I am a rocker. I can’t say that the mod aesthetic doesn’t appeal to me with its futuristic clean lines and plastic sheen, but at my entropic heart sullenly slumps the bourbon-soaked hirsute tatters of a rocker, and I cherish its bird-flipping defiance.
Which is why I find the fact that the Rolling Stones were chosen as this year’s Superbowl family-safe act disturbing. I am not a huge Stones fan. I don’t have framed prints of the Glimmer Twins; I don’t have every album up until Tattoo You arranged chronologically in their Mylar shields. I don’t have a t-shirt, an action figure or a single giant lips insignia.
Yet at 43, I am passing familiar with the folk history of the Rolling Stones. After all, I am old enough to have heard “Sympathy for the Devil” on the radio as a chart-climbing hit. As a teen, I masturbated to Some Girls, timing my adolescent orgasm to coincide with the finale of “Beast of Burden.” “Sha-dooby,” my high school girlfriends and I used to say to one another instead of “cool.”
The Rolling Stones, perhaps with more self-awareness than any other band previous to them, positioned themselves as opposite dominant culture. As a band in the heady fresh-mint times of rock, they took a look at the rest of the kowtowing crowd and in 1965 released the inescapably creepy “Play with Fire” and “Satisfaction,” perhaps the best anti-consumerist anthem until the Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket.”
Take a moment: is there a bigger “Fuck You/Fuck Me” than the Andy Warhol designed iconic cover of Sticky Fingers? The album cover is genius. It looks, it feels, it nearly smells of sex. It makes you want cock, and if any band put the cock in rock, it was the Rolling Stones. Every song, and every stage performance since Mick Jagger stole Tina Turner’s dance steps, has been about the cock of the walk—being a cock, having a cock, wanting a cock, sucking a cock, fucking a cock.
Cock. Cock. Cock. Cock. It’s what the Rolling Stones have sold since 1964, really. And aside from a slight sheathing to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, when they were forced to change the eponymous lyrics from “let’s spend the night” to “let’s spend some time together,” they have let theirs hang out proud and loud.
1969: it was the worst of times, it was the best of times for the Rolling Stones. They lost Brian Jones to questionable circumstances, but they released "Gimme Shelter" and put on what might be one of the top ten concerts of all time at Hyde Park. And that year, when other bands were holding hands and singing in the summer of love, the Stones chose the Hell’s Angels to be their security detail at Altamont, to stabbingly disastrous results. In fact, this moment has over and over again signaled to rock critics and social historians alike the end of the hippie era.
The Stones didn’t let a little thing like a pair of deaths shorten their cocky strides. In the 70’s, they swung, inhaled, snorted, injected, and generally glimmered in a life of tawdry, hedonistic, decidedly sexually ambiguous excess that defined the generation. They appeared on stage with a giant, inflatable dick for the love of god; there wasn’t a whole lot left to the imagination.
And yet this year, two years after the dread Nipplegate, that moment when America was shocked, offended, and appalled by a glimpse of a jewelry sheathed female nipple, the Stones were picked as the So-Safe-it-Works Superbowl half-time act. I didn’t watch it, not out of disgust or anything, I just hate football, so I don’t know what the band looked or sounded like.
But I do know this: I find it sad that Mick and the Boys do keep on rocking. I find it sad that these rebels have been tamed, and that it isn’t music or drugs or death or family that has soothed their savage beasts, but some other force greater than themselves. I find it sad that my mom says that they put on a good show. I’d like to remember them as the drunken, drugged, excessive, trampy cocky skanks they were, and not the nostalgia act they’ve become.
There’s a line in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown where the amoral patriarch played by John Huston says, “Whores, politicians, and ugly building all get respectable if they get old enough.” Rock bands too, I guess.
Shame, isn’t it?
Shylah, thank you for donating to my Razr relief. As one Razr owner to another, I know you feel my pain.