The Rolling Stones are back on tour this spring! If you’ve heard this refrain before, and before, and before that…., it’s because this is a band that, like any good leech, is biologically incapable of letting go.
The theme of this tour is “No Filter.” I’d like to argue here for a filter. A wide, all encompassing suppository made from rice flour and wood glue, so that once it’s shoved down our cultural throats it’ll expand and harden, and prevent The Stones from seeping further into our lives.
I can think of two-and-a-half reasons for filtering out The Stones. The first is musical and the second is financial; the financial reason points back toward the musical one, and subsequently declines its knee toward the remaining half-reason, which may be the only novel portion in any of this.
(Oh, also — up front, I’m sorry about all the footnotes.1
Let’s cut to the chase musically — The Stone are no longer a good band. They haven’t been good for years — decades, actually. Many have noted that The Stones have sucked longer than they’ve been good, and some have called them the world’s best-known cover band.2 You can bemoan this musical demise, and in doing so most likely you’ll point back through their catalog, which is filled with tremendous, amazing stuff. But you can’t argue for their quality or relevance in the present tense. You can’t in good conscience say, The Rolling Stones are still making great music. Because they’re not. I realize that’s a definitive statement made with little support. I’ll stand by it because this thing needs to keep moving. On the off chance you’re one of those music fans who need to go see a rock band of comparable age who are still making great music, go see Dylan, or even (yep, I’ll write it) Rush. 3
Financially, it’s clear that The Stones don’t need the money a tour will bring, which of course begs the question, At their age Why are they still hitting the road? The generous answer is that they’re artists and playing music is what the do, while a less naive approach might suggest that they’re ego-maniacs. Likely it’s somewhere between the two, but either way it’s clear that this isn’t one of those tours where you get the guys from Def Lepard and REO Speedwagon back together because the rent’s due.4 Mick and Keith and the boys have nearly as much money as God, and likely more clout, but they’re still charging some wallet-emptying prices: nosebleed tickets in Seattle start at just under $200, lower bowl seats are around $500, and if you want to get in the pit up front it’s $1500-plus. That’s a lot of money to spend on a band that, as we’ve already determined, sucks.
Musically, think of what you could do with $500. You could go to 5—$100 shows and see some seriously great, established musicians play. You could go to 10—$50 dollar shows and see other groups of great musicians. Or you could go to 50—$10 shows, of bands you’ve never heard of before, and find the next Rolling Stones. Because, just like The Stones did 50-some years ago at small venues across England, there are young bands out there just waiting to blow your mind.
So why are people willing to pay $500 to see a band that sucks? It’s irrational, it’s foolishly expensive, and it comes at the cost of self-limiting access to talented, established musicians as well as young, new and as yet unknown bands out there whose hopes for success depend upon riding electric prayers and the internet. The only explanation I can think of is the Big N: Nostalgia.
That’s a sticky sentiment, that one. Its roots speak to the idea of returning home, which makes me think of chewing a mouthful of Grandma’s homemade caramels, an overly sweet, saccharine feeling-action that involves fixating your eyes only one direction: backward. It’s a rosy-tinted retrospection, a re-collecting of how we formerly felt in the past, or however we tell ourselves now what we’d like to hope we felt back then.5 It’s more than simply remembering, because in some curious way it’s also an alchemical attempt to bring the past into the present, to make what was into what is.
In a certain vein, Nostalgia is the attempt to bring 1973 Mick Jagger into 2018. While you can argue that in 1973 Mick was the best front man out there6, 2018 Mick could neither out-sing or out-strut a syphilitic alley cat7 (and let’s not even get started on Keith’s playing or physical well being…). But then I don’t suppose fans are going to see the alchemy effected on Mick as much as to have the alchemy worked on them.
I surprised myself there, and want to emphasize the emphasis of that last sentence. Sure, fans are going to see Mick and hear him wrestle his way through Brown Sugar, but more importantly they’re going so that while Mick’s performing, they, the fans themselves, can be magically transformed into some former-them (through singing-along, cheering, and screaming, key components, along with the merch table, of the magical potion). The arena becomes the crucible, and the alchemy happens in the chemical charisma between band and audience. Ideally it happens to both parties, though if you’re a fan who just spent $500 on tickets, selfishly you’re hoping it happens mostly on your end. All of which makes me wonder, Why do some of us want to be metamorphosed back into some self we once were, or would like to think we were? Into whom are fans hoping to be transformed via such a magical encounter?
I honestly don’t know, because if you haven’t already figured it out by this essay’s tone, nostalgia is a feeling that, for better or worse, I don’t feel. If nostalgia were a musical note (he said thematically…), I’d be tone deaf to its playing. You might think — Well if you don’t feel it then why are you going on about it? Honestly, I have no defenses. I started thinking and this is where we’ve ended up. The fun part of this for me is surprising myself with things I didn’t know I was thinking (see footnote 12 below). Still, I believe that distance is essential for criticism, so maybe I’m well suited for this one after all.
I don’t know why I can’t hear Nostalgia. I grew up with grandparents who had it in spades: they relished re-runs of My Fair Lady and televised Bob Hope specials, and were people who rented the same run down cabin every summer on a lake in northern Michigan, where the fishing was rarely good, the cabins were derelict, the amenities were nonexistent, and even the boats leaked. But none of that mattered, because every summer we dutifully returned.8 I’m well aware when people are doing it, practicing Nostalgia in my midst9: its scent, unavoidable and pervasive as bad perfume, makes my nostrils dry out and constrict. A woman I used to date was a Nostalgia-addict. She loved to look back, and constantly tried to feel again how she felt Back When, like the stereotyped captain of the high-school football team reminiscing about his Glory Days.10 As you might imagine, rarely did I have much of a positively reciprocating response to her admonishing attempts. From this you can conclude what you will about the failure of our relationship.
As I’ve been writing this I’ve slowly been realizing that Nostalgia is as applicable to Rolling Stones concerts as it is to our relationships with real flesh-and-blood people.11 That should’ve been obvious — after all, The Stones are real people, or were at some point. Still, what’s consistent throughout, and from every angle, is our selves. Us. It’s a feeling we have about ourselves, this Nostalgia-urge. I think it’d be a stretch to call it a basic human emotion, like the ones that drove the plot of Inside Out. But some times, for some reasons, some of us really want things to feel like they used to be.12 Back when. Likely one could draw some curious political conclusions about modern America from that statement. I’ll leave that to sharper minds than mine.
All these words later, and while I kind of understand why some people want to look back and feel like they did before, I don’t really get it on a personal, meaningful-to-me level. Probably not-fully-getting-it is the best we’ll get around here, especially when I’m the one typing the words. Increasingly I’m of the opinion that, as far as these essays go, it’s best to set my sights toward insights rather than exhaustions.13 That may be lofty, but I’m told it’s good to have goals. Further, I realize that such a notion can also potentially sound contrarian — after all, our day-to-day is an obsessive data-centricity that aims to leave explain everything, or should I say, Everything. But until 1’s and 0’s can make intelligible why I love reading Nabokov, or why clouds insist upon changing shapes when I look up, or why I sometimes still smile when thinking about a dog that’s been dead for over 5-years, maybe it’s best to leave a couple windows open so other breezes can blow through the house.
For now, if you’re thinking of seeing The Stones because they’re of musical value — forget about it.14 If you’re hoping to feel something you think you may have once used to feel — well, okay, that’s fine. It’s your $500 and I’m not Krampus out to demonize pleasures. Hopefully this has been less an argument against The Stones and more an encouragement to try the following: pick a music venue, ideally one you’ve never attended before, stick your finger at random onto the calendar, buy a ticket and roll the dice.
