Of the new bands: Are any of them going to take on the stadium show?
It took us 20 years of doing shows before we actually put on these big stadium concerts. It will be interesting to see if any of these bands today ever do the kind of shows we're doing. I don't think they will, because they don't seem to be that interested in it. You have to be really interested in showbiz to do this; you have to be interested in theater, otherwise there's no point doing it. It's only interesting if you're in control of it. And to be in control of it, you have to initiate it. I wonder if there's anybody that's going to do that.
And there has to be somebody central to it like yourself, who's a great impresario as well.
Yeah, you can't just be playing guitar in the corner. It's never going to work.
That's one of the things that distinguishes you from all the other songwriters, singers and performers: You're a great producer.
Well, you have to laugh at that, don't you? Now the whole ethos is to not be that. Which I understand. But it doesn't lead you to anything theatrical. None of these bands in America have that. The Chili Peppers have a sort of sense of the theatrical, but they can't take it anywhere. It's become a bit cliché, just a guitar thing. Everybody wants to be Neil Young, and Pearl Jam is trying to drive ticket prices down. Doing that, they will never get themselves on a stage this big.
Can you define rock & roll for me? What is it about? Is it about sex, violence, energy, anger?
All those things: energy, anger, angst, enthusiasm, a certain spontaneity. It's very emotional. And it's very traditional. It can't break too many rules. You have certain set rules, certain forms, which are traditionally folk-based, blues-based forms. But they've got to be sung with this youthful energy – or youthful lethargy, because youth has this languorous, lethargic, rebellious side to it as well. So they can be sung as an alternate mode of thrashing, this slightly feminine languor, the boredom of youth as well as the anger, because youth has those two things. To represent those emotions, this form seems to work very well.
Boredom and anger, which are both a form of rebellion.
Yeah, a statement of rebellion. Drawing the line where your generation is.
So the energy, the sexuality, is from this youthful aspect?
Yeah, but the sexuality is very potent and very obvious. There's nothing understated about it. That really comes from black music. The overt sexuality of black music was the precursor of all that.
And the violence?
Well, violence is mostly in the posing aspect of it. There's some in the lyrics, but it's also the attitude, the bad-attitude thing. I mean, it's very violent. Rock & roll in its very early days came with expressions of violence.
There were riots.
Not so much Elvis, but Bill Haley, when he was in Blackboard Jungle, do you remember? "Rock Around the Clock" was featured in this movie Blackboard Jungle. And when it was shown, there were riots everywhere. And rock & roll was associated with violence very early on.
All these things are about youth: sex, violence, energy, boredom, anger. Has your attitude toward rock & roll changed as you've gotten older? Do you still have the same feeling for it?
What has changed?
Well, it's much older. Rock music was a completely new musical form. It hadn't been around for 10 years when we started doing it. So we were playing with something new. I imagine it's a bit like walking into New Orleans after jazz had only been going eight years. I was there at the beginning. And we were going to change it – bring this rhythm & blues thing into it.
And at the beginning you felt like you were one of the chosen few, one of the only ones in the whole world who would get to play with this new toy.
We had evangelical fervor. So it was exciting, and no one knew where it was going, if it was going to last. When it first came out, people thought it was a dance craze like the cha-cha-cha or the calypso. Rock history is full of songs about hoping it would never die. It could have easily passed on.
So I have a very different attitude now. It's 40 years old. I still love performing it, but it's no longer a new, evangelical form. It's still capable of expression, and it's capable of change and novelty. But it's not as exciting for me. It's not a perfect medium for someone my age, given the rebelliousness of the whole thing, the angst and youth of it. In some ways it's foolish to try and re-create that.
Do you ever look back at your career and evaluate what you've done?
I'm afraid of doing that. Either you have this satisfied feeling, or you say, "What a bunch of shit. What a waste of time." You can say, "Well, it's something I should have done for a few years and given up, done something else."
Does that thought cross your mind?
Of course. It would be nice to have another shot. Instead of me being a rock singer, I could have done something else. You hope you've done something right, you've spent an awful long time on it, so you better be bloody right. "Did you waste a lot of time?" Yes, you've wasted a lot of time. "Did you use your intellectual and physical gifts?" Yes and no. Because I don't think rock & roll is as intellectually taxing as other things. It's not particularly challenging. So you get intellectually lazy. I don't think anyone is ever satisfied with what they've done.
Are the Stones the greatest rock band in the world?
It's just a stupid epithet. It just seems too Barnum and Bailey to me – like it's some sort of circus act. The first time we heard it said was to introduce us every night. So I used to say, "Will you please not use that as your announcement? It's so embarrassing. And what does that mean? Does it mean the best, the biggest, the most long-lasting?" You know?
Taking It All Off
What does your new record, "Stripped," tell you about the Stones today?
To me it was never a kind of life-shattering event, this record. We tried to get a twist on a live record 'cause I didn't want to go back and repeat the previous live record. I thought we just had to give something different. We eventually got into it and developed a more intimate record. And we got a few unusual tracks going on, which is always good for a live record – not original songs but reworked. I think "Like a Rolling Stone" was unusual to do. We've never done a Dylan song before.
What appeals to you about that song?
Well, melodically I quite like it. It's very well put together; it's got a proper three sections to it, real good choruses and a good middle bit, and great lyrics. It's a really well-constructed pop song, in my opinion.
Do you like singing Dylan lines?
This is really a good one; it's very much to the point, it doesn't waffle too much. I sang it a lot of times on the European tour – maybe 50 times. So I really got inside it, and I enjoyed it. I love playing the harmonica on it.
What else on this album is unusual?
"Shine a Light," which is a song from Exile. We had never done that before, being something that was just hidden. And I was really surprised when we first did it – that people knew it. The audience starts singing along, and I was like "Uh."
Why would you go back and pick out "The Spider and the Fly"? What is it about that song?
I wasn't really that mad about it, but when you listen to it on record, it still holds up quite interestingly as a blues song. It's a Jimmy Reed blues with British pop-group words, which is an interesting combination: a song somewhat stuck in a time warp.
You said you liked "time-and-place albums," ones that reflect the Stones at a particular period of time.
This is the Stones doing their small shows, doing a much more intimate show.
What does this say to you about the Stones as a band that other records haven't said? What's new about this?
I think it's more relaxed. It's more soft. Most of the album is songs that we were doing on the road that are acoustic songs. It's the Stones as a smaller club band; there's blues and country, and we're showing that side of the Stones rather than the big, huge stadium version.
Is there a version to the Stones that you prefer one to the other – the stadium version vs. this club version?
I like the club version of the band. But this is the quieter moments of the club version without the raucous parts of the club version.
Why did you reject making this part of the MTV Unplugged series?
Because everyone has done it, and I didn't want to particularly come to New York and do Unplugged in the middle of the European tour. And I felt that we would take the best element from Unplugged, the intimate thing of it, without actually doing it completely unplugged.
Do you think it's a little too retro coming off "Voodoo Lounge"?
Any live record would be bound to contain a lot of old material. There's a danger that you would fall into it – as I've said in this interview quite a few times. I don't think there's any virtue in being completely, only contemporary, but I think you do have to balance the two.
The Rolling Stones should do something adventurous for their next album, but I never thought you could, around the time of the tour, do a completely groundbreaking record. It would have been nice, but I don't think that was possible.
When you do your own records, you seem a lot more oriented toward dance music and rhythms.
My tastes are very much dance music of the '70s, which always enjoys a lot of popularity – people will always love it because it's got a lot of different time signatures – but it's not necessarily ground-breaking. On all three solo albums you can hear it. And it's quite obvious that that's what I like to do. And if I do another solo record, I'll probably take that a lot further.
Will you do another solo record?
I don't know when I'm gonna do it. But I'll probably do one. I look forward to it very much.
Tell me why you want to make another solo album.
I enjoy doing different kinds of things. I just enjoy being not tied too much. I feel that I'm tied to myself as a kind of traditional musician and a singer, and the history that I have ties me down. But I'm much less tied down than with the Rolling Stones. I can go in any direction that I want. And if I want to go in a traditional direction and play Irish music, I can.
Is it hard coming off tour?
No. I've been really busy since I finished the tour. I haven't really had any break, with all this stuff that we're doing – the record, the CD-ROM and all that. It's the same as being on tour, except that I haven't been doing shows in the evening [Laughs]. I'm doing my day job.
What are you gonna do next?
Take a vacation. Then I'm gonna write some songs, and then I'm gonna work on my movie-development stuff, and then it's Christmas, and then it's the next bit of shows. We're gonna be doing some shows in the Far East and maybe one or two in South America.
In a general sense, what is in the future for the Rolling Stones?
It's a mystery. I don't know what's gonna happen with the Rolling Stones. I mean, one is always very confident about the future. But what's actually gonna happen is a mystery.
Why is it a mystery?
'Cause anything can happen in life and quite frequently does. We don't have set plans. But I dare say the Rolling Stones will do more shows together. But I don't know exactly what framework the next tour in the United States would take, nor do I know what form the next Rolling Stones music will take. But I'm sure there will be Rolling Stones music and there will be Rolling Stones shows.
But the Stones do seem a lot more stable than, say, 10 years ago.
I think the Rolling Stones have always been mostly stable; they've got a terrific history, a long tradition. It's very steeped in all kind of things. The Rolling Stones are a very admired band, much copied and so on. And very flattering – it always is.
How do you feel about rock's staying power now?
I'm kind of surprised by the resurgence of it as a young force.
Why would you be surprised?
Well, because there seemed to be a period when it was rather flat. It could have become dinosaur music. It's still very similar music to the music in the '60s. It's got its own spin on things, but it's still very traditional. Maybe that's what makes the staying power work, because jazz went up such a difficult-to-understand alley when it went into bop; it lost a lot of mass audience. And rock hasn't really done that. I mean, it's kept its popular base by not only going into intellectual areas where it can't be followed by most people.
It stays with the beat.
Stays with that same beat, really. Rock has to absorb other rhythmic forms, because the underlying rhythm of music changes with fashion, and people like to move differently now than they moved 30 years ago, and the underlying rhythms have to be the ones that people want to dance to.
What about your own staying power?
I think it's a question of energy, really. I, personally, have a lot of energy, so I don't see it as an immediate problem.
How's your hearing?
My hearing's all right. But we worry about it because they play far too loud. Sometimes I use earplugs because it gets too loud on my left ear.
Why your left ear?
Because Keith's standing on my left. [Laughter.]
How would you sum up the last 30 years?
Ah. God. You fuck. I'm just not gonna do that one. I'm just totally unable to. I think you just have to end now.
This story is from the December 14th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.
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