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The Rolling Stones A Smash at Nicaragua Benefit

February 15, 1973
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, nicaraguan, earthquake, victim, California
Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones performs onstage at a benefit concert for Nicaraguan earthquake victims at the Forum on January 18th, 1973 in Inglewood, California.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

LOS ANGELES — A depressed Mick Jagger had said he'd allot a couple minutes each to the three TV networks before the show. He wanted to talk about Nicaragua and Japan: Nicaragua's earthquake victims, for whom the Stones were here at the Forum, with Santana and Cheech & Chong; Japan's refusal of visas, the reason the Stones suddenly found themselves with an expensive two weeks empty in their tour of the Pacific.

So Jagger held off on the aqua glitter around his eyes, the Mr. Best-Dressed costume of blue velvet, the tiara, scarf and sash. The newsmen had been instructed about Mick's interests, told that his statements would be broadcast the next day in Japan.

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Up stepped the man from NBC. "Mick," he asked, "why's your hair so short?"

It's been that kind of a month for Mick.

* * *

Planning for the Pacific tour had begun even before the Stones' last US date last summer. Peter Rudge, tour manager, had mapped out a string of concerts built around Japan, beginning in Hawaii and ending in Australia. So the machine called STP – the Stones Touring Party – never did stop. The Stones had never played Japan before, and in negotiations, Rudge was Mr. Goodwill. The Stones agreed to donate a share of their profits to any charities Japan might name. The Japanese promoter, in turn, would assume the immense costs of flying the 20-member entourage and its equipment from London through Japan and into Sydney. Contracts were signed October 30th, and 55,000 tickets were sold in four hours. After eight years of waiting, Japan would finally get the Rolling Stones.

November 10th, Rudge said, the Stones filed their official applications for visas, including information on Jagger's misdemeanor pot bust (with Marianne Faithfull) in 1969. "December 24th, I got a phone call from Japan, saying it's OK." On the 28th, they sent 19 visas through and sent Mick's back. We asked why. They said "There's a conviction. Read the rules."

But Japan has allowed other rock musicians with convictions in. Why was Mick Jagger singled out? "He's Mick Jagger."

Jagger arrived from Kingston, Jamaica, for the Nicaragua benefit in Los Angeles at 5 AM Tuesday morning, January 16th. The rest of the band arrived from London and South of France. They would have two days to rehearse. The last time the Stones were onstage was six months ago in Madison Square Garden. Five hours after he deplaned, Jagger was at the Japanese Consulate Office. There he was told, to his face, that he would not be granted a visa, for two reasons: First, the bust; and second, they told Jagger, "You're too famous." The officials smiled.

While the Stones quickly rehearsed, splitting their compressed time between Studio Instruments Rentals at Vine and Santa Monica in Hollywood (for the music) and the Aquarius Theater on Sunset (for Mick), Rudge continued to check at the consulate. "We fought and fought and fought," he said. Hours before the benefit, which the Stones, of course, hoped would help their case, the tour manager got final word: "No way."

Jagger sat in front of the TV cameras in the dressing room two hours before the show. "It means, practically, that I've wasted two months of my life," he said. "The Japanese kids have shown that they want to see us."

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Now there would be a homeless stretch between the last Hawaiian date, January 22nd, and the first show in Auckland, New Zealand, February 11th. Working permits allowing the Stones to be in the US would expire January 26th. The group was thinking of going to Canada, maybe finding a studio and doing some work on the album they'd been recording in Jamaica. Now, too, there would be additional costs, to get the group and their $50,000 made-for-Japan stage from place to place. A weary Rudge was in rounds of meetings with the Stones' accountants.

* * *

All of this, and it's a rainy night in Los Angeles, but still there's a show to go on here, to raise $400,000 or so for the refugees of Managua, Nicaragua. An earthquake December 23rd had turned the capital city into twisted ruins reeking of putrid flesh, leaving 6000 dead, 20,000 injured and 250,000 homeless, flooding 5000 tents and nearby villages.

Mick and Bianca had gone to the rubble five days after the quake – they were delayed when they couldn't get passage through the US and had to go by way of Jamaica – to search for Bianca's mother. She had lost her home, they learned, but they found her alive and well. The Jaggers zealously aided missionary work on behalf of the Jamaican Red Cross, delivering boxes of medical supplies to the Nicaraguan Red Cross.

When the Stones' benefit was announced (tentatively Wednesday, January 9th, officially Monday, January 15th), there was talk that they were doing it only to score points, to salvage Japan.

Bill Graham, who conceived and, with promoter Barry Fey of Denver, executed the show, gave this chronology:

"I reserved the Forum weeks ago, right after the Nicaraguan disaster. It was a basic situation, one and one make two: Jagger is married to a Nicaraguan lady; Chepito [Areas, timbales player for Santana] is from Nicaragua also, so I contacted the Stones and Santana people. The Stones were immediately extremely favorable. They themselves were thinking of doing something. Then they began having visa problems."

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