert in the second balcony of the Fillmore East. I wonder how many rock writers have. I’ve never even been up there. Clubs and concert halls, all offer the writer optimum sight and sound.

It is not always easy to convince Broadway press agent types that one paper really needs tickets for six or eight writers, as well as a photographer’s pass, to cover one concert. The way it went down was we got one photographer’s pass plus three press tickets, one of them for a writer who is not a music reviewer. Carman and Brian paid for their tickets which it turned out were for very good seats, in the front rows. My press tickets placed me with a lot of the rest of the press in a section on the floor of the Garden farthest from the stage, about the third row from the back, a long way from home. Which gives me the unsolicited opportunity to write about what it’s like to be just another listener sitting almost anywhere (there were many worse seats).

Previous concerts I’ve heard at the Garden — Blind Faith, the Doors, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix — had convinced me that from any position in the house the Garden is absolutely not viable for the presentation of music. Not so. As far back as we were, the sound was acceptable. Not great, but more acceptable than, say, the mixes on the U.S. version of the Stones’ albums. The sight line, as long as the audience sat down, was infinitely preferable to the profferings of the revolving or non-revolving center stage. It would have been better with binoculars — which I’m told were on sale in the lobby.

On the other hand, the distractions of being so far from the action made the concert just another one by a good rock group. The audience was up, it was down. Which meant we were standing on our seats, weaving cobra heads over it all, or we were sitting civilized. Civilized? For the Stones? The Stones they were, magic they weren’t. From back there Mick Jagger was a little stick figure with tiny featureless face, singing well enough but wasting energy in meaningless posturings all about the stage. Tina Turner cut him all to hell as a dancer. Jim Morrison, who had seemed downright boring with his calculated schtick at the Garden a few weeks before the Miami fiasco, was in memory a better — because more disciplined — showman. But, you see, I watched Morrison from the third row. The Stones were tight instrumentally, but none of it came together as Stones-exciting till “Live With Me,” maybe three-quarters through the set. There had never been reason till then, from where we were, for the audience to be on its feet. From that point on there was reason, and it may have been because much of what the Stones did thereafter was fresh to them, from the new album, Let it Bleed. Or maybe it just takes them that long to warm up — I’ve never seen them live before.

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My friend the rock musician would like to grade audiences — which ones applaud the right solo, etc., all the nuances of response. I’d say any Madison Square Garden audience has to be a C audience by definition, but the one on Thursday rated as high-achiever C. The Stones deserve a standing ovation all around just for seeing to it that there was more to the show than a high gate. Too many other big names have settled for just that. I think the audience’s mostly exemplary behavior was largely a result of their getting a fair shake, insofar as that’s possible at the Garden. Good production, good show. Definitely not great.

And while I’m throwing roses to the Stones, that’s what they came up smelling like after a riotous press conference on Wednesday. Riotous press, that is. The affair was composed of unlikely opposites which, made one, did not become art. The site was the indisputably glorious Rainbow Room, high above etc. Any organization stopped there. From the moment the Stones appeared, the event was a melee of tv cameramen vs. still cameramen and underground press vs. overground and “I’M here getting a story, so why aren’t you taking notes and who do you represent?” “How does it feel to fill a dead man’s shoes?” Mick Taylor was asked. “You don’t have to answer that,” Brian Keating yelled, and Taylor didn’t. The Stones, through it all, tried to give reasoned answers. In the din, besides the shouts of “Communist!” by one tv cameraman, just about the only thing I heard after the first quarter was that the Stones, in case you don’t already know, are doing a free concert in San Francisco this Saturday. Why not New York? Jagger answered, “It’ too cold.”

Only the Stones came off as sane, and that crossed my mind Thursday night as the low-achiever Cs rushed stage after the only encore the Stones had offered so far on the current tour. “Shall we wait for the riot or leave?” says I to the cowboy. We had seen the heads busted after the Blind Faith concert, so we went home to listen to Let It Bleed. There was no riot, I hear.

