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ROCK AND ROLL experiences, like drug experiences, depend on your fantasy life. In performance we respond not to the music or the artists themselves, but rather to their convulsive evocation of our own unconscious imagery. The best rock and roll bands, then are those whose synthesis of sound and image arouses the most violent and endurable fantasies, dreams and roles you can wear in everyday life. Sometimes the music gets in the way of fantasy, as in jazz, and the rock becomes reviewable, esoteric. Sometimes the fantasy becomes too formless (space music, psychedelia) or too simplistic (rock and roll revival) and the whole experience collapses. Great rock happenings are thus a dialogue between audience wishes, conceived in non-musical, irrational terms, and a group's media image. Projection is all. In fantasy, as in rock, the best group is the Rolling Stones.
They step out of a Warhol movie, this rock and roll band. Pope Ondine and four Chelsea girls, Heavy Metal Kids fleeing the Nova Police. The drummer emerges from beyond a wall of amps, dreamily staring into space, slack-jawed and moronic; the bassist, his pasty skin framed by long dark lifeless hair, is a ringer for Mario Montez. Their new guitarist, the one discovered in a men's room, has powdered his face and lipsticked his already feminine mouth. The lead guitarist is dressed in black mariachi pants and spiky teased hair; there is a gold ring in his ear and a red cancerous star on his chest. Heavily made up with eye-shadow, lipstick and rouge, Keith Richard wraps two spindly arms around a sleek black guitar and forces the opening bars of "Jumping Jack Flash."
Out struts Mick Jagger with a snigger, dressed entirely in black, a long pinkish scarf hanging from his neck, an Uncle Sam hat straight from Chappaqua on his head. The omega-like sign of Leo, fiery and domineering, the sign of a king, is printed on his chest. "Well alright," he shouts at the audience, looking the perverse offspring of a Rimbaud or a Wilde, and like a voodoo prince he pumps his hips twice and begins to dance. Pouting, leering, his fat lips flapping, his eyes hopped in derision, he is the shaman, the witch we have waited for, the King Kong monster. The audience is left contemplating the mask of a primitive god.
No one knows quite what to do. The Rolling Stones are on stage in person live right there a part of our collective fantasy life, and now that real figures confront us there doesn't seem to be anything we can say. Back before the Mothers, before Hendrix, way back before the Who, we used to shriek. No one shrieks. We stare.
MUSICALLY they are a very different band than when I last saw them over three years ago. The Stones, never much on melody, have always relied upon tension and frenzy in their sound. The frenzy comes from the strong assertion of the quintessential rock and roll instruments-drums and bass guitar. Watts hits the snare drum obsessively with a force whose pure violence is unequalled by any other drummer. His elementary patterns are cretinous because the Stones like it that way, not, as detractors would have it, because he can't play any other way, (A high-point of the New York concert was he and Jagger in a between-songs duet; Jagger would yell, "Alright !" and Charlie would respond with masterful drum riffs.) Laid over the percussion are Wyman's restrained bass lines, and this combination provides the thrust and visceral power of the Stones' music. With the drum/bass as floor, the two guitars fight for control, continually re-emphasizing the forward thrust of the bass, while Jagger's alternately sneering and raging tones proclaim through this wall of sound the primal savagery the Stones have always represented. The famous tension of their music is thus really two tensions: the first between guitars; the second between Jagger's voice and a band which seems always on the verge of pounding him to pieces.
The Stones' performance today is poorer for lack of tension. Brian Jones, the silver in the original Silver Rolling Stones, and the most talented musician in the band, is dead. Only he could fight Richard for control; with Jones gone the music is all Richard's show. Their new album, Let it Bleed, maintains much of the Stones instrumental excitement only because Richard does the important rhythm work himself in the Jones style. But Mick Taylor, who may be nice for John Mayall, can't hold his own, and the result is Richard's easy domination of many of the songs. All the live pieces that depended on twin guitar work-"Sympathy for the Devil," "Stray Cat Blues," and "Street Fighting Man" -were driving but instrumentally rather dull.
Jagger's body is the real excitement of the Stones today, the sole vehicle for their celebration, so the burden of arousing the crowd, of embracing and proving all our dreams of the Stones-violent, sensual, perverse, etc.-rests on him: we must remake the concert with his image. And it's hard to maintain the tempo of abuse that we demand of him, even with all our fantasies riding on his every move. After all, someone in the MC5 took a shit on stage in Seattle; Morrison whipped his cock out in Florida. What else can a poor boy do? At the Boston concert the Stones' MC invited the mob to rush the stage, perhaps unsure of whether Jagger merely whirling his belt around could have done it on his own. Arrogance, the signature of the Rolling Stones, does not come so easily anymore.
SO WHEN they break into "Carol," an old Chuck Berry number, Jagger has to work out harder than he ever had to before. He has an accomplished body, schooled in mime, and on stage he's all flash and sex, pure wildness, the natural pop idol, Neither his body not his face betray any clear sexual commitment, it's all energy, sick and mannered, a come-on for male and female alike, a ferocious invitation to a cosmic gang bang where penises and breasts, vaginas and asses will intermingle without valence. His hands are wonderfully expressive, what Attend may have had in mind when he wrote: "These strange games of flying hands, like insects in the green air of evening, communicate a sort of horrible obsession, an inexhaustible mental ratiocination, like a mind ceaselessly taking its bearing in the maze of its unconscious." Of course, Jagger isn't really a great dancer; Tina Turner, who did a set right before the Stones in New York, cuts him in every way. We are told he's a great dancer, we imagine him to be one, and we respond to him as one, but that's our fantasy, our wish for a midnight rambler, and has nothing to do with him at all.
After "Carol" the band went into a sloppy "Sympathy for the Devil." Jagger introduced himself as the devil and the audience burst into applause in recognition of its own dreams of what Mick Jagger doing "Sympathy for the Devil" would be like, and sure enough, when I asked people later they could have sworn they heard calypso. Most disappointing about this particular song, and most of Jagger's vocal performance for that matter, was the absence, up until "Satisfaction," of any vocal improvisation. Much of the Stones' dynamic relies on Jagger's talent for splintering and then remaking the vocal line, a technique he borrowed from soul music and worked to perfection in masterpieces like "Goin' Home." Jagger wasn't having any of it, for two possible reasons: one, that the audience was already completely zonked on their own Stones' trip and it would have been senseless for him to waste the energy on something they wouldn't notice anyway; two, once that trick was on the table he'd have nothing more to show.
So the concert proceeded, Jagger wearing outrageousness on his sleeve, a symbol that we could all react to. Through "Stray Cat Blues." much slower than the record, Watts occasionally losing the beat, the lyres changed from fifteen to thirteen year-old girl (outrage, like any fashion, ages quickly). They do some slow numbers, a "Prodigal Son." Richard's steel guitar funkier and less evocative than the Rev. Robert Wilkins, and "Love in Vain," a Robert Johnson song, which Jagger, sketching out the Stones' new image, and rushed to keep ahead of mere satyriasis and the universal dope-taker, dedicates to "the minority groups in the audience, the fags and the junkies."
THEN on to another Let it Bleed cut, "Midnight Rambler," a harpsy Chicago blues thing with a long instrumental break, the real knockout of the concert. Jagger gets down on his knees and thousands of heads crane to see what lewd nasty he's doing, so he takes off his belt, swinging his arms back and smashing it to the stage at the end of each line:
"Well, you've heard about the Boston (smash)
It's not one of those (smash, simultaneous with "shit")
Talking 'bout the midnight (smash)
The one who closed the bedroom door (smash)
I'm called the hit'n' run raper, in anger (smash)"
Bathed in red light, he whirls it over his head, pretending he's about to throw it, but of course he isn't, though hundreds of hands, urged on by the very thought of Mick Jagger's belt to fondle and to hold, to prance around in, are outstretched in feverish anticipation.
From there they went into "Under My Thumb," sounding more like the Who's version than their own, and a new one, "Live With Mc," Richard doing a fine solo instead of the sax. Then another Chuck Berry song, "Queenie," "from when you were about thirteen years old." The Stones oeuvre might be subtitled Anthems of Young America, and they finally cut loose on the song that made rock and roll a movement, "Satisfaction," Richard ripping off huge Chuck Berry chords and adding an cery vibrato, Jagger doing an Otis-like "I can't getta no, no, no, no," that faded into "You can't always get what you want" back to "we're gonna get ourselves, some satisfaction," the audience lost on the Stones/Satisfaction myth. "Honky Tonk Women," dedicated to "the loose women in the audience," and closing the set, a limp "Street-Fighting Man." Bam. They split with their hulking guards, leaving the audience too hopped on its own totemic rituals, its own cruelties, to ever come down.
With his androgynous visage, his arms akimbo, Jagger beckons to the repressed sexual urges in all of us, volunteers to take on the burden of our own sadistic and rebellious reveries; in return, we pay him lots of money and promise not to remember what he does. As long as he gives us a few concrete gestures, the rest doesn't matter; we'll extrapolate from there. His sulking, his mincing, the fluttering eves, the limp wrist are but touch-stones to the structure of our own imaginations. I don't know what happened in New York or the Boston Garden anymore and no one else does either. Perhaps this not knowing is the residue of all great theatre experiences, those that, like Mick Jagger, "invite the mind to share a delirium which exalts its energies."
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