Reflections on The Rolling Stones Concert – 5/30/2015, by Pete Vogel
I am not a fan of The Rolling Stones.
I do not own any of their albums. I’ve never bought any of their singles. I have no songs on I-tunes, nor have I ever downloaded any of them to my computer. I’ve never seen the band live, nor have I ever intended to. To me, The Rolling Stones were a weak, watered-down version of the Blues greats - a cheap, Caucasian version of Muddy Waters and BB King.
When I heard the band was coming to Ohio Stadium in May, I simply shrugged my shoulders. “Who cares?” I thought. My favorite band -The Who - was also coming in May and that ticket was a no-brainer. The Who versus The Stones: to me it was no contest.
Two days before the show I decided to pay homage to this historic British Invasion of Columbus by attending the event for - all things considered - nostalgia. After all, I was a musician (playing at some capacity for nearly 30 years) and seeing The Stones was a rite of passage. One had to - at the very least - pay homage to the staying power of a band like The Stones, who’d been performing for over fifty years. I figured it was my duty - kind of like attending the nightclub act of a beloved go-go dancer who was well past her prime. I was going out of respect more than anything else. So be it.
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly keen on attending the show. I’ve never been a fan of the blues and surely didn’t want to watch an American export being imported from England. This was OUR music, after all - the Delta Blues originated from Louisiana and thought it shouldn’t be bastardized by a bunch of Brit hooligans. There was also another reason for my ambivalence: Growing up a rabid Quadrophenia fan, and learning about the clash between Mods and Rockers from that album, I wanted to honor the loyal, middle-aged Mod within me. The Who was your quintessential Mod band; The Stones your consummate Rocker band. How could a Who fan attend a Stones gig with a clear conscience? This was like rooting for Ohio State AND Michigan at the same time - I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. But my pride took a back seat to nostalgia - I figured if I could catch The Stones for $50, I’d pull the trigger. My Who ticket cost $60 and - on principle -I didn’t want to spend MORE money on The Stones than The Who. No brainer.
The day of the show my former college roommate - Mark Allen - had two extra tickets and was gracious enough to sell me an $89 ticket for $60. (I should’ve offered him $59.) The other ticket went to a mutual friend of ours - Ben Arnold - so it would be nice to sit with a friend, musician and Stones fan; he could fill me in on all the crappy tunes I wasn’t familiar with.
We treated the event like an OSU game: We parked our car three hours prior; set up tents and lawn chairs; brought sandwiches, snacks and beverages and tailgated like a typical football Saturday. Rain fell hard for about twenty minutes, but the skies cleared and by nightfall it was brisk, cool and comfortable in the heartland.
The Stones took the stage around 9:30pm to a thunderous roar from its fans - it was as if everyone had been bottling up this energy for decades. Ben and I took our seats in section 3A - directly opposite from the stage - as the first few chords of “Jumpin Jack Flash” came thundering through the enormous sound system. It looked and sounded fantastic; OSU Stadium was totally rocking.
The Stones played hit after hit to a raucous crowd of 60,000 adoring fans, and with every tune the crowd got louder and louder. After the fourth song Mick got on the mic and said: “We’re in the stadium of CHAMPIONS!” - referring to OSU’s National Championship season in football. After that, the band did something rare: they played a rendition of “Hang On Sloopy” - an OSU staple that had recently become the State of Ohio’s “Official Song.”
(To me, watching this iconic British rock group pay homage to a state AND a university by playing its theme song was truly remarkable. The rest of the country thought so as well - NBC Nightly News covered this moment in its national broadcast the following night. It was mind blowing: a world-famous rock band from England covered a tune by an obscure, one-hit-wonder act from Ohio. Truly incredible.)
The surprises didn’t end there. With 60,000 fans roaring their approval, Mick Jagger pranced from sideline to sideline like the consummate rock star. Dancing, singing, playing guitar, backing up and leading off, Jagger was a dynamo of energy and passion. We all forgot that the average age of this band was the same age as our deceased grandparents.
Then something truly amazing happened - it’s something I’d rarely experienced at a show before. Jagger grabbed his harmonica and began the opening salvo of “Midnight Rambler.” I was awestruck - I’d no idea he was that accomplished on harp. After his opening salvo, he sang the first verse and chorus then pranced around with his usual swagger. As the band went into an extended jam, Jagger removed his maroon jacket, threw it to the stage floor and went into a primal dance that shook me to the core. I could tell he had channeled something deep and mysterious within him - it was completely unrehearsed and spontaneous, as if he was lost in the moment and truly forgot where he was. I’d seen this kind of “out of body experience” from time to time in smaller venues, but not a packed stadium. It was as if he was whisked back to his youth and pranced around like he was still in his London flat, hearing the song for the first time. The crowd rose to its feet in approval.
Watching that Jagger dance was like watching Hank Aaron’s 715th. Or Jordan’s jump shot. Or Tyson’s left hook. Or Mary Lou’s perfect 10. It was a thing of beauty, roused by a fire that eluded most of us. A 71-year-old man had just reversed the numbers and became 17 in an instant. This mysterious, musical fountain of youth had overtaken this grandfatherly figure and turned him into a teenager again. And everyone in the audience became 17 again from watching the mysterious moves of Mick Jagger.
It was then that I finally understood what The Rolling Stones was about. It was about passion. It was about singing and dancing your troubles away. It was about shouting words and sounds at the top of your lungs along with 60,000 other souls. It was about the mystery and power of the rock concert, and the mystery and power of a rock song. For years I’d dismissed them as a second-rate blues act with nothing original to say; now I got to see them with my own two eyes and witness what the rest of the world already knew. Well done, gentlemen.
This was living history, after all—in our own backyard. Columbus, Ohio was a town that rarely saw big acts come through its gates, yet in 2015 we got to witness two of its greatest invade the city - only 15 days apart. Another iconic Briton - Eric Clapton - even owns a home here. Columbus has suddenly become a prime target on the rock-and-roll map, and I couldn’t be more proud of this loveable little cowtown.
This got me thinking about something else. It dawned on me why bands like The Stones and The Who can still draw massive crowds after 50 years. Something remarkable happened in Britain in the early '60s - it totally transformed the world with its genius. A “Golden Age” of Rock and Roll evolved out of the miasma of bland, polite pop rock. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Yardbirds, Moody Blues, Electric Light Orchestra, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Deep Purple, The Kinks, King Crimson - and many others that currently evade my memory - inspired an entire revolution through their creativity and innovation. These bands transformed the world through their imaginations, channeling the misery of being born during (or directly after) World War II into something positive and hopeful. Something miraculous took place after the war in Britain - it spawned a creative renaissance that rose from that tiny island after it was nearly destroyed by German bombs. And fifty years later, those same musicians who represented that Golden Age are alive and kicking - in various incarnations - sharing their passion with the world who love them dearly for it.
We can’t thank you enough for that wonderful gift.
PS. I’m still not going to waste my money on a bloody Stones record, though. - Pete Vogel