Listening Again, Growing Old
The Rolling Stones are my great separation from core rock and roll addicts. In many respects I’m a Chuck-Beatles-Bruce-Clash kind of guy, which is why Robert Christgau has had such a dominant (perhaps too dominant) impact on my life. But the measure of my differences with the core ‘tude is that I don’t love the Stones. Don’t hate ’em — how could I? — and a few songs, like Get Off My Cloud and Tumblin’ Dice, have long been favorites. But mostly I’ve seen their 25 good pop songs as pretty much that, perfect for listening to on the iPod. Before the iPod I heard them mostly on the radio, on the mixed tapes I used to make for taking long drives, or not at all.
According to an account I write in an email to David a year ago, there are four reasons I can’t get with the Stones:
1. I’m not into middle class white bohemians in black face
2. I don’t sneer or particularly like sneering
3. I don’t consider dick-first the best way to approach women (or men, for that matter)
4. Among the important pre-rock forms, I like jazz more then blues and early R&B more then either, and the specific swamp tradition of the Stones isn’t even my favorite blues — I like Muddy Waters much more in Chicago then in the delta.
Obviously, this isn’t a fair rendering of the meaning of the Rolling Stones, but it does succinctly get at which parts of the core boho, 1960s tradition have seemed easy to leave behind to a politico growing up in the 1980s.
Two weeks ago I downloaded Exile On Main Street. I’ve had it as a 2 LP set since the mid-1980s, but since 2005 or so I don’t have a turntable set up, and if I’ve listened to it since 1990 I don’t remember the occasion. Not even listening over and over to Exile In Guyville made me curious. Yet all of us a sudden — the context was contemplating whether I should read the 33 1/3 book on the album, because I’ve been working my way through some of them (the Murmur book is the best so far) and this album is, after all, by consensus the best core rock album ever — I felt galvanized. I will figure out what this record is about.
Here’s what I heard. The musical context is the southern swamp sound after it’s no longer a discovery, but is a lived practice — finally, we’re not shouting about how hony tonk we are, we’re just being honky tonk. The matching lyrics say: pleasure just ain’t what it used to be. The turns of phrase are felicitous, the band is hot, and you can listen closely three times in a row smiling all the way, if not measurably changed by it.
Of course everyone who cares already knows this, and stopped reading paragraphs ago. You’re only still here if you haven’t listened to the album forever (or you’re David, who will read whatever I write).
So if like me you’re a rock and roller and some combination of young enough or wussy enough to have avoided the Stones, what I really want you to do is to think about going to see Shakespeare in the park. I know you haven’t done that more then once or twice as an adult, neither have I, but you’ve thought it would be modestly pleasurable and you figure you’ll do it again when your daughter is 13 or 14, a year or two before she refuses to see anything with you anymore. You don’t expect it’ll be the best stuff in the world, but it is, I hope this comes out with the full irony intact because Shakespeare was a London boho once too, both kind of a lot of fun and also good for you, wholesome. Gives you a real sense of history & the passing of time, and how much you’ve changed all these years. Now listen to Exile on Main Street and weep.
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