The Rolling Stones A Smash at Nicaragua Benefit

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, nicaraguan, earthquake, victim, California
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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.
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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."

Santana had also been planning to do a benefit in San Francisco, and in Los Angeles, they were talking with Cheech & Chong, who wanted to organize, with Ode Records president Lou Adler, a "Latinos for Latinos" benefit, with Malo as a third act. But when Adler called to secure the Forum, he learned of Graham's plans. "Then," said Graham, "they all wanted a unity thing."

The original projected gross for the benefit, with a capacity of 18,000, was $516,810. That, too, was a joint idea, said Graham. "It seemed like a good figure to shoot for." To do this, ticket prices were scaled at $10, $15, and $100 with 1975 seats at the top price.

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By the day of the concert, a townful of people had swarmed out to the Forum, as soon as Graham's official announcement hit L.A. radio waves Monday evening, joining dozens who'd been camping out since the previous Wednesday, when word of the Stones' "desire" to do a benefit first leaked. Chits were handed out to the first 9000 people in line (Graham had announced a maximum of two tickets per customer). Chits were distributed by 9 PM, and the box office opened at the rock & roll hour of 1 AM. A sellout announcement went out by noon. Only there wasn't a sellout. There remained, all the way through the day of the concert, hundreds of tickets left, priced at $100.

Said Graham, "I may have overestimated the heart of the music industry. I didn't expect to hit the kids with the $100 price; I'm just a little disappointed with the record companies."

At 4:30 PM the day of the concert, 500 $100 tickets remained – that's $50,000 worth, or ten percent of the original gross. They were finally sold off at $25, turning the floor section into a tossed mix of the very well-heeled and dedicated Stones' fans.

No final net proceeds figure was available for days after the show, but Graham said costs were made minimal by the Forum, which called the benefit "business as usual" and spread their usual numbers of security guards and ushers costumed in sheen-green Roman togas around the auditorium – provided to Graham and Fey at cut costs. At any rate, said Graham, "it'll be the largest net of this type." (The 1971 concert for Bangladesh netted over $250,000.)

* * *

"It seems like the only time you put out monumental albums or events is when you have a natural disaster." Richard "Cheech" Marin said at the offices of their (and the Stones') publicists, Gibson & Stromberg, headquarters of the gathering madness that surrounds any Stones event. "No," writer Jacoba Atlas said, "there's only been two big concerts for great disasters – unless you count McGovern."

Tommy Chong also had a statement: "We're doing this benefit," he said, "so if we have an earthquake, Nicaragua will help us."

 

Managua, Nicaragua! In that city so quaint –
You live like you're a millionaire, though that's what you ain't
You hardly would believe how much a peso can buy
One thin slice of tasty coconut pie.

– "Managua, Nicaragua," by Gamse-Fields, circa 1946 by Encore Music Publications

 

Jose "Chepito" Areas, born and raised in Nicaragua with a family of 19 children, left his hometown of Leon (an hour's drive, for the few who have cars there, from Managua) in 1966. He has not returned to Nicaragua since the quake, but he had brought his mother and many of his brothers and sisters (several have died in recent years) to Hawaii for the Christmas holidays. They learned, there, that one of his sisters, who lived in the capital city, had lost her house.

Areas hopes to return to Managua after Santana's next tour. "Over there it's terrible," he said. "No hospital, no medicine – it's a poor country. I wanted to help, so I'm happy to do this benefit."

* * *

The house is 70 seats short of sold out at 8:30 when Graham steps on stage and asks for a minute of meditation for the earthquake victims. The blue flag of Nicaragua is lowered from the ceiling over the stage, it is greeted, of course, with hippie whoops, and police whistles – everything but shouts for "more." Then it is Santana, opening the show, spotlight on Chepito, then on Carlos Santana, who leads the group into a tight, chrome-and-red-steel set, the group holding off on its Miles Davis/Mahavishnu directions and feeding the crowd a nonstop demonstration of the sound and rhythms of speed, Rich Kermode and Tom Coster absolutely shining on keyboards. At exactly 9:30, they've finished an encore and are off.

Cheech & Chong, the hard rock comics, quickly surpassed Santana in hitting the lowest common denominator, as they dealt out an act dominated by references to the male sex organ, feminine hygiene products, dog pee and ca-ca, and a gross of other excesses.

As the crowd responded with a unanimous roar like low thunder when the comedy team asked how many in the overflowing arena were smoking dope there that night, it seemed that not a thought – and not a word from stage – was about the arrival at Los Angeles International Airport just five hours earlier of Dr. Timothy Leary, in handcuffs and footchains, where he was thrown into a heavily guarded police van headed for a lifetime in a federal penitentiary.

As always, Cheech & Chong poked at the dopers ("The downer freaks are here," noted Tommy Chong. "They're the ones that're facing the wrong way."), displayed some fine acting, and, as always, walked off to a standing hard rock ovation.

A 45-minute delay followed while STP's muscle set up for the Stones. In the first aid station, only one bed was occupied. At the doors surrounding the massive circular ampitheater arena, guards reported only incidental gatecrashing – maybe three dozen successful ones all evening. Business as usual. Over the PA comes a program of preparatory rock: the Cyrkle's "Turn Down Day," Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," Fleetwood Mac's "Spare Me a Little," and, perhaps for Dr. Arthur Janov, he of the primal scream, in the $100 audience, John Lennon's "Oh Yoko."

