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

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The Houston show that night was not good and the reviews were worse: "One reason why," Houston Post music critic Bob Claypool told me, "was that the Stones followed Springsteen's tour to town, and their show was miserable compared to his." In a supreme moment of rock & roll irony, one young man fell out of the top row during "Shattered" and landed on his head. The Houston Post's gossip column claimed — wrongly — that Jagger had kicked Charlie and Shirley Watts off the Stones' plane, a twin-engine Convair 580, for fighting. (The stewardess on the Stones' plane is named Bianca.)

The Stones fled back to the security and quiet of Dallas' Fairmont Hotel after the Houston show. I went up to Keith's room and found him in bed, either asleep or dead — it was hard to tell which; he had one arm stuck grotesquely up in the air. (The next night he didn't bother with the bed — just conked out on his dining-room table.) I located Mick watching a videotape of Australian comedian Norman Gunston interviewing people lined up outside Elvis' Graceland mansion, waiting to file past the earthly remains of the King. Gunston was asking people if they would scream when Mick Jagger came onstage. "I didn't know the Stones would be here," was one perplexed answer. Mick found this highly amusing. He was taking voluminous notes on a legal pad.

"Well, Mick," I said later as we were having drinks with Ron Wood in Wood's suite, "is rock progressing or is it static?"

"Rock & roll is really just like the show this evening. When jazz came out, right, at the turn of the century, colored people had this kind of music and it took much longer for white people to play it, with some exceptions, right? It took till the Fifties for white people to make a success out of rhythm & blues, a success out of black people. It was very quick, it was an explosion. Now you can see — the Stones are not creating anything new, personally, that I can see. But we don't know for sure, that's the adventure."

"But," I said, "the Stones did create something originally."

"Oh well," he waved his hand and took one of my cigarettes, "we contributed things. All music is contributing."

Wood turned to me: "Are you saying rock & roll's getting stale?"

"Well, who today is not doing remakes of Elvis or Holly or the Stones or Beatles?"

Jagger interrupted: "You're just talking about the mainstream, there's a whole lot else."

"Watch out," said Wood, "you're gonna get him talking about Springsteen."

(No one on the Stones tour likes to talk about it, but the fact is the Stones and Springsteen are the two big summer tours and the Stones are outdrawing Springsteen, but Springsteen is getting the good reviews. Personally, I'd rather see the Stones on an off night than Springsteen on a good night, but that's neither here nor there.)

"I don't wanta argue about it," Jagger said flatly. "I just wanta say that I don't really care. Because all music to me is the same. Ever since I played music, I never defined it. Now Brian Jones defined it as R&B, that's blues and that's rock & roll. And to a certain extent that was the Rolling Stones. But after that I refused to define it, so it's all music to me — country, R&B — they're popular music, folk music, call it what you will, but don't talk about strict rock & roll."

I helped myself to more of his liquor and said: "But right now the Stones are the only ones bringing back the old excitement and selling out the stadiums; no one else is doing it."

He smiled, flashing the diamond in a front tooth: "Wal, that's because we're playing better than the other groups. Your original precept, though, that rock's not going anywhere — you're like one of those old jazz people who say jazz doesn't exist after the death of Bix Beiderbecke. I think that rock & roll will go on and slowly change forms but it's always had the basic form, the basic, basic form."

"But," I said, "that's also its limitation, because it's dance music."

"Yeah, yeah, strong backbeat, it's primitive. You can go on upward and outward but you have to come back to that. I just say music is music because I'm not trained musically. If I was trained, I would write really good things that I can't write. I could write a symphony. I'm not interested in just playing rock & roll, as rock & roll is defined by rock & roll writers. I like African music, Cajun music — whatever makes me dance.

"I'm a dedicated show-business person," Jagger continued. "I'll go onstage and do Noel Coward. I mean, I'm just a show-business person, whether it's playing guitar, piano, acting, singing, dancing. I just chose rock & roll as my career in show business. If I'd been born in 1915, I'd have been a jazz drummer or singer in a jazz band or an actor."

"Did you feel a lot of pressure this year that you had to have a good album or else it was over?"

"Sure," he laughed, "but you should hear the tracks we have in the can for Certain Women, which is the next album. The original title was More Fast Numbers."

"The song 'Shattered' reminded me of Solzhenitsyn's speech on the decline of the West," I said. "Did you read that?"

"Yeah. I agree with some of it but I disagree with his facts. He hit it too hard, he said more than he meant. He's right in a lot of ways. Everyone in the U.S. is subject to this terrible TV and radio. But, you're right. 'Shattered' is the same thing he was talking about. But I know much more about it than Solzhenitsyn does. I know America. I'm half-American."

"Well," I said, "rednecks and limeys are brothers, really."

"Right."

"Is that tour poster of the woman pointing onward supposed to represent America?"

"Oh, yeah, that is America. Onward American women is what it really means. We're for everyone to go onward. What I don't like is for these girls to get married and have a baby and get divorced and get like $350,000 and then call themselves feminists. What's that? In Central Europe, the women work and have close families and that's what I want."

I made the mistake of saying something about punk bands and Jagger was on his feet in a minute: "Punk, punk, punk. We're a punk band, one of the few."

"You're punks and you're staying at the Fairmont with police escorts for your limos? C'mon, Mick."

"Shut up, shut up. It's the attitude that counts."

"Okay. What about this attempt to put 'Far Away Eyes' on the country charts? Are you serious?"

"Sure. What we do is, the people like it and the DJs, if they've got any fucking brains, they come to the concert because their children wanna come and we bring 'em in and have a beer and they say, 'What's this about the Lord Jesus?' They're real religious people and you can't sing country music if you don't believe in it."

"Mick, do you believe in the Lord?"

He poured another glass of brandy. "Sure, I believe in the Lord. All my life. And I believe in gospel music, I believe the Lord's in gospel music. I learned to preach from Little Richard. I don't preach as much as I used to. I just play guitar now, that's all I want to do. Woody and Keith helped me learn. Brian would never help me out. The only numbers I preach on now are 'Eyes' and 'Beast of Burden.' Keith wrote that. Most of it. I wrote most of 'Before They Make Me Run,' but it was Keith's idea."

"Uh, Mick, this may be touchy, but a lot of the reviews you're getting have not been all that good and . . ."

He cut me off, angrily: "I don't care about them. The kids are what I want. We don't want critics. They ought to fuck off. The stuff they write is rubbish. I don't want people to write on the front pages what the tickets are scalped for. It's a journalistic invention. I mean, one of the reviewers reviewed the 1975 show. They think 'Let It Rock' is 'Johnny B. Goode.' They don't even ask for a song list. You don't need those people."

Mick was obviously tired of talking. He started singing "Do You Think I Really Care," one of the forty-four tracks the Stones cut in Paris, and before I knew what was happening, Wood whipped out a guitar, Mick produced a harmonica and Ian McLagan wheeled in an electric piano and we were caught up in a Stones jam. Mick showed me how to improvise a percussion table with telephone books and sticks and there I was, drumming along furiously to the legendary, never-released "Cocksucker Blues." Our set was varied: a lot of Jimmy Reed, "Got No Spare Parts, Got No Oil to Change" off our next album, "Maybe Baby," a few oldies. At noon, after seven hours of jamming, Mick Jagger, the king of rock & roll, slumped over on a bed.

I ran into Keith later and he apologized for sleeping all night. "That's okay, Mick had me up drumming all night but I think I failed the audition for the band."

"That's alright," Keith smiled. "Everyone does."

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