Ageless Badasses

Why The Boomers Love Their Stones

By Dave McElfresh

I WAS AT an anti-rock Christian revival meeting in Decatur, Illinois, in 1966, when a frothing evangelist played "Paint It Black" as an example of nihilism in contemporary music. Dweeb high-school bozo that I was, I'd never heard the Stones. I was impressed. The next day I anxiously traded most of my Baskin-Robbins paycheck for both December's Children and Aftermath.

Music Since then, as a now dweebness-free (but obsessive) music writer, I've not missed a release of theirs in 30 years, including all the repetitive best-of collections and dead-end career detours like Black And Blue and Emotional Rescue. And no way will I miss whatever follows Bridges To Babylon. The Stones, you see, are the only band to successfully give the finger to Father Time, proving album by album that being badass doesn't have to diminish with age. They are the rock group that discovered that rock and roll is the real Fountain of Youth, personifying how those who keep rock's fuck-you tattoo from fading will be kept badass in spite of moving into the liver-spot years.

The cover art of 1974's It's Only Rock And Roll has become their ultimate career statement. The band, looking wasted (this time from a long journey, not drugs) stumble down the steps of some hidden Xanadu swarming with 117 nymphs (told you I was obsessive); suggesting that the Stones have found that timeless place where they'll be worshipped forever. And they will be. "Time Is On My Side" turned out to be unintentionally prophetic--as well as comforting for their aging adorers.

Will all rock and rollers and their fans end up looking stupid and toothless in time? It's been the major question looming in the unconscious minds of all baby boomers who once swore never to trust anyone over 30/40, etc. and who, like Pete Townsend, hoped to die before they grew old. By loving the Stones enough to drop a minimum of 60 bones a ticket, we hope to prove we're not turning into our parents.

The Stones definitely deserve those skillions of dollars their tours earn them--if for no other reason than shouldering the burden of defying age on our behalf. The Who break up and conveniently regroup whenever their bills accumulate, their wild element having been buried along with Keith Moon. Paul McCartney's a definite lightweight whose concerts are meant to be watched over a picnic lunch of brie and wine. Zappa's dead. Even next-generation proto-punk John Lydon returns to the stage pudgy and dressed in a clown suit. Where else do you find the badass factor after an artist or group hits 40?

A fiction writer creating the quintessential badass group for a novel couldn't beat the Stones' real life history. In fact, they present three entirely different flavors of badass behavior, one for each charter member of the band.

1) Badass through indifference. Charlie Watts doesn't give a shit about playing for the Greatest Rock-And-Roll Band In The World. Watts walks onstage with all the energy and excitement of someone entering a Circle K. What could be cooler than that? You know that he's not jiving by how unaffected he sounds in interviews, and by the un-Stones-like suits and ties he prefers to wear. Watts cares mostly about playing jazz, a musical form the Stones haven't come within miles of touching. His several recorded jazz outings haven't sold beans and he couldn't care less. How concerned about appearing hip can you be if you get a butch haircut, as Watts did years back, long before severely shorn locks were acceptable? In spite of anything Watts does, Keith Richards continues to refer to him as the backbone of the band and as his source of inspiration.

2) Badass by testosterone. Mick Jagger jogs many a moonlight mile, but does so in private, staying lean and mean without associating himself with Nautilus equipment. (Even Keith Richards exercises enough to show off his one-hand push-ups to interviewers.) He remains a terminally handsome bastard, rock-legend skinny, and far more desirable than most men his age. Several years ago, I saw Jagger in the bookstore across the street from the Sunset Boulevard Tower Records. He stood at the magazine rack in his black jeans and green silk shirt, reading the dirt on the usual dozens of celebrities, all of whom he probably knew personally. He looked small and frail for someone who had appeared literally nine stories tall in the Live At The Imax presentation. But evidently a number of females have been more than satisfied with his stature, height and otherwise. Not that long ago, wife Jerry Hall gave him the ultimatum regarding his publicized affairs with Uma Thurman and a French model. Jagger, though a grandfather, can't seem to keep it in his pants. Worry when he calls a press conference in favor of celibacy--until then, he still acts like he's a third his age. None of the rest of us can get away with it, much as we post-dweebs would love to.

3) Badass by refusing to die. God bless Keith Richards, the ultimate rock and roll figure, bar none, living or dead (and he looks the part of the latter). Only '40s jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker has come close to matching Richards' reputation for successfully, perennially, telling death to kiss his ass. The rock and roll lifestyle has become Richards' formaldehyde. In spite of his variety of vices, he refuses to let anything age him. Watch him, wild-haired and cigarette in mouth, lean into the opening chords of "Start Me Up," and see how old he seems to you.

Ask those lucky Stones fans how much it would take for them to sell their tickets to the upcoming Arizona concert. The last one I asked said she'd consider it if someone offered $100,000. The least amount I heard was half that. Obviously, there's more at stake here than just hearing a rock-and-roll band. Selling your ticket when you're a Stones fan becomes a Faustian bargain: Are you really gonna sell your chance to watch a band show how age can be cheated? Not likely. Yeah, it's goofy, and what philosophy calls an "illogical syllogism": The Stones don't age, you like the Stones, therefore you don't age. But screw logic, allow us our fantasies. It's only rock and roll.

The Rolling Stones play to a sold-out Sun Devil stadium, in Phoenix, on Friday, November 7. TW

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