Gotham Satyricon: Chocolate Mousse At The End Of The Road

Mick's birthday bash, and another Stones tour comes to a close

Stevie Wonder joins Mick Jagger onstage in 1972. Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In July 26th the US was favored by an eclipse of the moon, Mick Jagger's 29th birthday, and the conclusion of the Rolling Stones' hit road show, in which they play The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band.

The first event went uncelebrated. The latter two were the occasion, on the top floor of the St. Regis Hotel in New York, for a party that had something for everyone, even for Bob Dylan. Wearing his black aviator glasses, a checkered shirt, a white fedora and a suspicious smile, Dylan stepped up to a Newsweek photographer and asked if his picture might be taken with Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was idling nearby in a tie-dye evening gown.

Why certainly. The Newsweek lady approached Zsa Zsa and her escort, Huntington Hartford, and conveyed the request.

"Who ees he?" inquired Zsa Zsa.

"He's the most famous rock star in the world!" said Huntington Hartford, speaking quickly.

"Oh, veil then," said the Zsa, brightening. "I luhv him!"

Dylan approached, put his arm around Zsa Zsa, and the photo was snapped. "Be sure to send me a copy," he reminded the Newsweek lady.

This occurred ten years and four months after Dylan released his first album, and seven years, four months after "Maggie's Farm." Just for the record.

Something for everyone. Count Basie played and so did Muddy Waters. Gerry Miller of Andy Warhol's crew was a late arrival – she popped out of a birthday cake, wearing only pasties and a black garter, and did a dance which might be called suggestive in the sense that Melvin Laird might be called a moderate. Jagger, sitting with Bianca, grinned broadly and clapped. Keith Richards stared into his drink.

Four Harlem tapdancers did 20 minutes (some guest thought it was dynamite; others called it racist), then everyone resumed milling around. There was plenty of milling to be done. The party was being thrown by Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records, who apparently had assembled the list of 500 guests with the idea of uniting giants of rock music with giants of hip society.

Warhol went around taking Polaroid pictures. George Plimpton stood listening politely, as always. Woody Allen, who had walked out of the Garden halfway through the Stones concert, wore a large hat to hide his face. Dick Cavett wore dark glasses to hide his face, but later took them off and settled into conversation with Dylan. Robbie Robertson, work on the Rock of Ages album recently completed, sat and talked with Jerry Wexler. Ertegun gleefully introduced everyone to everyone else.

Jagger joined Stevie Wonder for a brief jam with Muddy Waters. Then he and Bianca gathered up their birthday presents – a snuff box for coke, a silver cross, and so on – and left. The affair broke up at dawn.

Some were not thrilled. "What are Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Plimpton and all those other society freeloaders doing at a birthday party for Mick Jagger?" asked Grace Lichtenstein, who covered the party for the New York Times. "If the Rolling Stones are the newest mind-fuck for the Truman Capote crowd, what does that say about the Stones?"

"The party was depressing," said Peter Rudge, the 25-year-old tour manager. "It was a very nice gesture, a party thrown for Mick and the group, but it was really very, very difficult for anyone on the tour to relate to those people. You know – what does princess so-and-so have to do with the assistant electrician sitting at the next table? No one could really enjoy themselves in that kind of environment."

Jagger had his own critical assessment of another party thrown for the group two nights earlier at the Four Seasons. He stayed only seven minutes. As he was completing his rapid circuit of the crowd, a fat man dressed in red appeared and scuttled sideways in front of him, always a step ahead, talking nonstop: "You galvanized us, Mick! You galvanized us!"

This clot of humanity, centered around Jagger and led by the talking crab, passed into a glass hallway connecting the two halves of the restaurant. A small door to the roof was suddenly jerked open and Jagger leaped sideways out into the dark. People who had been drifting near Jagger--while pretending not to – suddenly found themselves with no focus but the fat man, who was talking to thin air. Jagger had simply vanished. It was an act of magic.

"We're having a good time now," Jagger shouted on the last night, just as the Stones' beautiful concert version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" had died away. He had reason to feel good. The floor of the Garden was filled with people standing on their chairs and grinning. The roof, an orange steel umbrella held up with turnbuckles the size of bungalows, had been rising and falling softly each time Charlie Watts slapped down his foot. The stage crew was stacking yellow boxes full of aerodynamically sound custard pies on the amp tops; others behind them were unboxing a giant birthday cake. Jagger jumped straight up, came down on the opening crash of "All Down the Line," and the tour – 54 shows, 29 cities – headed toward the close.

It ended with a barrage of well-aimed pies smacking Mick in the face as Keith guffawed. Bianca appeared, gave Mick a quick kiss and a big Teddy bear, and departed. Mick threw the stuffed bear on the stage. Stevie Wonder came out for a duet on "Satisfaction," the encore the Stones had been using since Philadelphia. Mick laughed as more pies flew, but kept his mind on the show: When Stevie, after two unsuccessful attempts to get the crowd to sing "Happy birthday, Mick," made a third try, Mick glared at him, grabbed a mike and drowned him out. A few moments later the Stones were gone and Chip Monck was thanking everyone, wiping custard from his eye, and saying goodnight.

