First off, I must start by emphasizing how huge a Rolling Stones fan I am. I spent much of my late teens trying to figure out if I could force my afro into the Brian Jones hairstyle. It never worked surprisingly enough.
This article is a critique on what the band has become today, not a critique on the immortal band that produced 1972’s ‘Exile on Main St’. Derivative of Black American Blues artists kept underground by the colour bar it may have been, what Mick ‘n’ Keef really did was take the music of the American Deep South and infuse it with the youthful vigour and rebellious spirit of the 1960’s to create something unique. Songs like ‘Street Fighting Man’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’ must have sounded like waves of social change coming through the radio at the time, and with their effeminate hairstyles and open defilement of the drug laws, the Stones embodied everything that the establishment feared.
Now they are the establishment.
Last weekend the biggest musical annual music celebration in all of the UK took place with the Glastonbury Festival. Think Woodstock with a little mystical druidism thrown in for good measure. Headlining the event this year were the Rolling Stones, and despite being on the road for 50 years, they were playing the festival for the very first time, meaning it has been big news on this side of the pond. However, despite the best efforts of a still-energetic Mick Jagger, when they finally got on stage the Stones looked like they had definitely gathered some moss over the years. It wasn’t that the musicianship was lacking or that the songs hadn’t aged well over time, both the songs and the way they played them were good, but the gig still seemed vacuous. This was because the Stones’ attempts to appear defiant and dangerous were exposed as a fallacy by the huge corporate machine looming over their current incarnation. Watch the video underneath and judge for yourself:
All the old Jagger moves were there but they were done without feeling. This shouldn’t have surprised me; the Stones have longed since ceased to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll band but instead a corporation specializing in providing a stereotypical ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ experience (for an expensive price of course, last check was $600 for floor seats). You are likely to bump into George Bush or Tony Blair at their shows now, wearing a leather jacket and a T-shirt with classic ‘lips’ logo, going wild on a date night with Laura or Cherie. The Stones have consciously morphed from band to brand, paralleling the transformation of rock and pop music from the edgy, experimental reflection of youth culture into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today, where celebrity is all that matters and the music there as the background.
The concert was full of young people though, who like myself, still regard the Stones’ early output as amongst the best expression of chaos of young life. However, those young people probably have very little else in common with Mick Jagger, who last month exposed himself as a secret conservative, expressing admiration for recently-deceased British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher, asking ‘why people are so against her?‘. All while Thatcher’s disciples in the current UK government lay waste to the futures of those young peoples.
The trajectory of the Stones reinforces that old idiom that claims: ‘If your not liberal when you’re young then you have no heart and if your not conservative when you’re old you have no head.’ However this idiom doesn’t account for those angry souls who seem to only get more radical with age. The likes of Noam Chomsky and Cornell West spring to mind, and I doubt either of those two great minds could be described as having ‘no head.’ It isn’t just intellectuals; musicians like Neil Young or Tom Waits also still seem young at heart and they still have fire in their belly. They show that shedding your formerly deeply held principles like a snake sheds its skin is not inevitable – that being co-opted into what you claim to stand against for a price is not pre-determined.
Young people today, who like the Stones in the 60s are living through turbulent times, need to see the likes of Chomsky rather than Jagger as an example to follow. I still appreciate how hard it must be for a man nearly 70 years old to run around on stage like Mick Jagger does. But watching it, I could help think of Doug Stanhope’s thoughts of the deaths of the likes of Cobain or Hendrix: at least you didn’t have to see them sell out.