You might not feel like you did back in ’73, but then The Stones can’t guarantee that either. However, if you have an open mind, you’ll definitively feel how it is to be alive on some-day in 2019. I’m betting that’ll be worth it.
- Sometimes — and this was one of them times — I can’t help myself and get carried away. Probably it’s more apt to say that I’m not sorry so much as this is a warning. Back up 30-years and invoke this conundrum — Potato, Potatoe — and you’ll have one of those very rare occasions when you find yourself wondering, Where’s Dan Quayle when you need him? Either way you spell it, there are a whole bunch of footnotes below. Maybe too many? Probably too many. Definitely too many. I tried to cut some out, honestly, but it didn’t work well. In fact, it work oppositely, like when people elected Donald Trump to drain the swamp, and instead now our whole country is basically a sprawling, invasive, fecal-stained, fungal-infested bog. But we’re supposed to be talking about footnotes, not politics, and bog or not, my plan to diminish the footnotes failed. Now the first footnote has become a footnote about the proliferation of footnotes, which, if this were occurring back in those good ol’Dan Quayle days when the country wasn’t worried about swamps or their draining and simply wanted to be certain they were spelling a certain tuber properly, might be theoretically Wow!-ing, especially if you were an undergrad who’d never encountered this sort of wizardy before, whereas right now, today, January 21st, 2019, I’m guessing it’s more annoying than anything else. Curious fact about my personality — knowing that it’s annoying, or presumably so, makes me want to write more, to expand this footnote into the footnote to end all footnotes, the sort of footnote that makes David Foster Wallace’s ghost, or even Nabokov’s, rolls its eyes, or whatever ghosts do to express annoyance or disdain. We don’t have to get caught up in the hypothetical expressions of their spirits as much as the spirit these spirits may likely be feeling (although really — who are we to tell spirits what they should or should not feel?). Regardless, I will say this, contrariwise to their respective ghosts’ presumed disdain: it’s pretty fun, actually, in a liberating, take off your clothes and swim naked sort of sense, once you let yourself go and really dive into the deep end of the footnote waters. It’s like farting in the bathtub or listening to old Counting Crows records: let yourself own it, and soon you relish it. Anyway, you’ve been warned. There’s going to be a lot of footnotes.)
- The band they are covering is of course called The Rolling Stones. Tellingly, their only album of “new” releases in the past decade has been an album of all-covers… Along another sluice, the parallels between The Stones and other stars of their generation — DeNiro and Pacino come quickly to mind — are quite curious but beyond my scope here.
- Dylan’s stuff since the mid-2000’s has been stunning — the band, the voice, the lyrics all storm into a freewheeling looseness of bluesy, American perfection; Rush have never been my thing, but man can they play, and they’re still making new and interesting stuff. There are also plenty of lesser known artists of similar age still making great stuff. Curiously enough, there are also artists under 75yo who are also making some amazing music.
- Also, if you didn’t look at the image above, the tour has a corporate sponsor. Seriously. Jeep is sponsoring this tour. I once heard an interview where Keith Richards explained that he turned down being knighted by the Queen because “he plays guitar in a little band called The Rolling Stones,” followed by that cancerous Keith laugh, Har-har-har, in concert with a very big rock-and-roll middle finger to her Majesty. Now, however, apparently Keith is content to have his tour paid for by Jeep, a subsidiary of Fiat-Chrysler, a corporate entity whose automobiles aren’t just actively destroying the planet (big SUV’s have big emissions, yet they are almost-exclusively what auto manufactures are banking on) but whose business practices helped destabilize the worldwide economy ten years ago. So much for all that anti-establishment rock-and-roll stuff. But then maybe Keith’s more comfortable with that finger up his ass than he was flashing it at the Queen?
- It’s a not-completely-frozen ice cube, such memories of ours, slipping wet from between our fingers, skittering across the linoleum then finally lodging beneath the stove. You got to be cautious when you remove such things from the icebox. Still, it’s better than letting things get freezer-burned.
