Tour De Force: The Rolling Stones Rake it In and Rock the House

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The band has 54 songs ready but each night play only 22, leaving the show room to evolve. "We have to break a show in," says Richards. "Trim a little here, lose a song there — make it into something we can live in." Thus far, they have cut some slow songs ("Hot Stuff," "No Expectations") and added upbeat numbers like "Street Fighting Man" and "Miss You." "Each show is better than the one before," adds Richards. "And we're heading for that perfect show, and the last date we play will be the closest we get."

During the encore, the noise from the crowd, worked to a frenzy, reverberates like a jet engine. "It's just this amazing roar," says Jagger. A few minutes later, riding in the vans, the only sound they hear is the peaceful hum of the air-conditioning and the rattle of tires crossing railroad tracks on the way to the airport.

The Stones travel by Jet, a 727 customized to seat just the band and its entourage. Earlier in the tour, each band member was accompanied by his family. Now the plane has a more businesslike feel, with seats being occupied by the horn section, backup singers, tour publicists, tour coordinator, managers, assistants. There are two classes on the plane: first and Rock Star. First is wide leather seats, video monitors and food before, during and after takeoff. Rock Star is four private compartments, similar to those on a luxury train, dozens of drinks, business updates and stories of the road, tales that move easily into the band's oral history: the afternoon in Madison, Wis., when an escort cop ("Wrong-Way Norris," says Richards) led the band 40 miles in exactly the wrong direction; the night in New York when the rain came in sheets and the Stones played possibly the tour's best show. "You realize you're gonna get soaked and say, 'Fuck it,' and have a great time," says Richards. "I'm wet, and I love it."

From Raleigh, the plane is heading to New York and the MTV awards, where the band will play "Start Me Up" and "Love Is Strong" and be presented with a Special Recognition Award by Jann S. Wenner, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone. The atmosphere on board is festive. "After a good show, the plane is the scene of much debauchery," says Wood, who has switched from cranberry and vodka to just plain vodka.

Up in Rock Star, Watts is sitting quietly, talking of home, a stud farm in the English countryside. "But I play drums, and the only way to play drums is to be away from home," he says, looking out the window. "It's the blight of my life. It's like being a soldier. When I get a call from Mick or Keith, it's a call to arms: five months on the road."

Night in New York City. The Stones are in a conference room in the basement of the Four Seasons hotel. The video awards ended a few hours ago, and the band is at a party thrown in its honor by Virgin Records. The Stones are staying upstairs, so the location offers an easy escape. During the last 30 years, they have attended the most fantastic soirees in the world; so for the Stones, the party as an artistic medium is exhausted.

Still, the evening somehow holds their interest. At 2 a.m., Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is standing at the bar, arms spread wide. Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan is circling the dance floor, a swimmer afraid to take the dive. Charlie Watts is talking quietly in a dark corner. Mick Jagger is dancing by himself to "You Got Me Rocking," a Stones song recorded live earlier this tour. And in the center of it all are Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Steve Winwood, trading jokes as they might trade guitar riffs. Most of the jokes concern the misadventures of musicians. Traffic's Jim Capaldi steps into the circle and begins to tell a long joke, the story of a pianist who plays his producer two new songs ("My Dick Is Long," "My Penis Is Huge"), then goes to the bathroom. When he returns, the producer says, "Do you know your fly is open and your dick's hanging out?"

"Know it?" says the pianist. "I wrote it!"

Richards leans back and laughs, a low rumble that sounds as if a water main were erupting somewhere in the city. "I wrote it," he repeats, still laughing. And one senses this is a reprieve, a brief respite for a band that will continue, will cross the country, descend into Latin America, fly to Asia and Australia before it's over. And above it all hangs the specter of those shows: crowds waiting impatiently for the Stones; mishaps; epic evenings. But for now, this is not a band on the road, it's a group of people at a party.

In the corner, Richards is talking with his wife, Patti Hansen. Unkempt brown hair curls around his ears; his voice is raspy; he has the wry intelligence of a man who was there at the beginning, when it was all a joke you played on your parents. Someone leans over and whispers in his ear. Richards jumps back on his heels. "Know it?" He roars. "I wrote it!"

This is a story from the November 3, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.

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