The Rolling Stones: Notes from the Babylon Bar

Page 6 of 6


How you doing, Philly?" Richards beams. "Smells the same."

Often, watching the Rolling Stones in Chicago, I found myself forcing my enthusiasm: Too much of the show was theoretically exciting, but I simply didn't feel it. Two weeks later, in Philadelphia, it's a quantum leap. They play better songs ("Gimme Shelter," for instance, but none of their recent songs with "rock" in the title). The dumb porn cartoons that illustrated "Bitch" and "Miss You" are gone. And they have a bridge, which rises out of the center of the stage and – extending as it arcs above the audience – curves all the way, unsupported, to a small stage in the arena floor, which itself rises to greet it. It's hokey and dumb – it's just a bridge – but it's worth a little gasp.

The music is rougher and less clipped. Tonight, it is as though Mick Jagger is less concerned with showing off his impressive physicality; it's as though . . . well, it's as though he has joined the band. And it is as if they are all trying less and succeeding more. Afterward, Jagger will complain that his throat is bad and things will start being canceled, so possibly some of this is caused by illness and necessity. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that when the Rolling Stones feel they have something to prove, they're not bad, but it is when they feel they have nothing to prove that they're at their finest.


Keith Richards' hair is now, suddenly, authentically gray-white. He can explain. "The last tour, I was talked into 'keeping it constant,' so they kept putting this crap in," he says. "I got sick of that stuff. This is the way it's going to stay. I just couldn't be bothered to fake it."

That individual 17-length, 12-direction, pointy, icicle-and-feather style is sculpted by Richards himself. He says that he last allowed a professional hairdresser to cut his locks when he was 14. After that, he realized that he could handle it himself and keep the haircut money for cigarettes. "Nobody's ever touched it since," he says. "I mean, a few chicks have had a snip here and there when I'm asleep. The Samson bit. Those damned Delilahs! Otherwise, no. I never say I'm going to cut my hair. I just walk into the bathroom and there's a pair of scissors and I say, 'That bit's got to go.' " He doesn't look in the mirror. His hair, like its owner below, does what it will. And why would he want somebody else's idea on top of his head?

One other thing that steels his hair-autonomy resolve: "I don't like people around me with sharp objects. That's my job . . . "

It was at this stage of our meeting that Keith Richards produced a sheathed bayonet from the chair next to him and placed it on the table between us. Its blade was about 5 or 6 inches long. When quizzed, he replied that it travels with him. "For the unexpected," he said. "One has to be prepared." That devil smile. "You want another beer?"

This story is from the December 11, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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