The Rolling Stones

Talk about the Midnight Ramblers
The Rolling Stones at 50
By Shelbie Freedman

What can I say about the Rolling Stones that hasn’t been said already, over and over again ad infinitum? The Stones are the greatest Rock and Roll band to ever exist. Their music is legendary and timeless, as is the band itself.

To Stones fans, Keith Richards is the finest rhythm guitar player, ever, and aside from that hyperbolic accolade, he has a constitution made of iron. Brian Jones was a depressive and suicidal addict, who was thrown out of his own band and subsequently did himself in, unless you happen to believe in conspiracy theories, in which case his contractor murdered him over a monetary disputeStrolling Stones during the renovation of his home. Mick Taylor saved the Stones and reignited their faltering spark after Jones’ death, but sadly went off to a dazzling and much-anticipated (at least on his part) solo career, that never quite materialized. He now plays small pubs in the English countryside. Ron Wood is Keith’s alter ego, and aside marrying one woman who has admitted to being an excellent free-baser of cocaine, and divorcing another lovely blonde who later commit suicide (after Ronnie passed her around to his mates Jimmy Page and George Harrison), leads an almost sedate life compared to Richards. And that, for now, leaves Jagger. A brilliant businessman. A charismatic lead singer, with only an average to middling instrument; his voice certainly can’t compare in strength or caliber to one like Robert Plant’s. His taste in wild blondes, and his acumen in generating millions of dollars in Stones’ revenue, is unsurpassable.

The Rolling Stones celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, with possibly some of their best music in decades. Their new music, like “Doom and Gloom”, have the fire and raunchy sound found in their old hits like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Brown Sugar”, songs which made them rock stars in the first place. Gone are the laid-back and even complacent sounds of “Waiting on a Friend” or “Miss You”; these to me were songs that in the Sixties would have been filler on any decent Stones album, and certainly not Top Twenty hits that carry a band for years. Any Stones’ song will get air play, and “Waiting on a Friend” or “Miss You” are to my ear the kind of song that, if put out by any band other than the Stones, would have been relegated to the 4 AM rotation.

Then again, any port in a storm, and if the Stones put out a milquetoast song, then it is still a Jagger and Richards’ song, which must in and of itself make it note-worthy. The brand sustained the band, and so it has done since the equally bland “Start me Up” from 1981′s album Tattoo You. The Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour of 1989/1990, The No Security Tour of 1995, and The Bigger Bang Tour of 2005-2007, to name only a few, cement the Stones as a force to be reckoned with, as far as bringing in revenue and selling merch at a concert. With ticket prices in the hundreds of dollars, who can stand in the way of watching a bunch of old men huff and puff on stage for a couple of hours work, promoting songs that are moderate to average in their quality, at least compared to their previous work with Jones/Taylor. Woods may indeed be be Richards’ avatar, but creatively, he doesn’t seem to bring the same fire to the band’s recordings of the Jones/Taylor mode. Joining the Stones gave Richards a sparring partner in Woods, it gave Woods a stake in a multi-million dollar franchise, but it did not seem to creative songs like “Gimme Shelter” or “Sympathy for the Devil”, songs that do indeed stand the test of time, and cement one’s reputation as the arguably the greatest rhythm player ever in arguably the greatest rock and roll band ever.

Bill Wyman left the group after the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tours, embroiled in controversy for wooing a fourteen year old girl, and for marrying her when she came to more respectable age. Fame and fortune buys many a Get Out of Jail Free cards, it would seem, especially for creepy old men with questionable morals. A man who was not part of the Rolling Stones Brand would have been tarred and feathered, labeled a pedophile and locked away for a considerable length of time. The young Mrs. Wyman’s mother approved of the union, probably seeing dollar signs instead of stars float and beckon before her very eyes; if Wyman had been, let’s say, a conductor on the Underground, I dare say that she would have been far less approving of farming her daughter off to a fifty-two year old man. Yet, this episode, like Marianne Faithful wrapped for days in nothing more than a fur rug and subsisting on little more than illicit substances, raw sex and candy bars, solidifies the band’s place in music history as the Ultimate Bad Boys- it adds to the Stones’ mystique, which in turn serves to increase ticket sales. A win-win situation, if you areRolling Stones privy to a share of said brand, or if you want to see the next tour, because really, who knows if at their age, Jagger and Richards will be able to crank out another one.

Wyman recently rejoined the band for the 50th Anniversary tour, since, alas, he has stated that he can’t live off Stones royalties. Jagger and Richards, while cavorting with supermodels and seeking out the best drugs that money can buy, managed to get writing credit for most Stones’ songs, leaving Watts and Wyman the crumbs, in a manner of speaking. Crumbs for well-off rockers, who can afford castles in the country and vacation homes in the Caribbean, but winning the proverbial lottery for mere mortals, who actually buy their concert tickets. Mere mortals, who live by the everyday rules of life, and who, unlike Richards, would have social services banging down their front door if they used their eight year old son as their tour manager, fending off drug dealers and rock hanger-ons.

Why, indeed has the Stones’ brand thrived and flourished, when their music has not always been stellar? Why are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant producing small and moderately received independent projects, while the Stones put out mediocre material and fill stadiums? Perhaps, like fine wine, the Stones ge tbetter with age. They have grown into men, certainly not choir boys, but men with families and a business to run, like most of their fans today. Most of us are not longer fantasizing about hanging out back stage with Hell’s Angels (if we ever were, truthfully), and most of us have long abandoned the dream of marrying a beautiful woman and having her lounge around in the nude, waiting for our wandering eye to return home. Our wives would kill us. The Stones still get away with it, they have the dough to pay for a high-faloutin’ divorce attorney, and so the legends continues to grow.