I know it’s only rock-and-roll, but I like it
by Ed Collins/Feb. 4, 1998
On a stormy Tuesday afternoon I was sitting in front of my computer with the balcony door open, when a flash of light filled the room. I didn’t look up from the screen until a clap of thunder startled me half out of my seat.
I went downstairs to find Judy standing between her two terrified cats. “Boopie was fast asleep on a chair,” she said. “He practically had a kitty heart attack.” A half-hour later the TV weatherman said there was a likelihood of wind gusts up to fifty miles-per-hour.
It was then that Judy made her decision not to go to the Rolling Stones concert. Needless to say, it was being held outdoors.
A little while later she dropped a plastic bag in my lap. “You’ll need this,” she said. Inside was a full-length, hooded rain poncho.
At just after 3pm I took my longjohns down from a closet shelf, along with my hiking socks, my Levi’s, a hooded sweatshirt, a hooded jacket, a pair of gloves and a Padres cap. On the way out the door Judy handed me a bowl of salad––my contribution to a tailgate party.
Through the rain I drove to my sister’s work, where I would join her, her husband and some friends. I thought about my wife and her reluctance to brave the elements and throngs of people. A few days ago I overheard her express indifference about the concert. “I’ve seen the Stones,” she said, “…in 1965.” Going to a Rolling Stones concert at age thirteen must have meant a lot to her; maybe what she doing was preserving the memory. Me, I’d never been to a huge rock concert before.
In the stadium parking lot we strategically parked under the trolley overpass. Out of the rain, we stood around and listened to Stones’ music coming from several directions. After a few guacamole-laden tortilla chips and one Colonel Sanders chicken leg, I went in search of Gretchen and her friends.
Not more than 10 yards away, I spotted Gretchen’s Volkswagen camper; the side door was open and inside were four women. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the backseat with a glass of champagne in one hand and a plate of shrimp and sushi in the other. When she laughed out loud, Gretchen asked why. “I should be eating chicken right now,” I said.
Inside the stadium, our seats were about thirty rows back from the stage. Through my binoculars I watched and
listened to Carlos Santana sing Oye como va, something or other. To see him I had to stand, since the people in front of me were standing. I was told that the Stones play for a good two-and-a-half hours––that’s a long time to quint through these tiny binoculars, I thought to myself.
Just before the main event started, the stadium got dark. A moment of dramatic anticipation stretched on. It was raining lightly. I can’t remember if it was the strains of Keith Richard’s guitar, or the explosion of lights and fireworks that surrounded this enormous oval video screen that suddenly appeared behind the stage––but the combined effect practically lifted me off my feet.
Is there a more famous rock-and-roll riff than the beginning to the tune that begins with I can’t get no satisfaction? I alternately looked up at the screen and then back to Jagger. Was it live? The video? The picture was so clear. Couldn’t be.
It was. I put my binoculars away.
The stage was enormous. The morning paper said it was 177-foot wide and 82-feet high. And Jagger. That face. That hair. Those lips. At fifty-four years old, the guy’s a human rubber band. Not a hint of middle-aged stiffness, it seemed. While he sang “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday, who could lay a hand on you?”––whatever that means––I followed his every move on the monster screen. His body––head, feet, bony knees, elbows, hands and fingers––are kinetic. During the music and between songs, his movement appears both calculated and spontaneous. For me the effect was spellbinding.
The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits; in fact, it elevated them. It added to the excitement. And it seemed to energize the band––as if they were thinking: We’re going to perform so you’ll forget you’re standing in an inch of water. Me, I was dry as a bone. My new Goretex shoes were getting a 100% approval rating; peeking out from underneath my rain poncho, I couldn’t have been more comfortable.
Out of nowhere, a 170-foot hydraulic walkway dramatically rose up to carry the band to a small umbrella-covered stage that was no more than 30 feet away. From there they sang a few songs, including a mid-sixties song entitled “The Last Time”(“This must be the last time, this must be the last time, this must be the last time, I don’t know.”) It made me think that this might be their last tour.
Each of the last few songs built in momentum. At one point, millions of metallic confetti was blown from huge fans. Wind, rain, spotlights and confetti filled the air, creating a very surreal scene. I think it coincided with the opening to Honky Tonk Women, with drum, cow bell and guitar riff that leads to Jagger singing words that sounded to me like “I met a far-off gypsie queen in Memphis.”
This was the music of my youth. These were the same songs that I grew up with. Changed from boy to man. Songs that served as backdrop to the assasinations of JFK and MLK, and high school dates in my six-cylander, carbon monoxide-spewing ’55 Chevy. Songs that accompanied me through college (and a fortuitous avoidance of the Vietnam war). Songs I listened to as a baby-faced 23-year-old newlywed. As a hard-working 30-something young adult. Songs that I sang along with at parties, dances, wedding receptions and road trips. Songs with lyrics like,”Hey you, get offa my cloud!”––whatever that means.
It rained intermittently throughout the concert. When they played “Brown Sugar, what makes you look so good?” a brief but heavy downpour worked the crowd into a frenzy. After the last song, and before the oncore song, or after that, I don’t remember, the video screen showed a satellite picture of earth. A few seconds later it zoomed in on the Western hemisphere. Then North America. Then the U.S. Then the West, Southern California and San Diego. When it finally got to Qualcomm Stadium, a big yellow tongue popped out (the Stones’ logo, I recognized, from an album cover a couple of decades ago.)
I’ve been trying to figure out why this concert had such an effect on me. Like other emotional experiences, it snuck up on me, unanticapated. More than the nostalgia, the familiar tunes, the sushi, or the weather, I think it was the band’s genuine enthusiasm. These songs they’ve played a million times in 36 years. Yet they played them fresh. Like they were playing just for me. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were playing for me.