The same old places and the same old songs
We've been going there for much too long
There's something wrong
And it gives me that feeling inside
That I know I must be right
It's the singer, not the song . . . -- Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, 1965
Winter 1965: blustery wind, overcoats, high-school madness and Father Ray, who escorts some of the parish boys to a Rolling Stones concert at 3,000-seat Newark Symphony Hall. Raw rock 'n' roll. What every high-school, would-be rock star fantasizes about: Mick Jagger's sinister lips, Brian Jones playing sinewy leads on his Vox Phantom guitar, white boys doing the blues, white girls swooning.
Enough to scare the devil into any high-school student's parent. But then, Father Ray is there, the hip urban priest, whose presence allows the parish mothers to think that there's nothing really wrong with the Rolling Stones.
They have doubts, though. Ed Sullivan makes them change lyrics for television audience, from "Let's spend the night together" to "Let's spend some time together."
Early on, Stones are part of '60s British flood, but with a hard, bitter edge. Not nearly as popular as Beatles, to whom they are counterpoints. By comparison to many, their record sales are slim. Few real hits: "Satisfaction," later "Honky Tonk Women." Much later: "Miss You," derivative disco. But they last. Because they work in person, not in plastic.
Every generation is the prisoner of its own experience. To grow up on the Rolling Stones was to slice through the '60s in a prison of one's own devise, stare down the '70s, and come out socialized in the '80s.
If you try sometimes, you get what you need . . .
Winter 1969: cold again, crazy crowds at Madison Square Garden. College girlfriend in pea coat, Frye boots, blue jeans. Gene McCarthy politically outmaneuvered by Hubert Humphrey, war still raging, Stones singing "Street Fighting Man." What once was the blues now sounds like streetwise political anthem with strange satanic overtones. "Sympathy for the Devil." What was once music for the rowdy good times has now become a sign of the times. Mick Taylor now playing guitar instead of Brian Jones -- dead at 26 of a drug overdose, his self-penned epitaph "Please Don't Judge Me Too Harshly." Taylor does a haunting slide solo on "Love in Vain" that conjures up the spirit of his predecessor.
Summer 1972: Fourth of July, Washington, RFK Stadium, 47,500 fans vying for stage-front space, crushed together in scary scene that stirs up images of Altamont concert where man was stabbed to death. Mischievous journalist colleague mimics opening act, Stevie Wonder groping around for microphone. Stones arrive in white and gold recreational vehicle; Mick Jagger announces, "Hello Campers"; kids trying to climb onto stage knocked back down by burly bodyguards. Some have bloody arms from nails driven around rim of stage. Edge is gone from music. Group that once seemed awesome now appears minuscule; music lies flat in an open field. "They're so far away," the mischievous journalist says from the press box, where friends of the band are ignoring the distorted music. "How do you know they're really the Stones?" The music seems secondary to the people in audience, who are trying to believe that this is still the great era of rock 'n' roll.
If I could stick a pen in my heart
Spill it all over the stage
Would it satisfy you . . . -- Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, 1974
Spring 1975: Members of group appearing more often in Women's Wear Daily than Rolling Stone. Stones at Cap Centre in midst of post-Watergate torpor. Savage music is now empty theatrics. Bianca Jagger arrives with First Son Jack Ford and his band of Secret Service agents. Jagger inflates huge balloon mock-phallus on stage. Three attractive female colleagues depart in midst of show, decrying death of Stones, death of Rock, death of '60s. Appropriate ending: search for hour in Cap Centre lot for lost green Chevette. "At least we beat the crowd," one of the three says. A year later she commits suicide in same car, with vacuum-cleaner hose attached to exhaust pipe.
Spring 1978: Triennial march of lemmings to the sea? Surprise! Stones at 1,800-seat Warner Theatre. Woman of world, Phi Beta Kappa cocktail waitress, says this is what it's all about. Art patron who's never seen live rock is dazzled: all rock 'n' roll; no theatrics. What three years ago was a concert is now an event for the hip few lucky enough to have tickets. Even poor Jeff Carter can't get eight tickets. "We're just like everyone else," a White House spokesman says. (The night of the show Jeff is escorted in through a side door.) Ron Wood has become permanent replacement for Brian Jones. The group is cranking out music a la Newark Symphony Hall, 1965. A cataclysm of sound as Jagger leaps in time to the punctuations of "Tumblin' Dice." Fuses blown on "Jumpin' Jack Flash": The show ends in mid-climax.
* Brian Jones' 1962 Vox Phantom guitar, a Christmas present from a friend who inherited it from a man who died in a Scandinavian avalanche, is stolen from a dressing room at the Atlantis Club, after being borrowed by Urban Verbs guitarist Robert Goldstein. "It was cursed anyway," the owner says.
* Second anniversary of Studio 54. In bowels of building where hip congregate, Jagger walks up to 19-year-old model Esme', who's stuffed into T-shirt from an old Stones tour. "1975," Jagger says. "And you're 19. Good Lord, it's almost the '80s. I never know how old we're getting until I read T-shirts other people are wearing."