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Ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones are playing in Orlando tomorrow (Friday, June 12). I love the Stones, they were the first rock band that I really got into, but I never had any inclination to go see them live again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be a really great spectacle (I hesitate to use the word “concert,” because Rolling Stones shows have been more spectacle than concerts for years now), but I have seen them once, I don’t need to see them again. For one thing, I’m just not into paying top dollar to see 70 something year olds play music, but for another, I have no real desire to deal with that many people in one place unless it’s really something special. The one time I did get to see them, it was indeed something special.

I saw the Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour in 1989, playing the football stadium in Clemson, SC, and it was absolutely packed (So that means 70, 80K). My friend and later college roommate Tommy and I camped out overnight outside of the venerable (and by venerable I mean “absolute dump”) Greenville Memorial Auditorium to score tickets, paying what was then a kings ransom of $45 (45!) to sit a few rooms from the top of the stadium.

Even though we camped out, I remember that we were still pretty far back in line, and we were worried that we weren’t going to actually get tickets. Then, for reasons I still haven’t quite figured out, the line in front of us started to move, slowly at first, but soon it was a full gallop sprint. We were kind of slow getting up and moving, which was good for us, because all these people ended up doing was running in a circle around the building and losing their place in line. Some how, some way, the rumor had started that the tickets were going to be sold at a different window, and literally hundreds and hundreds of people ran themselves into a place at the back of the line. And I’ll always thank them, because I’m pretty sure more than a few of them walked away empty-handed the next day.

Fast forward then to November 29, 1989, as we begin the climb to our seats. If you’ve been to a football game at Clemson’s stadium and have sat in the upper deck, you’ll know that it is a steep climb. The deck angles basically straight up, so making that climb is more than a little daunting when your ticket is row “Double Letter.” The first thing we noticed on our climb is that our section was stage left, and by “stage left” I mean so far to the left of the stage that the only time we saw drummer Charlie Watts was at the end when he walked to the front of the stage to wave goodbye to the crowd. The other thing was how big the stage was. Where we were eventually sitting was pretty much eye level with the top of the stage setup, which (I may be misremembering this but it sticks in my mind) had warning lights on the top to warn low-lying aircraft.

Living Color opened the show, and I’m sure they were good but we didn’t make it into the stadium in time to see much of their set, but I do remember how good they sounded on our trek into the stadium. You know how at a lot of outdoor shows the sound is pretty terrible and actually gets worse the closer you get to the stage? Not at a Stones show, my friends. The sound setup was like nothing I’ve ever heard since, and it sounded like the band were playing in your living room no matter where you were within about a 1/2 mile radius of the stage.

The Stones kicked things off with classic track/eventual Windows 95 theme song Start Me Up, which was memorable from out vantage points because Keith Richards boot appeared out of the smoke and haze of the front stage fireworks about the same time as the riff from his guitar reached us. I remember it being a pretty great set, if a tad but heavy on the album they were ostensibly touring behind. A quick search of the Google tells me that 6 of 25 songs in the main set were from Steel Wheels, which in retrospect isn’t that bad at all (the ratio of songs, not the album Steel Wheels – that was a dud).

I remember the highlight being toward the end of the set with Happy (Keith on vocals!), Paint it Black, the underrated 2000 Light Years From Home (one of the few bright spots of the Stones short-lived psychedelic phase), and Sympathy of the Devil. Towards the end of 2000 Light Years most of the house lights went down and the stage was basically dark as the band faded out of the song, before the spotlight revealed Mick Jagger on a platform at the top of the stage, more or less parallel from us, as the opening percussion of Sympathy sounded. The entire audience went apesh*t and drowned out the band completely. It was AWESOME. Easily one of the best concert moments of my life, and I’m sure in a lot of people’s lives. This video from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas doesn’t do it justice, as you don’t get the perspective on where Mick was to start the song, but it basically took him the entire guitar solo to make his way back down to the stage mid-song.

