Obligatory Autobiographical Opening
When my friends and I were in high school we took a summer pilgrimage to a campground in northern Michigan, and if a pilgrimage requires a religious angle, then it was to celebrate Bacchus, assuming that he happened to drink copious quantities of Stroh’s.
None of us were in the least bit interested in camping. We had no skills. To build a campfire we had to rely on Coleman stove fuel, which got things going rather quickly and also served as an entertainment when it was splashed on an already raging fire, as there would be an eye-opening exothermic event. The days in the campground consisted of (1) drinking beer in the afternoon, long into the night; (2) passing out in our not-well-setup tents; (3) getting up the next day and going to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, where the sun, we hoped, would help sweat the alcohol out of our bodies; (4) bathing in ice-cold Lake Michigan; (5) repeat.
The summer of 1972 most of us were 18. Earlier that year the Michigan legislature had done us a tremendous favor by changing the drinking age in the state to 18. That meant we didn’t have to accumulate as much beer as we could while we were back in Detroit from people that would “buy” for us (in retrospect it seems an odd thing: we would simply say to someone who was older but who had a fake ID, “Will you buy for us?” and it went without elaboration what we meant) so as to be well stocked for our adventure. One of the downsides of this was that our trunks tended to be so full of beer that the camping gear barely fit.
That summer we brought a cassette of Exile on Main St. along with us. The double album had been released in late May, so it was still quite fresh at the time. I had installed a Radio Shack cassette player in the glove compartment of my mom’s ’71 Chevy Nova which we had taken up that year. The clever part of that cassette player was that when it came to the end of one side it automatically—with mechanical sounds of clicking and clacking—played the other side. No need to take the cassette out and flip it over.
• “Rocks Off”
• “Rip This Joint”
• “Shake Your Hips”
• “Casino Boogie”
• “Tumbling Dice”
• “Sweet Virginia”
• “Torn and Frayed”
• “Sweet Black Angel”
• “Loving Cup”
Whir, click, thunk, whir, click
• “Turd on the Run”
• “Ventilator Blues”
• “I Just Want to See His Face”
• “Let It Loose”
• “All Down the Line”
• “Stop Breaking Down”
• “Shine a Light”
• “Soul Survivor”
Whir, click, thunk, whir, click
In retrospect it is something that I recall with a bit of embarrassment. And I don’t mean the cassette player or the double album contained on the single cassette.
Hour after hour (occasionally I would have to start the Nova so as to not completely run down the battery) we didn’t merely quaff beer and listen to what I am fairly confident all of my friends would still agree is one of the musical masterpieces of the 20th century, but we often sang along with some great gusto, particularly to “Sweet Virginia.” And we sang with all of the fidelity of a bunch of drunk guys who couldn’t sing.
Meanwhile we were surrounded by normal families who were there to presumably more or less commune with nature. Needless to say we were visited by the park ranger on more than one occasion, but we were undaunted. We were stupid teenagers drinking and listening to the Stones, away from home, without a care in the world. (There was, however, for me the matter of the comparatively low lottery number that I had on my draft card; the last draft call was December 7, 1972, and as my number didn’t come up by then, I avoided that. But as I didn’t know that in August ’72, there was that in the back of my mind, and my friends, all of whom had high numbers, didn’t let me forget my low one.)
And now we bring it up to now
While it is hard to conceive of the summer of ’72 being 50 years ago, it is also hard to fathom how Mick and Keith will, a couple weeks from right now, kick off the Stones’ SIXTY tour in Madrid.
Yes, 60 years of the Rolling Stones.
