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The Rolling Stones Take Their Rock & Roll Circus Back on the Road

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"When you look at all the detail, you might think, I'm not really interested in that,'" says Jagger. "Well, you've got to be in the end, otherwise you wind up getting ripped off."

The band will not pay off this debt until next winter, when it crosses the red line marked on the map in tour coordinator Alan Dunn's office. Dunn can trace the route the band will follow across America and show just where the break-even point should fall, where ricket and T-shirt sales will at last outpace operating costs. "It should come in February," says Dunn, studying the map. "I watch it carefully and hope it doesn't move." And though no formal ceremony is held to mark the crossing (no toasts made, no parties thrown), employees note the day as you might note the first real day of spring, when the sun comes out and the snow melts and you can here the runoff in the streets. "Everyone," says Dunn, "is much happier on that day."

What came along in my lifetime which has been horrible for the youngsters is AIDS," says Ron Wood, looking at his wife, Jo. "That's why I would never be unfaithful."

"Don't you love me?" she asks. "What about love?"

"Well, of course, there's some of that, but boys will be boys," Wood goes on. "You know, I really do miss the old groupies. There used to be some great characters. Today, they're not as good looking as they used to be, and there's always the danger of catching the old full-blown."

Over the years, it seems, as they have been overcome with age and money, the volume of life on the road for the Stones has been gradually turned down. There are physical reasons for this. These days, when Jagger decides to go on tour, he is undertaking an endeavor that requires months of roadwork and weight lifting with the guidance of a personal trainer who travels with the tour. In many ways, in fact, the Stones are fighting a war of attrition with time. Last year, when Wyman became a casualty, some of the band members wondered if they would still be able to tour.

"I was incredibly mad at Bill," admits Richards. "I even thought of making him play at gunpoint." But in the end, he says, the addition of bassist Jones, who played for several years with Miles Davis, has given the band a fresh burst of energy. "It's amazing just what some new blood can do."

There are other reasons for the changing nature of life on tour. With age, some realizations have drained the road of mystique. The Stones once romanticized and even emulated the lives of black American blues singers crossing the nation with a guitar and a song. But at 51, Jagger sees these same men in a different light. "You make legends of their lives, but you don't really know how they lived," he says. "Their lives weren't documented in tabloids. And they made up their lives as they went along. I was a hobo on the railroad,' and the white people went, 'Cool.' In reality, it was scraping and fighting and being old at 40 and maybe not remembering half of what happened."

Jagger pauses, then says: "But it's surprising how much you do remember. Someone comes up and says, 'I saw you in Heidelberg in 1976. Do you remember the guy who ran out onstage?' And you say, 'Fucking hell, I do remember!'"

For Wood, the Rolling Stone who most enjoys those aspects of the road that remain freewheeling, all those little stories have become one big story, a narrative that recounts his life with the Stones and before that with the Faces in the early '70s and Jeff Beck in the late '60s. "I remember it all," says the 47-year-old guitarist. "I remember Anaheim when Mick said, 'Give me your shoes,' and onto the stage came a hail of shoes and one cowboy boot, and after the show we went out and looked for the other boot and could not find it, and it was a great comic mystery. And I remember Barcelona, where we played in the bullring and the red dust rising and the people." In the end, Wood says, he will continue to travel, with the Rolling Stones or with his own band, for the same reason that he continues to live. "To keep the story going," he says. "For the material."

"You're talking to the Madman," says Keith Richards. And as he talks, he smokes, and the smoke curls around his face, and his eyes look out from behind a brilliant fog. He smokes cigarettes in one, two, three monster drags, smokes them right down to the knuckle and has another lit before the first is out. "My image, I drag it on a chain behind me," he notes, chasing the smoke with slugs of Corona. "To some I'm a junkie madman who should be dead, and to others, I'm a mythical genius."

Richards is sitting in a green easy chair in a room across the hall from the gym where the Stones are rehearsing. Stubbing out a cigarette, Richards does not look old and does not look young but instead has entered that land beyond time, where each new wrinkle seems as promising as the folds in a familiar map. He is wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt and blue jeans, and tied around his waist is a black long-sleeved shirt decorated with skulls.

"If these guys didn't think they could still play better than anyone else, you couldn't drag them out of their mansions for all this," Richards says, waving his arm. Indeed, he seems unconcerned with the task at hand, with selling the Stones to yet another generation of rock fans. He says he has just finished reading six volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and has acquired some perspective on the comparatively brief reign of the Rolling Stones. "We're the only band to take it this far," he says, reaching for his pack of smokes. "And if we trip and fall, you'll know that's how far it can be taken." He lights a cigarette. "If there's someone out there doing it better than us, they can have the gig," he says, exhaling. "But I ain't heard it so far."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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