Moments like that are why you pay the money, brave the crowds, and go see what even then was a band threatening to reach self-caricature status – not to go see a band play only their hits for the millionth time. The Stones back catalog is unfathomably deep, so that for every Satisfaction and Jumpin’ Jack Flash, you’ll get to hear songs like Midnight Rambler and Dead Flowers as well. I doubt they let Mick journey to the top of the stages any more (probably for a litany of insurance reasons), but you’re guaranteed to see something amazing, no doubt. I just never need to see it again. I do hope everyone going enjoys the show, regardless.

Editor’s Note: I fully stipulate that I am old and there was enough marijuana smoke gathered in a haze in the upper stratosphere of the stadium where we were sitting to give everyone in the upstate of South Carolina a contact high that night, so I may have misremembered and/or hallucinated some or all of the details described here. The important thing though is that this is how I remember it, so that’s just as good as it actually happening. Caveat emptor though, just in case.



Any time, any place

I just celebrated a birthday this week, marking my 44th year successfully rotating the sun. It was delightfully relaxed and low key, highlighted by dinner and drinks at the Pig and Redlight Redlight for a lengthy nightcap and some good conversation. One of the topics that came up was, given a TARDIS like ability to control time and space, if you could see one band in any place/time period, who would you choose? I rolled off a few choices on the spot, but of course my mind is going to obsess on a big, fat, juicy, wheelhouse question like that for days (Thanks, Shawn), so here’s ten of my possibilities, in no particular order.

The Talking Heads, 1975 at CBGBs in New York: If only to get to see this song performed in all of it’s glory. Mental note, skip the bathrooms though.

Elvis Costello, 1977 SNL taping: One of the seminal moments in rock history, and one of the great “bite the hand that feeds you” moments ever. Hey, if nothing else, you know it isn’t lip-synched.

The Rolling Stones, 1971 Exile on Main Street recording sessions, Nellcote, France: Not a concert per say, but can you imagine the absolute insanity of watching the Stones at the height of the powers (and in the midst of out of control drug and alcohol use) recording one of the great rock albums ever, with the likes of Gram Parsons and William S Burroughs hanging around? Yes, please.

The Stone Roses, 1989 Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England: The zenith of the Roses career. Oh to be there if only for the all out jam that breaks out during I Am The Resurrection during the show’s closing number (forward the video to the 48:18 mark to see what I’m talking about).

The Clash, 1977, London: The greatest punk band ever (and maybe the greatest rock band this side of the Beatles when all is said and done). The Clash top my list of “bands I regret never getting a chance to see” list.

The Smiths, 1984 Manchester, England: I’ve told my sob story before about missing out on a chance to see them later in the 80s, but this is my choice of time and place for one of my favorite bands ever.

The Velvet Underground, 1969 New York: Much like the Stones entry above, this one is just as much for people watching as it is for the incredible music.

Radiohead, 2006 Bonaroo: In general, I’m not a big fan of festival sets or festivals in general. Too many people, unbearable heat, mud, $8 water and not enough toilets is not my idea of a good time. But man, the setlist of this show is just off the charts. There is a soundboard recording of the show lurking around for those willing to look for it.

Queen, 1985 Live Aid: What’s that? I get a chance to see the greatest front man ever take complete control of tens of thousands of people with one of the truly amazing performances of all time? Where do I sign up?

Big Star, 1973 Memphis, TN: More specifically the show Big Star played at the first (and last) National Association of Rock Writers’ Convention, for two reasons. 1) As described in the fabulous Big Star doc, Nothing Can Hurt Me, the band absolutely killed. 2) Where else could you find guys like Lester Bangs, Lenny Kaye, and Richard Meltzer (not to mention a 16-year old Cameron Crowe) in one room? If these were in order this would have been my #1 choice.

