Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That Fine Fine Music - Your Life Was Saved By Rock & Roll

The Rolling Stones could be the biggest band in the world. Moreover, they could be the most significant thing that has happened in the history of popular music and popular culture. They have hundreds of thousands and die-hard fans, and with the help of the new Keith Richards biography "Life" and a constant stream of 21st century re-releases, the band has been able to stay as relevant--to young and old audiences alike--as they ever have been.

But why? What is so attractive about an almost laughable crew of haggard, junk-worn Englishmen who continue to play songs that we could all recite in our sleep?

You've heard the conversation starter a million times. "Oh the Rolling Stones...is that ole' Richards fellow still standing?"Or the classic "wow how can a man that old still dance like that?" While these may be somewhat valid questions, and their sentiments may be endearing, they undermine the creativity, talent, and (in some ways) humanity of the band. In a time and culture where we praise celebrity, and the lives of the famous seem to overwhelm the media's attention, it's important to remember that the Stones are still a rock n' roll band. Let's not make caricatures out of a few of the best songwriters in the history of the language. Yes, there is an aspect of the modern Stones that is loveably ugly- the band still jerking and twitching in classic rock n' roll style, while big old wily grins shine out of weathered faces. But this isn't why we like the Stones, is it?

It's the music, right? It's the straightforward rock aesthetic of Sticky Fingers. It's the dirty, soulful country hooks of Let it Bleed. It's the nearly whimsical pop tunes of Flowers and Between the Buttons. And finally, it's Exile on Main Street, the band's magnum opus, and perhaps the most critically-acclaimed and storied album in all of rock history. Right?

Well, yes. It's true that these achievements are the first thing that we think of when we think of the Stones. And absolutely, these are the reasons why we practically worship them. But I think deeper down, there is something even more powerful that draws listeners to the Stones.

It's the love. No, not the cheesy 60s flower power "peace, love, happiness" love. And no, not the love of your girlfriend. I mean real teenage, fire-eyed, love for rock n roll. There is not a feeling more powerful in the world than listening to your favorite band and feeling alright. Turn it up in your room. Plug into an amp. Play something. Add distortion. Maybe some reverb. From years of going to concerts, looking tirelessly for albums, and discussing music with friends, I am telling you with 100% certainty that this is the savior. Lou Reed once said that "the music gave you back your beat so you could dream." This is powerful stuff. It isn't washy, or emotional or sensational. It's having a band. It's just playing your favorite punk songs all day. And it's defending--till the day you die--your favorite records.

So finally, I am coming around to my main point. Recently I have been listening to the Rolling Stone's 1967 Their Satanic Majesties Request. A lot. Whether I'm in bed, doing homework, goofin', or playin' video games, TSMR has been spinning. And what I realized after maybe 15 listens is that no, it's not my favorite Stones album, but it is perhaps the most refreshing and organic of any of their albums I've ever heard. Because before listening to the album this year I knew no songs off it and didn't really know what fans thought of it, I was able to listen to it with a completely fresh set of ears--as if it came out in 2010. I didn't let the aura or legend of the album or the band overtake my actually real enjoyment of it. Song after song, I got a great feeling that I usually don't get when listening to the Stones. Instead of "wow this has got to be the best achievement in all of pop music," (which is valid) I found myself thinking "wow, these dudes are probably having a hell of a time." It isn't an "epic" or deeply emotional album, but it's one full of great and uninhibited songs. What more is there to ask for?

So while our generation admires the stones music on RockBand, their personalities on CBS Sunday Morning, or their legendary experiences in the new Richard's autobiography, I challenge you to admire them like teenagers did in the 60s and 70s. Round up the block and come in to the living room. Have a party. Crank the phonograph. Raid the liquor cabinet. Whatever you must do, listen to this album as a youngster.

And for god's sake, keep fighting the man.

Also, dig how the album art is totally mocking the Sgt. Peppers-era Beatles.


  1. think this is it

  2. That was a great write Austin, I'll shortly be experiencing this album on a fresh slate as it calls for. The stones kick ass, they still deserve for their albums to be listened to like you describe.

  3. wow, awesome piece Austin. You really cut to the heart of music and I'm sure a lot of us feel the same way. I, too, will be giving this one a fresh spin.