SECTION THREE

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COLUMN SEVENTY, APRIL 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

RETROPOP SCENE:
THE WORLD'S NO. 1 ROCK GROUP


MICK JAGGER
(Photo by Linda McCartney from her book THE SIXTIES: PORTRAIT OF AN ERA)

I keep flashing back to the summer "64 and one night in the Ad Lib Club in London, loud discotheque with a lot of red in the lighting, and Brian Jones and Keith Richards sitting with John Lennon rapping Scotch---soggy gossip and getting into a mock angry argument over who had long hair first. It was around the time of the Royal Premiere of A Hard Day's night, and after a while Brian got to talking about how another tour would do it for the Stones, make them big international stars, bigger even than the Beatles, make them the world's No. 1 rock group.

John was sassy but serious, said it was all right with him and he wished them luck, said he was thinking of quitting anyway, said they could have it but it wasn't as easy as they thought.

"Y're not playing ballrooms in Blackpool any more," he told them. "Y've got t?be great, y've t?be perrrfect, y've got t?be strong, y've got t?be hard! Is there a weak one in th?group who might hold ya back??

Brian and Keith tried to dodge the question. They shrugged but then they nodded.

'then get rid uv "im!" John snapped viciously. "Get rid uv "im!"  

I sat listening to all this besotted talk, wondering whom it was John was telling them to get rid of and also feeling sorry for poor Brian and his crazy daydream. The Stones could never overtake the Beatles, never, never. John, Paul, George and Ringo had too big a head start, they were already bigger than Elvis.

Could the Stones have a second chance at making the same kind of grand entrance that the Beatles had made?  The Stones had already toured America


Could the Stones
be bigger than
the Beatles?


and played to some half-empty houses. Could they draw the same screeching teenybopper mobs?  Could they command the same screaming headlines?  Could they create the same sensation?  The Beatles were already the phenomenon of the "60s and history gives us only one a decade. Poor crazy Brian.  The Stones could never be bigger than the Beatles. They would always have to live in the Beatles' shadow.

Oh, I liked the Stones well enough.  Liked Brian and Keith and Bill and Charlie. I hadn't gotten to know Mick very well, although I had recognized him in a car that had pulled up in front of the Inn and Out on Piccadilly Circus a couple of nights before.

It was Bob Dylan who first turned me onto the Stones, Bob coming back from a trip to England and raving about this new group that played so free, freer maybe than the Beatles, this new group that was the rage of England, the Rolling Stones.

I rushed out and got their album and it had Can I Get A Witness? on it, a cover version of Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness?---a record I had worn out because I liked it so much. Didn't there have to be some spiritual bond between us for them to have recorded one of my favorite tunes?

I felt as If I already knew them when I went to their first concert at Carnegie Hall, opening the door, to bathe in the incredible liquid thickness of their sound. I felt as if I already knew them when I went to meet them afterwards in their suite at the Park Sheraton, going up in the elevator with Gloria Stavers of 16 Magazine and record producer Bob Crewe, who was at the height of his success then. Brian was the first of the Stones I met and he began talking in a gush that made me feel as if he felt he already knew me, too.  It was a conversation that we kept going until his death five years later.

As for Mick, he was in the bedroom of the Stones' suite that night, surrounded by adoring women.  My wife was with me at the time and afterwards she told me that when she tried to say hello to film he had acted nasty towards her.  He had mistaken her for one of the groupies, but after that I found it hard for me to get to know Mick.  Then the trouble between Brian and the rest of the group broke out and I found it harder still.

Brian had started out the founder and leader of the Rolling Stones but it was destined that Mick should emerge the star.  By the end of 1964, Brian was already talking about quitting, except that he didn't want to spend the rest of his life being known as an ex-Rolling Stone.

Meanwhile, Mick was doing everything right.  If I didn't really get to know him, it wasn't his fault.  I remember when Brian was busted for dope. I felt as if he were taking the rap for everybody else and when Mick and Keith came to New York to mix Beggar's Banquet, I grumpily stopped by at the studio to spend a couple of nights listening to them work on their album.

Mick was the essence of charm, telling hilarious stories about the Maharishi and bringing me up to date about Brian. Looking back now, I can see that it wasn't until after Brian's death that I realized he and Mick really loved each other. So, was Brian was the weak one?

I last saw Mick in Burbank the night before the Stones began the tour that ended in Madison Square Garden. We said hello and spoke only for a few moments, but long enough for me to recognize how large he had grown, how large he had become and what kind of lessons he had learned from the Stones? disastrous concert at Altamont.  I guess I had learned a few lessons about Mick, too. It had been eight years since that night in the Ad Lib Club.  Brian and his orange golden hair were gone. So were the Beatles.

The Rolling Stones were the world's No. 1 rock group.  ##

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