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Hey you! Get Off Of My Cloud!

And so the Rolling Stones are about to embark upon yet another UK & European tour this summer.

See here for a report on the announcement in the – NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS

As a former music journo who cut his teeth in the late Sixties and has spent over forty years in and around the industry I greeted last weekend’s news with mixed feelings. The same mixed feelings that I’ve had with every Stones tour announcement since about 1980.

I doubt very much whether this revelation will surprise Rust readers in the slightest.

This all to do with that old and eternal mind-conflict between young and old, of course.

Oh – and the motivations behind people ever going into financially-risky or even nailed-on poorly-paid professions and careers; why what is ‘current’ in all arts including fashion is constantly changing and evolving; and – yes, that old chestnut again – the desire of each generation to be deliberately different, and if possible shocking, to those that went before.

Let’s lazily just list a few well-worn items that suit my theme:

George Melly’s seminal book on the 1960s – Revolt Into Style: The Pop Arts in Britain (1970).

“Don’t trust anyone over 30” – the rallying-cry originally spouted by Jack Weinberg in 1964 – later evolved into “Never trust anyone over 30” by Yippie activist Jerry Rubin during a demonstration at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago in which he tried to nominate a pig as a candidate for US President [one of the ironies of this escapade was that at the time Rubin was already aged thirty himself].

“Hope I die before I get old …” the most famous lyric (from the ditty My Generation) of The Who’s leader and chief composer Pete Townshend.

And, of course, the legendary rumour that – in straightforward accounting terms – The Who were in debt throughout their heyday and in fact only every reached solvency well after their official break-up in 1983.

“Seize the day!” (Latin: ‘Carpe Diem’) – the eternal motto of the young.

The saying “Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse …” is often attributed to – or said about – actor James Dean (1931-1955), but my researches tell me it was originally a line spoken by actor John Derek in the movie Knock On Any Door (1949).

Integrity compels me to assert that popular music – and for these purposes, let that definition today cover everything from saccharine middle-of-the-road warbling to the wilder excesses of heavy metal – is or should be all about being aged somewhere between 10 and 30.

Or should it? There’s an argument that – to hell with age as a number or vintage – if you like something, what the hell has whether you are 10 or 90 got to do with anything?

We’ve got to be careful in these preachy #MeToo days to even mention his name – because, of course, in his day he confessed to having sex with underage groupies etc. – but former legend of the UK music industry and hip/‘cool’ BBC radio presenter John Peel spent an entire career constantly shifting his likes as regards music, long after the rest of us had stopped and ‘circled our wagons’ around a particular style or era.

Back in the early 1960s when the Stones started out, they got together from a communal love of the blues and made their reputation playing covers of the blues and other black music staples.

Howlin’ Wolf

There was a certain weirdness in the fact the British ‘Blues Boom’ of the 1960s owed nearly everything to often penniless black musician in their fifties and sixties – but at least they acknowledged it by paying due tribute to them and even inviting ‘originals’ like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker to play with them or even join them on tour – thereby hopefully providing them with late-blossoming careers and hopefully decent pension incomes.

In all this there was a certain uneasiness on the part of some. The old bluesmen were revered for having played their music all their lives for little or no reward – that was part of its attraction, and why everyone rejoiced that they finally got recognition and a wide ‘cross-over’ audience.

Yet I bet you that a large proportion of those old bluesmen who had certainly paid their dues – if they’d been told early on that they could have made zillions by playing some other kind of music – would have done it.

The notion that the blues had a certain authenticity which required that you only had the right to play it if you were black and down to your last dollar was and is, of course, rubbish.

Back in the 1960s when the Stones – and all the other so-called greats of British rock music – were setting out they and their immediate forebears were rebellious teenagers and/or drop-outs reacting to the changing times around them, wanting to leave the old world of convention, rationing and slavish respect to ‘your elders and betters’ behind; and, above all, their inevitable motivations were sex, drugs & rock n’ roll. Even in the mid-1960s, by when they had become the biggest band in the world, the Beatles were giving honest interviews to local TV stations in which they stated that they were expecting it all to end before they were thirty.

And then gradually wealth beyond anyone’s dreams came into it. Some were exploited by agents, managers and other leeches and/or (rightfully?) dropped off the cliff edge into obscurity anyway … whilst others – through dint of talent or just sheer random, glorious luck – became multi-millionaires.

You cannot begrudge anyone the right to earn a crust, however old they are. Yet I feel uncomfortable whenever I see bands who were big in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s suddenly re-forming and going back on the road – and probably making more money as fat, bald, white-haired old geezers living in suburbia than they ever did in their heyday – by simply re-treading their old hits to audiences of middle-aged punters longing for nostalgic reminders of their own youth.

Just because they can.

Let’s be honest. The Rolling Stones were a great band and – arguably – all they’re doing is what they’ve always done. Like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.

But these days – along with acts like U2 and the rest – they’re global money-making corporations. That doesn’t quite fit with the music of pain, rejection, rebellion, ‘outlaw values’ and poverty that they’re still peddling to the well-heeled masses who these days make up their audiences.

Does any of this matter? Perhaps it ought to, but perhaps it doesn’t.

Me? At my age and with my background, I just feel that maybe George Melly and his book title Revolt Into Style just about summed it up …





About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts