For years, the Rolling Stones have been singing “Start Me up.” For even longer, the Beach Boys have been harmonizing on “Shut Down.” When it comes to 50-year anniversary concerts, I think the Beach Boys got the lyrics right.
I know, I know, we’re all getting older. Once, our mantra was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Now it’s Viagra, Lipitor, and American Idol. Nowadays, those Golden Oldies have been appropriated by advertisers hoping to target a demographic apparently interested in reverse mortgages, mail-order prescriptions, and retirement villages. Nowadays, we can go to a nostalgia-oriented show to see the faces we once idolized on album covers, only to discover 90% of the musicians on stage weren’t even born when we owned piles of black vinyl and heard DJs play those hits over and over and over . . .
Don’t get me wrong—I love nostalgia. I spend a lot of time interviewing rock stars from times past, read the memoirs, enjoy the PBS reunions, and eagerly await remasters of the classics. But this year, I’ve decided there’s one line that should rarely be crossed. That’s paying for overblown 50th year celebrations that don’t really seem to be celebrating anything.
My first disappointment this year occurred while watching The Beach Boys’ Live in Concert: 50th Anniversary Tour DVD. Judging from reviewers who actually saw one of the shows, this release was only half of what the guys sang on stage. This meant the rest of us got a very thin, workmanlike, robotic, hit-and-run performance. I admit the sight of the gray-headed “rockers with walkers” singing about the summer joys of teenage life, especially the pursuit of California “gurls,” made me smile. Who else could sing these songs and not sound like pedophiles with full Viagra bottles handy in their guitar cases?
But if anything magical happened at the actual shows, we didn’t get it. The DVD package was so bare bones, there were no special features at all. Any viewer can be forgiven for concluding this was tossed out as an afterthought to put a cap on a pro forma tour. After all, soon as the reunion was over, Mike Love wasted no time hitting the road again with his ersatz Beach Boys, a group essentially Love’s backup band.
So when I saw the ads for the Rolling Stones 50th anniversary pay-per-view concert on December 15 from the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, I was leery. Sure, the claims it was the musical event of a lifetime were obvious hyperbole. But when my granddaughter came by for the weekend, I thought this would be a perfect Saturday night event to bond the generations.
It didn’t work out that way. For one matter, my granddaughter’s eyes lit up only once, when Lady Gaga joined Mick Jagger for “Gimme Shelter.” “That’s Lady Gaga?” my wife asked, never having seen her before. “That’s not rock and roll,” my granddaughter pronounced. “They’re not screaming.” That’s just before my wife fell asleep.
While I’m grateful for the lack of screaming, 12-year-old Cali had a point. I too was bitterly disappointed. While I expected the normal run through of the Stones 50-year catalogue, I did hope they’d do something to make this event memorable. It didn’t happen.
For one thing, having guest stars stop by like Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, the Black Keys, Gary Clark, Jr., and John Mayer isn’t anything new—the Stones have done that before. More importantly, only one of the guests had anything to do with the legacy of the band.
That moment occurred when Mick Taylor came onstage to jam on “Midnight Rambler.” Now, that was a performance worthy of a celebration of the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” But why no mention of the other ex-Stones from times past? Why no nod to Bill Wyman, their bass player from the beginning till 1993? True, he had appeared with them In London in November, and hasn’t come to the U.S. since 2001 due to a fear of flying. Still, why not a “Thanks, Bill,” for the record for the worldwide audience watching this performance? The perfect moment would have been before launching into “Miss You,” one song heavily indebted to Wyman’s input.
Why not a single statement of gratitude to the man who founded the Rolling Stones, the late Brian Jones? Or Ian Stewart, an original member forced out of the limelight because he didn’t have the right look? Or Andrew Loog Oldham, the manager who forced Jagger and Richards to sit in the kitchen and write songs?
The Stones have never been shy about acknowledging their collaborators before, as in their acceptance speeches at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where they indeed credited all these gents. But this night of all nights, the ghosts of Rolling Stones past (yes, I know Wyman is still alive and kicking at 76), deserved to be honored. I will credit Jagger for taking the time to extend sympathies to the people of Newton, CT, before the band played an appropriate rendition of “Wild Horses,” a song originally composed when Richards said he missed his children.
I’ll add that you’d think, as they performed songs from the early days like “Get Off of My Cloud” and “Paint It Black,” that Jagger might have shared some stories behind the music and some of the memorable moments in their legacy. I’m not saying the show needed to be a quasi-documentary—we’ve already had plenty of them—but at least it could have had elements that would have distinguished the evening from all the previous concert films, of which we’ve already had plenty of as well.
As Keith Richards keeps reminding us, the Stones will keep playing as long as the fans support them. Well, never again will I plunk out $43.00 to see what I’ve seen before and before and before. Especially when they put my wife to sleep and sent a 12-year-old back to her Facebook friends. It wasn’t nostalgia, it wasn’t even NoDoz.