So Mick Jagger is down. Picked out and kicked down, rejected by a country he'd very much wanted to see; rejected for the first time in the Stones' ten years together. But suddenly he pops up, from behind the sleek white housing Chip Monck, stage and lighting manager, has designed, not only as an extravagant enclosure for the arps (also painted white), but a catwalk playground for Mick Jagger as well. Mick pops up from the rear of this bank, to the top of a child-size sliding ramp, skitters down onto the stage, and flashes his mouth, first, and then his ensemble. The band, as always, looks bored behind him, grinding out the intro for "Brown Sugar," and Jagger is a caped peacock, peaking already as he holds a rhinestone-studded black costume ball mask up to his face, glitter onto the already glittering body. He giggles and does away with the prop, whirls around and around in a black cape and tosses it aside, flashing violet lining as he does. Now it's just him in short faded levi jacket and blue velvet pants, silver patterned stars in silvery stripes running diagonally down the left side. And two scarves, a long white one as a sash; a regulation blue for the neck. And this brilliant glow in his hair: it is a thick rhinestone headband, a crown for Little Queenie, changing colors under the bank of reds and whites and blue lights shining.

Jagger is doing his basic dance step, left leg straightened out, loosened only at the toe, stomping flat footed on the duralon floor (painted with flaming orange and green serpents for the US tour), big mouth chomping away in anticipation of the first vocal explosion, and by the time Jagger has moved into "Bitch," it is clear that between Jagger and the staging, it's a show. Onstage, Mick can climb up a three-rung ladder to the top of the long white catwalk atop the amps and prance its distance, almost the length of the full stage. He reaches out to the crowd, forcing two-handed kisses at them, jutting his butt, sashaying away down the slide. He can be the child he is, exploring heights, depths, colors, sounds. He jumps onto Nicky Hopkins' piano bench, almost horsey-back, and thrusts fists into the air. He can go off to the other corner, where Leroy, Bill Graham's classy black guard from the Fillmore days, is seated on a stool, clapping his hands, and Mick will take away Leroy's big hat to parade through a number. And off to the left there is Bianca, wearing a little black hat and a red blazer outfit, standing near Chip Monck, watching her husband at work.

Mick Jagger is the hardest-playing man in show business. Finished with "Gimme Shelter," he thinks maybe it's time for a few old ones, ones he didn't do the last time around; he does "Route 66," voice raspy and strong as he implores, "Won't you get hip, to this kind of trip."

"Vintage," he says after the ovation, "definitely vintage." Keith Richards, looking off-white of skin, dressed himself in white satin, steps forth to help out on "It's All Over Now." The two are the only ones who move, aside from the non-Stones, hornmen Jim Gordon and Bobby Keyes and pianist Nicky Hopkins. Charlie Watts is set in from the wall of speakers, and Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman continue to perfect their imitations of statues.

"A bit rusty, that one," Jagger comments. Now he thanks the audience for showing up. "I know it's a lot of bread, but thank you," and into "Happy," now all red lights blazing, again with Keith, Jagger in one of his classic positions, chest out, arse up, hands cupping upper buttocks, then "Tumbling Dice," Mick taking a break sitting on one of the tilted monitor speakers.

Finally, he focuses attention on the major problem of the show, faulty mikes, and waits for repairs before the first slower song, "No Expectations," sung in a voice quavering just right. "Sweet Virginia" is next, more mike problems, and the Stones slow down again with "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

In the darkness, Dr. Janov gets up and leaves. Jagger says he is tired of "that medium tempo," and goes into "Live With Me," running to all sides again, proffering his furious kisses in all directions up and down the ramp, pouting, pumping, stomping, scolding, shouting, posing, mussing up his hair as if he really wishes it were longer. (He cut it short, he said, in anticipation of warm weather during the Pacific tour; he was planning to do a lot of swimming at the first stop, Auckland.)

The kisses, the let-it-out shouts of "Aw-right!" Even the shorter shag – we are seeing the old Mick, working his blues away, flashbacking again for some of the hardest rock he ever did: "Round And Round," letting the glittering shirt fall down over a glistening shoulder, letting the fall force the frontal zipper down past the navel, a glimpse of white shorts before he notices and jumps up, into "Jumping Jack Flash." No one can touch him now, as he powers into the closing number, their ironic theme, "Street Fighting Man," Mick phrasing each line like a snarl, throwing flowers and petals to the audience while the band maintains the rev. Mick puts his cape on with a flourish, over his head, spins ten times, and he collapses onto his knees for the bow. An embrace with Keith and lights out.

And for an encore, the world's greatest rock & roll band performs "Midnight Rambler," Mick leaned into the mike now to play harp; sprawled, now, on top of the painted dragons, covered, now, by smoke. Finally, on the duralon, two hours since this costume ball began, Jagger is crawling, slowed down by the weight of his own performance. There was no way the 18,625, plus 30 crashers, could ask for more. The show had been nearly five hours long, the Stones performed for nearly two of them.

This story is from the February 15th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 128: February 15, 1973
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