Blue version of Rolling Stones logo with words blue and lonesome

While celebs and a clutch of great musicians croaked by the dressing room full, did anyone notice the Rolling Stones had a banner year?

Yes, I am writing about the Stones--again.

Because they matter. Perhaps more than ever. More on that at the end, luv.

Early in 2016 they conquered South America with a 10-show tour that included figuratively climbing over the diplomatic and ideological walls and playing a free show inside a communist dictatorship--Cuba. No ordinary gig by any act's standards, hundreds of thousands of Cubans showed up after months of behind-the-scenes finagling (underwritten by a Latino billionaire) complicated by the timing of Obama's surprise overture and visits by both the president and the Pope.

Besides the DVD, Havana Moon, of the concert, there is a fantastic must-see documentary of the rest of the Stones South American tour and hombre, it I think think it is the best Stones movie yet.

Most of it isn't the Stones playing live. A great deal of it show them interacting with the locals, experiencing the various colors and culture of Latin America and none of it is passe. Mick meets with a band of rolingas, musicians who took their inspiration from the Stones and found themselves on official government shit-lists, a story often found around Latin countries, not just Cuba. Or guitarist Ronnie Wood painting side-by-side with a street artist, matching each other stroke by brushstroke. Or Keith jumping into a group of little girls dancing in the middle of a drum circle; Mick enjoying a solitary walk in the barrio unrecognized in a beat-up straw cowboy hat and sunglasses.

The touring lifestyle and personalities of the band members are priceless: Keith has a special totem stick with a scarf he ritually waves before shows to ward off rain. It didn't work in Brazil. He looks hilarious shaking it, absolutely eccentric. "It's not infallible," he explains as the skies open up. But the slow-motion clip of Jagger and he performing in the torrent is so beautifully lit and captured as to be artistically breathtaking. I'm telling you, this and other scenes photographed by producer Paul Dugman have a here-to-fore unseen artistry that will surprise you no little bit.

Best parts are dealing with Obama's unexpected visit requiring massive altering of scheduling and then the Pope's disapproval of the band playing on the Good Friday near his visit. The Stones adjust for the president and ignore the pope. "He's not my manager," says the always-unapologetic Richards.

Now for one of the rippin'est Chicago-blues albums ever recorded by rock'n'roll white boys ever.

Blue & Lonesome is many things: all covers, all live (NO overdubs, amazing), raw, rough and beautiful; ferocious, tender, stomping, humping, thumping, rocking, almost swinging, often dance-worthy (in a late-'50s Chicago-blues-style sorta way). It's long on Mick Jagger blues harmonica and short on guitar-god solos despite Clapton's on two songs.

In short, nobody but the Stones could've made a raggedly graceful blues album like this because nobody has in their band Keith Richards, a rhythm guitarist Jon Pareles of the New York Times once described as possessing 'guerrilla grace' to which I would add a pirates eye for what riffs to plunder.

Just Your Fool opens Blue & Lonesome, the first of the album's four Little Walter songs, as rough as anything the Cramps have ever done. Then, with but one second between songs, Howlin' Wolf's obscure Commit A Crime follows, sporting a wicked rooster-gone-banshee lead guitar part. Jagger captures the Wolf's ethereal emotion and a rather dark one it is, the man's woman having provoked him to shaking his head and saying he's about to strike back. Political correctness was never Howlin' Wolf's strong point.

Ten more killers to varying degrees follow and like Shakespeare nailing every major theme in the canon of the human condition, I do believe the Stones hit every desirable speed, groove and tempo known to make the blues so seductive and appealing. Fast shuffles, slow tortuous ballads, slow-motion oily loin-lockers, hard-hitting shuffles, straight-up dance-floor fillers. At 12 songs, the length is perfect itself, the emotions touched ranging from happy, down, angry, loving, sexy, bloody and almost-sweet. Saturday night somehow or other comes out on everyone of these bad boys written by the long-gone greats.

What is so reassuring about the Stones is that they are still so good. Older than a great many of us, they have proved a thousand times over they were on to a good thing. And what was that good thing?

For the most part, black American music. Somehow or other the Jagger/Richards/Watts nexus-plexus-sexus deeply understood the powerful trans-formative mission of the music. How they did this we'll never know. But the mystery is all theirs and the pleasure is all ours. And to see our heroes aging mostly gracefully yet still maintaining the soul of their fire and roar, is a very good thing for one's morale. In a wager between the world and the man, Kafka said bet on the world. Anybody who has bet on the Stones for the long game has won mightily. Blue & Lonesome could be the beginning of the rebirth of the blues or at least, a beautiful way to say goodbye.

But I'm not ready for that yet.

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