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Artist of the Year: The Rolling Stones

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Jagger did go to a number of stadium shows to see what other bands were doing and to generate ideas for the Stones. "To be honest, I would never go to the Pink Floyd show," Jagger says. "The show, just musically, leaves me cold. That's just a personal take. But when they add the whole spectacle, it's great. The Who has done great shows."

Richards found the high-tech logistics of contemporary stadium performance somewhat inhibiting. "With the technology," he explains, "it's no longer 5 people in this band — it's like 300. The coordination has to go down. You can't get up there and jam, because then the computer's out and the lights."

"That was a criticism: 'Spontaneity was lacking,'" Jagger adds. "You don't come to the Rolling Stones in a stadium for spontaneity. You go to a jazz club. 'Spontaneity' usually means 'mistakes,' I find."

As for the countless sponsorships, presentation arrangements and marketing deals that made the Steel Wheels tour, estimated to gross as much as $140 million, perhaps the most lucrative venture in rock history, the Stones — with a characteristic blend of defiance, charm, pragmatism and sheer nerve — want to have it all ways.

"I don't know about the appropriateness of it. . . ." says Richards.

"I don't think you should be defensive about it," Jagger says.

"After all, if there's anybody to blame for sponsorship, you can blame us, because I think we were probably the first — with the perfume," continues Richards, alluding to the Stones' groundbreaking sponsorship deal with Jovan in 1981. "You see, ideas get perverted. The idea was to get somebody to front the bread, so that you could keep the ticket prices down. Then other people take the idea over. They take the sponsorship money and still jack the ticket prices up. But if you want to put on a show like this in places of this size, you need some financial help."

"I have another point on sponsorship — which I don't really like," Jagger says. "I think Keith and I both agree. I would personally prefer to do the show without sponsorship, and I told Anheuser-Busch the same thing when they asked me. But for the people with our Canadian promoter, it's useful for them, because it gives them a lot of TV presence and awareness.

"You can sell 2 million tickets quite easily," Jagger continues. "But when they want to get out there and do 3 million-plus tickets, that's the bit that's hard to sell. The last bit, you know what I'm saying? So their attitude, which they sell to us, is that you get that TV sponsorship, which is money that they could never use for advertising, because it's so expensive, and with that you get the awareness. You never know how much you would sell without it. Yes, you would have sold 2 million tickets — but would you have sold 3?

"That's America in the Eighties. Now it's another question, whether you like it or not. If you're under thirty, I don't see that you'd have any problem with it. The people that are over thirty, like probably all of us are, have a different attitude. . . ."

"We have a lot of problems with it, you know?" says Richards.

"The Sixties people, we don't like it," Jagger continues. "In the way that we were growing up, we have all kinds of objections to it."

"It's the sellout clause we're talking about," Richards says.

"And we don't want to do ads," says Jagger. "We say, 'Sponsoring the tour only. When the tour's gone, you're gone.' You never see us with a can saying, 'Drink this.' You might say, 'Well, that's a bit splitting hairs,' but to us, it isn't."

"Hey, I don't mind taking the companies for a ride" Richards says, laughing.

"But we're not taking them for a ride, because they're getting something out of it," says Jagger.

"And they think they're taking us for a ride, and so . . ." says Richards.

"I don't think they're taking us," Jagger says. "I don't think they think that, anyway. I don't think that."

"I don't know," Richards says, wearily. "You never know. Who knows the inside of the corporate mind?"

"They're pleased with it," Jagger says.

"All we say is we want to build a stage like this, and it's going to cost us so much to do it, and we've got to build two of them — how can it be done?" Richards says. "After all, you know, this is America. And I find it funny — it's always the Americans that get up in arms about sponsorship — and it's their system."

After Jagger wanders off to attend to some Stones organizational matters, Richards continues the conversation. "He's a smart little motherfucker, I'll give him that," Richards says about Jagger, with an appreciative laugh, after the singer leaves the room. Despite his 1988 solo album and tour with his band the X-Pensive Winos, Richards is still a Rolling Stone to his bones. For all their differences, he admires Jagger deeply and speaks of the group in almost mystical terms.

"To me, a great band is a miracle," Richards says, "because you really need to stick together. You never think about it when you start off. You think a year or two's a long time. I remember distinctly when we got our first record contract. In a way, there was a sense of dismay among the members of the band, because you felt in those days, even if you really hit it big with the first couple of records: two years. It was like 'We've only just started, and we're already watching me downside.' "

Similarly, the Stones' success has lost none of its rush — and none of its mystery — for him. "The amazing thing about this band," says Richards, "I look around, say, like when I go up onstage. 'Mick. There's Charlie. There's Bill. There's Ronnie. I know I'm here.' It's like 'Is that all?' " He shakes his head and laughs. " 'Is this what all this is about?' You're still looking for someone that really knows what's going on, because nobody does."

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