Friday, April 4, 2008
Alone at the Movies
The Rolling Stones weren't the main sound track of my youth, but they were certainly the flip side of the 45.
Red Wing, Minnesota, population 12,000, was the booming metropolis of my boyhood, and it was a reach for me even to get there. My home was seven miles south, deep in the countryside, but in the summertimes, I would sometimes bicycle, or sometimes catch a ride with a neighbor, or my dad, if he had errands to run, to hang out at the municipal swimming pool at the city park near the Mississippi River.
The swimming pool staff broadcast the twin cities radio stations through the megaphone-shapd loudspeakers mounted on tall poles, and it was here, between the ages of 10 and 15, that the Rolling Stones sang in the background as I came to adolescence and watched girls gradually develop into young women,summer by summer, glistening in the sun.
For some reason, the memory that's most vivid is not inside the pool, but sitting outside the fence on a park bench, pleasantly tired and drying in the sun, listening the music and oggling girls--including the one I would marry in 10 or 15 years. The girl-boy flirtation for the day was already over, and I would sit outside the pool and think about what was to come. To this day, no Rolling Stones tune ever plays without me thinking about bikinis.
This was the late mid to late 1960s, and a lot of the big hits of the Rolling Stones weren't even recorded yet. On the radio not too long ago, my daughter was surprised when the announcer identified "Paint it Black" as a Rolling Stones song, and was even more surprised by "Ruby Tuesday." These, though, were the songs of my boyhood, along with "Street Fightin' Man." We were, I think, still a couple of years away from "Satisfaction." I know that I was, anyway.
I was much more a Beatles guy in those days, but the Stones did appeal to the anarchist in me, which was brewing even then. By the time I reached high school, though, I would have already started to favor mostly folk rock singers--Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, a bit of Bob Dylan, Crosby-Stills-Nash-Young.
So the Stones will forever be mostly associated with the summer swimming pool, and particularly with the image of my future wife's freckles disappearing under the edge of her bikini top.
This week, after a long and hard week of work, and with my wife on a school trip to Costa Rica until Monday, I took in Martin Scorcese's new documentary of the present Rolling Stones, called "Shine a Light." It's a film much like "The Last Waltz," Scorcese's tribute to The Band filmed some years ago.
It's a pretty interesting time capsule, and it offers an entirely acceptable image of time passing and all of us growing older. Musically, the band isn't quite what it once was, but for all of that there is something reassuring about the image of these 60-something wrinkled men still joyfully performing this music of my youth. Filmed in a smallish New York theater, what is most striking is how readily the four band members shed all the baggage of being THE ROLLING STONES, and just become what they always were at heart--a pretty good blues-bar band with an extremely mesmerizing front man.
Make no mistake about it. The Stones were always Mick Jaggar's band, and nothing has changed. Scorcese is clearly fascinated by the timelessness of Jaggar, and unlike your views of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, you would be hard pressed to seem much difference in the physical performance of Jaggar now compared to 25 years ago. It's only the deeply cragged face that gives away his age.
These are now old men, and it's perfectly all right. They ask for nothing except a place to play, and it's ever so clear how much they still like the music. The hit tunes are done a bit on autopilot, but the film becomes quite poignant at those moments when the band reverts back into the blues tunes which began their careers. The high point for me is a rendition of the old Muddy Water's tune "Champaign and Reefer," in which Buddy Guy joins the band, while Jagger plays harmonica with skill we forgot he had.
Juxtaposed against the current concert scenes are old television interview clips of the various Stones, most taped in black and white. Yes, Jessica. We once had television that wasn't high def, wasn't even color.
So in case you haven't figured it out, this is my enthusiastic thumbs-up film review. Shine a Light. Just like a young girl should.