So there you go, the ten shows/moments I’d go and see if you given complete command over time and space. If you know me you’re probably thinking there are some notable omissions here, namely R.E.M., The Replacements, Elvis, and the Beatles. Well, I’ve seen the first two at their peak (and in the case of R.E.M., in pretty much every conceivable venue and circumstance), so I wouldn’t waste this opportunity on something I’ve already experienced. Elvis was hard to leave off, but there’s enough video footage of him to suffice. As for the Beatles, have you ever seen footage of a Beatles show? There’s so much screaming going on that you can’t hear a lick of the music, so I’ll pass. I mean, those British Invasion shows at Epcot are the next best thing, right?

Those are my choices. What would you pick?


Meaningful albums or songs

If you’ve read this blog before you have probably come to realize by now that I steal stuff from myself all the time. I prefer to think of it as “re-purposing” or “being efficient,” but let’s be honest, it’s mostly just being lazy. I’m setting a new low today because not only am I once again stealing from myself, I’m also hijacking an idea from Michelle’s blog from today which struck a chord with me, since pretty much every period or meaningful event in my life has a direct memory association with what I was listening to at time. Her post was on “five meaningful songs” (btw, Michelle, kuddos on the Mazzy Star selection. It was almost enough to cancel out the Garth Brooks version of a Bob Dylan song blasphemy – almost. Ha! Just kidding.) but I’m at least being original enough to rework into “15 Meaningful Albums and songs.” Michelle’s post was also laudably succinct and came with lots of pretty pictures. Mine’s guaranteed to be wordy, rambling and picture-less. Theses differences probably speak volumes.

These aren’t necessarily my favorites or the best by an individual artist, but the ones that have the most significant meaning for me at certain periods of my life. Here they are in rough chronological order (this will commence the feeling of deja vu in some of you):

