Selective Satisfaction

Some aging rockers benefit from the media glare, but others find it a menace.

With the Diana Ross arrest, not to mention the Stones on HBO and playing Phoenix, January was '60s Pop Icon Month. And here are three words I never thought I'd say on this earth: Poor Diana Ross.

I loved the Supremes back when, and still turn up the radio for "Back in My Arms Again" and "Where Did Our Love Go?" In eighth grade, when a bunch of us used to go over to our friend JoAnne's house to wear out her 78s, I'm sorry to say that I consistently lobbied for "Love Child" over Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." (The other girls had the good taste, even then, to insist on Gaye.)

We nursed a communal fantasy about coming back to life as R&B singers. Voices like Aretha Franklin and bodies like Tina Turner's, that'd be us. Of course, we'd be wearing Diana Ross' clothes. Her whispery voice and plastic persona lost their appeal once we were out of junior high, but her dresses never did.

Everyone knows by now that the other Supremes got shafted, that Ross has married and divorced a couple of zillionaires, that she manages to seize center stage wherever she goes, and that, in general, she's not being considered for sainthood.

None of which justifies the way she was treated in Tucson.

If your kid, or your parent, or your best friend got stopped some dark night, how would you feel about seeing the video on the news at 5 p.m.? (And at 6, and at 10, with teasers during every commercial break, and Patty Weiss wearing her frowny face.) What can the words "presumed innocent" mean when the jury pool sees all the evidence while sitting at home on the couch?

It's this sort of reporting that makes us despise the media because it makes us hate ourselves. We know deep down that the appeal of stories like this comes from an ugly desire to see the mighty--even the once-mighty--suffer. Ross isn't a public official or an anti-substance crusader. She doesn't make laws or transport children for a living. Her arrest was only news because she's famous, and the media were able to get their hands on visuals only because she's not as famous as she used to be.

Seeing her weaving around on those skinny legs in the dark, worrying about whether the media would find out--gee, I wonder why?--wasn't titillating. It was just sad.

The HBO Rolling Stones concert (from Madison Square Garden on Jan. 18) was an almost painful contrast. Who would have guessed in 1968 that 30 some years later, those bad boys would be mentally competent--Keith Richards, of all people, thriving after the turn of the millennium!--much less heaving audiences to their feet? Maybe the freaks were right all along, and heroin is better for you than alcohol.

Whatever their secret, the Stones have kept going and stayed pretty much out of trouble while keeping their act satisfyingly wicked. Social movements have come and gone, consciousness has risen and standards have changed, but they're the same ironically nasty, hardworking showmen they always were. They even seem to still be having fun. (Well, OK, Charlie Watts looked like he'd been dragged there in chains, and Ron Wood was, as always, pretty creepy, but Mick Jagger and Keith Richards appeared to enjoy themselves.) Richard's playing is better than ever, and the band's devotion to showing the audience a raunchy good time is gratifying. While it's true that the boys' more recent compositions--"Start Me Up," for example--tend to reflect the less, um, spontaneous sexual experience of the older male, they're good, chunky tunes.

And if the animated vixen cavorting on the big screen overhead didn't bother Sheryl Crow during her duet with Jagger (on "Honky Tonk Women"), why should it bother me? (Besides, it's hard to maintain a politically offended stance while dancing around the living room.) I got to watch them do "Gimme Shelter"--the best Stones song ever--a killer cover of "Midnight Rambler," and several of my other favorites. Richards' two-song set without Jagger was a perfect palate-cleanser: "Through and Through" was a revelation, at least to me.

So the Stones are still out there touring with a couple hundred of their best friends, and their songbook plays behind half the ads on TV and will for decades. Mick Jagger's many ex-wives and girlfriends still model clothes in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and he's still strutting his outrageous stuff--although he now stomps around with what appear to be orthopedic shoes on his huge feet.

Meanwhile, Diana Ross is driving to Blockbuster alone.

Does this mean that life is better to aging male pop divas than female ones? Possibly, but there's more to it than gender: There's a lot to be said for having the goods--taste, energy and enormous talent--to begin with.

Long live rock and roll.

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