October 3, 2006

Why we love the Stones

Here’s something funny. Tony Bennett comes to the Kentucky Center and he’s lauded as the classic entertainer that he is. B.B. King comes to the Palace and he’s the man.Maybe by the time the Rolling Stones hit their eighth decade, if it should come to pass, people will stop making fun of them. Not that I haven’t — in 1982, when my brother-in-law and I couldn’t find one single scalper out in front of Freedom Hall, we started to implore passersby by saying, “Sell your tickets, they’re old.” It worked, sorta. We found two young cuties who were haggling with some indecisive guys and put 100 bucks in their hands for a pair of tickets. I kid you not.The point is, with rock ’n’ roll we have never been this far down the road. Other pop music forms date back slightly farther than most of us can recall, and so their “oldness” doesn’t seem to be a factor. But as rock proper, as defined by the arrival of Elvis, rolls into its fifth decade, it just seems to make some of us feel a little self-conscious.But there’s no need. Just as surely as B.B. defined a style, so too has Keith Richards left his imprint on guitar playing for time immemorial. And Mick Jagger, the rubbery fool, wrote the book on fronting a rock band, not to mention coining scads of lines that will become cultural fossils. For this he gets credit. And drummer Charlie Watts, Mr. Simplicity — I was thinking the other night at Churchill Downs that it really all ends for the Stones if he takes leave.So, seeing them able to purvey their art, with no apparent lessening of joy, is something to behold. I’m not sure that the rain Friday night didn’t make it a bit extra cool for the band.A couple more thoughts: Aren’t the Stones something like the leading edge of the beginning of the end? That is, when my best friend’s 15-year-old son is his dad’s age, what bands will sell 40,000 or 50,000 seats to its old fans? Who’ll rally a whole cluster of generations and get them alcohol-fueled enough to revert to back-when like it never went away? I cannot think of any.That’s no criticism, just an observation. Consider the new book “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More,” by Wired editor Chris Anderson, in which he explains how entertainment sales today are driven not by blockbusters but by oodles of titles, many appealing to a quite small subset of fans. If you graph it, the line is very steep at the head and then drops quickly but goes on and on and on. Technology provides something like autonomy; this is how we consume today, for better or worse, and so getting together to listen to bands like the Rolling Stones play their greatest hits may soon be a lost cultural signpost.That’s not to say they’ll still be around when they’re 80, nor does it diminish any new music that comes along. It just is. Contact the writer at cstemle@leoweekly.com