According to Wikipedia, the Stones had the following concert tours during this period:
1. September–November 1963 – British Tour 1963
2. January 1964 – 1st British Tour 1964
3. February–March 1964 – 2nd British Tour 1964
4. June 1964 – 1st American Tour 1964
5. August 1964 – 3rd British Tour 1964
6. September–October 1964 – 4th British Tour 1964
7. October–November 1964 – 2nd American Tour 1964
8. January 1965 – Irish Tour 1965
9. February 1965 – Far East Tour 1965
10. March 1965 – 1st British Tour 1965
11. 26 March–3 April 1965 – 1st Scandinavian Tour 1965
12. April 1965 – 2nd European Tour 1965
13. April–May 1965 – 1st American Tour 1965
14. 15–18 June 1965 – Scottish Tour 1965
15. 24–29 June 1965 – 2nd Scandinavian Tour 1965
16. September 1965 – 2nd Irish Tour 1965
17. September 1965 – 4th European Tour 1965
18. September–October 1965 – 2nd British Tour 1965
19. October–December 1965 – 2nd American Tour 1965
20. February–March 1966 – Australasian Tour 1966
21. March–April 1966 – European Tour 1966
22. June–July 1966 – American Tour 1966
23. September–October 1966 – British Tour 1966
24. March–April 1967– European Tour 1967
25. November–December 1969 – American Tour 1969
26. August–October 1970 – European Tour 1970
27. March 1971 – UK Tour 1971
28. June–July 1972 – American Tour 1972
29. January–February 1973 – Pacific Tour 1973
30. September–October 1973 – European Tour 1973
31. June–August 1975 – Tour of the Americas ’75
32. April–June 1976 – Tour of Europe ’76
33. June–July 1978 – US Tour 1978
34. September–December 1981 – American Tour 1981
35. May–July 1982 – European Tour 1982
36. August 1989–August 1990 – Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour
37. August 1994–August 1995 – Voodoo Lounge Tour
38. September 1997–September 1998 – Bridges to Babylon Tour
39. January–June 1999 – No Security Tour
40. September 2002–November 2003 – Licks Tour
41. August 2005–August 2007 – A Bigger Bang Tour
42. November 2012–July 2013 – 50 & Counting Tour
43. February–November 2014 – 14 On Fire
44. May–July 2015 – Zip Code Tour
45. February–March 2016 – América Latina Olé Tour 2016
46. September 2017–November 2021 – No Filter Tour
47. June–July 2022 – SIXTY Tour
Think of this: Since that tour in support of Exile (which was held in Detroit in Cobo Arena, which no longer exists, and my attendance at that is another story entirely and I wonder whatever happened to the young woman I took to that show. . .), they’ve performed 42% of their tours. Maybe instead of being labeled “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World” it should be “The Most Relentless Rock and Roll Band in the World.” Since their very first tour there are only two original members of the band still trodding out on stage (although perhaps having made a deal with the Devil there is somehow still some litheness involved rather than trodding, as there should be), Mick (78. . .soon to be 79) and Keith (also 78 though his birthday is in December while Mick’s is in July).
Mile after mile. Night after night. Song after song. And they continue.
The summer of ’72 tour in America had 48 shows. The greatest number of shows in a given tour since then was the 2005-2007 A Bigger Bang, when there were 147 shows. The lowest number of performances was the América Latina Olé outing in 2016, when there were 14 shows, the same number for the SIXTY Tour. All in from the ’72 tour through SIXTY (assuming that COVID or other issues don’t reduce it) there are 890 times they’ve performed on tour.
Approximately the number of times my friends and I sang “Sweet Virginia” that week in ’72.
A retrospective comment
As I think back to that time playing Exile on Main St. over and over again, I fully realize that there is no way in hell that the contemporary me would spend more than a night under the conditions the 50-years-past me reveled in.
Which leads me to either have nothing but respect for Keith and Mick or simply consider that they have to be out of their minds to continue doing today what they did not just 50 years ago, but 60.
After all (cringe alert!) it’s only rock and roll.
But I wonder: Will there ever be another band (even if it really is just two guys now) who will have such an effect on rock, even if it is not much more to the dedication to the music that they’ve been performing for so very long?