—Annie Fisher

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Robert Frank and the Stones Movie You’ll Never See

A film title: “Cocksucker Blues.” It is 1972; we are with the Rolling Stones, in a big house somewhere in the hills around Los Angeles. Mick is lying on a bed. The camera pans down to his waist, and he begins to massage his crotch, in a slow, circular motion. He opens his pants and puts his hand inside. He moves it more deliberately and the camera comes in tight.

Keith Richards is standing up at a piano, playing a lovely gospel-blues. The camera cuts away; the music continues on the sound track. Keith reappears, and shifts to boogie-woogie with such perfect syncopation the frame seems to shake in time. Mick appears in Keith’s place, working out a ballad, note by note.

“ ‘Cocksucker Blues,’ ” says Marshall Chess, head of the Stones’ label. “Yeah, Mick wrote it on a contract he had to fill… He wrote it for a play in New York, ‘Trials of Oz’… He did it for a porno album we were gonna do. Dr. John wrote a song for it too, ‘How much Pussy Can You Eat’… ‘Cocksucker Blues’… Here, I’ll put it on.” He turns on a tape recorder.

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It is some song. Very hesitant, sung high and lonesome, more like “No Expectations” than any other Stones tune, and more like Hank Williams than that, the music has the ragged edge Mick gives to everything good he does. “Well, I wait in Leicester Square…/I was only talkin, to the light…” Then hard, angry: “Where can I get my cock sucked?/Where can I get my ass fucked?” And then very quietly again: “Well, I ain’t got no money but I/Know where to put it, every time.”

It’s beautiful. And it throws you, off, completely.

* * *

That is the opening of the legendary “Cocksucker Blues,” a three-year-old film by Robert Frank, the great photographer who came to the United States from Switzerland in 1947, and, after publishing his historic collection, “The Americans,” in 1959, gave up his first trade to make movies. Much of the cover art for “Exile on Main Street” was taken from “The Americans” and from Frank’s second book, “The Lines of My Hand.” Working with Danny Seymour, Frank then toured the country with the Stones in 1972 to make a film. But “Cocksucker Blues” has become a legend not simply because of its title, or be­cause it is about the Stones, or because (save for the Stones’ collaboration with Jean Luc Goddard in “One Plus One”) no rock and roll group has ever made a movie with an artist of Frank’s stature. “Cocksucker Blues” has become a legend because it has never been shown.

It was never shown because the Rolling Stones, who own it, don’t want it shown. The rumors why have been simple: Frank, it has been said, shot the Stones fucking groupies and shooting heroin. Prefacing his film with the disclaimer, “except for musical numbers, all events depicted herein are fictitious, and any resemblance…” and closing it with a cast listing (“Junky played by…”), Frank shot some Stones associates and hangers-on doing both, but not the Stones. That would, to most, make the Stones guilty by association anyway; it would also keep a good part of the Stones audience barred from the theaters. But Frank does not feel this is precisely why the Stones have locked his movie up.

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Jagger thinks the film is a downer; that it does not celebrate the Stones, nor show that they are the greatest rock and roll band in the world (as “Gimme Shelter,” for all of its horrors, pointedly did); that it would not bring fans shouting to their feet nor send them into the street shaking their heads in awe, which is clearly what a film about the Rolling Stones ought to do. Especially after Altamont. So Frank’s 16-mm foot­age, some in color, some in black and white, and his harsh, biting, mono sound mix, were replaced — by “Ladies and Gentleman, the Rolling Stones,” a straight concert document with brilliant quadraphonic sound, a film that failed to get the Stones across nonetheless. Frank made his movie anyway, and last Wednesday he drove to Berkeley and showed it for the first and possibly last time.

Tom Luddy, director of the Pacific Film Archive, the most resourceful and wide-ranging outlet for movies in the country, and his friend Jean­-Pierre Gorin, talked Frank into ad­ding the picture, unannounced, to a bill of two rock performance flicks. Frank made no money from the 900 people, mostly Berkeley students, who had shown up to see Cream’s “Farewell Concert” and “Mad Dogs & Englishman.” Frank arrived with his print following two hours of Cream, was introduced, and spoke briefly. “I made this film with the Rolling Stones in 1972,” he said. “It seems like 200 years ago. It was very difficult to make. I like it. I’m happy to show it, even if it isn’t completely… legal.” He laughed, the crowd laughed with him, and everyone settled down.

