The Rolling Stones Grow Old Angrily

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Keith stopped for another long sip.

"What about the business of surviving in rock & roll?"

"The business of surviving in general," he laughed.

"But when you see people like Keith Moon go . . ."

"Yeah." He stared into his drink awhile. "Moon was strong as an ox, but he was . . . you know, he'd send out invitations that said, 'Do me in."'

"Does that come with the territory?"

"Yeah." Keith laughed bitterly. "High industrial-accident rate. Yeah — he got his long hair caught in the lathe. It's a tough scene, yeah. Carl Radle [Eric Clapton's bassist], six weeks ago, pshoot! OD. There's no way you can predict some things. I always look at it . . . as long as Bobby Keys survives, I will. We were born at exactly the same time. Every time I hear that he's sick, I think, 'Oh my God.' But he's all right. He played his ass off on this album."

Bobby Keys came in and we drank some more Jack Daniel's. Keith said that his next outside project would be organizing an "underground Library of Congress," and that he'd already called Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers about it. He mentioned that he'd finally gotten to play onstage with Chuck Berry in Los Angeles, and that Berry had acted bitter and kicked him off. He said that Chuck Berry was the only man alive who could even try to kick him off a stage and live to tell about it. And Keith said that during the recording of Emotional Rescue, he'd broken his own record for staying awake: nine days.

Bill Wyman was drinking tea from a china cup as we sat in his suite at the Plaza Hotel and watched Reuters news headlines crawl down the TV screen: Hippopotamus Eats Man in Korea. It was still early in the day, and neither of us could manage a laugh. Wyman was taping parts of a 125-hour Louis Armstrong special off the radio. We ruminated for a while, trying to wake up.

"Yes," he finally said, "I am going to retire from the Rolling Stones. I really do want to do other things, you know. I don't want to wait till I'm sixty; that'd be too late. So, at the end of 1982, I'll go for something else. When I got into rock & roll, I thought it'd last two or three years, maybe five, and I was just after some extra cash. I never saw it being any more than three years, a bit of cash, a bit of fun, and getting around town. Suddenly, here I am eighteen years later and it's become the most dominant part of my life, and I didn't really want it to go like that, you know. Here I am, just turned forty as it were, and I'm still playing rock & roll." So, he said with a smile, he will cash it in on his twentieth anniversary with the Stones.

"What will you do after the Stones?" I asked.

"I've just finished taking pictures for an art book on Marc Chagall, who is a good friend of mine. He's coming up on ninety-five now, and he's really together. He and the other artists around there [France] have our albums — Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, ELP — though I don't know why. They immediately regard you as an equal.

"I'm also interested in astronomy; I go to the observatory in Nice. I've got a publishing company going, and I'm getting into writing film scores."

"How much of your stuff," I asked, "has gotten onto Stones albums all these years?" Wyman grimaced and lit a cigarette: "Hardly any. I don't write the kind of music the Stones record or perform. That original riff from 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' was mine. My song on Satanic Majesties ["In Another Land"] was a fluke, because I was the only one who turned up at the session that night. You do get frustrated in a band like the Stones because it can be restrictive. There are five people with five different tastes: Keith might be mad about reggae and Jerry Lee Lewis; Mick's listening to the New York radio stations and funk; Charlie's back in England listening to Bix Beiderbecke; and I'm in the south of France listening to Hank Williams."

Wyman padded across the room to check on his tape and on the coffee. I wondered aloud how things had been going personally with the band.

He lit a fresh cigarette: "Well, we always have been able to communicate well. It has been a little difficult in various parts of the band. The last Mick Taylor year, there was a bit of difficulty with him relating to the rest of the band. Brian Jones' last few years were difficult, you know. Sometimes, for a year or so, I'll find it very difficult to relate to Keith because he's totally opposite to me: the way he lives, what he likes, what he does, his friends, everything. I have very little in common with him except the Rolling Stones. Then suddenly — pop! — he'd say something and we'd be mates for a year, then just as suddenly I'd feel pushed away. Or maybe I was pushing away, avoiding, sometimes with Mick. There are factors that hold the band together, apart from the music, but we don't see each other so much. Mick and Keith might see each other 'cause they're livin' in the same town. Woody and Keith might see each other a bit. I see Charlie occasionally. But we tend to come together only when there's work. It really is like Christmas with the family; you get on all right, but you know you wouldn't be able to stand it if they were living with you for a month. And I wouldn't! I wouldn't be able to stand to live with Keith or Mick, and I'm sure they couldn't stand it either."

"Does that also apply to the studio? Do you leave after your part is laid down?" "Yeah. You only get in the way. The too-many-cooks syndrome. After all the basics are done, I'm not there, and neither is Charlie or Woody. The funny thing is, when you get the test pressing of the album and you see all these new song titles — I would say three-quarters of the songs have their names changed by the time they get on an album. 'Tumbling Dice' was originally called 'Good Time Women' and had completely different lyrics."

As I got up to leave. Bill was rubbing his left shoulder. He told me that he has permanent muscle damage from the time he fell offstage in St. Paul on the 1978 tour. Since he is well-known for never moving on stage. I wondered how that could have happened. "The show had ended," he said, "and I ran to the right. Between the stage and the balcony, there was a thick black curtain, and I presumed there was a wall behind it. A girl was hanging over the balcony, and she said, 'Shake my hand!' I jumped up to shake her hand. Then I went straight through the curtain and down into blackness. I should have sued! I still suffer with that. If I were any other rock & roll star, I would have told that girl, 'Fuck off!' She must have found it very weird that this guy jumped up and shook her hand and then vanished. I wonder if she knows what happened?"

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