|Whats in it for the Rolling Stones?|
From The Times (TLS)
April 25, 2008
Sex, drugs and celluloid: the unlikely sheltering of Jagger & co
Shine a Light is the best Rolling Stones concert you will never perform at. No one has a hope any more of getting this close to a big rock band unless they are in a big rock band, and the Stones are one of the biggest. These days they hardly ever play anywhere smaller than a stadium or – in the case of a recent appearance in Rio de Janeiro – the entire length of Copacabana Beach. For two nights, two years ago, they played the Beacon Theater in New York, an intimate venue by their standards, to help their friend and fan Bill Clinton celebrate his sixtieth birthday and raise money for his foundation. The Clinton family and a youthful-looking audience of Democratic Party aristocracy were there to hear them. Another famous fan, Martin Scorsese, was there to film the proceedings.
If you want to feel what it’s like to have Mick Jagger go windmilling past your elbow, or to watch, right under your nose, Keith Richards approximate – for that’s all he seems prepared to do, by now – the churning, chugging, Chuck Berry-ish guitar riffs that helped to make the Stones rich and famous forty years ago, this is the film for you. It is, in its way, an astonishing achievement – of camerawork and editing. After a bit of preliminary mugging by Scorsese, who milks his inability to get his hands on a set-list – a promising subplot that is dropped the moment “Jumping Jack Flash” starts jumping – the noise and the excitement never let up, for almost two hours.
The other achievement is Jagger’s: to have kept the show on the road this long, through celebrity (his own), addiction (Richards’s), death (Brian Jones’s and Ian Stewart’s), divorce and heartbreak (everyone’s) and the general wear and tear of rock superstardom. But what on earth is in it for him? A man who qualified a few years ago for his free bus pass, who could almost certainly buy the Beacon Theater and get change from a week’s wages, but who keeps whirling and strutting and leaping, pointing and shouting and pouting through a whole longish set, without once looking as if he’d rather put his feet up with a DVD and a glass of Pomerol?
His lithe frame and beautiful head of hair aside, no one could pretend that the years have been kind to Jagger’s looks, or to his voice, never especially strong, though usually fit for purpose. Nor that he and Richards have produced – despite the odd one-off such as “Start Me Up” – a body of great or even memorable songs since the burst of inspiration that gave the world Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street in quick succession from 1969 to 72. The well-groomed, shiny blonde girls jigging about in the front rows below Jagger’s runway look as if they’re enjoying themselves, but the band aren’t going to be enjoying them afterwards, as they once would have done, surely? (This aspect of rock success is cheerfully recalled by Richards’s sidekick and guitar-foil of three decades, Ronnie Wood, in his often literate, drink-sodden recovery-memoir, Ronnie.) “Keef” himself, smoking continuously and looking more and more like the love-child of W. H. Auden and Freddy Krueger, has been so close to vanishing into rock legend so often that no one could begrudge him his back-from-the-dead act, his roguish leering and vamping, and he delivers not only a moving, croaky rendition of his country ballad “You Got the Silver”, but the one joke of the night. “It’s good to see you”, he growls at the whooping audience. “In fact, it’s good to see anyone.” There is an awkward moment when Jagger duets with Christine Aguilera on “Live With Me”: her voice is powerful but unsexy. (Tina Turner was the only woman who ever looked right with the Stones, anyway.) Jagger bumps and grinds, but the braceleted and beringed guitarists clanking around them – it’s they who got the silver, if anyone did – are unimpressed.
Shine a Light may be the first film Scorsese has made of the Stones in concert, but it isn’t his first Stones film, or his best. The Italian-American hoodlums and young bucks of his “mainstream” movies have seldom been without a soundtrack by the Stones as they pumped themselves up for action. This is at its scariest in Goodfellas, in which Ray Liotta’s coke habit gets out of hand, along with everything else, to the raw, nervy chords of “Gimme Shelter”. Jagger has joked that Shine a Light is “the first film by Marty without ‘Gimme Shelter’”, and it may be the worse for that: the song defines the Stones, and defined their era.
