Sunday, June 30, 2013

Glastonbury 2013: The Stones rolled on

The Rolling Stones at Glastonbury was, you'll have spotted, hugely overhyped, like some sort of crossover episode, or the completion of a set of Pokemon collections.

Given that it had been given the full moon-landing-status before, it's going to take something special for Michael Eavis to rise the occasion for his traditional complete overstatement. It's a challenge... but he'll do his best:

The Rolling Stones' hit-packed Glastonbury debut has been hailed as "the high spot of 43 years" of the festival by organiser Michael Eavis.
And I think we can confirm that, yes, this is the most overblown statement of 43 years of statements on Glastonbury from Michael Eavis.

Most people seemed to enjoy it in their own way - people whose musical tastes ossified somewhere around the time they started shooting Crossroads in colour had a great time; everyone else made their own entertainment before turning over to watch Public Enemy.

What's strange, though, is that the existence of people refusing to pretend this was anything other than an adequate performance by a band who've been trotting their retirement-fund greatest hits set round the globe for three decades now seemed to outrage the believers. Suddenly, people who you thought would know better were fuming at the very idea that there was snickering at the back.

Andy Kershaw pulled a grim face:
Meanwhile, a depressing amount of bitter, mean-spirited, cynical comment was posted about the Stones on my Facebook page last night.
Imagine that, eh, cynical comment about a band who arrange their world tours to minimise their tax liability. What a world, eh?
Almost all of that hostility was based on the band members being old.
Here's a funny thing, though - obviously, I can't speak for the people who were throwing things in Andy Kershaw's direction, but that isn't true.

Sure, there were a lot of jokes about how old they are - although that was more than balanced by the (surely more patronising) posts about 'goodness, they're moving around, at their age, aren't they marvellous'. But there were also snarks about the songs the Stones have flogged to advertisers; Jagger's strange costume choices; the bizarre film effect that had been slapped all over the footage; the way they only let one chunk of the set go out on TV; the audience being a mix between the bored and the bad dancers.

Now, perhaps Kershaw would dismiss all this as being bitter, mean-spirited and cynical - but given we've just sat through two solid weeks of reverential whispering that 'The Stones are honouring the world with a gig at a music festival', culminating yesterday in John Humphrys being sent off to a yurt for a meeting with Jagger hi'self - I'd suggest it was just the realistic sound of a crowd objecting to being told what to think. The sort of thing you'd have thought Andy Kershaw would welcome.

But what of the 'old' jokes? Even Danny Baker - jesus, DANNY BAKER - pulled an 'Oprah looking stern' face at them:

It's like seeing Hetson Blumenthal saying he doesn't understand why putting an egg into a saucepan makes it go hard, isn't it?

First of all, 'Rolling Stones being old' as the point of a joke have been around for almost as long as they have - I can remember cartoons depicting Mick Jagger with a Zimmer Frame in the 1980s.

At that point, it wasn't so much about them being old, as having been around a long time. Remember that their main rivals, The Beatles, barely scraped into the 1970s. In the 1980s, the very idea of a rock band still going after a couple of decades was, in itself hilarious - they were in middle age, pursuing a career which had only ever been followed by youngsters. It wasn't old, it was just older.

Cliff Richard, who also endured, endured much the same thing even when he wasn't actually, or actuarially, really past it.

And now, in 2013? There's still a lot of that at the heart of the jokes - a general perception that they've got stuck in a job which is really intended for people to do at a younger age. Mick himself admitted more-or-less this in his interview with Humphrys:
“[A]ll these things that you think of when you’re a teenager you could think, well I would have liked to have done that, but that’s completely pointless. I’m very pleased with what I’ve done.

“Everyone wants to have done more things in their lives. But it’s a slightly intellectually, undemanding being a rock singer but you know you make the best of it.”
Doubtless Baker and Kershaw will be giving him a dressing-down for that refusal to treat his work with the due respect.

Danny's comparison with Al Green and Aretha Franklin? I'm not sure it's a fair comparison, given that neither of them are rock stars. Their chosen field has always cut across the generations; soul music never built upon a lyrical groundrock on simply being young in the way much of rock music did. The same is true of Country, for example. Or the blues. If The Stones had just stuck closer to the source material, the 'old' jokes wouldn't work; they would just be coming to the end of taking fifty years worth of cracks at how they're quite young to be doing this. ("You woke up this morning, did you, Mick? Yeah, and you were born yesterday.")

Added to that, there's also the unavoidable, extraordinary durability of the Stones. They've been going longer than the venerable event at which they were playing, and much (oh, so much) had been made of that in the run-up. If you spend weeks pointing out how long these cultural touchstones have been rolling, can you really be surprised if that gets reflected back by those who are less than impressed?

But, I think, the main reason why people make jokes about the Stones being old - in a way you tend not to hear about Paul McCartney, for example - is more familiar. It's the same reason why people make jokes about David Cameron's posh background, or Donald Trump's hair.

Calculate how long Jagger must spend prancing on a running machine. Add up the number of times Keith Richards mentions all the drugs he takes.

The Rolling Stones cling desperately, visibly, to their youth. There's something awkward about a bunch of men who seek praise for a fifty-year career while trying to pretend they're not pushing seventy. It's a like a man who was in the Bullingdon Club trying to hide his kitchen suppers.

Of course people are going to find that funny. Of course that's going to be the fault line where a nation, force-fed the idea that these tax-exiles offering to be paid for doing a couple of hours work in Somerset on a Saturday night is an epochal moment, will gather to snigger.


curiousiguana said...

Frankly, the set was below adequate and Keef's guitar was faded down in the mix most of the time. If they'd blown the crowd away with an exciting, tight, joyous performance (like the equally ageing Stevie Wonder did a couple of years back) then I'd shut up.

But they didn't. They played by the numbers through an at-times shambolic set of drawn-out blues riff-wankery, with songs that one or two of them managed to finish at the same time. They're past it - the joke about them being old only really works in this context.

I'm sure people at the Pyramid Stage had a great time. You do when there's the atmosphere, the excitement and the energy of being there - THERE - when some legends are playing in front of your eyes. But how many times do you listen back to a gig that you loved from the audience, and then realise it was a sub-par performance when you hear a recording?

For a TV audience and in terms of music, they were boring. And pretty awful at times.

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