  1. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall: I’m pretty sure this is the first record I ever owned. It was either this or the Sugar Hill Gang, but come to think of it I think my sister was the one who brought Rapper’s Delight into our house. I know most people prefer Thriller, but this Quincy Jones record was the height of pre-insanity Michael and blows Thriller out of the water IMHO. Have this on vinyl still and it continues to hold up.
  2. Rolling Stones – Tattoo You: I still dig side 2 a lot and still have the original vinyl copy that I bought. This was the first real “rock and roll” record I owned, and alas probably the last great Rolling Stones album ever unless there is a serious surprise in the near future. Hang Fire is a lost Stones classic.
  3. REM – Fables of the Reconstruction: I bought Chronic Town, Murmur, Reckoning, and Fables in fairly quick succession, but Fables is the one that stands out from a memory association standpoint. I’m reading Patton Oswalt’s new book and he has a great section that describes listening to this record while reading and working in a ticket booth at a movie theater. Frankly I’d like to replace my own recollection of Fables with his since his sounds more interesting than lying on the floor in my basement in between the speakers trying to decipher Michael Stipe’s lyrics fully for hours on end. I may be the only person who thinks Wendell Gee is the best song on that record. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that before.
  4. The Smiths – Hatful of Hallow: Most vivid memory/nightmare of growing up in Greenville, SC? Riding around town aimlessly on what was known as “the track” listening to Reel Around the Fountain and This Charming Man all night. The track basically ran from the Burger King on East North Street up to Paris Mountain and back. Having this as your typical Friday night obviously impressed the ladies a lot. Hatful was import only for a while so you knew that anybody who had it was serious about the music though.
  5. REM – “You Are the Everything” : Just a gorgeous, gorgeous song, and one that evokes really powerful imagery in my mind of riding in the backseat of a car as a child at night on a long car trip, and watching the moon and stars pass in and out of your field of vision. A song that retains a lot of meaning for me to this day for multiple reasons.
  6. Guadalcanal Diary – Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man: Great, great live band. A group of us went to see their show at Georgia Tech one weekend and were walking across a large, open field with a stage and a bunch of roadies unpacking equipment that said “Guadalcanal Diary” on the side. At this point (I removed Garret Steck’s name from here to protect the innocent – oops) asks one of the great dumb questions of all time: “Is this where the band is playing tonight?” Picked this up and again on vinyl about a year ago and it still rocks.
  7. The Connells – Fun and Games: I still consider this my local house band. Saw them too many times in college to count, including my 21st birthday at the Georgia Theater in Athens (which sadly burned down a little while back. Athens people, is it back in play yet? I heard they were trying to rebuild it but lost track their progress). I’m pretty sure I fractured my roommate Roger’s hip bone with a pretty wicked cross check when Something to Say was played. Sorry, but that’s how I rolled (danced) in those days.
  8. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes: Does anybody alive at that time not have some memory of singing Blister in the Sun or Add it Up at the top of your lungs at a party/bar/some type of group setting with complete strangers? I didn’t think so.
  9. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses: I loved the record from the get go, and it only gets better with age. Don’t ask me how much I paid for the recent 20th anniversary special edition box set. So many good songs, but I Am the Resurrection was great to play as a DJ at school to try scandalize the uptight, zealot sections of Furman’s student body. It was also long enough that you could use it as your go to  “DJ needs a bathroom break” selection. In the end though, neither was really successful since WPLS was blasting out something like .3 Watts of power and nobody outside of the booth could hear what you were playing on most nights anyway.
  10. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks: I avoided Van (with good reason) due to the Brown Eyed Girl associations back in college, but this may be the perfect album to sit back, drop the needle down and clear your mind with. Plus its one that you don’t really appreciate when you are younger.
  11. Radiohead – OK Computer: This album brought me back into “new” music after drifting away from it in the mid to late 90s. It’s perfectly sequenced, textured and thrilling every time you listen to it, even after more than a decade of hearing it.
  12. U2 – Bad: I’ve made no bones about my disaffection with U2 in recent years, but this song resonates for a few reasons. First was seeing it performed on TV at Live Aid and live on the Unforgettable Fire Tour. It was simply astounding, especially the Live Aid version. It’s now my kids favorite song, mainly because they like the “hoo hoo” part at the end. But I can’t help shake my head when I hear it now and compare it to “Get On Your Boots” and the giant bag of mediocrity they’ve come out with since Achtung Baby. Ah well.
  13. Radiohead – True Love Waits: This is kind of a companion piece to You Are the Everything in a lot of ways. Even though it has never had an official album release, I’ve listened to the live version that came out on their I Might Be Wrong live recording fairly compulsively over the last three or four years. It’s a song that will immediately distract my attention when it comes on. So if you see me at work or somewhere else wearing headphones and I have kind of a glazed, washed out look on my face you will know what I am listening to.
  14. Dolly Parton: Jolene: When I was growing up I knew about Dolly Parton of course, but kind of dismissed her a clown based her stage persona and 9 to 5-like movies. But then I started listening to her songs, especially from about 1965-75 and it dawned on my what a phenomenal songwriter and musician she was/is. I realize that for business reasons she plays up the blond ditz  from the sticks persona (b/c its wildly successful and allows her to sleep on piles of money every night), but it distracts from what is arguably the strongest songwriting catalog of any American female singer/musician. I’m so in awe of this song that I named my ipod after it.
  15. The National – Alligator: My favorite new artist, though I guess after 5 albums they really aren’t so new anymore. This is my still current “headphones with the lights dimmed” selection. I completely associate with the narrator in All The Wine: “I’m put together beautifully / Big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth / I’m perfect piece of ass / Like every Californian / So tall I take over the street, with highbeams shining on my back / A wingspan unbelievable / I’m a festival, I’m a parade/” I mean come on, you read/hear that and I think of me right? Well, I guess I’m not from California, Matt got that detail wrong I guess.

There you go. Apologies again to Michelle and my old Facebook postings for my blatant theft. What makes your list? Or do normal, sane people not think of things like this obsessively?