Once past the opening sequence, the movie settled down as well. Nothing really happened; the occa­sional memorable events and images had no context. The movie was seamless, and it convinced you that the tour it was tracking had no more shape than the movie. Frank did not judge, make points, conde­scend, sensationalize, or “human­ize.” He did not play for jokes, or horror either.

The crowd’s reaction was proof Jagger was right about the movie as far as he went. Almost any given close-up of Clapton or Ginger Baker in the execrably filmed and recorded Cream movie brought more conventional rock fan response than all but a few bits of “Cocksucker Blues.” Save for a stunning montage of Jag­ger in “Midnight Rambler,” shot in dark reds and edited in time with the song from footage shot at several different concerts, and the irresist­ible excitement of Mick and Stevie Wonder dueting on “Satisfaction,” the live music was brief and not too frequent. The sex footage, which included a nude couple humping in the aisle of a plane as the Stones, shaking maracas and tambourines, egged them on, was never erotic; it was, like most of what took place in the film, dispirited and forced, a matter of some people going through the motions.

And it was a sense of the Rolling Stones going through the motions that I took away from the film — that and a few outbreaks of life. In “Cocksucker Blues” one sees the Stones working hard, the way labor­ers and panicky businessmen work hard, but you never see them take any pleasure or satisfaction from their work, nor see them feeling out their genius and their unity as you did in “One Plus One.” You see the Stones, and everyone else, at play, if that’s the word: mugging for the cameras, trying out Frank’s gear. There is a fine shot of Jagger returning the salute of a TV recruiting sergeant. But except for a brief respite in a black pool hall somewhere in the South, no one seems to be having any fun. “Ah, to get away from all those people,” Mick had moaned a short time before, as the Stones, crowded with Bianca and Frank into two station wagons, headed down a two-lane highway, Mick telling tales of southern cooking as the cars passed a prison, and an arm reached out from a barred window, two fingers raised in a V the Stones might have seen, and might not have.

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The most appalling scene of the film is not the woman shooting up; not the girl outside Winterland San Francisco dully stating to the camera that she has no ticket, that if she doesn’t get one she’ll jump off the bridge, that her baby has been taken by the state because she was on acid and what’s wrong with a mother on acid who loves her baby for Christ’s sake the kid was born on acid — the worst scene is backstage in New York as, in color, Truman, Andy, Lee, and their troupe make their entrance, trying and easily succeeding in showing that they are far less interested in the “Rolling Stones” than in each other, and then Mick, in black and white now, running for his dressing room, raging, looking sick, yelling “Fuck you!” as a photographer pursues him, and then slumping down, cursing, “Bloody bunch of voyeurs!”

And from there I thought back to the pool hall: Charlie, shooting with a man who looked just like Muddy Waters; Mick, fooling with a pal, dropping a whiskey bottle, looking down anxiously, hearing a voice say, “That’s Southern whiskey, it don’t break easy,” and liking what he heard.

This is the only time in the movie that Robert Frank and the Rolling Stones in any way connect.

Frank’s deepest pictures are of men and women doing what they know how to do best, what they are most at home doing: attending a funeral, standing over a body on the road, waiting in a car pulled over to the side of the highway, picking out a song on a jukebox. They are pictures of people in tune with themselves and their world with the kind of solidity that implies that a profound choice about life has been made, or that there is no choice at all. It is this duality that makes Frank’s pictures at once beautiful and terrifying. They are pictures of men and women coming to terms with fate.

In “Cocksucker Blues,” outside of that quiet, magic pool hall, there is virtually no such thing. “25 years of looking for the right road,” Frank wrote in 1972, but he found on the Stones’ road neither anything that deserved the word fate, nor ever anyone at home. He found only a queasy inertia — the inertia of the frantic movement of the Stones on stage, and the inertia of them sitting in their rooms. That was something Frank could record, but that was all he could do with it.

