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The Rolling Stones Go South

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The reason the Stones are actually in Chicago is to do three shows at the International Amphitheater, said by some to be the world's largest building, in terms of total area. "The world's ugliest," Mick Taylor says, in terms of aesthetics.

Chicago karma arrives as soon as they begin setting up the stage. Unions: Chip Monck has been blacklisted in Chicago ever since someone dropped his light truss there on the last tour and Chip took it upon himself to straighten the man out. He sits edgily, watching them set up his stage.

The Rolling Stones Live, 1964-2007

"The name," he says wryly, "is Harry Pine. I cue lights and I'm from Newark, New Jersey." For ten percenters: Five minutes before showtime a process server in a porkpie hat and South Side grey suit arrives in the dressing room accompanied by two police officers. He's after Peter Rudge with a writ that attaches all the instruments and the sequins on Mick's face.

* * *

"The audiences cheer but they do not smile . . . No joy, no love. You walk out of the Amphitheater after watching the Rolling Stones perform and suddenly the Chicago stockyards smell clean and good by comparison." – Tom Fitzpatrick, Chicago Sun-Times

You always play the same licks more or less," Charlie Watts says. "So it kinda depends on the crowd as to how good the show is gonna be." The crowd in Chicago is insane. Out of its head. Strange bodies come hurtling into the amplifiers. Hash pipes are being sucked, then waved in the air. Mick's jumpsuit is torn all down the side. A sweating horde, pushing and dancing in front of the stage.

Chip Monck is the Albert Speer of rock, manipulating crowds to hysteria, as he bathes Mick in red laser beams, shades Mick Taylor in purple as he plays "Love In Vain," rolls the huge reflecting mirror back so that it spreads a soft angelic beam from above on the upturned faces of the crowd.

Chip Monck is at work, teasing the crowd, making them wait, delaying the climax. It all builds slowly through the set until the Stones get to tearing it apart and then, "Hit It!" Chip says and the Stones stand revealed for the first time in white light. "Hit It!" and the house lights come on and the crowd can see itself for the first time and feel its great numbers. "Hit It!" and the light truss rolls down. The red and blue gels are pulled quickly off and they litter the back of the stage as the truss rides back up to pour more white light downon the band as they womp and kick into "Street Fighting Man."

Mick shaking his fist and putting the evil on Mick Taylor as he plays the blues, Keith the nightstalker taking three zombie steps to the very edge of the stage to lay down the graveyard riff in "Midnight Rambler," Charlie whipping crossrhythms in back of everybody as they tear no shit into "Bye-Bye Johnny B. Goode." All of it.

Chip Monck works his own show, building a metaphysical progression that ends with Mick Jagger in white light.

* * *

Every show in Chicago is followed by a party at the Playboy Mansion. At the second of these, Mick Jagger is hiding inside Keith Richards' room. "There's too many strange women out there tonight. Too many I don't know."

The Mansion is filled with tourists who have heard the Stones are there. They belly up to the bar to order the most difficult and expensive combination of exotic drinks they can think of.

Mick is in good shape though. He has the latest Rolling Stone, open to his review. He also has dear Mercy hanging on every word and a waiter bringing him Lafite-Rothschild '61.

"I don't know what they want," Mick says tiredly, meaning record reviewers in general. "We put together a side you can listen to in the mornin' or fall asleep to late at night and it says, 'Side two is the only one without a barrelhouse rocker.' Well, I mean, ya can't please everyone, can ya? . . . "

He sighs and turns the page. "Actually there's several nice things in it. It's only that they're always waitin' for another Let It Bleed . . . . God, when that one came out, the critical reaction was no better than lukewarm. It's only recently I've realized how good an album it is . . . what with us still doin' so many songs from it on stage . . . "

After ten years at it, Mick Jagger still finds things to do on stage he's never thought of before: a vampire scream in "Midnight Rambler," hanging on to the microphone with one leg extended like Nureyev, sticking the silver rose-petal bowl on his head and bowing gallantly. When Mick is on stage one spotlight follows him wherever he goes, even behind the amps, at his bottle of Jack Daniels.

"Did ya see men leapin' on stage the other night?" Mick asks, still thinking of other things. "Great big men they were too. With clenched fists . . . shoutin'. I've had to stop doin' that one . . . the clenched fist . . . I still like to point though. That's a gospel thing . . . like signifyin' . . . it's puttin' the power right on 'em . . .

"I see weird things out front some nights. The guy beggin' me to whip him durin' 'Midnight Rambler.' Pleadin' for it and grabbin' at the belt. His eyes . . .

"Another held up a burnin' cigarette to catch my attention, then crushed it in his palm and held it up, all black with ash and fucked up. Weird, eh?"

"Oh Mick," Mercy sighs, "I was standing next to this guy with a shaven head and when he saw you cut your lip on the mike he bit his until blood came in the same spot."

