Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sweatin' to the Oldies

How the Rolling Stones’ rebellion created a more unified nation

In the late 1960s, they paraded lewd antics and cultural rebellion under a billowing cloud of drugs and sex, and proclaimed themselves to be “the greatest rock and roll band in the world.” Some 40 years later, playing a tour of sold-out stadium shows, and being chronicled by filmmaker Martin Scorsese, the Rolling Stones seem to be proving that they are in fact, the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

At Oakland’s McAffee Coliseum Monday night, as I sat between a middle-aged man lighting a joint and an 11-year-old girl who knew the lyrics to every song, it seemed that these historical symbols of rebellion were easily uniting us in collective nostalgia.

Skipping from the wings, appearing as skinny kids in hipster pants and sparkly t-shirts, the Rolling Stones took the stage under an explosion of fireworks. This is of course, their “Bigger Bang” tour, and with a stage that extended four stories high and a pair of inflatable lips that emerged during the second half of the show, the Stones are decidedly bigger, and perhaps better, than they ever have been.

What makes the Stones so radical, even today, is their ability to create and deliver rock music that is at once both charming and salacious. Their songs, collectively, are as filled with jazz and blues as they are with funk and psychedelia. Their lyrics seem to satisfy primordial and lecherous urges – lyrics that seemed threatening to the generation of Lawrence Welk and Pat Boone devotees that were the parents of the Stones’ early following.

Yet now fans flock, often as family units, to see the Stones. Young and old seem united by this group that had seemed so lasciviously rebellious in the 60s and 70s. It is a true testament to the music and the theatrically electric performances of the band that they have held up for so long – and it finds me wondering if there is any group I can imagine watching at a packed stadium with my own family in 30 years.

The Strokes? The White Stripes? I undoubtedly won’t be racing to see Dr. Dre or Kanye West in 30 years, but I can also little imagine going to see Nine Inch Nails or even Radiohead.

Before the Stones go off and file for Social Security it seems that they are pulling the most shocking move of their careers – culturally uniting us, letting us rally around cries for “Satisfaction!” and “Brown Sugar!” – and asking us to question what (if any) band might be able to bring so many ages together in the future.

Of course, perhaps I am reading too much into the impact of the Rolling Stones. Perhaps I’m giving them too much credit. It is only rock and roll, after all – but I like it.

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