East of Normal
Like Father, Like Son
I collect Rolling Stones bootlegs. I have about 50 maybe. They drive my wife crazy — CDs without sleeves, sometimes unlabeled, lying around the house. She doesn’t know what to do with them. I have a six-CD set of outtakes from Their Satanic Majesties Request. It’s unlistenable, but I’m glad I have it.
Of the crown jewels of my collection, Brussels Affair is a live set from 1973 that is probably better than any studio record the Stones have ever made. It cements Keith Richards’ reputation as the greatest rhythm guitarist in rock history, all the more impressive considering he was 10 miles higher than anyone else in Brussels when the tape was rolling. (They were the only band on the planet that followed the rhythm guitarist instead of the drummer; hence they were impossible to copy.)
Another five-star treasure is known as Hampton 81, a two-DVD set of the entire show from Dec. 18 of that year (Keith’s birthday) in pro-shot video and 24-bit remastered sound. My son and I have been watching that video religiously since he was 8 or 9 years old, half his life ago. He’s been joining me onstage almost that long, sitting in on drums to play “When The Whip Comes Down.” Because if you can’t sing a song about a gay street hustler with your prepubescent son, who can you? So when the Stones came to town this past June, we were going. And no silly thing like me being in an auto accident the week before and stuck in a wheelchair was going to sway our pilgrimage to the altar. We suited up and showed up, my son pushing my wheelchair over every agonizing bump in the parking lot to get there.
The wheelchair area, directly across the stadium from the stage, is not huge. But maybe they know something I don’t, since there wasn’t a backed-up traffic jam of wheelchair-bound rockers muscling their way in. It was quite comfortable actually, or at least as comfortable as you’re going to get with four fractures in your pelvis.
I looked at my son’s face as much as I could without getting caught. During Brad Paisley’s set, I was seeing his last moments as somebody who’d never seen the Stones, and then I watched him see Keith Richards start the show with a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” punch to the gut. Through him, I got to see the Stones for the first time all over again.
They were great. Were they Hampton 81 great? Not really. Keith isn’t the rhythmic force he once was, but given how he’s 70, with bulbously gnarled, arthritic fingers and a brain of melba toast, he wasn’t bad. Mick? Forget about it. His performance is an athletic tour-de-force. I’m told he runs a total of six miles in the course of the show — up and down the catwalks, around and around from one lip of the stage across to the other, arms in the air, pointing out to the masses, singing the whole time. I personally wish he’d dance more and run less, but maybe a 70-year-old man doing anything sexually suggestive would be bad on so many levels. Charlie Watts is a rock. He doesn’t follow Keith anymore, he follows Chuck Leavell’s count-offs, and sometimes a click track, siphoning off some of the old magic, but he’s still Charlie Watts. Even Ronnie, always the wild card, brought his A-game.
I didn’t share any quibbles with my son. The whole point is really that I now have a son who can tell his kids he saw the Rolling Stones. Pretty soon, other kids won’t have that chance; and click tracks or not, the world is a better place with the Rolling Stones in it than it will be after they’re gone.