"See what I mean," Mick says. "You know I was goin' to do this tour goin' on stage in my street clothes, whatever I had on at the time. But it's not what they want, is it? So I designed the outfits I'm wearin' . . . God, The Monck's got a load of ideas about things we could do. If we were only in the theater,' Mick sighs, "these things would be simple. We could fly in backdrops and sets . . .

"It's the fact of people jus' standin' on a bare stage playin' that makes it funky. But there's so much more that could be done, with stages and ramps and balloons . . . God, one would like to be able to do somethin' conceptual as well . . ."

* * *

It's the very last night of three and it looks as though Chicago is going to withstand the Stones. Of course, there have been a few incidents. They did their bit for Hyatt House ecology, taking the little squirt nozzles that water the ivy on the balconies and pointing them over the side so that they'll rain down on the heads of the boys from McDonalds in the lobby.

The Playboy Mansion is holding up very best of all. Hef and Bill Wyman have struck up a relationship based on the game of backgammon and they sit at a long wooden table like barons playing contest after contest. There's loose talk of a jam session happening sometime later on in the evening and Hef graciously says, "Sure, be fine if you want to do it. Why, we've even had Buddy Rich here once with his 20-piece band."

Keith and Bobby Keys have ambushed a girl at the top of the stairs that lead to the pool and they're asking, "Well . . . how sick are you really?" The number of ladies afloat in the great room has stabilized. It looks as if most of them are checking to see if they've let anyone slip by.

Don Heckman has gotten Keith to hold still for an interview and he is sunk once again into one of those deep plush sofas saying, "America's looser this time . . . I've been telling everyone that. Last time they sat and stared, real stone freaks. They're more stoned this time but . . . maybe it's just that school is out . . . we only ever see this country in November and December . . .

"But it is different. I can remember every tour and each one's unique. Some things though don't change I guess . . . last time we were here that guy climbed on to the tower in Texas and today, what, six killed in Cherry Hills . . . some people worry about tourin' here but I guess you might just as well get it crossin' the street . . . "

Unlike Mick, who seems to have an unending reserve of stagecraft and magic to draw on, Keith on stage seems always to be at the brink of disaster, about to fall into the crowd or off the back steps, about to knock over an amp or tear his voice to shreds once and forever while singing "Happy."

"I tell you though," he says, over the rim of another Tequila Sunrise, "I'd dig to meet Wallace. The Governor. Yeah, I bet he's a gas, man, behind his game." Don Heckman says something about Angela Davis and Keith says, "Yeah, man . . . we sent her flowers and telegrams when she got off. I wonder if she saw 'em . . .

"What never changes is how wired you get after a concert. Two concerts and you're twice as wired. Didn't get to sleep until ten this morning. Of course, this," he waves a glass out at the living room, "is all kinda disorientin' too."

"Got any pithy things to say for the readers of the New York Times?" Don Heckman asks Mick Taylor as he drops into a couch.

"Mick-eee," Mercy squeals softly next to him. "About this place?" Mick inquires, "Tell 'em to read Playboy."

"No, man," Keith says, running a hand through his hair and ruffling it, "it's not always like this. A few weird things have come down here I'm sure but nothin' like this. Ten different chicks have told me . . . it's us, man." He rocks back, ruffles his hair, and laughs.

Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones' 1969 U.S. Tour: Photos

Dear People, Jo Bergman's newsletter reads, "tomorrow we leave for Kansas City and Dallas. For those who are staying at the hotel, baggage must be ready in the lobby by 2 PM. Departure from hotel to airport at 4 PM. Plane leaves for Kansas City at 5 PM."

Another one of those three-cities-in-a-day days, with Kansas City but a three-hour break between Chicago and Dallas. As the Stones trudged up the steps of their chartered McCulloch turbo jet, Truman Capote is already checking into the Mihlenback Hotel in Kansas City, ready to join the tour on assignment for Rolling Stone.

The tour is a small, closed community in motion. Rumors move with the. speed of the train. En route from Chicago, the hot story is that waiting along with Mr. Capote in Kansas City is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The exact etiquette of addressing the former First Lady is discussed, as is the nature of the party someone is sure to throw after the show.

Better to be prepared than caught unawares. Danny Seymour, Robert Frank's second cameraman and soundman, is sounding people about the possibilities of laying a joint on Jackie, within camera range. "Right in the middle of her palm," he says, "and I can zoom right in on it."

The plane lands and the Stones pile into their traveling mobile home, a house trailer with carpets, air conditioning and a full kitchen, that the Stones use to travel in from hotel to arena and back again. Mick Jagger climbs into the front seat, turns on his camera, and lets it run for the duration of the ride, adding yet another straight-ahead Andy Warhol-type record of the ride from the airport to the gig, to his collection.

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