The Rolling Stones' Masterful Rock & Roll Circus

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Bill Wyman dressed as a clown with a big red nose, and Brian in his horned hat sat on a bench with the midgets and the strong man and introduced some clowns. Afterwards Ivry Gitlis (first violinist to record Stravinsky's and Berg's violin concertos) overdubs the solo violin to his own recording of Paganini's First Violin Concerto. After about five minutes, someone shouts, "Cut, we've got enough now." Mr. Gitlis is enraged. "How can you cut a violin concerto in the middle of a movement like that?" he asks. No one can answer him, and they tape it again.

Off the set, John introduces the Stones, eating brown rice with chopsticks, while the stage is being set up in a long T-shape with a long projecting platform for Mick to freak out on. About this time Ken Kesey, Spyder, Rock Scully and a few others from San Francisco turn up. They look radiantly healthy, with their chicks and babies, like a group of happy cowboys who just wandered off the set of a western. But they weren't too happy about the circus. Rock Scully agreed the scene was reminiscent of Monterey. "Yeah," he said, "but not as warm." The next day a radiant, benign Kesey, hanging out at Apple, put it down because, "It was all played to the ghost. The audience was a prop. It wasn't so important what was actually happening, but what appeared to be happening." East is East and West is West.

The Stones plugged themselves into their monolithic amps at 1:00 in the morning. By this time everybody had been in the studio for nearly 14 hours and was pretty wiped out, but when the Stones accelerated into "Route 66" the whole atmosphere became charged. This isn't like Elvis doing "Heartbreak Hotel" on his TV show. It seems like a different song because the Stones are different people since they recorded it. Mick insolently mouths "that Cal-if-or-nia trip" and you know that has a different meaning since 1967. Next they do "Confessin' the Blues" from 12 x 5, and then "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which they perform similarly to the promotion film (also directed by Lindsay Hogg), except that dozens of ancient sinister machines are set up to produce flashes. Everyone is told not to look at them, "They will blind you," the floor manager says dramatically. The studio looks like Frankenstein's laboratory. The flashes create a weird, unearthly environment. Next they do "Parachute Woman" with Mick's impossible, incredible ennunciation and phrasing which makes it initially unintelligible, like a sound pattern.

This is just the warmup, the cameras are not turned on yet, though there will be many who wish they had for those two old Stones numbers. They do "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Parachute Woman" again for the cameras (three times each). The first time they get into a number, they take it very easy. Mick and Keith sitting on the floor, no movement, for the sound level. Each version gets wilder and better. They have a magical, hypnotic effect on everybody.

The audience is being encouraged to "swing" by the floor manager, but they don't need to be; and when Mick jumps off the stage into the audience he is mobbed by a bunch of screaming girls completely out of their minds; it was like the good old days of the Ready, Steady, Go shows. They do the numbers over and over until they have everyone on their trip. It is pure Stones magic and it is their irresistible, compulsive, funky energy that drives them until that moment happens. In between breaks Mick sings a couple of old tunes, "Yonder's Wall" and Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues." He turns 'round to acknowledge Taj Mahal before laying into these songs in a funky imitation of a Mississippi blues, Slim Harpo nasal moaning all done as a joke, a put on, a tribute, out of a serious self mockery of a white kid imitating down home blues. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is filmed also.

Rocky, the Stones' bongo player, played on every song, but he really came into his own on "Sympathy for the Devil" with its incredible hypnotic rhythms, Rocky's bongos, Charlie dressed in a beautiful white ruffled shirt playing against Rocky's rhythms and Brian hammering away on the maracas. Shrieks, cries, weird jungle noises come out of Mick as he gets further and further into the song, as if possessed by satanic spirits. The Stones are very visual and on this song Mick goes through a very dramatic act. He whips himself up into an incredible fury as they do six takes for the cameras, and each take it gets unbelievably more intense. As Keith's guitar breaks in, Mick crouches on the ground, head in his hands, in the style of a recently captured Vietcong. Keith arrogantly prances over him as if he is holding a machine gun, Mick takes off his red long-armed tee shirt as if he is about to be whipped, and tattooed on his chest is a grisly image of the devil. There are tattoos on both his arms as well, and as the song finishes, he grabs an Antique Market shawl with long tassles and ties it around his head, defiantly moving in on a TV camera as if he is about to devour it. They also do a version of "No Expectations" with Mick playing an acoustic guitar, while Keith helps him to tune. "No Expectations" will not be shown when the Circus is shown on TV. "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Parachute Woman," "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" are the four Stones' songs that will be shown: Possibly also "Salt of the Earth."

It is now about 5:00 in the morning and everyone is delirious with tiredness except the director, Michael Lindsay Hogg, who is still full of energy, spreading his enthusiasm around; in his waistcoat, and perpetually smoking a large cigar, he looks like a young director in the early days of Hollywood. For the last song, everyone is asked to put on the colored capes and hats, the Who willingly adorn themselves, Pete dancing about wildly with two cushions tied on to his head like the Pope's diadem. Moon is tying himself to various people with a spare poncho, laughing madly, creating a necessary elevation of mood in the audience. Mick playfully calls them "the football team." "We all know you blew your cool in Rolling Stone last month," he says to Pete with a huge grin. The Stones sit down in the audience with the Who to sing the last number, "Salt of the Earth." John and Yoko and Eric are all in the audience, too, wearing capes and hats. Everyone joins in on the last chorus, swaying from side to side, reading the words off a gigantic board.

It is after 6:00 by the time the filming is finished, and the Stones have arranged for buses to take everyone home. As we are leaving Mick is saying to Keith, "I think we should go out to the buses and thank everyone."

This is a story from the March 19, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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