So these last shows came off all right. There was relatively little trouble: On the last night a bottle from the balcony smashed on the stage a foot from Jagger, who had been struck by a similar missile at the Forum in Toronto. Briefly shaken, he walked from the mike for a moment, returned and snarled, "Don't throw no bottles on the stage!" Nobody else did.

Outside, 15 were arrested Monday night in scuffles with the police. On closing night a large crowd of non-ticketholders gathered, and when the terrible realization came over them that they really were not going to get in, some rushed the barricades. The result was more arrests and some injuries, as mounted cops and a few dim patrolmen with nightsticks pushed them back. In the confusion, at least one man with a valid ticket was refused admittance.

The media all seemed to be drinking from the same spigot, the brew from which proclaimed that Jagger possesses a mysterious alchemy, giving him power over the multitudes. "Power" was a word frequently used by writers searching for ways to describe the shows, and in a city where power is as blood, tickets for the final night brought as much as $250 each on the streets, with higher prices rumored in private deals.

Other, more curious notions surfaced as well. Older critics, unnerved by all those stomping feet, talked a lot about "control." The audiences were viewed as mobs of Huns who, once aroused, threatened constantly to perpetrate another Altamont. Not allowed for was the fact that the audience at Altamont was generally docile, and not in possession of the decisive knives and pool cues. Jagger said that so far as he was concerned, the "control" business was crap.

Those with at least a fist still stuck in the womb of the Sixties talked about "survival power." Dylan and the Beatles are through, went this line, only the Stones will flop on our beaches, so let's go see them. Popular enough was this view that it lent to the concerts of certain tint of the antique, a sepia tone of nostalgia, a quaint remove. But it failed to explain why a major portion of each Stones audience was under 18, and therefore presumably too young to care much more about the legend of the Stones than they care about the mystery of the pyramids.

When on closing night Stevie Wonder said, "I'd like to thank the Rolling Stones very much for giving me a chance to express myself on the tour," the question inevitably arose as to how much the Stones got to express themselves. Everyone seemed to agree that the Stones were a highly professional gang of musicians; nobody seemed to get the impression that they were too thrilled about playing their own music.

"Sometimes the professionalism did detract from the spontaneity," said Peter Rudge. "For instance, you didn't get any guitar breaks by Mick Taylor. But then, you never did . . . The Stones have never been a jamming band, and never will be."

"You always become a parody of yourself," Rudge added.

By the time it reached the East Coast, the Stones' show had been so carefully analyzed and refined that it varied hardly more than by the few words Mick threw in between songs. Everything else was down pat, from Jagger's deep-knee creep in "Midnight Rambler" to the revolving mirrors which cast the spots onto the audience near the end. People came to see the Stones with high, high expectations, and to avoid disappointing them the Stones delivered concerts as rich and polished – and remote – as their records.

But improvisation would have been next to impossible anyway. At the four Garden shows the Stones employed 16,000 watts of amplifiers and 150 speakers. The sound produced added up to 136 decibels in the front row, about six DB above what is usually designated the threshold of pain. In these conditions the Stones could hardly hear each other; an attempt to throw in something new on impulse would have been something like trying to put a 747 into a slow roll.

When the Stones turned up their amps toward the end of each concert, what developed was less music than an exposition of the aura of music, a journey in the rarefied highlands of pure white sound and rhythm. A device exists which purports to photograph the aura of the human hand, a glowing field the shape and size of which is different for each person. If a piece of music when performed can be said to have a life of its own, perhaps as good a place as any to look for its aura will be in the red zone of the VU meters.

Working at steel desks in the days after the last concert, the Stones' business people verified what they had already known, that the tour worked. It grossed $3-4 million. After paying expenses of about a million dollars and doling out the local promoters' cut, the Stones stand to make up to $2 million before taxes – "Enough to keep them away from the US for about a year, I hope," said Rudge. In addition, a record of the Philadelphia show and a film are forthcoming.

With his feet up during a break in the deskwork, Rudge talked about how the tour compared to the real world.

"A kind of hysterical thing builds up around the group," he said. "We'd go into a hotel room and sit down, there would be people there, and you would want a cup of tea. Someone would say, 'Well, shouldn't we have champagne?' As if at twelve noon you drink champagne, not tea.

"You'd get back to the hotel after a show and all the restaurants would be closed, so all of a sudden everyone would start making preparations to open up the most expensive restaurant in town, when all anybody really wanted was to go round to the White Tower and have a hamburger."

But the important thing, thought Rudge, like most others on the tour, was that it came off. "They've shown that they can tour the US and tour it more successfully than anyone else." Will there be another American tour? "Yes."

This story is from the August 31st, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.