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
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!
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.
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.