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But there are moments that do have power, and that would matter should this film be seen. Those mo­ments speak for Frank’s genius, and for the Stones’, and for the way in which the Stones and Frank could not connect, because they are two moments when the artists work separately, solely on their own terms. First there is Mick, singing that title song; and then there is, in a way, just one more of Frank’s photographs.

Very early in the movie, in grainy black and white, the screen is filled with the poster of circus freaks Frank shot in the mid-’50s and which was used for the cover of “Exile on Main Street.” The camera pulls back, not merely slowly, but in almost imperceptible slow motion, until we see that the poster is a billboard on Sunset Strip, advertising the Stones’ new album. The picture seems to darken, as if it were a time-lapse photo and night is falling, and the camera pulls back slightly farther until the thick black outline of the car window from which the shot is being made is visible, and the car edges past the billboard, so slowly, until you have forgotten the billboard, and are transfixed by the car itself, which has taken over, and is moving on.

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

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.

.

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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

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Turned Upside Down

By Geoffrey Cannon
July 17, 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

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 MUSIC ARCHIVES

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.

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Beaten or Stoned? Was 1968 the Beginning of the End of the Sixties?

Late in the summer of 1968, Pope Paul VI came out forcefully against the birth-control pill, putting a moral crimp in the decade’s libido. London, however, was still swinging strong, and the Beatles decided — perhaps as Communist lark rather than Christian tithing — that it was truly better to give than to receive. In the August 8, 1968, issue of the Village Voice, part-time theater critic Charles Marowitz reported that the world’s most popular rock group was shuttering its Apple store (named for its record label) and giving away all of the shop’s existing stock. One mother walked in with her two children “just to windowshop and walked out with new dresses, summer suits, and other assorted goodies.” As she left, the mom said, “Give Ringo a big kiss for me.” The Voice correspondent noted, though, that not everyone was happy. “In the past few days, I have heard the Beatles maligned more viciously than they ever were at the height of their controversial pop success. For they have been guilty, in certain people’s eyes, of the worst sin imaginable — not weaning the young on drugs or spreading Buddhist cultishness, but subverting the principles of commerce…. The Beatles have repudiated the premise on which all business is firmly established: i.e., that you can’t get something for nothing.”

During that tumultuous decade, the pope wasn’t the only one questioning the mores of the times. In the October 3, 1968, issue, Howard Smith reported in Scenes, his regular Voice column, that the other chart-topping group from across the pond was being vexed by their record label. “The Rolling Stones, the group with the sandpaper personalities, continues to scratch the smooth wherever it is found. Although their new album, ‘Beggar’s [sic] Banquet,’ was completed months ago, it has still not been shipped to the stores. The Stones like the bathroom wall graffiti jacket design. Their record company says it’s in bad taste and won’t release it. Not even the $1 million advance sale has been enough to bridge this obscenity gap. Also turned down was Mick Jagger’s suggestion that the album be sold in plain paper bags labeled ‘unsuitable for children.’ ” (This almost two decades before Tipper Gore headed the Parents Music Resource Center’s crusade to label recordings for adult content in a manner similar to that used for motion pictures. Jagger, who had attended the London School of Economics before the Stones rocket took off, was cannily aware that the forbidden always makes for a good sales pitch.)

