The Magnificent Rolling Stones

“Nice to be back in Noo York, Noo York,” says Mick. “They always do best here,” says their tour manager.


“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

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

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

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 5, 2019