100 Awesome Things – Part 20

Thanks to Crossfire Hurricane and certain small-scale, cheaply priced concerts, the Rolling Stones are all over the news again… my feelings towards  Stones are probably best categorised as "ambivalent".  I think "Satisfaction" is one of the greatest songs in the rock and roll genre. The lyrics are sublime, the riff unforgettable… and yet their Isle of Wight 2007 set was so… bad that I can't forgive or forget somehow.

I don't know. Maybe I bought into the 'Beatles Vs. Stones' rivalry toss and didn't realise. Maybe I'm sick and tired of the constant mythologising. Maybe it's that Brian Jones was a despicable human being. Maybe it's that Jagger's got a face only a mother could slap. Dunno.

I do know that I love "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Dancing With Mr D." but I only own a couple of actual studio albums – Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, and for reasons passing understanding, A Bigger Bang. I really dig The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus, although they're not even the third best act on the bill. Forty Licks is a great collection…

Actually, there's quite a lot of Stones tracks I love. In recent years, I even like "Don't Stop" and their new one "Doom and Gloom". Or, as Jagger mangles the vowels, "Doom and Glaaaaooooooom." The more I listen, the more I like it. Also, I really like the Noomi Rapace video. Her Jagger impersonation is tres amusing.

Hang on: Moment of Pause to consider and acknowledge that Noomi Rapace is just plain awesome. Even in Prometheus running around 2 minutes after a Caesarean section… if you don't know why that's stupid, google it.

On the Brian Jones point, let's be honest: if I removed every book and record and movie I own because the creator was a despicable human being, my flat would be empty. I am, after all, an Errol Flynn fan…

I still really want to smack Jagger every time I see him. He really winds me up for reasons not fully understood by me, really so much. When I saw footage of the O2 gigs my first instinct was to Chuck Norris that trilby off his head. Maybe it's because he is, at this point, a parody of a mockery of himself. And I found the 60s Jagger irritating too. He just winds me the hell up.

I was talking to someone just yesterday about how basically, the Stones are a singles band. Last week I saw a bit of a show on BBCfour about pop singles and someone idiotic said 'oh, albums are for boys but girls like singles'. Her reasoning for this was unsound and general. I love albums. I love the journey from start to finish and even in these days of iPods and playlists, I try to keep albums intact. Not always, but oftentimes. With Led Zeppelin III I left out the songs I didn't like so much for a long while but had to reinstate them because it felt incomplete whenever I'd listen.. and lo and behold, those songs ("Celebration Day" and "Out on the Tiles") have become favourites since.

So maybe my issue with the Stones is that I've never been able to latch onto them like other bands because they really are a song band, a singles band. Watching Crossfire Hurricane I was surprised by the number of times I thought 'hmm, yeah I do really dig that song.' I think I like them more than I remember I do.

The Isle of Wight Festival 2007 was incredibly disappointing. I mean, they were just not good. I don't think they're designed for festivals, which I could've forgiven, but they were also deeply blah, mediocre and not all that. I can't get over that because I was stood there watching them desperately wishing I could be enjoying myself and just not. I wasn't there wanting to criticise (you won't believe me, but I don't go out of my way to dislike things). I wanted to love it. I wanted to walk back to my tent on a cushion of fluffy silver clouds of that great Music High. I couldn't. I walked away wondering if I was the only one who noticed what a load of old toss it had been. And then I went to a simulcast of the Shine a Light premiere, again wishing to have a great time only to be faced with a documentary about the band so unflattering that I can hardly believe they let Marty release it.

I'd love to see them live in their own right, but I can't afford that mortgage, you know?

Perhaps my biggest problem with the Stones is this: They kinda reflect everything that's wrong with music: resting on one's laurels on a thirty-year greatest hits tour; ridiculously inflated concert ticket prices; creative bankruptcy; myth over music; cool over content…

Not all of this is their fault, I know that. Mick's only charging a million quid a ticket because he knows someone will pay it, and if he doesn't, they'll end up on eBay or secondary ticketing sites for a million quid he won't see. Their creative bankruptcy for decades is their fault but is in the eye of the beholder and "Doom and Gloom" certainly hints at a long-overdue revival, maybe the swan's last song?

Perhaps I'm just pissed off that the Stones survived where the bands I love didn't. How is Keef alive while Morrison's long been wormfood? How did they manage to stay together where the Beatles imploded into the Sue Me, Sue You Blues? Why are they lauded as The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band when they're really only a pretty good blues band? Why were they the lucky bastards where Thin Lizzy were, in Scott Gorham's words, the 'unluckiest lucky band in the world'? These are my issues, not Jagger's, I acknowledge, but I still want to slap him.

Let me state it clearly for myself as much as anyone: I like the Rolling Stones. I am a fan. Probably not of much beyond 1972(ish) but I do like them. There are even songs I truly love.

There's one Rolling Stones song I think is truly, unquestionably great. On the basis of this song alone they deserve their place in the Pantheon of Rock Gods (although maybe not quite such a prominent place as they snatched for themselves.)

Milords, ladies, gentlemen and everyone else: "Paint it, Black."

This is their most perfect song. There are great lines in other songs but I think "Paint It, Black" is fantastic from start to finish.

I've lost people I've loved with my whole soul, and there's no song I know of that comes as close as this to getting to the heart of deep grief. "If I look hard enough into the setting sun/My love will laugh with me before the morning comes." If you've known the pain of deep grief, you know the dark implications of that line. The line which always makes my heart stop for a moment: "I wanna see the sun, blotted out from the sky." because that's how it is. CS Lewis' short book 'A Grief Observed' does an excellent job of examining and deconstructing grief (he used his own example after his wife Joy died) and describes the way the veil drops down onto the grief-stricken, like a blanket separating them from the world. That's what it is.

Grief is different for every person and for every person they've lost. My grief for Philip Lynott was different to that for Jim Morrison which was different to that for Rory (and I'm lying when I refer to it in the past tense). They're different again from how it felt to lose other people, ones I'd actually met and held and been held by, who had loved me in return, who had given me so much, whose pain had been my pain..

When actor Peter Cushing's wife died, he spent the night running up and down the stairs trying to induce a heart attack. I walked into traffic. That's still my warning for depression you know, if I'm cutting it too fine when I cross the road. There are a lot of ways of staring into the sun. I've been into that cold, empty cave and stared into the heart of darkness, my friends, and I dearly hope that for you the closest you ever get to the feeling is listening to "Paint It, Black."

I don't remember most of 2007 and a chunk of 2008. Until the veil lifted a little, I just don't remember. I know theoretically what I was doing, and I must've passed for 'OK' most of the time…. As far as I was concerned, the sun was blotted out from the sky. I certainly worked hard to make it so, to "fade away and not have to face the facts."

There are other great songs about death, dying, grief and the rest. I'd recommend Golden Earring's "Radar Love" as another excellent grief rock song. "Paint It, Black" though, is the one which gets to me most every time. Jones' sitar riff, the hollow, driving rhythms from Watts and Wyman… its feeling of being very much of its psychedelic period and yet timeless. There is nothing wrong with "Paint It, Black" except that rogue comma in the title.

*

Previously on 100 Awesome Things:

Part 19 – Big Mama Thornton – "Rock Me Baby"
Part 18 – Thin Lizzy – "The Boys Are Back In Town"
Part 17 – Nat King Cole – "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll"
Part 16 – Rory Gallagher – "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 – The Shadows – "FBI"
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"

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