Next came a turn on the censor’s wheel for one of the Beatles, even as the bad-boy Stones were blinking in the face of their record company’s skittishness. The November 7, 1968, Voice offered readers full-frontal nudity from the cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s album Two Virgins; the record company objected to the nudity, but had even more problems with the only thing Lennon wore — an odd pendant. In a deep caption, Smith spelled out what it was all about. Sort of. “Hereby hangs a very interesting tale of commercial censorship. The music (which is electronic) from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s film ‘Two Virgins’ was supposed to come out as a soundtrack album. But the Beatles’ British and American record companies balked because of the jacket photo, in which Lennon has a very unusual pendant hung around his neck. He refused to explain its meaning, saying: ‘If I give in on this and tell them, the next thing they’ll be telling me what kind of glasses to wear.’” Smith further reported that comedian Bill Cosby — of all people — came to the rescue, directing his record company, Tetragrammaton, to help with distribution, witchy jewelry be damned. “Meanwhile,” Smith concluded, “the handwriting on the bathroom wall has been erased by Decca Records: the Rolling Stones gave in, in this Year of the Great Album Cover Dispute.” (The Lennon tale hung around into the 1990s, when Noel Gallagher, of Oasis, obtained the bauble for brother Liam. “I bought him a few presents in the 90s. I bought him a thing from an auction which was an Indian necklace thing that John Lennon wore when he went to see the Maharishi. It’s worth a fortune — it was round the man’s neck when he wrote ‘Sexy Sadie’ — so I sent it to [Liam] for Christmas and next time I saw him he had it on. He took it out the frame and the label saying ‘worn by John Lennon.’ I said, ‘What are you doing? It’s fuckin’ memorabilia!’ and he said, ‘John Lennon wore it, I’m wearing it.’ He’s probably flushed it down the toilet by now. I don’t know, haven’t seen it since.”)

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Serendipitously — or perhaps not so much — in that same column Smith covered a Free Store on East 10th Street, which was having a much harder time with the locals on an even more expansive concept of giving than the Beatles did with their one-shot extravaganza: “The climax came one night last week when a group of cars and bikes reportedly pulled up and the store’s windows were shattered by shotgun butts.” Apparently, freedom, as the posthumously released Janis Joplin hit “Me and Bobby McGee” puts it, is indeed “just another word for having nothing left to lose.”

Stones guitarist Keith Richard once said, “Funny year, ’68, it’s got a hole in it somewhere.” In fact, two of the biggest albums of that (or any) year were released on ominous dates. First came The Beatles (more commonly known as the “White Album”), which hit the streets on November 22 — the five-year anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That was followed by the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, on December 6, a date that would soon have its own run-in with history. In the December 12 issue of the Village Voice, music critic Carman Moore approached the White Album from clashing perspectives in the Riffs column —“I’ve never met a Beatle: they may be assholes, counter-revolutionaries, and purple meanies. But they’re always something more: the most complete music-making organization in the pop world and song writers whose corporate name is not out of place with those of the great classicalists. I don’t know whether the original idea of doing virtually every popular music style since the ’20s and putting those 30 cuts into a plain, white cover is actually pompous, larcenous, or what. I only know that they invade those fields and end up cutting the heavies in all but two or three of them (even Tiny Tim). The key to this mastery — the easy way to say it — is that while others break their necks inventing styles, the Beatles invent songs. Another way — also easy — is that they are obviously still respectful and excellent listeners to anybody else’s thing, that something makes them keep improving, and that music is their natural religion and they would yell their voices into hamburger, put their deepest secrets on a PA system, or strip stitchless if music is involved (A pretty girl is like a melody).”

Moore, an African American, wrote for the paper about such gospel singers as James Cleveland and Shirley Caesar, and found that in “Sexy Sadie,” Lennon sang “excellently with a black-style r&b ballad vibrato thrown in.” Moore also praises “Revolution 9” as “a not-badly-formed avant-garde outing.”

In that same Riffs column, rock critic Robert Somma sought language equal to the massive themes found on the Stones finally released Beggars Banquet (in a simple white cover with elegant script). “If rock has a royalty, then the Stones are king; if a hierarchy, they’re the Pope; if an occupation, then they’re the boss. ‘Beggar’s [sic] Banquet’ asks you to sup first with the devil, and then with the rest of the damned, a cast of characters, strangely not unlike you and me.” Somma goes on to list some of the players:

For Lucifer:
“I was there when Jesus Christ
had his moment of doubt and pain
made damn sure that Pilate
washed his hands and sealed his fate.”

For the rejected lover:
“Your heart is like a diamond
you throw your pearls at swine
and as I watch you leavin
you pack my peace of mind”

For the gangster:
“Yes he really looks quite religious
he’s been an outlaw all his life”

For the well-known common man:
“Raise your glass to the
hardworking people
let’s drink to the uncounted heads.”

