The Rolling Stones

Can one imagine the world without the Rolling Stones?  No.

  There has always been a Rolling Stones and there will always be a Rolling Stones.

  I will vote many times for any member of Congress who introduces a bill naming our next aircraft carrier, nuclear sub and super-cruiser the U.S.S. Mick Jagger, the U.S.S. Keith Richards and the U.S.S. Charlie Watts.

  To hell with commemorative postage stamps.

  I mean, these guys did make their bones aping American music, right?

  Goddamn right.

  And now, they're gonna fill our 'shoe with British blues, r'n'b and rock'n'roll stolen straight from the slave markets down in New Orleans.
  True globalization, that.

  Let's go down the Johnny Go/Rolling Stones memory lane, shall we?
  Akron Rubber Bowl, 1972. Stevie Wonder is the opening act, Superstition from his Talking Book album the big hit. My older sister's boyfriend had given me some "Hawaiian psychedelic seeds" for the show but they didn't do shit for me. Cops were fighting the hippies, I'm thinking, huh, is this what they call "funk" as Stevie the beautiful blind cat turns on my 16-year-old soul. The Stones were late and pretty much all I remember is how fast and hard and automatic they seemed. Plus Keith looked like one bad-ass mofo rocking on his Strat as he faced Charlie. On the way out I saw an overturned police car and thought how cool.
  Cleveland Stadium, 1975. A Saturday in the July sun that started out with, if memory serves, Peter Tosh, then Tower of Power, J. Geils and the Stones. Tosh opened with "400 Years," his ode to slavery, and I remember this Cleveland kid sitting in from of me turning to his friend and saying, "When are they gonna quit bitching about it?" Cleveland, man, Cleveland. But the Stones '75 was my favorite-ever Stones show. Ronnie Wood was still a Face with Rod Stewart but Keith needed a fellow south London foil and the Wood Man fit the bill. Billy Preston was their keyboardist and they gave him two songs including Outta Space which I remember knocking me out. What was so great about the show then was the Stones seemed to be deeper musically than ever as a band. They had loads of energy but they seemed to be taking their time getting into being the greatest white r'n'b band of all time.

  Immortal moment: Jagger, Richards, Preston and Wood huddled together doing Mississippi Fred McDowell's delta slide song, You Gotta Move, during which Keith took the longest swig of Jack Daniels I have ever seen. And Jagger may have peaked at his athletic best with that tour.
  Cleveland Stadium, 1978. The Some Girls tour, with a stripped down band (no horns, no backing singers) and a stage sans the previous extravagance, the Stones played in the rain and moved the attendant 80,000 like it was '75 and '72 all over again. As an album that was influenced by and an answer to the punk rock revolution, the two songs of the night which stand out the most still are Shattered and All Down the Line. Jagger was his goofiest and schoolboy naughtiest. A guitar band after all. Nice.
  Richfield Coliseum, 1981. Keith's first tour in years unaddicted and he played brilliantly. Plus the first major corporate sponsorship (by a perfume company of all things). Jagger was in football pants. Great set list, too, including Under My Thumb and one of the first singles I ever bought, Let's Spend the Night Together.
  Ridiculously memorable thing: Jagger in that damn cherry picker, a gimmick Keith reportedly despised.
  Then there was the '90s tours and things sort of blur. I remember one last Cleveland stadium show being so-so. I thought the 'shoe show was good, one of the Schott shows, too, as well as the Nationwide Arena show was really hot. I was given a reviewers seat next to the small stage set up in the middle of the arena. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned as the Stones were plugging into their small amps. All of a sudden I felt a primal force rip my head back to the stage--it was Keith hammering out the first chords to Brown Sugar. I was so close to his Fender Twin Reverb I could've pulled a tube out. But I didn't. I'm not an asshole.
  Around this time a certain local drummer explained to me the secret of Keith and Charlie--in the Stones the drummer follows the guitar player, not the other way around as in virtually every rock and rock'n'roll band in the world. Think of how many Stones songs start with just Keith's guitar: Satisfaction, Brown Sugar, Jumpin' Jack Flash. The man is the truest son of Robert Johnson, not Eric Clapton. I've read he learned a Son House slide tuning and then chorded with his left hand using no slide. Buddha calls that “beginner's mind.” Sweet.
  Back to the drummer. I mean, have you ever noticed that the Stones actually swing? Helps when your drummer in his spare time puts together Count Basie big band tribute bands. The Stones have American music covered. And like true world-straddling members of the British empire, they knew how to pluck what was good from any particular American genre and sub-genre and turn style into substance. Hallelujah and three cheers for globalization.
  Still, to this day, the samba groove to Sympathy for the Devil I think is the purest example of the Stones culture borrowings. Brilliant, utterly tasteful and so sexy!
  I did see the Stones play San Juan, Puerto Rico. That was wild, back in the early thousands, I think. The place was already nuts over 'em as they turned in a fine set. But when Jagger hit the lyric to Miss You about some "Puerto Rican girls who are DYIN' TO MEETCHOO," the place went absolutely bonkers. Total love as only Puerto Ricans can do it.
  OK, the Stones three most underrated songs: Stray Cat Blues, Monkey Man and All Down the Line. The rhythm to Stray Cat, I think, is Keith's most seductive, lugubrious groove ever, just short of the mother-whompin' Gimme Shelter, the intro of which is one of the most guerrilla graceful guitar pieces in history. Monkey Man's guitar part is like a slippery 'fonk' blues and pure freakin' genius; and Down the Line is just one of the best unheralded Stones arrangements of all time.
  But hey baby, the Stones were just as great with words. Whichever one came up with "it's just that demon life has got me in its sway" (from Sway), I'll cut their grass for free at whatever mansion of theirs on whichever continent they stipulate. And I've always admired Jagger's Dylanesque lyrical traipse through history from the Devil's point of view in Sympathy for the Devil. Of course how many of us obsessed over Brown Sugar's "Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields" and Honky Tonk Woman's "I met a/gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis"? That's how I spent my summer before the ninth grade, figuring out (or trying to) what these strange-looking British boys were saying. "I howled at my ma in the drivin' rain"? Jumpin' Jack Flash is modern Shakesperean surrealism at its finest.
  Ah, the Stones--who knew musical colonialism could be so magnificent?

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