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The Rolling Stones' Masterful Rock & Roll Circus

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When Ian Anderson gets up on stage to do his act, he completely transforms. Jekyll and Hyde. He becomes a twitching werewolf, wildly scratching his hair, his armpits, and in his long, shabby grey coat, part clown, part tramp, he looks like a flea-ridden Roland Kirk. The audience is mainly teenyboppers and have never heard of the group. "Who is that?" they say to each other in disgusted tones. His blues comedy is effective in a bizarre way, but he is isolated in this vast space like a specimen on a microscope slide, and you can see he misses his fans from the Marquee whose enthusiasm encourages him to freak out.

While the set is being changed for some clowns, a technician naively asks Bill Wyman if Jethro Tull have been on yet. "Oh, yes, we've already played," answers Bill chewing gum, his face as deadpan as Buster Keaton. More sawdust, the clowns come out, do various sadistic things in order to wallpaper each other. The audience is really delighted, and just as they are laughing loudest, both clowns run into the audience with buckets of what appears to be water. It turns out to be confetti and the victims laugh again — with relief.

Every act takes an eternity to set up, light, reload the cameras. A pear-shaped floor manager tells lame jokes over the PA in an attempt to keep everyone amused, and the crew are constantly under seige by teenyboppers with their Brownies who use any excuse to get to where Mick or John and Yoko are.

A fire eater comes on, assisted by the impossibly elongated Donyale Luna wearing a leopard smile, playfully singeing the fire eaters balls with one of the torches. Keith comes out to do a link. He is dressed as a dandy. Monocle, top hat, cigarette holder. His gaunt, slightly jaded face makes him perfect for the part. He stares arrogantly at his image in the monitor, like a decadent aristocrat at the Moulin Rouge.

Marianne looks very beautiful and a little nervous as she steps alone into the ring wearing a floor length wine colored satin gown to do her song "Something Better," written by the immortal Goffin & King. It's a strange, slow song, the main theme of which is that you can't live your whole life in a cage. "Have you heard, whiskey is the rage, I'll send you a jug in the morning." Mick comes out into the ring, crouches down, holding her hand, talking, whispering, joking with her, between takes.

Next the trapeze is set up, gleaming stainless steel hoops and bars, and a delightful pair of aging acrobats dramatically ascend, go through their paces, the classical acrobat's repertoire performed in the air while below a virtuoso pianist in full evening dress performs a pyrotechnical piano work. The acrobats (who along with the cowboy, the clowns, etc., are from the Robert Frosset Circus) are in white, and the husband has a dapper little black moustache. On one swing, he pretends to lose his balance, lets out a little cry as if he is going to fall (our hearts are in our mouths) and at the last minute catches hold of the bar with his left foot. Bravo, Mr. Kite!

At 8:00 in the evening there is a break for dinner. The canteen is filled with bizarre Fellini-like scenes. An enormous strong man dressed like Ali Baba is devouring his dinner next to a motley group of Stones, John asking if they serve macrobiotic food in the restaurant, an inebriated barmaid telling Moon he's had enough. "Who takes you home, then?" she asks him. "I've got people who take care of me. Give us those drinks, dear."

On the next floor, surreal scenes in the dressing rooms: Jagger having his makeup put on, Clapton fooling around on the guitar with Taj Mahal, Brian standing on a pile of rejected costumes, deciding what to put on next . . .

A simple stage is set up for the Supergroup. John is wearing his Levi outfit, and Mitch Mitchell looks almost unrecognizable with his straight blond hair. Keith plays a simple bass line, and Eric performs with masterful imperturbability. John looks a little apprehensive, but once they start playing he relaxes, turns his back to the camera occasionally in the classic jamming position. Yoko gets up on the stage, climbs into her black bag, and during the breaks, holds John's hand. Even while you are watching, it is hard to believe all this is actually happening. Mitch's drumming is a little brisker and he is more in control of the cymbals, but this is not a jam session, in fact "Yer Blues" is almost identical to the album track. Why is Eric following the record so closely? It is a strange paradox, but simply the presence of all these magicians together is completely over-whelming. What more can you say?

But the effect of "Yer Blues" live is very different to hearing it on the record. To begin with it is obvious that John means every word of this song. He has used the form because the blues is the ultimate expression of a down trip. "Even hate my rock and roll" screams at you like a nightmare. The day before at the rehearsal, John, Mick and Eric played "Peggy Sue" together and John did a wry version of Elvis' great hit, "It's Now or Never." After "Yer Blues," Yoko gets up in front of the microphone and wails, while virtuoso violinist Ivry Gitlis saws away like a country fiddler, and the Supergroup is playing behind them. The audience is totally awestruck; they do not move or talk. It was breath-taking.

The Who set up and jammed for about ten minutes while the lights were being tested. The clapboard reads "Who Opera." It couldn't be that one again. But it is. Pete introduces "A Quick One" with a few humorous deprecatory remarks and they steam through an abridged version cutting out a lot of it towards the end. Water spurts out of Moon's drum at one point, but the cameras didn't catch it so it is shot again. Moon carefully throws one of his drums over his shoulder just to remind you you are watching the Who. When Pete comes to the "Little girl, stop your crying" part, he changes the next line to "we'll make it all better on your little TV screen." A couple of freaks leap out of the audience and the audience itself starts really shaking, getting into it completely, and a couple of TV cameras are turned onto them grateful to have captured an actual unrehearsed response.

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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