“Do the Rolling Stones still exist?”
That, I’m afraid, was my reaction when I read about the band’s apparent continuation of its “No Filter” tour, which will start up again next month with 11 dates in Europe.
Now I know that Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wood are still alive, so it wasn’t an issue of the band ceasing to exist because a key member died. (One could make the argument, perhaps, that the band really stopped being what it once was when Brian Jones died in a swimming pool 49 years ago.) But it struck me that there is a visible absence of the Stones in the context that they were once part and parcel of popular culture as delivered in various forms, not just in the pages of something like Rolling Stone: they made music, they made news, they were there, out in the public, and people, like it or not, knew it. Given that they are still touring, given that the 11 dates are a continuation of a tour that they were on last fall, means that they are no less public.
But are they?
In keeping up with the characters, we have:
• Mick—Sir Mick—age 74 with a one-year-old child whom he had with his 31-year-old girlfriend. He has seemingly become an item for the gossip pages, sort of like Frank Sinatra in his heyday.
• Keith—who is still working hard everywhere, most recently performing at the second-annual Love Rocks NYC concert at the Beacon Theater.
• Ronnie—who recently announced that he is free of lung cancer. (Although he looked awfully cool back in the day with his rooster-shag haircut and a smoke dangling from his lips as he made magnificent sounds come out of his guitar (most of us would have a difficult time smoking and playing at all), his cancer is a cautionary tale, more telling that the warnings on cigarette packs.)
• Charlie—who told The Guardian in February “It wouldn’t bother me if the Rolling Stones said that’s it. . .enough.”
England’s Newest Hit Makers, the first U.S.-released Stones album, came out in 1964. Back then the influence of American music—particularly blues and R&B—was audibly evident. The album includes “Route 66,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “I’m a King Bee,” and the Jagger/Richards “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back).”
12 X 5, also from ‘64, has “Time Is on My Side.” In ‘65 Out of Our Heads came out, with “The Last Time,” “Play with Fire,” and the single song that truly made the band’s career, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” And a few months later, it was December’s Children with “Get Off of My Cloud” and “As Tears Go By.”
And on it goes. Most of the key music early. A long time ago.
Lester Bangs wrote that Black and Blue, released in 1976, was “the first meaningless Rolling Stones album, and thank God.”
Whether that was when it was over or not is open for debate. For me it was absolutely over in 1989 when a PR representative from trade group that represents the steel industry gave me a copy of Steel Wheels. I don’t think that the members of the organization were Stones fans. I do think that they were chuffed by the name of the album.
While I have written, perhaps too extensively, about the need for some musicians from days of yore to pack in up and go play in a pub or something, this is not one of those pieces.
A friend of mine recently gave me books by novelist John Le Carré. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was published in 1963 and A Legacy of Spies, 2017. Those are essentially bookend books of a number of novels that include the character George Smiley and other recurring ones. The Spy starts it; A Legacy closes it.
Le Carré was born in 1931. He is 86. Older than any of the Stones.
Yet A Legacy of Spies is as well written—if not more well written—than The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
He hasn’t lost it. And I would like to think that as long as he can continue to move that Conway-Stewart fountain pen, Le Carré keeps at it.
In that The Guardian interview Watts noted that he has a concern that he and his long-time band mates are as good as they should be.
That is what I now wonder about, as I know that the band still exists.
From Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre, out now.