Rock Revisionism

Memo to Mick

Rock revisionism kinda spoils it, dude

By Greg Cahill

Bloody hell, those rock icons are a sentimental lot. At least, that’s the impression you get after viewing 25 X 5: The Continuing Adventures of the Rolling Stones, a 1990 Columbia Video release that is now something of a rock relic in its own right.

At a time when the Stones hype machine is running at full throttle–a worldwide tour, the release of remastered versions of the band’s first 22 ABKCO CDs, and the upcoming release of the new greatest hits collection Forty Licks (Virgin)–it’s interesting to recall that 12 years ago the much ballyhooed Bad Boys of Rock were behind a carefully orchestrated big-budget scheme to clean up their image.

We’re talking rock revisionism taken to new heights. In this very authorized video, executive producer Lorne Michaels (creator of Saturday Night Live) and filmmaker Andrew Solt (who directed the acclaimed 1988 film Imagine: John Lennon), offered an often exciting and fast-paced look at the band’s then 25-year career.

There was enough behind-the-scenes material, rare film footage, and juicy comments from guitarist Keith Richards about his heroin addiction to satisfy the most diehard Stones fan. Digitally remastered and remixed from original TV broadcasts, the vintage footage captured much of the excitement that marked the Stones’ 1964 arrival on the pop-music scene.

Much of the band’s early appeal was due to a surly, working-class stage persona (you’d never know that Mick was an economics major and Keith attended art school), providing a sharp contrast to the clean-cut British Invasion acts.

So why was so much of this 130-minute production spent downplaying the band’s reputation as decadent rock stars? Evidently, the Bad Boys of Rock, as they billed themselves in those early years, were looking for (cringe) respectability. For instance, singer Mick Jagger noted in a 1989 interview shot for the rockumentary that “the Beatles were just as cynical as we were.” He laments that producer Andrew Loog Oldham chose to portray the Stones in a more ominous light.

Oldham, Jagger continues, manufactured the Stones’ bad-boy image by encouraging newspapers to play up the “Would you want your daughter to marry a Rolling Stone?” angle and neglecting to mention that the band often visited “sick children in the hospital.”

Obviously, the Stones were having second thoughts about their place in history. The result of the Solt biopic was a myopic family portrait that swept under the carpet the eccentricities and indiscretions that could have provided a revealing look at the lives of some of the most influential musicians of the rock era. Instead, the Stones came across as middle-aged men retouching a tarnished image–adding botox to the character lines, if you will.

One of the most glaring examples of this revisionism is the shallow treatment given by Solt to the Stones’ disastrous 1969 appearance at the Altamont Speedway in Livermore. At that ill-fated concert, organized by Stones management and attended by 300,000 fans, Hells Angels who were working as security guards fatally stabbed spectator Meredith Hunter while the Stones played onstage just a few feet away. The incident was captured by the Maysles Brothers in their feature-length documentary Gimme Shelter. The murder shocked Jagger and had a chilling effect on the band, which retreated into a long hiatus from live concerts.

Yet in 25 X 5, Jagger makes only a fleeting, uneasy comment about the episode, calling Altamont “disorganized, a mess” and failing to mention the killing.

The denials continue with a full five minutes spent discrediting Cocksucker Blues, an unreleased documentary filmed during the tour that showed the band on their worst behavior. Jagger and Richards nixed the film’s release, saying it gave a distorted account of the band members who, they say, were only mugging for the cameras.

The Solt video closes with home movies of Jagger relaxing with longtime squeeze Jerry Hall and their children, and wedding shots of band members Richards, Ron Wood, and Bill Wyman, all of whom tied the knots in the months before the film’s release. Very cozy.

You have to wonder if the band shouldn’t have heeded the advice given by Who guitarist Pete Townshend during their 1989 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Townshend said: “Don’t try to grow old gracefully; it wouldn’t suit you.”

Who could have guessed that rock’s greatest outlaws would have become so repentant in the sunset of their careers?

From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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