Rod Stewart Faces the American Dream

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Yet the concern he betrays is fleeting. Touring with the Stones (with whom he gained weight) and the Faces (with whom he's lost it) would seem to leave little time for fretting over such details.

"Why do I do it to death?" muses Ron, whose name draws the nearly unanimous response, "Oh, Woody – Woody's great." "Yeah, it's rock 'n' roll, combined with . . . escapism. Escapism from what, I don't know. If I have three days off I usually get really bored. I like to fill up my time to the full." While touring he works sporadically with Rod on a book of drawings and poems they've made on the road over the past six years. "Long as you get a bit of time off, for your family.

"I'm a great believer in fate. I just trust fate. I plan my initial move – do a tour, finish an album – but it's not very often I'll get into, say, planning an album's release with a tour. No, I've got me own way of thinking."

Before getting ready for the gig, he shows his visitor a volume entitled A Solution for Any Problem. It opens to reveal not a book but a box filled with pipes, papers and pens. On the inside cover is inscribed a message which Woody reads aloud: " 'Let be with me until the end, a book, a bottle and a friend.' "

At midnight, Rod and Britt sit in a corner booth of the Hilton's all-night coffee shop, eating Mexican suppers and consuming two bottles of red wine with Rod's publicist, Tony Toon. The Albuquerque concert, at modest-sized Johnson's Gym (capacity 7400), has gone well – perhaps the second- or third-best date of the tour so far, Rod says. Rod is in a good mood, thoughtful and open. Tonight he is talking about Paul Nelson.

Nelson is a critic whose Sixties folk publication, The Little Sandy Review, numbered Stewart among its ardent readership.

Rod has fond memories of Nelson. He says now, "I admire Paul Nelson more than anyone. He's always been the one who's best understood what I've been trying to accomplish. He still does – look at the review he just did of my album in Rolling Stone. Yeah, I really love Paul. Let's all drink to Paul Nelson tonight," he says, raising his wine glass, and everyone at the table follows suit.

Word of Rod's presence in the coffee shop has attracted a group of fans, students from the university who have attended the concert. They cluster around the corner booth, asking questions, basking. Rod treats them with good-natured generosity. The music enthusiasts get a bit of chat about players, songs, recordings. The flirts are handled gently. The overly eager he pleasantly deflects.

To see him interacting like this is to approach some core of his talent as a performer: his ability, as writer Bud Scoppa says, "to be Mae West and then be Everyman. To pull off the paradox of being a superstar who can still do 'Only a Hobo.' " He needs this contact. Later he says of it, "You gotta keep in touch with the people you're making records for. Some people can get away with not doing that. Obviously, Dylan – it's in him. I have to keep in touch. Whether it's just to boost my ego, to let me know it's still there, I don't know. But I need to do it. I enjoy it, anyway. I'm basically a showoff."

When the students leave, Britt is discussing tomorrow's travel arrangements with Toon. She wants her ten-year-old daughter, Victoria (Peter Sellers's child), to be allowed on the private jet. "The one time, Tony, the one time in her whole entire little life that I take her on a little gig, she's got to fly the Lear. Don't you think it's fair? And besides . . . Her father will only take her on TWA."

Someone laughs audibly and Rod mimics him, unamused. "Let's go," he says, and as everyone prepares to get out, he adds of Sellers: "He'll be dead before the end of this tour, anyway." Everyone laughs at that, including Britt. Rod says, "You see? Don't mess with the Kid."

Britt and Rod's own interaction seems to involve much petty sniping and elaborate making up. "What's that?" he will ask in dismay as she applies ointment to her mouth. "It's a cream," she counters nastily. "My lips hurt." They are like fans at a concert who treat the show as an elaborate setting for their own personal fantasies and intrigues.

A prolonged low-toned discussion takes place in public view outside the hotel lounge; it ends with his leading her off, her neck in the crook of his arm. A noisy, giggly scuffle ensues around the hotel pool. "Don't you dare – I'm wearing my watch!" They go through the archetypically familiar motions, making them believable to anyone chancing by and making them believable to themselves.

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