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The Rolling Stones: The Road Ain't What It Used to Be

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There have been bad shows on this tour, but Fort Worth was not one of them. It was the last small show of the tour, and the Stones gave it everything they had: these old pros, crippled by age and by dissipation, but still holding the flag high. Jagger's defiance, missing in so many of the shows, returned for a while and Richards was — usually — leading the band. In "Beast of Burden" when Jagger pleaded, "Ain't I tough enough?" it was a real question, not a rhetorical one. Thirty rows back, though, with everyone still standing, I was thinking: I'm thirty-four years old and I've seen rock & roll for seventeen years and I'd kinda like to sit down. Jagger is also thirty-four and he's been doing rock & roll seventeen years and most of the time he acts like he'd like to sit down, too. Why does he keep this up? Just for these few moments of glory? I studied him through binoculars and his face showed no emotion whatsoever. During "Shattered," he was mumbling the words, "I've been shattered" as he half-heartedly shook his cock. That's been the extent of his 1978 theatrics: teasing the audience with whatever was in his pants and performing an intermittent striptease with his T-shirt. The audience reaction, even at this relatively supercharged show, was the same as at the other concerts I'd seen: at first buoyantly up and ready for the old Stones magic to wash over them. As that magic wanes, a certain listlessness sets in. At some of the outdoor shows, that listlessness turned to anger and stage-trashing.

"If the band's slightly lacking in energy," he mumbled after "Shattered," "it's because we spent all last night fuckin'. We do our best." Well, I thought, I'm glad this is a good show because the bad ones these days are really painful. Jagger's voice started cracking and Richards gave over his guitar solo in "Tumbling Dice" — usually a magical moment — to Ron Wood. A good show, very close to being a great one. If the Stones continue to work this hard, they can hold on to their championship title for a while yet.

The getaway after the show at least recalled the golden days of rock & roll: we mounted six Cadillac limousines and, with five police motorcycle escorts, raced through red lights all the way back to the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. At least some things never change. It looked almost like Elvis Presley's funeral.

Rudge was right when he'd told me the revenues from that Fort Worth show wouldn't be big. The gross was $25,710, but the Stones paid out approximately the following (in rounded-off figures; not all the totals were final after the show): stagehands, $5270; limos, $1700; gofers, $180; piano rental and tuning, $250; police, $1600; furniture rental for the dressing room, $285; ticket printing, $250; medical team, $85; ticket commission, $1285; backstage food and refreshments, $2125; production, lighting and sound, $5000; promoter profit, $2500; support acts, $2000; backstage phone, $300; ticket takers, $500; hall rental, $1000; ASCAP/BMI performing fees, $100; insurance, $500; damage deposit, $250. The Stones received a check from Beaver Productions for $969.37 net profit for their Fort Worth show. They spent $1500 on liquor alone for a birthday party for pianist Ian Stewart after the show. Their hotel bill for the Texas shows was $17,000.

Of course, the Stones are not eager to release figures from the big shows, like the New Orleans Superdome date, which grossed $1,060,000, or the Chicago date, which grossed $919,425. Or for the entire twenty-five-concert tour itself: the band performed to 760,000 people at prices ranging from ten dollars to thirteen dollars per head. Any way you look at it, that's getting close to a $9-million-grossing tour. For a ninety-minute show, that's a lot of money being generated. What the Stones got in profit, no one will say. Bill Graham, who promoted the last date on the tour in Oakland, would say only that it was an "equitable deal." That show grossed about $750,000, and it's unlikely the Stones walked away with less than $400,000. It's said the Stones usually get ninety percent of the net. Graham, when asked about that, said, "No, it wasn't ninety. It was a fair financial deal."

At the birthday party for Stewart in the Fairmont Hotel's Far East Room, Richards and Wood sat at a corner table savoring their tumblers of Jack Daniel's. Jagger — who has taken to wearing glasses offstage — had already come for two minutes and left. "Cocksucker Blues" was on the stereo and Keith smiled at that: "Ah, the good old days. Tonight was a bit like the British halls in the old days — so hot you come offstage and pant. I love it, though; I'll play forever."

"Even after Toronto?" I asked.

"Let's forget Toronto for now. Let's have a drink."

The next afternoon, I was swimming in the Fairmont's pool with Seraphina, Charlie Watts' ten-year-old daughter (who looks exactly like Watts circa 1965), when Watts came out to sit by the pool. "Did you like the party?" he asked. "Yeah," I said, "but I had to pack it in at five. Keith can still drink more Jack Daniel's than I can."

"Keith can do most things more than most people can. Did Mick come to the party?"

"Yeah, but he left. Too many strange girls."

Watts laughed: "He usually likes that. Did you like the show? We had tremendous feedback — the stage was shaking like a ten-ton truck."

"What were you saying last night backstage about rock being unable to be progressive?"

Watts turned serious: "I don't really think it's possible for rock to be progressive. It swings with a heavy backbeat and it's done that for twenty-five years. That's what the Beatles did, that's what we did. It's dance music. But it hasn't progressed. Progression was Miles Davis playing modals and you can't do that in rock. Progression was Coltrane and you can't do that in rock. McLaughlin is close but he can't really stretch out; we can't. Chicago didn't influence the orchestra sound the way the Ellington band did, now did they? How can you write about rock & roll? It's silly, it's supposed to be fun. How can you do that?"

"Well," I finally answered, "the only alternative is politics — or gossip." Watts squinted into the burning sun and nodded: "I see what you mean."

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