Hard to believe it’s been eight years since I last posted on this blog. And yet, I’m still getting asked to speak in public about “Under Their Thumb.” In fact, I’m headed to Chicago this week to appear on a TV talk show and to deliver some lectures.
The Stones will be in Chicago at the same time, opening their “No Filter” tour at Soldier Field, but I haven’t yet decided if I’ll go. For one, I dislike almost everything about stadium concerts. If you’ve read my book, you know I’m a bit spoiled. I’ve seen the Stones jam in some pretty intimate settings – not just
in nightclubs and small theaters, but in recording studios and places like Ron Wood’s basement – so I prefer those to be my lasting musical memories of the band.
Secondly (and I address this in “Under Their Thumb”), the Stones’ ticket prices nowadays are way out of hand. Far above the pay grade of this particular starving writer. There are no freebies on the 2019 tour and, even if there were, I’m not sure I’d wanna figure out the maze I’d need to go through to get one.
(As some of you are aware, the band’s appointed “Ticket Lady” passed away recently.)
But the big reason I’m undecided is that, knowing that each Stones experience may be my last, I feel I need a great “storyline” before I plunk down the dough. And while I realize that nothing will top some of my previous experiences, I do want something that’ll make the concert especially memorable.
After seeing them in 2006 at the Beacon Theatre, I told myself that was it. I’ll never need to see ‘em again. The Stones pulled out numbers like “Loving Cup” and “I’m Free,” and it was all filmed by Martin Scorsese for his “Shine A Light” documentary. But the show’s personal significance goes way beyond
that for me: The Beacon Theatre, which holds just 3,000 people, is walking distance from my apartment, meaning it quite literally hit home.
Additionally, the Stones’ support act that night was former president Bill Clinton. No joke, he came onstage before the Stones to deliver a speech about world poverty and the environment. No matter what you think of him or his wife nowadays, it’s always exciting to see an ex-president in person, especially if said president is opening for the Stones. That doesn’t happen too often. I later ran into him and Mrs. Clinton in the hallway of the theater, in addition to Elvis Costello and Vaclav Havel (the poet-turned-prisoner-turned-president of the Czech Republic and a huge Stones fan). A pretty frickin’ memorable night.
But on top of all that, and on a deeply intimate note, that Beacon show was the last Stones concert I ever attended with Dessie, my live-in girlfriend, who died of breast cancer in 2010. As some of you are aware, I partly dedicated “Under Their Thumb” to her (while she was still alive to see it). We first met at
a Stones’ theater gig in 1997 – by fate or coincidence, we were seated right next to each other – and there we were, at yet another Stones theater gig, scenes of which are now preserved for me in a Scorsese film. So yeah, I’d have been content if the Beacon 2006 show was my last Stones show ever.
But then my phone rang in December 2012. The Stones were playing Brooklyn – the New York City borough of my birth; it’s even in my book’s friggin’ subtitle! – and a friend of mine (a well-known radio DJ) had an extra ticket. I actually told her to “Let me think about it.”
But a minute after I hung up the phone, I called her back: “Who the fuck am I kidding? Of course I’ll go! But I feel like Pacino. Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in! First they play the Upper West Side (the neighborhood I’ve been living in for decades; home of the Beacon Theatre) and now they play Brooklyn, where I grew up!” So yeah, I went to the 20,000-seat Barclay’s Center and caught the show, only one of three concerts the Stones performed in America that year. And the only time in their now 57-year career that they’ve ever played Brooklyn.
I can retire from Stones concerts, I thought.
But then a friend called me in 2013, saying he had a so-called “Lucky Dip” ticket for Philly with my name on it. Those hard-to-find Lucky Dip tickets, as you may know, only cost 30 bucks or so, but you don’t discover where you’re sitting until you get to the venue. I explained to my friend that I needed to have
a “storyline” before I’d agree to go, and, after pausing for a minute, it came to me: Philly is where I saw my first-ever Stones concert (at JFK Stadium in 1981).
“Prefect!” I told him. “My FIRST Stones show was in Philly and my LAST Stones show will be Philly! Full circle!” And so, on June 21, 2013, I sat in some very decent seats inside the Wells Fargo Center (20,000 capacity) and witnessed Aaron Neville join the Stones on a cover of “Under The Boardwalk” and Mick Taylor join them on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” both of which were true rarities. In fact, many hardcore Stones observers consider it the best show of the 2013 tour.
What more could I want? I got my “full circle” thing, I got Mick Taylor, I got Aaron Neville. I’m done.
And then came Tel Aviv. I have friends and relatives who live in Israel (including Svi, the real-life character from my book) who’d been trying to get me to visit for years. It is, after all, the land of my ancestral heritage. Some even chided me for having visited Germany – to see the Stones’ Urban Jungle
tour in 1990, of course – before ever visiting the Holy Land. A bunch of ‘em said, “Well, I bet if the Stones ever came to Israel, you’d finally come.” And I replied, “It’s a deal. If the Stones ever visit Israel (which seemed like an impossibility), I’ll be there.”
Well, the Stones played Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park on June 4, 2014, and I lived up to my promise. And as someone who attended yeshiva as a kid (the Jewish equivalent of parochial school), it was a thrill for me to hear Mick Jagger speaking to the crowd in Hebrew. (Frankly, his Hebrew was better than mine!
Granted, he was reading phonetically off a Teleprompter, but he nailed it! He also spoke some Arabic. The crowd loved it.) In the days prior to the gig, Mick, Charlie and Ronnie visited some of the famous sites (such as the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), but Keith stayed in his room at
the Dan Hotel, inviting me (and Svi) to have lunch with him. (Long story for another time, but I actually had to turn Keith down.)
Point being, I found another great storyline for my last-ever Stones show: A kid brought up in the world of Judaism gets to see some of the ancient relics (I’m referring to the Stones) in Israel. Shalom, we’re done.
And to date, that’s the last Stones show I’ve been to. Like I said, if you’ve read my book, you’ll appreciate why paying 500 bucks to see the Stones in a stadium doesn’t have much appeal for me. I’d rather remember ’em the way I saw ‘em in some nightclub or in Woody’s basement.
But that’s strictly my own personal perspective. I would never discourage anyone from seeing a Stones concert in 2019 and I would never dismiss anyone else’s opinion about the subject. We’re all coming from our own unique experiences. I have no doubt that the Stones will put on a bunch of incredible shows this summer and that the 50,000 people packed into each stadium will leave with a feeling of – dare I say it – “satisfaction.”
But with days to go before the tour’s debut, I still haven’t found the storyline I’m looking for.