It’s more than passing odd that during such a flamboyant, hopeful, violent, brilliant, mad travail of a decade, these two seminal albums arrived under similarly spare cover, the Beatles’ as bleached as bones, the Stones’ a prim invitation to the apocalypse.

But then things got weirder.

Far, far away from any London recording studios, a rancid guru named Charles Manson was in California — that ragged edge of a continent where dreamers, madmen, tricksters, and geniuses pile up on themselves with nowhere else to go — busily convincing his flock that he was in psychic communication with the Beatles. Such songs from the White Album as “Blackbird,” “Piggies,” “Revolution 1” (and “9”), “Sexy Sadie,” and, especially, “Helter Skelter,” were, Manson informed the faithful, direct confirmation that his visions of a world cleansed of pigs and killjoys was nigh. A career criminal, Manson was prepping his followers for murder and mayhem, and the Beatles were providing the soundtrack.

Or not. Revisionist historians argue that prosecutors’ claims of Manson planning the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends to launch a violent race war, which would leave him and his followers as rulers of the planet, are as ridiculous as they sound. Instead, these scholars of Manson’s mind blame the Tate-LaBianca bloodbaths on drug deals gone very bad, crimes which were in turn covered up by the authorities to spare the reputations of Hollywood’s decadent, wealthy, and socially powerful elite. Whatever the motive, Manson was undoubtedly a world-class con man, one who once pontificated to a courtroom audience, “I have killed no one and I have ordered no one to be killed. I may have implied on several different occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven’t decided yet what I am or who I am.” Such musings were much too heavy for Lennon and McCartney’s preternaturally catchy pop melodies to shoulder.

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And besides, the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” was more legitimately drenched in blood than anything the Beatles ever put on vinyl. While the band was recording the song, in early June 1968, Jagger sang the lyric, “I shouted out, ‘Who killed Kennedy?’/When after all, it was you and me,” in reference to the JFK murder. But the world would come to know the lines that made the final version: “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’/When, after all, it was you and me.” The lyric change was only made public thanks to Jean-Luc Godard’s film One Plus One (later retitled Sympathy for the Devil) — which featured the band revising and recording the song in a London studio. Even then, only close viewers noticed, as the musicians did numerous takes, that the lyric was changed from singular to plural after Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down by an assassin on June 5, in Los Angeles.

Additionally, “Sympathy” received undo credit, a year to the day after the album’s release, for putting the final nail in the Sixties’ coffin, when eighteen-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by Hells Angels as the Stones were performing the song at their calamitous Altamont concert, on December 6, 1969.

Or so the story went. Again, it took a filmed record to set the facts straight. On December 6, 1970, Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers’ film of the Stones’ 1969 tour, revealed, for those willing to watch, that Hunter had, in fact, been attacked during the buoyant strains of “Under My Thumb,” not — as had been reported by media outlets around the world — during “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Joan Didion called out this misshapen history in her 1979 collection of essays assaying California’s dystopian paradise, by titling her book The White Album. As she informs us on the opening page, “I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself.” 

Didion had had a decade’s hindsight to arrive at her revelation, so give Voice critic Somma credit for divining the majesty and malignity of the music that defined his moment. He knew there would be much more to come, writing, “Like any work of art one can describe as total, insular, comprehensive, self-explanatory, and multi-layered, the ‘Banquet’ needs more than a few words and will reveal itself, like a shrouded, necessary truth, with the passage of time.”

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THE PRICE IS RIGHT

After the slew of art fairs that zipped by a couple of weeks ago, it’s safe to say we’re ready to buy some art — at a good price. This week’s Affordable Art Fair has plenty of options to make owning an incredible piece of art a bit easier. Some of the highlights includes work by Arizona-based fine art photographer Brooke Shaden, digital artist Kate Gibb (who made a vibrant screen print of a young Mick Jagger), and stunning oil paintings by U.K. artist Garry Pereira. Go tonight between 6 and 8, and you’ll get in for free.

Thursdays-Sundays, 11 a.m. Starts: April 3. Continues through April 6, 2014