The Rolling Stones: Babylon By Jet

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Cohl says that, financially, the Hawaii shows made no sense without the Pepsi show: "It created an opportunity for the Rolling Stones to play Honolulu for what may be the last time, and take the real show. We're talking about three big 747s – and one little plane for the bridge [the show's most impressive special effect]. The bridge needs its own plane. It's very temperamental."

"It's not something I particularly want to do," Jagger says of the Pepsi show.

Why are you doing it, then?

"The money, I suppose. And everyone else seems to want to do it, so I said OK. It's a theater; it might be quite good fun."

"I wouldn't know who we're doing it for," says Richards. "As long as they're not selling biochemical weapons or guns." He doesn't seem thrilled to be asked about it. "You want to talk business," he says firmly, "you talk to the business people. You want to talk music, you talk to me. Pepsi? It's a fizzy drink. But so what? I'm sure there's nothing wrong with Pepsi employees. Everybody needs a job."

"I never drank Pepsi," says Watts. "Actually, I used to, with whiskey, during the early sixties. And I think it's an awful drink, to be honest with you."

As for "Brown Sugar," it is one of the many Rolling Stones songs whose publishing rights are controlled by the band's former manager Allen Klein, though Jagger and Richards still get a share whenever these songs are used or performed. "I know nothing about the money," says Jagger, "and it's not performed by us – it's not ours to negotiate. But I'd prefer they didn't do it. I hate it. I would never do it again. Never."

He means that he'd rather never have another Stones song in a commercial after allowing Microsoft to use "Start Me Up" for an estimated $3 million to promote Windows 95. "I fucking hated it," Jagger says. "The rest of the band loved it. I just don't want to be involved with this stuff. I do not want my songs to be used in television ads."

Richards shrugs, unconcerned, when I ask him about selling "Start Me Up." "It's better than doing another video for it," he says. "Listen, the first ad the Stones did was for Kellogg's bloody Rice Krispies in 1963 or '64. We did 'I Wanna Be Your Man.' We started really early in this game." (This, a little research establishes, is entirely true. The twenty-year-old pop rebel Mick Jagger sang a lyric that began: "Wake up in the morning, there's a snap around the place/Wake up in the morning, there's a crackle in your face/Wake up in the morning, there's a pop that really says/'Rice Krispies for you and you and you.' ")

There is another issue raised by Pepsi's use of "Brown Sugar": It's a strange song for a squeaky-clean cola company to embrace. "It's a bit odd, isn't it? I know," Jagger grins. "Don't let's mention it. They probably haven't listened to it."

The "Brown Sugar" of the title is generally taken as a sexual reference or a drug reference. Most likely, it's both. "It's not going to be good either way, is it?" says Jagger. ("It's such a mishmash – all the nasty subjects in one go," Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995. "I never would write that song now. . . . I would probably censor myself.") I mention to Jagger, in passing, that the literature around the Rolling Stones is divided as to whether, as a drug allusion, brown sugar refers to heroin or some kind of strangely colored cocaine.

"There used to be that Mexican heroin called brown sugar, didn't there?" clarifies Jagger helpfully.

When I raise the subject with Richards, he considers, barely hiding his amusement, what Pepsi must have been thinking of. "Sweetness . . . brown . . . in a bottle," he says wryly.

But Pepsi is hardly the original reference, is it?

"Well, brown sugar's brown sugar," Keith chuckles. "Some of us know what it is, and some of us don't. I just love their naïveté. Do you know what I mean? Life's fucking hilarious, isn't it?"

The Bridges to Babylon tour continues to Japan and South America, and will finish in Europe by mid-September. It is the Stones' habit to release a record off the back of their world tours, and they expect to do something of that sort next year, though they've yet to decide what. Some concerts, including these Madison Square Garden dates, have been recorded. Jagger mentions their live collaborations with Taj Mahal, Pearl Jam and Joshua Redman. Richards says they're still waiting for a concept. "It might not be live at all," he suggests. "I think everyone's got their noses sniffing in the wind to see if there's an idea."

As far as future tours, the band leaves the door open. "I would think, from pure musical enjoyment and our over-indulgence of loving to rock, it's quite possible," says Wood.

Watts agrees, though he says he won't do a tour this long again: "It's too wearing and nerve-wracking if you take it seriously, like we all do." "I don't want to think about it," says Jagger. "Whatever I say now is not going to be applicable in three years. I've got another six months of this to do, and anything can happen."

"I suppose there is an addictiveness that comes into play," says Richards. "The creak of the boards. This is what you do. Why in the world would you stop doing what you like to do and a lot of people like to see you do?" That Keith Richards grin. "If nobody turns up, then I go back to the top of the stairs, where I started, and play to myself."

This story is from the March 5th, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone.

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