- He wasn’t. There’s one reason for this and it’s not Mick’s fault — you simply cannot be the world’s best frontman when Freddy Mercury is alive and performing.
- At this point nearly all of Mick Jagger—the voice, his skinny snaking swagger, those absurd lips—is a caricature of a caricature, Mick doing Mick doing Mick doing… Obviously that speaks to his successes and impacts upon our culture (think of Andy Kaufmann doing Elvis), but the originality of Mick, arguably the authenticity of Mick, has long been lost in a haze of irony, distance, repetitions, celebrity, allusions, and so on.
- It’s possible I’m confusing nostalgia with traditions and rituals; I don’t know; that was their trip not mine. Also, we didn’t have a lot of money, so even though the boats leaked and the cabins were crap, at least we were on vacation, away from home, and I think that meant a lot symbolically.
- Practicing Nostalgia should be the title of a poetry chapbook; license is hereby freely granted for its usage. Poets everywhere: you’re welcome…
- We once stood in front of the Eiffel Tour together and she simply couldn’t let it be the two of us there, sharing that moment. Problem was she’d been there Before, Back then, One time in the past…, etc. Curiously enough, I’d been there before as well, but other than a passing comment and a briefly shared reminiscence, I couldn’t see the value of my previous trip to that situation. On another note, if you’re a detail-oriented reader who wonders if that last phrase is a Springsteen reference, Yep, it sure is, for the Boss, unlike The Stones, has actively continued to make good, relevant music.
- Likely most of us have had that experience of getting together with so-and-so from high-school or college and remembering/reliving what you used to have and who you used to be to one another. But the moment those memories are exhausted and you find you currently have nothing of interest to say to one another… you can’t drink your beer fast enough. That’s when it’s, Thank god for Facebook!, a medium that allows you to “keep” that friend, in some weirdly distanced, quasi-surreal way, by ensuring that they remain over there, in the pixellated partitions where their demands on your life are, at worst, minimal — perhaps every now and then you’ll check-in on her job or his kids, or maybe like a photo, all while praying they don’t post about politics. Whatever, point is, you’re both still good enough people to remain “friends,” just not ones who have in-person interactions.
- The more accurate, though insanely less readable, way of saying that would go something like this: Some times, for some reasons, some of us really want things — and memories of past selves can certainly shade themselves under that umbrella — to feel like we’d like to remember them having been, regardless of that memory’s factual, objective accuracy; and in that act of creating a feeling we’d like to remember having felt, we have to create-feel it sufficiently such that it can be used as a foundation for establishing a simulated, though no less real for being so, sense of being that is not a being, in any materially lived sense, but is instead an aspiring-to, a being-like; all of this rests upon an appeal to a magic powerful enough to transcend facts as they are known and remembered, until the I behind all this self-aspiring madness somehow, modally and alchemically, becomes a desired I remembered forward into a fulness that would otherwise be structurally and strictly impossible. Or something like that.
- To pull the curtain back even further—increasingly I try and write these things as quickly and pleasingly as I can. This thing will clock in at some 3,200 words and will have taken an inconsistently written 6-hours. I will argue with no one who suggests I find another hobby. Writing will never be as spontaneously active as music or the plastic arts, but when I sit down to write these I actively try not to get bogged down or tripped up reaching for definitiveness. That’s a lot of metaphors, but basically I’m just trying to think out thoughts. If you ask me tomorrow what I think about this piece, I’ll think — that was what I thought then, and hopefully I wrote it well. After that, as far as continuity or consistency goes, all bets are off. Also, while not an excuse for grammatical and syntactical errors, the quick-writing approach, especially when coupled with the absence of an editor, comes with such possibilities built in to the system, like bacteria in yogurt. As they used to tell our grandparents: If you see something, say something (just say it nicely).
- Fortunately there are plenty of documentaries and videos of the pre-sucky Stones out there, so if you need to remember who they were, the celluloid shakes its sparkling hips.