“I just want to have a good life,” I tell Cristy, almost pleading.
“I just want good friends, good music, good food, and some peace of mind. A job, a family. Is that so exorbitant? I just want things to be nice. And there’s no place in that for septuagenarian junkies, pedophiles, and dilettantes.”
I am beside myself, having awoken with a hangover. We were up too late, playing Scrabble and taking turns choosing record sides. This all started harmlessly enough. But things went downhill. And as the evening wore on, it got outright ugly. Some Girls, side 1. Emotional Rescue, side 2. As the game grew more vicious and competitive, entertainment had become psychological warfare, which had become pushing on the bruise, feeding an addiction that could no longer be satisfied.
But today is going to be different. I don’t need the live albums, the greatest hits. I’m going to sell that poster with the star-spangled lips, the gross black and white poster where it looks like Charlie Watts is staring at a shirtless Jagger’s junk, and even the 1974 tour flag.
Next thing you know, it’s 1 a.m. on a work night again. There we are watching YouTube, snickering at Mick Jagger’s striped socks in the video for “She’s so Cold.” In ecstasy over Mick’s performing the talking part of”Miss You” inches from the camera lens (“Whassa matta wit you boy?”) The ridiculous Richard-Simmons-inspired workout garb in the video for “Mixed Emotions” off their critically un-acclaimed non-breakthough not-masterpiece Steel Wheels. All of it like caramel corn you can’t stop gorging no matter how bad it sticks to your teeth, or how many unpopped kernels you have to extract from your mouth and secrete somewhere.
Jaggerholism/Richards Addiction are a terrible disease. It starts out as harmless R&B fun, becomes the greatest rock in the world, and then, slowly, year by year, it just stops working.
Oh sure, there were plenty of warning signs. For us and for them. For me it should have been Dirty Work. I bought that record the day it was released, a naive teenager, and then, astonished at how bad it was, I sold it back the next week—and even sold back the previous effort Undercover just to be on the safe side. Nothing prepared me for this. This was a major label release by a major label act. Don’t the rules of the market mean you must put out a quality product? Weren’t the Stones one of the greatest bands in the world? Didn’t they have all the resources at their disposal to create a masterpiece—including, if necessary, hiring a better band to write and record it for them? And if for some reason, you are obliged to release an album that clearly has no value, doesn’t a basic respect for humanity stipulate that you include a warning or disclaimer? They did that for profanity back then—why not for total crap? It’s not like the proceeds went to charity.
I learned my lesson. A hard lesson: Not every highly hyped major label album is any good. This was hard for a teenager to comprehend. Some very credible music totally sucked ass. Something was amiss in the industry. How widespread was the problem? Had my gut been trying to send me a message the whole time about John Cougar Mellencamp, Asia, The Steve Miller Band?
But now, I have learned not to blame myself. For Dirty Work. And Steel Wheels. I don’t even fully blame the label.
I blame the Rolling Stones.
WARNING SIGNS THAT AGING BANDS SHOULD HEED
- When you get inspired to write a sincere rock and roll song about rock and roll, and how cool rock and roll is, and how rock and roll kicks ass. These songs are all embarrassing, from Huey Lewis to Bob Seger to Billy Joel. The decent ones I can list on the fingers of one hand, and they are mostly by David Bowie (who is a lot of wonderful things, but “sincere” is not one of them). In 1974, the Stones released two rock songs about rock on a single album. Mick Taylor immediately quit the band in disgust.
- When having cool socks becomes important. Look at the yellow numbers on Charlie Watts on the cover of Dirty Work (no sign of dirty work on those clean socks). Look at the striped pair of designer socks Mick Jagger sports in the video for “She’s So Cold.”
- Song titles with words like “Dance” or “Part 1” (“Dance (Pt. 1)”, 1978). Especially troubling when there is no Part 2—a gesture toward pretentiousness without the actual substance of pretentiousness. *
- Breaking bones because you tried to climb a palm tree to get a coconut is nature’s little way of telling you that you are a drug-addled seventy-year-old.
- When 80% of the band does not die of drug overdoses, through no fault of their own.
- When you find yourself clumsily imitating trends instead of creating them (although we should acknowledge that the Stones were doing this as early as 1967, even if it did not become conspicuous until 1978).
- Trying to shore up your tough guy image with bad-ass-sounding song titles (see all of Undercover). Note that at an age when Mick and Keith could have held their own in a fist fight, they were releasing songs like “Lady Jane,” “She’s a Rainbow,” and “Dandelion.”
- Talking parts (“Miss You,” “Emotional Rescue,” “Too Much Blood,” “Fool to Cry”—basically every record after 1973)
- In a three-year span you release a song called “She Was Hot” and another called “She’s So Cold.” Time to outsource the writing?
* I would later discover that there is a “Dance (pt. 2)”—the only original song on the unfortunately, accurately entitled greatest hits Sucking in the 70s. NOT that, mind you, PART ONE HAD LEFT ME IN ANY SUSPENSE.