27 September 2006

Early Stones and Gimme Shelter

Fortunately, the new DVD The Rolling Stones: A Critical Review is not as dreary as its title might suggest. The first film in the series brought me up to date on how they gained their toehold into the music scene in England and in the U.S. in their first years playing together. The film looks at the Stones by way of the first dozen or so hit singles that launched the group into becoming the superstars they are today.

This "critical retrospective" features early TV appearance and dubbed videos alternated with talking heads, who are by turns the friendly, astute, cool, and even a bit doddering British journos, staff, or friends (and sometimes both) of the Rolling Stones. I'd love to chat up these guys at a party; in an hour and a half they do give plenty of good dish on the group and their special place in history. It’s all in good nerdy fun; if you’re a true trivia hound, you can even test your mettle on the tough quiz in the extras.

Yet the songs themselves rarely get a chance to take off with the constant interspersion of interviews peppered with facts about the band: That the "mass hysteria" atmosphere was so thick at the Stones' early U.S. appearances that the first four rows of seats in any given theater could be predicted to be drenched with teen pee. That Brian Jones felt he brought the Stones together but was feeling marginalized toward the end of his life. “He was a lonely man,” says one of his cohorts, solemnly. Yet before he died in his swimming pool it was Brian Jones who first introduced lots of the unusual instruments into their arrangements (don’t we tend to only think of Lennon and Harrison that way?).

It’s fun to watch the early videos because the band are unschooled enough to show something of themselves and clearly on to something good –- you can just tell that it’s better than anything else they could be doing by a long way. (And the chicks dig it, hey?)

But there’s something eerie about it, too: Jagger’s always watching. He’s watching you watch him. Maybe that’s why he is irresistible. Maybe that’s what makes a stripper good at what she does. Maybe that’s the secret Madonna and Barbra Streisand know that the rest of us don’t. Watching him watch us watch him I wonder whether holding people, holding their attention so that you know they’re watching you, becomes more and more compelling if you do it all the time. He's evidence for it. It can be a form of control, even aggression. From the beginning, those hips, those lips, and that Package have always been all about the danger, the aggressive male in the sex pyramid.

Here's where I digress...

And I love getting in bed every night with with my sweetie and know I'm happier than I would be with that prancing drama queen of a husband, I'm sure. (When I was about 9 or 10 I really felt I should marry Mick Jagger and I was terribly jealous when he married Bianca. She had everything I would want as far as I could see.)

As a kid, I chafed not only at being told I was unlikely to ever marry Mick Jagger (I'm too flat-chested, from what I hear) but also at being told I was too young to go to a Rolling Stones concert. But my parents knew what happened at the Altamont Speedway show, it turned out. (That was one thing I was protected from. I saw Easy Rider at 7 but didn’t until recently watch Gimme Shelter in all its terrible tragedy when rage- and alcohol-fueled Hell’s Angels knifed a man who shot another. It’s awful to watch Gimme Shelter, especially when you put yourself in the band’s shoes as they see for the first time the film of what happened during their concert. The crowd were hot, crowded, and drunk or high on a staggering variety of substances and getting twitchy. The band kept after “The show must go on” tactic to defuse the situation but it was clearly the wrong thing to do in retrospect.

Yet even in Gimme Shelter when they watch that film, Mick’s watching, knowing he's on camera, reacting to what he's just heard about. )

OK, time to rein myself back in, edit this, and send it off.

p.s. Added later: Here's the published version.

No comments: