Some Thoughts on The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones that have toured the world on a seemingly continuous basis since… oh about 1983 are NOT The Rolling Stones.

Well, they are and they aren’t. Let me attempt to explain.

People change, right? So if you’re an artist, you cannot hope to be making the exact same art that you are right now, at this particular moment in time. It just doesn’t work that way. “Human Being” is a misnomer – there is no ‘being’ in our existence becanse that word and all of its forms and conjugations implies stasis. What we should actually think of ourselves as (and thanks to Grant Morrison, because I’m about to paraphrase what I learned reading him here) are Human Processes, because biologically we are an ongoing process that begins the moment we are born and continues until the moment we die (and maaaaaybe beyond). And an artist’s work is part of that biological process that moves them through this world, so that it too is not a static phenomena. And considering that the process of the art also affects the person (or process) making it, there is no logical way an artist – or in the case of the Stones, a band – can make the same art, with the same tone and the same ideals and personality, for an extended period of time.

And the Stones have been doing what they do for an extended period of time. A very, very extended period of time.

So, not to write off what the boys from Britain are doing artistically today, but that is not what I love about the Stones. I love their music, specifically who they were and what they were doing, from about 1970 to about 1979. The period before that is good as well, it just doesn’t affect me the way Sticky Fingers, thru Some Girls does. That’s how their process interacts and affects my process.

And I love them for it.

 Now, I don’t hate the literal corporation the band has become – but I have no interest in it either. To me it doesn’t exist. Perhaps that’s because I’ve carved it out of existence in order to prevent it from detracting from the 70’s Stones I love so much. I figure this is one band that has earned the right to beat as many Wild, uh, I mean dead horses as possible. What we have today is the natural evolution of The Stones being, arguably, the biggest band in the world for a very long time. They were so popular and trend-setting back in their cherished days that a hell of a lot of people loved them, and some of those people also went on to become  immensely popular cultural icons. Matt Groening, Martin Scorsese, Slash, etc. This means of course exponential exposure for the Stones, as for instance children who are born and grow up years after The Stones are all dead will fall ass-backwards into their music by seeing them on The Simpsons or similar pop culture places that won’t immediately turn them off by seeming out-dated, as 70’s rock or Mick and the boys’ later catalogue might to a 10 year old in 2025.

 For the record, Sticky Fingers is my favorite album and “Sway“, from that album my favorite song of theirs. I put this LP up there with the best of the best. It always makes me happy, even in its darker moments, and I think production and composing wise it is one of the finest examples of Rock nRoll ever etched into wax just as the Stones themselves are one of the greatest Rock nRoll bands of all time. And, to me at least, a great band is more than just their music. Sure, the music is obviously the most important part, but it’s also their character – the legends they build with performance and hijinx, both good and bad; interview mayhem and/or candidness; recreational notoriety; etc. These guys were just intense in the 70’s. Jagger stared in occult films, there was some story I read once about them being treated to an orgy at a Sultan’s castle or something and the place burning down around their ears while they sat back and laughed*. And Keith, well, what more needs to be said, eh? Wrapped up in the tail end of the 60’s radicalism and revolution these guys were shaped by the world as much as they shaped it. Hence the fuzzy, quasi-psychedelic-ness of Aftermath and surrounding albums turned into the up-and-down drug salad of Sticky Fingers, the living link between Otis Redding, Robert Johnson and the British Invasion. And while other bands from said invasion continued to evolve within their forte the Stones jettisoned it and dove headlong into narcotics and Delta Blues, especially evident later on Exile on Main St. Finally It’s Only Rock nRoll brought them into the heart of the 70’s as a decade, with Disco and funk giving the next, and arguably final evolutionary step to their sound and probably more than a little cocaine making the record seem almost jittery and paranoid. So yeah, The Stones borrowed a lot. Who doesn’t in music, besides maybe Captain Beefheart and Matmos? And they brought a lot of their influences into a more public light and probably helped make Robert Johnson a near-household name (wishful thinking, but maybe at least for a while). I mentioned their production and that’s another great thing about these guys – listen to Exile and tell me you’ve ever heard a better sounding rock kick drum. Or just the fact that, for the most part, Mick can’t sing at all. This isn’t a dis, just a fact. I love his voice, especially when complimented by Keith’s backings, and he does good on songs within his range, ie “Dead Flowers” or “Bitch” to name a few. But listen to “Wild Horses” again. Another song I absolutely love but the guy’s not even close to being in tune. So production wise it’s brilliant because you don’t even notice this really unless you’re looking for it. The producers knew how to wrap the rest of the music around his voice and give it the illusion that it’s cherry on a heart felt slow number when in reality it’s not. This is of course why there are A LOT of Stones songs that were singles that have female backing vocals. BRILLIANT!!! The Stones are one of two bands I always say I understand the rabid relationship their hardcore fans have with them. The other, incidentally, is Slayer. I don’t know exactly what it is about Keith and crew that makes me say this – it’s some deep-rooted feeling I get from their music. And yes, they can be criticized up and down as a bunch of English lads who became obsessed with American blues music and adapted it as their own. But like I said, a great band is more than just their music. And The Stones were – at their height they were gods and at their worst they were a blazing spectacle of debauchery; a train wreck that had to become an all ages spectacle in order to survive. I wouldn’t go see them live now, but if I can get Takashi to position the time machine just right, I’ll pop my head in to Altamont, no doubt.


* Obviously that’s not a direct quote, and it’s probably more than half embellishment passed through the changing-matrix of the telephone game but that’s what I mean about the Legend bands can build – it doesn’t sound to far fetched for the Stones and so I’ve just added to it in some small way. If anyone does know the real story or the source, please correct me. It may actually have been better than my memory’s version.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.