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The Rolling Stones Grow Old Angrily

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So you think Johnny Rotten is trying to rebel against you because he's got nothing else to rebel against?"

Jagger laughed. "Yeah. But that doesn't work either. Can't possibly work. It'd be like me rebelling against Eddie Cochran. Pointless. Everyone knows that those people were very good at what they did, so you can't rebel against the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. By the way, 'Is John Lennon ever gonna make another record?' is a question I'm asked over and over. Do you know?"

"I have no idea."

"He lives next door. Why don't we just go by and see him? I never see him."

"I heard that Lennon once said you'd never retire because you couldn't stand not being king."

"Ha. I bet he was thinking about himself. Don't you? How is Dylan's new album? Is it good?"

"No."

Jagger fell over laughing. "No. A fantastic one-word review. I've seen Bob's boat, by the way. I have this small house on this very fashionable island in the West Indies, and right across from there is Bequia, where he's having a boat built. It's costing a fortune, all hand-built."

"Does it look like an ark?" I asked.

Jagger arched an eyebrow: "It does look like an ark."

"Maybe Bob knows something. Maybe we better get down there and get on board before it's too late."

"Yeah. Was he ever in the Jewish Defense League? No? I didn't think so. Jesus was a Jew, wasn't he? There was an important Christian. See, I always get into trouble talking. Warners will find it insulting: 'Too many Jewish jokes, Mick.' They're terrified."

"You weathered the 'black girls' thing from Some Girls pretty well, didn't you?"

"The thing is like . . . ignorance. If I'd said black men instead of black girls, I don't think anyone would have complained. You know what I'm saying? I was just trying to point out the stupidity and waste of time of all that. American humor should be so open that people shouldn't worry. If you say Jews got big cocks, does that make you racist? Well, life isn't really like that."

He fell silent. We finished our beers and watched the light fade on Central Park.

I'm ready for my bacon and eggs," Keith Richards announced as he marched into the offices of Rolling Stones Records at six p.m., waving a fifth of Jack Daniel's, among other things. He had just awakened and wanted breakfast — sour-mash bourbon. Richards was having trouble breaking the seal on the bottle. "I've got a key we could use," I offered, but Keith interrupted me by whipping out an enormous gravity knife and — kachunk! — snapping it open and slicing off the seal. He winked at me and held up the knife: "This is the key to the highway." He poured us both tumblers of bourbon.

We settled in an office and I asked, "How much did you have to leave out of the new record?"

Keith, who looked healthy in spite of his rather abandoned lifestyle, took a swig of bourbon, his silver skull ring flashing, and answered seriously. "We cut enough for two albums. That was almost as big a problem as not having enough — knowing what to leave out. It's not that we used the best of what we had; we just used what fitted together. My idea is to try to get out another album this year, and then we can get these motherfuckers out on the road! Instead of the same old treadmill of road, studio, road, studio, road, studio, we can make extended road trips or do anything else we want to do: be movie stars or make solo albums."

He fished a crumpled pack of Marlboros out of his jeans and sipped some more breakfast.

"So, Keith," I asked, "how's rock & roll doing?"

He smiled and took a deep drag. "It's healthy as ever. We all tend to forget that it's ninety percent crap anyway. But the ten percent is good. The younger kids have sort of got the right idea on how to play it, you know; they have the right attitude. And that's what rock & roll is: an attitude. Fathead Newman — people think of him as high-class jazz, but he's a honky-tonk rock & roller, he knows how to do it. Attitude . . . the personal thing is, 'Did you pass it on? Did you do it well?"'

"That attitude you're talking about," I asked, "is it hard to keep it after eighteen years and twenty-seven albums?"

He laughed easily: "Hey, I think I've just got it."

"How's that?"

He got up for more ice cubes and rolled down the tops of his blue suede boots. "Well, I don't approach it any different now than I did back then. The biggest change is the technology. The studio in Paris — the recording button still says Fire Missiles on it. Military hardware. And the board has a little computer that sort of flashes up and says Corrupt Information on Track Three. Great."

"Well, after all these years, do you find that there are areas you haven't gotten to yet?"

"Yeah, yeah! That's interesting. Limits. Roland Kirk, no limitations. Maybe we should try everything. Your classic rock & roll records are evolved in a very solid mold, and then it's variations on a theme, you know, which isn't that different from nineteenth-century classical composers. Emotional Rescue is sort of half Rolling Stones working within the basic mold, and the other half is trying out things."

"Have you," I asked, "heard these new groups that are analyzing their music . . ."

Keith cut me off: "Then they should take it to a laboratory."

". . . and they're seeking this 'distance' from rock & roll?"

He gave a weary sigh. "And at the same time they're using the rock & roll media and rock & roll to set it up, to get it out. Great. But why bother mentioning rock & roll in the first place, if that's what we're talking about? Because — shit, the minute rock & roll reaches the head, forget it. Rock & roll starts from the neck down. Once rock & roll gets mixed up in No Nukes and Rock Against Racism — admirable causes though they are — it's not for rock & roll to take these things up as a full-time obsession. Because nukes may obsess your brain, but they really don't obsess your crotch. Rock & roll: it's a few moments when you can forget about nukes and racism and all the other evils God's kindly thrown upon us."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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