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The Rolling Stones: Jumping, Booming, Bumping, Grinding to a Halt

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The Stones were scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday shows in San Francisco. I flew up on Monday afternoon with Jim Stepp, the security man, taking stock of my notes for the long promised interview with Jagger at the Mark Hopkins. Stepp had his theories about in-hall security but had quickly adjusted to the fact that there isn't anything one can do about the audience.

Bob Bender, the ex-football player, had acid thrown in his face in St. Paul but threw his hand up just in time. "You can never tell when the weapons will come out," Lisa Robinson noted later. It wasn't a joke.

The Jagger interview could have come at any moment, so I spent Monday evening at the hotel. The group showed at 2:00 a.m. and went immediately to bed. Except for Jagger and Keith (who had delayed the plane); they both headed for the Orphanage, where they spent the early morning hours with Toots and the Maytals, with whom they'd become friendly while in Jamaica.

Rudge woke up Tuesday morning with 54 telephone messages. Four were from people he knew. I was corralled into answering the phones. It was a far cry from L.A., where Rudge had been loose enough to run the hotel switchboard one afternoon.

At the Cow Palace, I watched the crew set up and talked to stage manager Brian Croft. "Look, there are any number of ways to go about a tour like this. One of them is simply to do what Ian Stewart always claims we should do: Put everything in the back of a van and haul the group around that way. You always have to remember it could be done that way.

The Rolling Stones Live

"If there's one thing this tour has made clear to me, it's that I'm in this business for the esprit de corps. And that's just what's missing here."

The 12-ton stagelight ring was unpacked at 6:00 a.m. and strung to the ceiling by 8:00 a.m. The crew was mostly one-time Disney-on-Parade riggers – acrobats and jugglers turned carpenters and handymen, led by a onetime human cannonball turned master electrician. When this crew found that some of the stage fittings were too high to be connected on foot, they went out and bought stilts.

The Tuesday show at the chilly Cow Palace was run-of-the-mill, though it picked up when transportation master Allan Dunn charged to the front of the stage during "Happy" with a message for Jagger. Written on a long piece of butcher paper, it read: "She's on the plane." Bianca had taken the late flight back to New York. After the show, the Stones went to the Orphanage around 4:00 a.m., hanging out until about 10:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. That shot down my interview that day but Rudge assured me that Jagger would talk before leaving town.

The second show, on Wednesday, was more inspired. Afterward, the crew and the group (except Watts, whose family was still in town, and Jagger, who wanted some sleep) went to the Trident in Sausalito where Bill Graham had helped arrange a party (which the Stones paid for). In the middle of the entertainment, Keith Richards and Ron Wood nearly bowled over some bellydancers when they got up to go to the Record Plant to record all night. The party, which wasn't very wild, featured some bug-eyed crew members staring at the bellydancers' breasts and a shrimp-throwing contest at dawn.

Never let it be said that Jagger's employees are disloyal. Even Croft, who seemed the most independent, said, "Mick's extremely sensitive to the crew. And I've seen him on the bad nights, counting off the numbers for the group, doing for them what they're supposed to be doing for him." And when I told Rudge how Keith had dominated the opening moment with those introductory chords to "Honky-Tonk Women," he responded, "Yeah, but remember it was Mick who decided to put that song first."

Jagger's stamina may be remarkable but, as Allan Dunn said, "He's really tired after a show. He'll come back to the hotel and do a concentrated hour of recuperation and then he'll be all right."

The Rolling Stones Live, 1964-2007

And why was the show so long? Was it to compete with the multi-hour extravaganzas of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and the Allman Brothers? Maybe the goal of this tour was to prove that Jagger is not an old man at 32, that he still has more stamina than anyone.

"The thing is," Rudge said, "with other groups who do two hours, half of it is John Bonham's drum solo or whatever. Jagger never gets off that stage except for one number."

Maybe so, but the show's pace was obviously designed to spell him: a half-hour of hard-driving rock and into the sludge. "Fingerprint File" was included to prove that Jagger could play guitar competently, but it also gave him a chance to stop dancing for a few minutes. Billy Preston may have gotten his solo spot because his manager insisted upon it – or because, as the press agents put it, the group has "such incredible respect for his musical talent" – but its placement near the end allowed Mick to rest up for the last roaring five numbers.

The obvious person to answer these questions was Jagger, of course. He was the focus of the tour. He was the man who (with aid from Watts) designed the stage, the logo, the size and scope of it all. But he continued to duck.

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