Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Rolling Stones

Okay, I have a serious post half ready but I’ve just come off working nights and have two whole days (!) free before going back for more and frankly, the more nights I work the more I have the feeling that my brain is turning to mush so I’ll finish that some other time. Something lighter instead, something completely different…

I was born ten years too late to really get the music of the sixties when it was actually happening but when I really started to take pop and rock seriously in the seventies the shadow cast by the most creative decade in popular music was still long indeed. The first group I really lost my heart to was the Beatles and today, nearly forty years later, this has not appreciably changed; I still believe that the Fab Four were sublime geniuses, leaving all the contemporary competition far behind in their wake. Including, of course, their great rivals, the Rolling Stones. And, of course, as a teenager, I immediately indentified with this rivalry – even if it was artificially pushed by the media and Mick, Keith & Co., were, in fact, good friends of the Liverpool lads.

But as I’ve got older, I’ve learned to appreciate the works of Jagger and Richards more and more, even if my feelings about them still remain – in some areas – a bit ambiguous. First of all, I find their continued existence and their live touring a bit embarrassing. Jagger’s camp prancing has gone beyond being a parody of the original into the realm of pure comedy theatre. This kind of behaviour is just not worthy for a man in his mid-sixties, a man whose granddaughter was in my daughter’s class at school in Ibiza for chrissakes (and my daughter is now a grown woman)! I saw him on TV twice last week at the World Cup, first hobnobbing with his pal, Bill Clinton, at the game where the USA lost narrowly to Ghana and again the following day witnessing England being humiliated by Germany. Not a good week for Mick.

And then of course there’s Keith Richards. What can one say about Keith? A man who has turned Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray story around, with his face showing the traces of every binge with booze and other various mind-altering substances he has ever come into contact with. The guy’s liver deserves a place in the Guinness Book of Records (and, come to think of it, Ronnie Woods’ liver is in this category too, but Ronnie can at least play the guitar). Keith, on the other hand, has been described as the best bad guitarist in the world. A rock guitarist whose favourite guitar setting is an open G tuning with only five strings on the instrument (the bass E being removed for, er, convenience)! Still, Keith does have a deep love of classic rhythm n’ blues and, within his self-admitted limitations, what he does he does well.

But I didn’t really set out here to slam the Stones – frankly, that’s too easy and a bit cheap for they are, in their own way, musical legends with a long series of great songs, many of which were profoundly innovative and have well stood the test of time. From “Satisfaction” to “Sympathy for the Devil,” from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to “Paint it Black”, these are songs which get immediately get into your blood, make you want to turn the music up loud, get up and dance. And though they are synonymous with fast and dirty rock ‘n roll, they have also produced some very good slower numbers and ballads, such as “Ruby Tuesday” and “As Tears Go By.”

Above all, the Stones are fun! One of my most cherished musical memories concerns a time where I was part of a hobby band which, for complicated reasons I won’t go into here, had a constantly changing membership. At one stage, one of the guitarists was a Dutch Stones fanatic, who (I kid you not) in real life was a french horn player with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. Dave insisted that we add some Stones numbers to our set and so I had the privilege of singing “Satisfaction” and “Honky Tonk Woman” at an unforgettable live gig. Musically, I swear, it doesn’t get much better than that!

So, while they will never replace the Beatles in that very special corner of my heart, I cheerfully admit to having learned to love the Stones. I even find myself being struck by the wry wisdom often to be found in their lyrics. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you might find you get what you need.” Deep, that! (Although, in my opinion, they should really quit the live touring; they’re too old for it, certainly don’t need the money and the prices they charge for tickets are simply outrageous!)

Here’s Mick, Keith, Ron, Bill and Charlie doing a marvellous country and western pastiche. As Mick sings, thank you, Jesus!

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