Stones In China: Maybe They Should Have Been Dubbed

Let's spend some time together...It is estimated that more than 20% of the people on the planet live in China. It’s on the order of 1.3-billion people. And so there were the Rolling Stones, playing in China, in Shanghai, the biggest city (approximately 12.8 million people; about 17 million if you throw in the ‘burbs). So what kind of venue does the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” play in? One that can handle 8,000 people. One could argue that it is a statistically insignificant number, not even a rounding error on census data. Now, chances are good that of the total number of people in the crowd, there were plenty of ex-pats, not Chinese citizens, so that cuts the number of actual “Chinese citizens” in the crowd. Then there were probably plenty of people who are connected. Plenty of people who are, well, not your run-of-the-mill Chinese rock and roll fan. Some might think: “Well, the Stones have to play what they can get, so if that’s the venue, then that’s the venue.” Some might counter: “Well, the Stones have allegedly been trying to get into China for 30 years, so one would expect that they’d have worked to get a slightly larger crowd.”

It gets a little dingier when it becomes known that the band had a few deletions on their set list, as the government didn’t want them to play sexually suggestive songs. Let’s face it: When you have all of those people and a one-child policy, you’ve got to be careful vis-à-vis what your citizens might be excited into doing after a night of unadulterated rock. If you want to talk about a Bigger Bang, then just think of that. Mick is quoted as being rather nonchalant about the censorship, noting that if “Brown Sugar,” “Beast of Burden,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Honky Tonk Women,” and “Rough Justice” were prohibited, then there were plenty more where those came from. So, he is quoted as saying, “it doesn’t really matter.” Really? It doesn’t?

Once upon a time, the Stones were about the spirit of what rock and roll is. Or was. Now, evidently, that doesn’t much matter to the band. Perhaps Mick imagines that because he was once essentially the definition of a rebellious rocker, a stage-strutting street fighting man, what he says and does is the essence of what it is. Which is, fundamentally, pathetic. There is really little difference between what the Stones did and, oh, Whitney Houston back in ’04, although I suspect that her pipes were better than Mick’s (then, not now, at least given the evidence on “Being Bobby Brown”), and Whitney, at least, played in a stadium holding 20,000 people. One of the noted aspects of the Stones’ show was that Chinese performer Cui Jian chimed in on “Wild Horses,” adding, presumably, some sort of authenticity. That’s not exactly a rock breakthrough of any extent inasmuch as when Deep Purple played a Chinese tour (Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, etc.), Cui Jian was on the bill.

To be sure, when you think about the numbers of people in China, whether the Stones played a given song or not is perhaps not in the least bit relevant. But if they are to be thought of, circa right now, as something other than a means by which revenue is to be generated, then it is a sad commentary on what they’ve become, given the unique exposure that the band had. I mean, does anyone remember when the Backstreet Boys played to 40,000 in Beijing back in ’04?

6 thoughts on “Stones In China: Maybe They Should Have Been Dubbed”

  1. I don’t get your point at all. Are you comparing the accomplishments of the Stones to those of Whitney & Bobby? Or the Backstreet Boys? Taking swipes at Micks age…what is the point of that? Yet another lame, tired rehash of how the Stones have “lost their R&R integrity.” Every bit as tired as late-night tv comic jokes about Keith looking like vampire. The band has been together for more than FORTY years! Your arguement was valid THIRTY years ago. Maybe it’s time to move on to something relevant. So what if they want to go to China? Who cares if they are not the first western pop act to do so? They’re the fucking Stones…maybe they just want to get paid to see China! They’re the fucking Stones! You really think you know more about music or pop culture than Mick Jagger? They don’t owe anyone shit. Take em’ or leave em.’ I don’t give a damn about anything they’ve done in 25 years either but leave it be man. It’s kind of a racist observation anyway. How come nobody bashes 80 year-old Sonny Rollins or B.B. King? Those guys are still on the road and haven’t done anything relevant in decades. You would be hard pressed to find anyone speaking or writing about them with such disrespect.

  2. Bob, don’t you find it at least a little weird that the Rolling Stones played a venue only half as large as Whitney Houston, and only one-fifth the capacity of the Backstreet Boys? I do.

  3. If rock and roll is about freedom of expression, then isn’t it a bit disturbing that the Stones, of all performers, would permit themeselves to be under the thumb of censorship?

  4. It’s disturbing that anyone should read so much into anything they do at this point. The Stones have been battling the censorship issue since Ed Sullivan and the BBC hassled them…41 years ago! And it happened again at this years Super Bowl. Do you really think they should have to even worry about it? They’ve done more than their share to push the envelope of free speech and taboo breaking. Should they really boycott China over a couple of songs out of their massive catalog? Playing there at all was probably one of the last challenges left on the planet for them. They’ve pretty much done it all. Really, why should they even give it a second thought?

  5. Best part of the NYT article linked to above:

    “I’ve never listened to their songs,” said Shen Yichen, a 16-year-old girl who was accompanied by her parents. “Maybe listening like this for the first time is more authentic.”

    Before the show, her father, equally unfamiliar with the music, downloaded a song. “I don’t know what song it was,” said the father, Shen Shiji, 46. “Maybe it was a song paying tribute to Dylan.

    “I don’t know if it’s their lyrics that make people like them,” he added, “but listening to the melody, it wasn’t so beautiful.”

  6. Yeah, this is a total non-story.

    Even the “wild and rebellious” Stones of the late ’60s willingly censored themselves on Ed Sullivan. Bo-ring.

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