Getting old is not for pussies. But let us not kid ourselves, there is no shame in living a long life, especially if you are a man of wealth and taste. By design, you don’t realize this until you get there but growing old is the best revenge. It gives you the license to finally admit to yourself just how silly and absurd you have been lo these many years. And that, my friends, is freedom.
The Rolling Stones are as old as the devil — maybe older. They’ve been around for a long long year stole many a man’s soul to waste, was ’round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain, killed the czar and his ministers, shouted out who killed the Kennedys, when after all it was you and me, etc. They are now whatever it is that comes after old. I mean, they’ve been a rock band for more than a half century in a business where most bands don’t last five minutes. I remember being in high school in 1983 when Mick turned 40 and Rolling Stone put him on the cover and served him a heaping bowl of crow with the headline WHAT A DRAG IT IS GETTING OLD. He turns 76 on Friday. People started calling them has-beens decades ago. Terry Gross’ husband called them “blown out satyrs” as far back in 2002, which is the last time I saw them play. That was 17 years ago and they were already a band for 40 years by that point.
It’s not even clear how they are still alive. They’ve lived a life style that should have killed them all ten times over, especially Keith Richards — but it turns out you can’t kill Keith Richards. Not even Keith Richards can kill Keith Richards, and not for lack of trying. (Sadly, you can kill Brian Jones, rest in power Adonais) Nor is it clear why they are still doing this, other than they still can and besides what the hell else are they going to do? Or maybe they are living so large they actually need the $116 million they will reportedly earn on their No Filter tour, which stopped at the Linc last night. Both are valid reasons, frankly, and the second one is pretty fuckin’ baller, I think we can all agree. But either way, this much was made clear last night: even though they dress like they covered themselves in honey and shot themselves out of a canon through Liza Minelli’s wardrobe closet, they can still do the devil’s business as per their satanic majesty’s request.
Their best songs are like portraits of Dorian Gray. “Start Me Up” can still make a grown man cry and a dead man come. “Dead Flowers” was deathless, just like Gram Parsons is deathless, even in death. “Paint It Black” sounds like 21 Century prophecy uttered 53 years ahead of its time, and “Sympathy For The Devil” is no less an artifact of high art than Picasso’s “Guernica” or Dante’s “Inferno.” “Gimme Shelter” sounded better in the men’s room than any song has a right to. It was there that a sunburned drunk at a urinal loudly proclaimed to everyone and no one all at once: “We are here to see the Rolling Stones back from the dead, life is good!”
Despite all the Sisyphean aggravation and the sweaty indignities of navigating the seven circles of Hell that is the Rock N’ Roll Industrial Complex on a stadium scale — the 40 minute wait in line to get thru the one metal detector that was open while four metal detectors stood by unused, TSA-style, only to be told you are at the wrong gate and you need to go to the next gate and get in the back of the 40-minute line and do it all over again, getting socked $14 for a lukewarm 14-ounce can of Stella fucking Artois and then being told a cup of ice to go with it would cost another $7, only to get down to the floor and be told by security you can’t bring a can onto the floor and being handed a cup, not to mention the oppressive ominipresent stench of deep fryers that reek like a whorehouse at low tide on a hot day, oh, and then it started raining, Altamonts are made of this, Mick, just sayin’ — deep down, we all knew this was true and the grunted assent of a plurality of urinating middle-aged men made it unanimous: the drunk was right. Rock is dead, long live the rock! — JONATHAN VALANIA
RELATED: Cocksucker Blues is an unreleased documentary film directed by the still photographer Robert Frank chronicling The Rolling Stones American Tour 1972 in support of their album Exile on Main St. The film came under a court order which forbade it from being shown unless the director, Robert Frank, was physically present. This ruling stemmed from the conflict that arose when the band, having commissioned the film, decided that its content was embarrassing and potentially incriminating, and did not want it shown. Frank felt otherwise—hence the ruling. The court order in question also enjoined Frank against exhibiting Cocksucker Blues more frequently than four times per year in an “archival setting” with Frank being present. MORE