OPINION – It was many years ago and a friend of mine named Michael was in his usual mode of pontification.
“Rock ‘n’ roll is like this spaceship. All it does is take you from here to here,” he said, gesturing wildly at the sky. “Then you get to jazz and classical music and they take you the rest of the way.”
Sorry, Michael, I’m still hitching a ride on the rock ‘n’ roll rocket and I have no plans on re-entering Earth’s orbit in the immediate future.
You see, I grew up when rockers still rolled.
The relevance of all this, of course, is the party that is the Rolling Stones, which has been going on now for 50 years.
To celebrate, the Stones kicked off a series of five concerts—two in London, three in the United States—the other night with a two and one-half hour set that warmed the most cold-hearted Fleet Street critics.
Pretty amazing, especially when you consider that collectively, Mick and the boys are older than the U.S. Supreme Court justices, who are typically referred to as Nine Old Men, even though there are a couple of women now occupying the bench.
I’ve read all the reviews and the verdict is unanimous—the Stones can still deliver the goods.
Back in the early days of the British Invasion, rockers were often asked what the future held. Most replied that they would save their money and hope to open some sort of business in a couple of years when their careers were over. I remember a particular interview with Ringo Starr in which he claimed that he was going to open a chain of hair salons for women so he would have an income when the popularity of The Beatles finally faded. The interview was in 1965. Ritchie never got around to opening those salons because, well, The Beatles’ Starr is still high in the sky. He celebrated his 72nd birthday while on the road with his band.
They were the bad boys, of course, and at one point, the question wasn’t whether they would last as a band for 50 years, but rather would guitarist Keith Richards make it to age 50.
Keith hits 69 in a couple of weeks and, according to all the reviews, heroin addiction, nonstop boozing, and even falling out of a coconut tree and landing on his head have not diminished his guitar-playing skills. Even arthritis-gnarled fingers haven’t slowed him down as his hands work their magic on his five-string Telecaster, tuned to Open G, of course.
I’m lucky. I have seen the Stones in concert eight times over the years. There were a couple of encounters with Mick, once backstage at a Bob Marley concert where through a heavy fog of Jamaican weed I watched as he danced with his daughter Jade, then a couple nights when we bumped into each other at clubs on the Sunset Strip. He’s pushing 70 now, but the voice is as strong as ever and he still blows a mean harp.
“I’d rather be dead than singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45,” he once said.
Thankfully, he’s reconsidered
Even though they were still fairly young when Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis came along, I think our parents kicked off their rock ‘n’ roll shoes way too early, settling into a musical diet of Dino and Frank and Perry and the others who walked a tamer path.
Remembering my parents, aunts, and uncles, it seems to me they looked at themselves as having to behave a certain way at a certain age and getting worked up over Jerry Lee or Chuck just wasn’t acceptable.
Those of us who survived the ‘60s? For better or worse, we’re a little different.
Even though blood pressure meds may have replaced blotter acid and marijuana is more medicinal than recreational at this point, we have this fantasy of perpetual youth that would catapult us to the local arena to catch our musical heroes for another dance if given the opportunity.
In a weird twist of reason, perhaps Keith had the keenest vision.
“There was a time when nobody thought an act could last more than two years,” he said quite some time ago. “You had that sort of planned obsolescence, especially when we started. Two years? Forget it! But Muddy Waters has just put a out a great new album. There’s no reason that rock ‘n’ roll has to be played by adolescents and juveniles. It was great when it was played by them, at least when I was one. It still feels better from this end, you know. Fred McDowell, all my favorite cats like that, kept on playing ‘til they dropped— 70, 80 years old. It’s like wine, man, they just get better.”
So, apparently, do the Stones.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a guitar to tune because even though it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, I “still” like it.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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