Monday, October 2, 2006


I been Rolling Stoned and Beatled till I'm blind--Paul Simon, 1968

Sitting in Book Trader, my favorite lunch-time haunt, consuming a Jane Rare (rare roast beef with feta/horseradish sauce and arugula on a ciabatta roll--them's good eatin'), I heard a coffee jockey behind the counter complain that all the radio stations play The Rolling Stones. Whoa, hold on there, jr., what the hell's wrong with that?

Let me just go on the record: if it weren't for The Rolling Stones (the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world, 1968-78), I wouldn't even know what rock'n'roll IS. I don't just mean the musical genre, I mean rock and roll. It's thanks to Mick and de Boyz that shy ex-Catholic boys from the insipid suburbs (comme moi) have at least a clue as to what rock is for! And it ain't the Pony or the Stroll or the Twist or the Frug, kids! It's for, to give it the most politically correct omnisex valiance, the mutual friction of reciprocal body parts. And the Stones kept the rhythm and blues in the music they stole away from all those black belters and bluesmen, they kept the funk and the juice and the balls and the strut and the butt and the whole randy, raunchy allure of gutter-trash with attitude.

It's been said of course every imaginable way that the Other Major Band of the Brit Invasion were the nice guys -- which is to say, earnest peddlers of ditties with harmonies -- but the Stones alone kept rock in touch with its roots. The closest The Beatles ever got to such grit was in songs like "Helter Skelter" and "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" (not exactly their best known stuff), and Ray Davies -- "not the world's most physical guy" -- never, after the brash horniness of "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All Night," even comes close to a romp. Ditto Townshend, who was too cerebral, and didn't mind the other guys dancin' with his girl. And the Lizard King just didn't have the wit, though he sure had the mojo. And frankly I've never been able to accept Plant's banshee wail as the proper mating call, and, for all my awed admiration of Bonzo Bonham's galloping rhino beat, it's not exactly the pace I'm likely to go, no and not even, God rest him in sainted majesty above, the incomparable lunatic fills of the mighty Moon -- no, for my money it's Charlie Watts "with a backbeat narrow and hard to master" (as Jimbo himself coined the phrase -- want to hear what I mean? check out "Street Fightin' Man" on Ya Ya's) that gives it the groove that proves something.

And no other worthies have delivered so much that puts us in touch with that sweet mystery -- none of them give us the feel of the hots ("I salivate like a Pavlov's dog"), the glums ("have to turn my head until my darkness goes"), the flirting ("she liked the way I held the microphone"), the coo ("let's go home and draw the curtains"), the rut ("If you want to push and pull with me all night"), the thrill ("how come you taste so good"), the sweet ("she comes in colors"), the hurt ("when all your love's in vain"), the swagger ("she's under my thumb"), the need ("I am just livin' to be lyin' by your side"), the brag ("bet your mother never heard you scream like that") and the release ("come all over me"). And Jagger isn't without his lyricism and vulnerability -- "Wild Horses," "As Tears Go By," "Angie," "I Got the Blues" and don't miss his repeated "I ain't in love"s on "Let It Loose" -- even Keith can get in the act in what is one of my favorite pining "for a little mo'" songs, "You Got the Silver."

I'll admit that their era of saying something more than I'm horny was short-lived, but they were no slouches there either, for it produced "Satisfaction," "Get Off My Cloud," "Mother's Little Helper," "2000 Man," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Street Fighting Man," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and -- which I regard as the pinnacle -- "Moonlight Mile." These guys should never vanish from the airwaves, in fact no day should go by on a so-called rock station when they aren't played -- it's just that the erstwhile programmers should dip a bit deeper into the bag and pull out and dust off the gems long unplayed. Give 'em a dose of "Monkey Man" I say, and the devil (pleased to meet you) take the hindmost. Please, drive him home.


Andrew Shields said...

"... people tend to associate poets with outrageousness, rebellion and the 'deliberate disorientation of the senses,' as Rimbaud put it. This helps to explain why so many rock stars (as opposed to country singers) get called 'poets' ..." (David Orr, "School of Verse," NYT, Oct. 1, 06)

One of the many things this observation made me wonder is this: why is Mick Jagger never mentioned when people discuss whether rock-n-roll lyricists can be considered poets?


Donald Brown said...

I think David Orr needs a little help: people also tend to associate poets with interesting, unusual, challenging and artful uses of language which I think better explains the situation he's commenting on. My experience is that anyone who cares for language can't help but cringe when hearing the lyrics to most c&w songs of our day.

As to Jagger: it's an interesting phenomenon. I think it's because no one can understand what Jagger's singing most of the time! So Jagger is considered a singer and interpreter of songs more than a wordsmith. But he has been known to come up with great stuff and many anthemic tag-lines. I still recall Dick Cavett reading the lyrics to "Brown Sugar" on TV when interviewing Mick around '72. What can ya say: they just ain't meant to be READ! Which only further adds to my point: THIS is rock'n'roll, not pewetry.

RICK MOORE said...

Ahhhhhh yea!!!!

Andrew Shields said...

Sorry, I only quoted one of Orr's characterizations of what people associate poetry with (the one that made me think that about Jagger). He also refers to the association that you refer to: "interesting, unusual, challenging and artful uses of language." He then puts the emphasis, however, on how non-readers of poetry then respond when they hear the word "poetry": not "interesting, unusual, challenging and artful," but difficult, impenetrable, "makes-me-feel-stupid."

I should also add that he was reviewing (very positively) Stephen Fry's book on poetry.

Donald Brown said...

oh ok, well, I can empathize more with the "poet as outrageous and rebellious" outlook than the "makes me feel stupid outlook." Not even the Cantos make me feel stupid, they just seem to me outrageous (at times).