Old Stones keep on Rolling

SEPTEMBER 17 — Attempting to debate who should be regarded as the greatest band in pop music history is a futile exercise.

It’s such a subjective matter, with different people giving weight to different achievements (success, influence, longevity, technical ability etc etc), it’s not really possible to even decide what actually defines the phrase “the greatest”, never mind then further agree upon to whom that title should be bestowed.

Whatever measurements you use, however, there can surely be no doubt that The Rolling Stones must be regarded as one of the greatest rock music bands of all time.

After starting their career in the early 1960s, the famous quartet of Mick Jagger (vocals), Keith Richards (lead guitar), Ronnie Wood (rhythm guitar) and Charlie Watts (drums) are still going strong now, more than half a century later, and are currently in the middle of a European tour which is seeing them play in front of packed stadia all over the continent.

The “No Filter” tour, in support of a new album, kicked off last weekend in Hamburg, continued at Munich’s Olympic Stadium and last night landed at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, better known as a Grand Prix racetrack.

Next week, they continue to Switzerland and Italy, before moving onto Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium, the Amsterdam ArenA and further venues in Denmark, Sweden and finally two nights at the brand new U Arena in Paris.

The heartbeat of the Rolling Stones, of course, is the songwriting duo of Jagger and Richards. “Mick and Keef” have been lifelong working partners, always managing to team up and deliver the goods despite going through more than their fair share of typically bitter rock’n’roll bust-ups along the way.

Without doubt, Mick and Keef have been responsible for creating some of the most popular and influential rock songs of all-time, with tracks like Brown Sugar, Sympathy for the Devil, and their most famous song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction never far from the rotation on rock radio stations all over the world.

As an enthusiastic if limited amateur guitarist, I can attest that Richards is regarded as a very significant force within the guitar world, with his understated and inventive use of blues and rock rhythms, riffs and licks allowing him to enjoy a god-like and universally respected status among fellow six-stringers.

The Rolling Stones at their first concert of the “No Filter” European tour in Hamburg, Germany on September 9, 2017. — Reuters pic
The Rolling Stones at their first concert of the “No Filter” European tour in Hamburg, Germany on September 9, 2017. — Reuters pic

Jagger, meanwhile, is the archetypal rock frontman, with his relatively limited vocal range more than compensated by his expressive nature, and seemingly endless and boundless reserves of energetic stage presence.

Of course, not everybody likes The Rolling Stones, and many people regard Jagger in particular as an ugly representative of everything that is wrong with crass and vulgar Western culture.

Ever since he first squeezed himself into a pair of skin-tight jeans and popped open his shirt buttons to reveal his bare chest, Jagger has been frequently criticised for his heavy use of sexual imagery and wild gesticulations, and he is still managing to get those famous hips to wriggle and writhe now, even at the age of 74.

Ah yes 74. Writing an article about The Rolling Stones, it feels as though it’s obligatory to mention their advanced ages, because the fact that are still touring generates almost as much debate as whether or not they are better than The Beatles.

A brief exchange of WhatsApp messages I had with a group of friends this week illustrates the point.

“They’re too old!” said one. “Should have packed it in years ago!”

Another suggested: “They have wheelchairs on standby in the wings in case Mick falls over.”

But another countered: “Give them a break! If people want to see them why should they stop?”

And I’m of that latter opinion. Whether you like them or not is beside the point: the fact that a group of seventy-plus year-olds are still working hard, putting themselves through the stresses and strains of international tours and lengthy “live” performances is, in my eyes, pretty inspiring.

From a young age, we’re taught that old age is a time for gentle relaxation. The very word “retirement” suggests not just an end to work, but also the beginning of the end to life itself, and the stereotypical perception of a 74-year-old like Jagger is someone who has to sit down a lot and take regular naps whilst allowing his body to gradually decay towards death.

That’s not for me. I’m not afraid of growing old and eventually dying, but I am frightened by the prospect of spending my last few years in a dull torpor of inactivity, a lifeless life.

Rather than wasting away, at the age of 76 I hope that I’m still able to sit behind a drum kit and thrash away like Charlie Watts. I hope that I can still bounce around a stage and strum a tune like Richards. And although it’s not quite my style to thrust my torso at strangers in the manner of Jagger, if that’s what keeps him going he should just carry on.

When I’m that age, I might not get any satisfaction. But, at the very least, I hope I can still try, and try, and try.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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