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C H A P T E R F I V E THE ROLLING STONES Rebellion, Transgression, and Excess Rock stars, as one groupie once said, are groovy because they smoke more cigarettes, take more dope, drink more whiskey, stay up later, and fuck more frequently and in odder positions than most people. In other words, in post-everything bizarre America, they do the things everybody wants to do. . . . And right at the top of the whole pyramid was Michael Philip Jagger, the number one rock star in the world. Robert Greenfield Rock & roll and the 1960s changed many things, but not everything. The Rolling Stones illustrate the intensification of consumer capitalism and the way in which rock stars continued the connection between consumption and celebrity. The Stones’ 1969 and 1972 American tours thrust them to the top, not merely of rock & roll but of the whole entertainment world. They became entertainment royalty. While other stars at least pretended to worry about “selling out,” the Stones had managed to evade the problem by incorporating excessive consumption as an element of their authenticity. Beginning their career as the Beatles’ dark others, they embodied adolescent rebellion and became identified with sexual and social transgression. Because of the cultural transformations of the 1960s, the Stones became the height of fashion by retaining their personas as outsiders and rebels. By the 1970s, they represented the permanent dissatisfaction of a consumer culture, where you might be able to get what you need but you will always want more of it. In this they symbolize an economic order that rock & roll in general did not challenge, much less change. Thus the Stones are a cautionary example for those who would equate an oppositional stance with progressive politics.1 Instead of representing communalism and other values of the 1960s New Left, the Stones stood for something like the individualism that would be the hallmark of Ronald Reagan’s 1980s. As I argued in chapter 1, movie stars were defined by the glamour of extravagant consumption. But if the movie stars were extravagant, they were 98 Rock Star not excessive—their excesses being carefully covered up by the studios. The rock star, by contrast, is defined by excess, and it is the Rolling Stones who most thoroughly embody this definition. In rock journalist Robert Green- field’s account, the definition of the good life that stars represented shifted from extravagance to excess by the early 1970s, when he was writing about the Stones’ American tour. For the groupie he quotes, rock stars are groovy mainly because of their excesses. Unlike many rock stars, the Rolling Stones embraced stardom itself, embodying glamour and consumption, transformed by new tastes and styles, and commenting on them in their songs and by their behavior. The Stones’ rise to the top of the celebrity pantheon began in 1969, with their American tour ending in the free concert at Altamont. Earlier that year, the Beatles had broken up, making the Stones’ new tour, their first in the United States since 1966, seem to fans almost miraculous. The Woodstock festival, held in August of that year, had put youth culture in general and rock & roll in particular front and center in the public mind. While the Mick Jagger with Mick Taylor and Charlie Watts on tour in 1969, from Gimme Shelter. (courtesy Photofest) The Rolling Stones: Rebellion, Transgression, and Excess 99 Stones’ music and performances certainly attracted attention, even the music writers seemed more interested in the Stones as celebrities. Beginning with the publication of Michael Lydon’s story of the 1969 tour in Ramparts magazine , the most influential coverage of the Stones in the United States focused on the band’s lifestyle. Also covering the 1969 tour were Stanley Booth, whose “biography” of the band uses the tour as its focus, and the Maysles brothers, whose documentary Gimme Shelter is probably the most familiar representation of the event. Toward the end of the tour, on November 26th, before their Madison Square Garden concerts, the Stones held a press conference in the Rainbow Room at the top of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center. In a moment included in Gimme Shelter, a reporter alluding to their first big hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” asked if the Stones were now satisfied. Jagger responded that they were “financially dissatisfied, sexually satisfied, and philosophically trying.”2 A few days later, the band would release Let It Bleed, which included “You...


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