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Friday, April 20, 2012

(16th in a series of) Stepping Stones "In Support of the Arts"

Song: Start Me Up
Album: Tattoo You
Released: August, 1981

It’s been many years since the Rolling Stones had a Billboard Number One Hit:  That would be Miss You in 1978 (which was their 8th Number One, the first being Satisfaction in 1965).  They did come very close again three years later however, reaching the Number Two spot with Start Me Up, this week’s Stepping Stone ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG2b3VhSCC4 ).  Although Miss You and Start Me Up ended up on different albums, the story goes that the final-cut versions of these two songs were performed live in the studio, back to back on the same day; Miss You as pretty much a one-off, followed by Start Me Up, which had been through many iterations in prior studio sessions as a Reggae beat, before the Stones finally settled on the classic Rock sound heard on the Tattoo You album.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that Rock moment.  With Miss You as a Number One, and Start Me Up several years later as a Number Two, The Stones gave a new definition to the term ‘One Two Punch’.

Hits by any of my favorite musicians are not always great songs to these ears, but Start Me Up most definitely is.  I like the fact that it sounds like this is simply the five core band members, along with their four core instruments (other than perhaps the overdubbed, synchronized clapping, since I can’t picture Keith Richards doing this).  That’s a lot of fun sound coming out of two guitars, a bass, and drums.  Also, it’s pretty cool the Stones were able to top the charts at roughly the 20 year mark of their formation.  It’s also pretty cool that a song produced this far into the band’s history would not only become a routine part of the live set list, but would often be used from that point on as the opening salvo to introduce the group to the crowd on any given evening.

Since 1981 though, nothing has come quite as close to Start Me Up in terms of being a “Hit” for the Stones.  They are not alone.  In general, the Rock n’ Roll world has come face to face with a strange new reality in recent years.  No longer the powerhouse of yesteryear, Rock music registers rarely now on the top of the Billboard charts, transplanted by the likes of Hip Hop and the relentless surge of Pop.  Gone are the days when Rock songs dominated the charts with a consistent influx of cutting-edge grooves.  This is not to say there is a lack of raw talent out there:  There most certainly is a wealth of it.  But the phenomenon is gone, at least for the time being, and the newcomers are no longer able to ride the wave, now having to struggle like any artist who follows an inner beck and call instead of a fad.

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History documents many cases where the loss of power, particularly longstanding power, leaves the former movers and shakers in a very vulnerable position.  This cold hard fact has proven no different for Rock’s elder statesman.  For those who were never really on board with the Baby Boom musical cornerstone called Rock n’ Roll, particularly those in the same generation, it is much easier now to lash out.  So the digs seep into the discussion easier and with more frequency now for the diggers, who take aim at the weak spots, such as excess (Jerry Garcia, Keith Moon); the yearning for utopia (Neil Young, John Lennon); ‘old men’ rocking into a seeming caricature of themselves (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards); accusations, however false (Pete Townshend); and the overall rock ethos itself.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I recently got knocked back by a dig from a friend when I asked him if he wanted to join Mac and I to see the upcoming Roger Waters “The Wall” concert at Fenway Park.  His reply was something along the lines of “zero chance of finding myself in that Occupy Wall Street crowd”.  What?  I responded  saying that I had no idea what he would allow himself to see anymore, and the next time I were to ask him if he wanted to see a show would be if I were holding tickets to see Tony Bennett or Barry Manilow.  Is that safe enough for you, buddy boy?

The dig was emblematic of my already well-developed suspicions:  Yes, the vultures are circling, aren’t they?  I won’t hold it against my old chum, though.  There was a bit of good natured needling mixed into our exchange.  But there was an element of serious jockeying as well.  I could have raised the ante if I wanted, as I did refrain from referencing a few lyrics from Bob Dylan’s Only a Pawn in Their Game.  I’m sure he could have notched it up too.  Regardless, it’s clear to me that we are living in different times then when we were younger.  That type of joking, if that’s what it was, would have been off limits way back when.  At the very least it can all be chalked up to our changing nature as we grow older.  But I think it’s more than that; a cultural divide that grows wider by the day.  It may go back to the book "Shut Up and Sing" (see Gem Music Video # 76).  Anyone who bought into it has basically cut themselves off at the knees.  Goodbye Rock.  Hello Easy Listening, any Country but the 'Outlaw' kind, elevator muzak, and maybe a bit of Ted Nugent sprinkled in....just to keep that edge.

Indeed, “the times they are a changin”.  One side effect is that, incredible as it may seem, old time Rock musicians are now subject to the same dated image that those crooners and swingers from the 40s and 50s faced in the 60s.  There’s just not enough pride out there to pass on the good vibes of the music and what it all means to our kids.  Though I do agree that it’s good for them to find their own way with their own musical interests, there is so much they can learn from in the music of the Baby Boomer Generation.  Personally, I think it’s one of the best things we as a generation can lay claim to and pass on to them.  Which brings me back to that Rock ethos thing: There’s a lot of independent spirit in Rock music; a lot of free thinking; and like any good art, a lot of truth. 

On the plus side it has become apparent that the Rock genre has survived for the long haul, as it no longer appears to be a young man’s game.  There’s enough of us diehards out there to continue guaranteeing that solid, well reviewed tours of established bands still sellout at good clip.  I’m happy to say I’ve done my fair share of support over the years.  But nothing like some folks I know.  One of these folks is a fellow soccer Dad in town who I converse with quite frequently on the sidelines of Peter’s games.   Being a very successful businessman, this guy can support his love for live Rock music, and then some.  He has attended an incredible amount of shows over the years.  And he does not go alone; he takes the entire family, which includes his teenage kids who are well versed in the ongoing live Rock music scene. The shows that these young buds have attended include the likes of Ray Davies, Roger Daltrey, J Geils, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Cars, Rat Dog, Hot Tuna, and Nick Lowe.  Oh, and Roger Waters (“The Wall” tour swept through the area once already, last fall).  The list is endless.  These kids are going places.

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Epilogue: For years I carried with me a slightly guilty feeling that I have not been supporting the arts nearly to the degree that my parents have done.  After a few nights of writing and reflection, I realize now that I was looking through the prism of their eyes:  Classical concerts, art museums, musicals, theater, and opera.  Rock concerts fit right in though:  It’s become easier to convince myself of that.  This being the case, my support for the arts over the years can now be bumped up exponentially from dozens to hundreds, and that trend should continue, as my enthusiasm for a good show has not waned. 

So Start Me Up all you ladies and gents taking center stage to rock out on any given night at any given venue, be it a stadium, arena, theater, night club, or tavern.  I’ll be the guy in crowd in the tuxedo…. you know, supporting the arts.

-          Pete

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