One of my favorite parts of Martin Scorsese’s documentary film focusing on the Rolling Stones occurs before the music even starts. Mick Jagger calls up Scorsese to express his concern over the large tracking cameras that will be used (nearly 24 cameras were employed in the filming) and whether they will intrude on the audience’s appreciation of their benefit concert for Bill Clinton’s foundation at the Beacon Theater in New York.
Filmed in 2006, the small ornate venue offered a great deal more intimacy than the Stones’ stadium shows, which generally seat thousands. (The only small show I attended, the “No Security” tour, took place at the United Center in Chicago; my friend was hit in the head by a drumstick that Charlie Watts pitched into the crowd and still managed not to catch it! Charlie’s drumsticks, I can report, have his name burned into the side, so they would have made a great souvenir, but it was not to be, despite my friend’s goose-egg on her forehead. I remember saying, “Didn’t you ever play softball?”)
As a long-time Stones fan, I have seen them “live” on every tour since 1982. “Steel Wheels” was the best, when I saw them in Ames, Iowa. An absolutely awesome experience. That tour was followed by the “Voodoo Lounge” tour (Chicago), the “Bridges to Babylon” tour (2x, Ames and Minneapolis), a smaller more intimate show in Chicago at the United Center dubbed the “No Security” tour, and their most recent outing two times in Chicago, “A Bigger Bang.” [I will say that I have never been colder in my life than at the fall Soldier Field concert this last time. Elvis Costello opened for the Stones this last time ( opening acts I have seen include Lenny Kravitz, Blues Traveler, and the Goo Goo Dolls, among others.]
Scorsese is noticeably frazzled on film by the Stones’ failure to know exactly what the order of their set is going to be until the last minute. We see shots of Mick on an airplane, going over the set list and then shots of Scorsese being given a “late-breaking” bulletin of the order of the songs. He wants to know so he can have the right camera in the right place at the right time, but, like the rest of us, he is clueless until the concert actually begins.
Scorsese really gets in close on the band, wrinkles and all, with Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“The Aviator,” “J.F.K.”) overseeing a nineteen-person team boasting three multiple Oscar winners in addition to Albert Maysles. Albert Maysles and his brother, David, made the Stones’ tour documentary “Gimme Shelter” in 1969, which became famous for the Hell’s Angels incident (the Hell’s Angels were hired to provide “security”) that caused the death of an audience member.
The Stones perform 19 songs, delivering some seldom-performed gems like “She Was Hot,” “All Down the Line,” and a country-flavored “Loving Cup,” which was a duet with Jack White of the White Stripes. Jagger also brought out Christina Aguilera to duet with him on “Live With Me,” which involved a bumping and grinding dance, with Christina clad in what appeared to be black tights and a man’s shirt, wearing a black formal tux tie loosely draped around her neck, untied. Another guest performing onstage was Buddy Guy, blues icon from Chicago, who sang “Champagne & Reefer” with Mick.
My favorite parts of the IMAX film involved the old archival footage of the Stones being interviewed as young men just starting out in the business. Charlie Watts, now the white-haired grizzled drummer, talks in his salad days about how he would have liked to have been a painter, but didn’t have the vision, so he could only aspire to be a “designer” (if he hadn’t become a member of the band). I would have enjoyed three times the quantity of “clips” of the early Stones that Scorsese included, but he’s the Oscar-winning director, and I’m just an audience member who is fascinated by strolling down memory lane.( I couldn’t help but compare the scarcity of clips with a brilliant documentary on Freddie Mercury I saw at the Chicago Film Festival this past fall that had ten times the amount of personal clips.) I also enjoyed the classics included like “Brown Sugar,” “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (the Stones’ first Number One hit in this country back in 1965) and “Start Me Up.”
Also interesting was the appearance of the Clintons (yes, those Clintons), Bill, Hillary and Hillary’s mother, who came onstage before the show to introduce the Stones. Bill announced that, for his sixtieth birthday, he wanted to “open for the Stones” and, by introducing them, he got his wish. The Clintons had at least 30 family members and friends present in the lower balcony of the small theater. Since the “f” bomb was unleashed at least three or four times during the concert, and Mick’s dancing has always been suggestive, I couldn’t help but think that, —if the tables were turned, and Obama played as dirty as Hillary in her campaigning—-Obama would be mentioning the Clintons participation in the concert with a holier-than-thou attitude, tsk-tsking all the way to the polls. (It’s certainly what Hillary has done with the Reverend Wright and his Wrong-headed ranting.)
A friend of mine, with whom I play Trivia in Pub Quiz (a British chat room online) told a story of meeting Charlie Watts and his Mrs., along with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood (and families) at a posh restaurant in London one night. He described Charlie Watts as being as nice as could be, and described Ronnie and Keith as “borrowing” the waiters’ jackets and passing a cheese tray, to the amusement of their party.
I still remember walking through what was then the Union’s “River Room” at the University of Iowa in 1963 and hearing “Hey, You! Get Offa’ My Cloud” blasting from an old style juke box with colored lights. The Stones signed with Decca Records that year, later touring the United Kingdom with the Everly Brothers and Bo Diddley. In 1964, the Stones released their first album, “England’s Newest Hit Makers.” They also toured the United States for the first time that year and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1971, Rolling Stones Records released the “Sticky Fingers” LP, with a cover design by Andy Warhol that is now iconic. The Stones received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986 and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. The “Bigger Bang” tour of 2005 grossed half a billion dollars, with paid attendance of 4.68 billion, according to George Varga’s “Mature Focus'” May issue (p.56), and I attended two of those “live” concerts.
During their long career, the Stones have undertaken some fantastic tours and released notable albums. In the sixties it was:” The Rolling Stones, Now!” followed by “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” Beggars Banquet,” “Let It Bleed.” In the seventies, with “Sticky Fingers” “Exile on Main Street” and “It’s Only Rock & Roll”, the Stones were still hot. The eighties brought us “Some Girls” (the Stones sang at least 3 of the songs from the album during the IMAX event), “Emotional Rescue,” “Tattoo You,” and “Still Life.”
The latest release from the Kings of Rock & Roll and the greatest arena band ever is the soundtrack to the film “Shine A Light,” (now showing at an IMAX Theater near you.) I admire the fact that Keith, Mick, Charlie and Ronnie ( assisted by the nine members in their touring ensemble group, such as Lisa Fisher of Brooklyn) have let it all hang out in the aging department. After seeing the horror-show that now is Kenny Rogers’ face, I appreciate the fact that the Stones still enjoy what they are doing, do it well, don’t seem to have lost a step, and are letting themselves mature naturally. When you see Mick Jagger doing his chicken-on-acid dancing, non-stop, while wearing a long blue-black coat that seems to have been made of ostrich feathers, never stopping to rest, it is difficult to believe that the man was 62 when this was filmed.
As for Martin Scorsese’s filming them onstage at the Beacon Theatre in 2006, who better than the man who was assistant director of the Oscar-winning documentary “Woodstock” forty years ago, and also directed “The Last Waltz,” the story of The Band’s 1976 all-star farewell performance?