Hey, you, get off of my pedestal

An old fan can't get no satisfaction from the Stones.

Published October 16, 2005

Every couple of years, newspapers trumpet yet another Rolling Stones tour in the offing. There's always the latest picture of Mick Jagger, looking fit but even more craggy-faced than last time, and maybe one of Keith Richards, who still looks like death on a stick.

There are details of the high-tech stage extravaganza that will give you something to look at from a half-mile away. You read about the mega-dollar ticket prices, and you read the snide and tired jokes about how old the Rolling Stones are.

To me it always seems a little strange, a little unsettling even, to see that the Rolling Stones have become such a mainstream corporate entity that their concerts are regarded with the same attitude as yet another road show production of Phantom of the Opera.

Because even now there is inside me a clear memory of the first time I heard of the Rolling Stones and, later that day, the first time I saw them perform. They were tough, they were subversive, they were unlike anything I had ever seen or heard.

It's hard to believe now, but in 1964 the Rolling Stones were as radical as bands like the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols and Marilyn Manson were in their day.

I was 12 years old and living in the suburbs of Cleveland when the morning paper had a picture of this new English band called the Rolling Stones that was in town. It wasn't a concert listing or anything. It was a stand-alone photo, with a sarcastic caption. The paper's attitude was, "Get a load of these freaks!"

A syndicated variety show, The Mike Douglas Show, originated in Cleveland in those days. Every once in a while, some friends and I would get tickets and go see a taping, just because it was free and it was something a kid could do. You got your tickets weeks in advance, and you never knew who you were going to see. Usually the music came from groups like the Modernaires.

But we happened to have tickets for this day, and the Stones were going to play. There couldn't have been more than about 100 or 120 people in the audience, and as we sat down we could see the band's equipment onstage, not more than 20 feet in front of the first row.

Mike Douglas introduced the Rolling Stones, and there they were. The audience consisted mostly of what we used to call "housewives," and they reacted with visible shock, anger and disgust.

The first thing you noticed was that the band members weren't all dressed alike. This was unthinkable; it was anarchy. (You have to remember, this was just a matter of months after the Beatles had come on the scene, and their music and appearance were still, seriously, being considered a threat to the nation's moral fabric.)

Then there was Brian Jones' hair, longer and thicker than anything we'd seen on a man before. The whispered words "He looks like a girl!" circulated around the audience, as if that were the worst possible insult.

If I remember correctly, they played Carol, the old Chuck Berry song, Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away and their own Tell Me. I was in heaven. The housewives were aghast.

There was one other group of young people in the audience, two or three girls a bit older than we were. For some reason they were invited onstage to meet the band. They were crying and shaking. After all, they had adored the Rolling Stones almost 14 minutes. These girls couldn't believe they were meeting them.

Anyway, I just thought they were the coolest thing ever. I bought their first album, the cover of which proclaimed the Stones to be "England's Newest Hit Makers," and played it as loud and as long as I could, practicing my air guitar chops in my bedroom until my Guy Lombardo-loving father pounded on the door and told me to turn off that noise.

As bloated as the latter-day Stones have become, it's strange to think that they were really on the fringes of popular music in those days. We didn't have alternative bands or independent labels; the Stones were the closest thing we had, in music and in attitude, to a punk band. Songs like 19th Nervous Breakdown and Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows? - there was just nothing anywhere near that heavy on the radio in the mid '60s.

We all liked the Beatles, of course. But the Stones were the band in my circle of friends. One night, a local radio station had listeners call in to vote for their favorite band. The choices were the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five (who were huge for a few months) and the Rolling Stones. The final tally was something like 2,126 for the Beatles, 347 for the Dave Clark Five and 19 for the Rolling Stones. Sixteen of the votes for the Rolling Stones came from me.

I bought every Stones album as soon as it came out, even up until the early '90s, when it was already apparent they were never going to be great again. I saw every American tour until a few years ago, when the pomposity and ticket prices just became overbearing. Musically, the concerts were probably better than ever, but stadium rock concerts just don't make it.

Besides, let's face it, when the audience is full of people in their 50s and they're trying to rock out, well, there's something about it that's a little sad. I mean, I'm in my 50s and I'm rocking out, too, so I'm not being judgmental. I'm sure I look as silly as they do.

And of course, the very thing that appealed to me about the Stones in the first place, their menacing iconoclasm, is long gone. They're not about rebellion; they are the status quo.

The last time I went to a Stones concert, the musicianship was top-notch. But I saw audience members in their 40s gleefully singing along with such lines as "Hear him whip the women just around midnight" and "I'll stick my knife right down your throat, baby." I just knew that half of those people probably have complained about the sexist, violent lyrics in hip-hop.

I realized that I had gradually become embarrassed to call myself a Rolling Stones fan, sold all my old LPs to a used record store and replaced four or five of them with CDs that I hardly ever listen to.


The Rolling Stones perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. The show is sold out.