Monday, December 13, 2010

like a rolling stone

You know when you have that moment of recognition, when the meaning in a song's lyrics, which you have been singing along to for quite some time, becomes clear? I can picture the exact moment, when I got what Mick Jagger was singing about in Brown Sugar. It wasn't a life-changing moment or anything. The song isn't particularly deep and it's quite misogynist, but I was suddenly not just mindlessly singing along to the chorus anymore.

It was a raining, and I was sitting in the back seat of my dad's car, rolling up newspapers. He owned and ran a local weekly newspaper and Wednesday was publication day. I sat there, stuffing them into plastic bags, so when he tossed them out the window to deliver them, they wouldn't get soaked in the rain. Because no one likes a wet newspaper. My dad's paper was The Hometown News, where he was not only the editor and publisher, but chief reporter, photographer, and frequently, delivery man. I was in junior high and bored with having to help out. I would have much rather been over a friend's house after school watching Match Game on television than stuck here in the car driving through suburban South Jersey developments with Dad. And then Mick started singing about black girls and I grew up, woke up, a little.

Our house was always a Beatles house. My mom was a huge fan. She used to play Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds from Sgt. Pepper to lull us to sleep at bedtime. I wasn't really familiar with the Stones, who I lumped in with my mom's music. We heard them on the radio—Ruby Tuesday, As Tears Go By—but Mom didn't have any of their albums. When I was old enough to start buying my own records I was into a later British invasion— the Clash, the Police, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson. I did become familiar with a few Stones songs that were popular when my bands were ruling the airwaves—all from their Some Girls album, which was apparently a bit of a comeback for the band at the time—Miss You, Beast of Burden, Shattered.

When I moved to New York to go to art school the first place I lived, the Parsons dorm, was a high-rise off Union Square Park. My dad was the opposite of thrilled and kept referencing Pacino in The Panic in Needle Park. I was a little scared to be out of the house and on my own for the first time in my life, but mostly thrilled. Andy Warhol's studio was a few buildings up from the dorm and I used to see him walking around the neighborhood quite often, always flanked by two tall blonde young men. Our building was also the home to the fashion illustrator Antonio, who frequently had celebrity visitors. The only way to get upstairs was by the elevator, so one day some bedraggled freshmen art students got to ride a few floors with Mick Jagger, who got off at Antonio's floor. I thought at the time that Jagger was visiting on a professional assignment, but apparently Antonio was a great friend of Jagger's long-term companion and eventual wife, Jerry Hall.
Antonio discovered Jessica Lange in 1974. He discovered Jerry Hall and lived with her in Paris at the beginning of her modeling career. ... [he] also discovered Grace Jones and Tina Chow.—Wikipedia
The other evening our local PBS station was featuring the 90s Julien Temple documentary, Rolling Stones: Live at the Max, apparently the first IMAX concert film, as part of its end-of-year pledge drive.
One of the first attempts at presenting an entertainment film in the IMAX format was The Rolling Stones: Live at the Max (1991), an 85-minute compilation of concert footage filmed in IMAX during the band's 1990 Steel Wheels tour, edited to give the impression of a single concert.—Wikipedia

I had never seen the film before, or the Stones in concert. Jagger was 48 when the film was made. He and Keith seemed pretty congenial, more so than they might be these days. There were so many songs in the film that made me realize I need to spend some iTunes dough. Even though I may not have been fed a steady diet of their music as I was growing up, somehow they must have infiltrated my subconscious—Tumbling Dice, Paint It, Black, Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil—are still fabulous and just as outrageous as ever.

O.K., I've got to track this down.
Brown Sugar is in no way my favorite Stones song, but it did wake me up to the fact that not all of the music from mom's era was bright and sunny. The Stones are the ultimate bar band. While I was watching the concert, even with all the pyrotechnics and Mick's larger-than-life posturing and stage crawling, I could still picture them in a smoky, dirty, bluesy little dive, just playing, playing, playing. Letting their gritty, wonderful songs come through. As Keith Richards says in his recent biography Life,
To write a song that is remembered and taken to heart, is a connection, a touching of bases. A thread that runs through all of us. A stab to the heart. 
The Stones have definitely managed to give us some wonderful stabs to the heart. What more could poor boy do?
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