It also gave its name to an earlier Stones film, which tracked their American tour in 1969 from Madison Square Garden (which gigs in turn produced the great live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out) to the chaos of California. There, at the Altamont speedway, Hell’s Angels who had been entrusted with “security” fuelled an atmosphere of tension and confusion; scuffles and outbreaks of violence in the crowd culminated in a fatal stabbing not far from the stage. “It’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away”, goes the hook-line of “Gimme Shelter”, and it very nearly was. Meredith Hunter, the young black man who died, had himself pulled out a gun, and the person it looked as if he was about to shoot was Jagger. The band were badly shaken up, but shouldn’t have been surprised. Their best songs had been going that way for years – into protest and paranoia. “Street Fighting Man” was an adrenaline rush for the anti-Vietnam war generation, but the band’s flirtation with the dark side and with other sorts of rush went deeper in lots of other numbers, from “Sympathy for the Devil” to “Brown Sugar”.
Few 1960s musicians, glamorous lords of misrule as they had become, seemed to care where it was all supposed to end, or where, in the dreams they were busily promoting, responsibilities might begin. Though their songs, domesticated versions of blues and soul to start with, had begun to drip sheer druggy weirdness, the Stones probably had no idea how much farther gone the children of the American 1960s were than their English counterparts. Jagger and Richards and Brian Jones – who led the band in its first years – were sparky, talented, middle-class boys whose very marketable sexiness was given a bad-boy spin by their manager. (“Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” was his clever contribution.) Being bad made them welcome everywhere with the daughters of just about everyone, and took them into fashionable circles. Jones had lost his way, and his band – to Jagger and Richards, to whom he’d also lost his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg – by the time he drowned in his swimming pool in 1969. At a concert in Hyde Park, Jagger, dressed in a white skirt, read out some Shelley in his memory.
A more enduring memorial to Jones’s role in the evolution of the Rolling Stones myth is Performance, made in 1968. Nicolas Roeg’s demented film stars Jagger as the reclusive, androgynously beautiful pop wizard, Turner, and mixes all the cultish ingredients of the 1960s – psychedelia, dope, group sex, Notting Hill, working-class gangsters – into a dark, perverse tale of retribution, identity loss and hair dye. Jones is still alive – just – in Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One, which intercuts scenes of a very focused Jagger leading the band in recording sessions for “Sympathy for the Devil” with bits of embarrassing agitprop for “black power” and “armed revolution”. Not that these were not serious aspirations, at the time – 1968 – but such is the silliness, it’s unclear whether the whole thing is a joke, what connection is being made between the haunting song and Godards risible scenarios – or whether we are being asked to see the Stones as colluding in the capitalist oppression that released the black man from slavery only to steal his music and make a fortune out of it. On that reading, poor Meredith Hunter was about to make a political statement of his own.
No such misgivings are allowed to mar Shine a Light, which is all rolling, rollicking fun from beginning to end, and even features a turn by the blues legend Buddy Guy, declared inspiration of both Richards and Rocking Ronnie Wood (who have the best moments of their evening jamming with him). “Comical little geezer”, James Fox’s hard man calls a capering Turner/Jagger in Performance; “You’ll look funny when you’re fifty.” At over sixty, he doesn’t look funny at all; he looks as if he’s enjoying himself, doing the only thing he knows how to do. The Rolling Stones are not quite what they were, or what they set out to be all those years ago, but they seem grateful enough to still be here, living the music, performing their songs. Ronnie Wood puts this nicely in his book when he says that, what with all the paraphernalia of fame, the meeting-and-greeting, the press and the photo shoots and the small army of helpers, family, friends and hangers-on that accompanies the band everywhere on their practically non-stop tour of the world (only Bob Dylan seems a more indefatigable survivor), he and Keith look forward to getting out on stage, for a bit of peace and quiet. Of course: that’s what’s still in it, for all of them.
Alan Jenkins is the Deputy Editor of the TLS. His translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre, Drunken Boats, was published last year.
Дата публикации: 11/07/2008
Прочитано: 7189 раз