When the Rolling Stones first appeared on Hollywood Palace in 1964, it was none other than Dean Martin who, as the traditional bibulous compère, found himself in the unrehearsed position of messenger of ill tidings. The Visigoths were at the backstage door, and as Martin took hold of the microphone and himself – perhaps realizing at that parlous moment of delirium tremens that the era of the fourflusher and the crooner was over – he announced in a voice of forced casualness and feckless incredulity: "I've been rolled before, and I've been stoned before, but take a look at these guys!"
For here in Hollywood, on the turf of filmmakers like Nick Ray, Robert Aldrich and Sam Fuller, was nothing less than the living musical embodiment of American film noir – a group which took the spectral underside vision of the American dream as revealed in films like They Live by Night, Kiss Me Deadly and The Naked Kiss and latched onto it the unassimilated sexual vitality of the music of Slim Harpo, Solomon Burke and Howlin' Wolf.
Even in that early, undifferentiated surge of rock groups that announced the English rock & roll renaissance, it was easy to distinguish the Stones from the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Kinks or the Beatles. No other group presented (or has ever presented) that eerie quality combining the hustling menace of the spiv, the coolness of the dandy and the unpredictable amorality and frivolity of the Greek gods. And from the moment they landed in America, these soul survivors of British imperialism, these half-scruffy, half-exotic exiles on Main Street naturally and exuberantly took on the role of devil's advocate for what was then beginning to be thought of as the Love Generation.
It was in 1965 that I first saw the Rolling Stones perform live on a bill with Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Byrds at a less than sold-out concert at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. The Raiders played dressed in revolutionary regalia; the Byrds performed songs like "The Bells of Rhymney" with an unforgettable naiflike, street-urchin radiance. And then out came the Stones . . . glinting, disengaged, self-prepossessing – the visual incorporation of an idea: four expressionless lean and hungry instrumentalists, spoken for by their shining, narcissistic knight. And the words with which the poet Arthur Symons once described the famous Parisian music-hall dancer, Jane Avril, perfectly caught this idea as Mick Jagger and the Stones embodied it that San Francisco evening:
Alone, apart, one
Before the mirror,
face to face,
Alone she watches
In the mysterious
She dances for
her own delight,
A shadow smiling
Back to a shadow
in the night.
– "La Mélinite: Moulin Rouge"
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