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The Rolling Stones On Tour: Goodbye Great Britain

One of the last of rock's truly superstar bands gets back out on the road.

Kieth Richards and Mick Jagger perform onstage.
Robert Knight Archive/Redferns
April 15, 1971

LONDON — "Boogie, Bobby, boogie," Marshall Chess is saying over and over to Bobby Keys in the seat next to him, slamming out the phrase and laughing, as they talk about old-time saxophone rides.

"Booo-gey, Booo-gey," Anita Richards, nee Pallenberg, is sing-songing in the back of the plane, making the word sound like an errant German nickname for Humphrey Bogart.

Boogie, a small brown and white puppy dog, is about to fall asleep in the arms of Anita's husband, Keith. The doors of the midnight flight from Glasgow to London are about to close. Conversations buzz and hum. Only the tops of heads and the outsides of elbows are visible.

What could be nicer? Flying home from Glasgow in the midnight hour after two good shows before packed houses of people from out of 1957 (brass blonde ladies screaming and clutching at their heads whenever Mick showed his ass to the audience).

Contentment positively flows from seat to seat, the engines are about to rev, it's five, four, three, two minutes to takeoff. When down the aisle comes a blue-jacketed airline official, all the way to the back seat where Keith and his dog recline. And the official says: "That dog flies by prior arrangement only sir, you'll have to get off the plane."

"What?"

"I'm sorry sir, I warned you in the airport. How you managed to slip by me on to the plane I don't know but you'll have to get off now."

"Look, I've flown BEA, TWA, Pan-Am." Keith Richards, singer, composer, lead guitar player, Rolling Stone, is reciting a list of every airline he's ever been on. "To San Francisco, to places you or this airline have never been . . ."

"You have to supply a box, sir."

"I happen to know that section of the Geneva Convention very well; you have to supply the box. This is ridiculous. It's an emergency. My wife and family are here, we have to get home to take my child to a doctor tomorrow."

"I'm sorry sir."

"We just want to get home. Is it that important? Just let us leave."

"The rules, sir."

"I know the rules. Get this plane going, we're not moving." Exit the official. Re-enter the official with two large blue Scottish policemen.

" 'Ere wot's the law doin' 'ere? Come to arrest us all, have you? Oy, you you, oy." A big Scottish cop is doing his best to ignore Mick Jagger, who is lying flat on his backbone in a seat, naked to the waist save for a blue nylon windbreaker someone has thrown over him after he gave away his sweaty T-shirt on stage.

"Oy, oy," Mick says loudly, a saucy schoolboy trying to get the police to notice. He reaches out to jangle at the cop's sleeve. "Now, now chummy," the cop says, leaning over. "No one's done nothin' yet, why should we arrest anyone?"

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"He's come to arrest the dog," Keith says.

"Wot you doin' 'ere," Mick demands of the cop, "A little dog like that. A puppy." His face falls. "You should be ashamed."

"Ooo called the law," he wails. "Arrest us."

"Chummy," the cop says, "I wouldn't give you the publicity." "Chummy?" Mick demands. "Sir . . . look . . ."

"Don't curse me, I saw you say fuck, don't go curse me . . ." Beautiful, Mick. All they have to do is search the luggage and it's 20 years in the Glasgow jail. "Anita," Mick says, "Go find the captain."

Beautiful, Mick. Mata Hari Anita, all crocheted stockings and tiger hot pants, sent to seduce the captain of the airplane as it stands on a runway in Glasgow.

"Goooo," Mick googles. Marlan, Keith's 18-month-old son, googles back and laughs. The cop is outflanked, bewildered, surrounded by little kids, slinky ladies, rock stars. Mick . . . beautiful.

"We'll put him in Charlie Watts' orange bag," Marshall Chess the solution maker says, meaning the dog, "Is that OK?"

"Yes," says the cop. "No," says the airlines official.

"You brought him on this plane and now the two of you can't agree," Keith shouts. "How about mah vulture," Bobby Keys yells out, "Can ah keep him up hyeah?"

"How 'bout mah rattlesnake?" Jim Price asks.

Words whizzing like bricks in a street fight and . . . the cops and the official are losing it.

"Ya Scots git, get off the plane."

"Arrest us," Mick demands.

A hurried conference at the front of the plane. Stewardesses and captains, cops and officials, the flight is 15 minutes late already because of one small dog and 20 crazies.

"We'll link arms."

"Arrest us," Mick demands. "Put the dog in the orange bag and he can ride in the hold," the official says.

"What's your name?" Keith demands.

"Never you mind. It's not important."

"Ah, but it is. If this dog dies, I'll see that it becomes important . . . If he freezes to death . . ."

They trundle the dog off and put him in the hold and an hour and a half later, the plane touches down in London. Boogie doesn't freeze to death at all but instead comes spilling and sliding out on to the polished airport floor.

Everyone speeds home in chauffeur-driven Bentleys and long black Dorchester limousines and the incident is quickly forgotten, just another minor, laugh-filled moment with the Rolling Stones on tour. Or, as Bobby Keys shouted one sweaty night in a Newcastle dressing room, with his arm wrapped about Charlie Watts' head, "Gawdammit Chawlie, rock 'n' roll is on the road agayn."

* * *

In the five years since the Rolling Stones last toured England, they have made so much money through album sales and concert tours of Europe and America that they find themselves in the 97 percent tax bracket in their own country. They have become the first rock and roll band to be forced into stylish W. Somerset Maugham-type exile in the south of France.

Along with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, they are the last of the utter superstar bands — modern-day lords totally cared for and looked after, whose only responsibility it is to keep their heads in a place that enables them to keep on making their music.

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