My goodness, The Rolling Stones are getting on a bit, arent they? Mr. Jagger is fast approaching his 65th birthday and lithe and lissome in performance he may well still be but he now looks, well, frankly old. Very old. I was looking at some of the publicity pics for the new Martin Scorsese movie, Shine A Light, which documents in a Last Waltz-ish manner an intimate (by their standards) Stones gig in 2006 at the Beacon Theatre in New York and lumme! Charlie looks younger than Mick and Keith! Ronnie is, well, very much the new boy (after nearly 30 years!) and still resembles an animatronic guitar playin crow. However, by all accounts, from critics young and old, the film is a revelation, stripping the old rockers of their stadium pretensions and letting them explore and inhabit their incredible songs, that mythic English take on the blues, nurtured in the Dartford delta and filtered through the expanding consciousness of 1960s youth culture. I shall very much look forward to seeing it, and kudos to them for refusing the anti-ageing benefits of the surgeons knife
Yet more Stones. I recently rediscovered (Thank you I-Pod! Thank you Ani!) Exile on Main Street, pretty much the bees knees of their recorded oeuvre, which led me to then revisit one of their great lost albums, the much maligned Goats Head Soup. I find it pretty hard to have a favourite Stones album as that honour changes according to the mood Im in, but I would have to say that if push came to shove etc, etc, I would probably grab Goats (and Exile oh, and pass me Let it Bleed, thanks!) as I leapt for the lifeboats as my boat went down. Critics dismissed it as a rag-bag of half baked ideas that pales against its immediate illustrious predecessor, but as I recall they didnt much like that at the time either. I was sick (German Measles, as I recall) the day Goats Head Soup was released, a late August Monday in 1973, so dispatched my long-suffering dad to the record shop to buy it and Alice Coopers Muscle of Love. He was secretly very amused by Alice Cooper, and had shown (for him) an inordinate amount of interest in the Killer album (Shes a bit rough looking, isnt she? Id hang myself too if I heard a racket like that all the time.. etc etc) I would love to be able to chew the fat with him now on our diverse musical tastes we had so much more in common than either of us would admit to. Big Tom and the Mainliners, anyone? I remember that no matter how much I tried, I couldnt get track one side two (Silver Train) to play without skipping (even with a couple of pennies sellotaped to the tone arm) so when I finally got the album on CD about ten years ago it took me weeks to get used to the version without the jumps aaah, the joy of vinyl. The sleeve insert was also a pretty gruesome picture of a cauldron of the aforesaid soup, and included some sepia tinted photographs of the Stones and entourage come to think of it, it wasnt the best outer sleeve of a Stones album either (oh, gawd, do we ave to ave our pictures taken? Soft focus? Awlright lets wrap our eads in some yellow chiffon. Yeah, thats what I said chiffon cmon Charlie, smile fawgawdsakes!) but the music, the music was simply excellent. Adventurous, well played, and covering so many of the sonic bases they had touched as they hurtled through the 60s, yet the album is still remembered by most as the spawning ground of Angie, which critics largely ridiculed as the Stones going soft
I have to say that Angie is not my favourite track by any stretch – its very pretty, and hearkens back to the As Tears Go By baroque pop that they did so well in the 60s, and it has a chord sequence that is a joy to play on the acoustic guitar (muso alert!), but it is rather how can I say this without being too dismissive fluffy. Yes, fluffy. There. Now, thats that out of the way, lets carry on. The rest is pretty much a joy all the way. Mostly recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, the influence of reggae is all over the album. Im sorry, thats a lie. Reggae doesnt really bubble to the musical surface until the next album, its only Rock n Roll, but the feel, the laid back ambiance that they were recording in permeates the grooves. Its a sticky, lazy feel, right from the drawn out spindly voodoo guitars and clavinet of Dancing with Mr. D that opens to the Chuck Berry-behind-the-beat-isms of Star Star that close side two. Theres the hazy shimmer of Can You Feel The Music drawing us back into the summer of Satanic Majesty, the living in the city funkiness of Heartbreaker and the tour de force des arbres that is 100 Years Ago, a song about a walk in the woods. Yes, you did read that correctly. The drugged up misogynists and cocaine jet setters wrote and performed a truly wonderful song about going for a walk in the woods. It also contains the immortal advice by which I seem to live my life doncha think, its sometimes wise not to grow up prophetic words from the Peter Pan of rock n roll. The other ballads are also particularly stunning, Winter is full of startlingly beautiful imagery where the lights on all the Christmas trees go out, Coming Down Again sees Keith in tender mode and singing like the choirboy he was. Words dont really do this album justice. If you dont know it and have even a passing interest in the Rolling Stones, please seek out and listen. If you dont like them, then nothing I think or say or write is going to change your mind.
Enough music for the moment, let us now turn our gaze onto mental illness. Wah-hay! Now theres an exciting subject Ani tried to persuade me the other night that I should spend one valuable hour and twenty minutes of my life watching a movie called Numb. Starring Matthew Perry. Excuse me? Isnt that Chandler? From Friends? I leapt the banister and sprinted for the front door, but too late, the highly trained Dobermans positioned either side of the gate in the razor wire fencing surrounding our Phnom Penh estate snapped at my knee tendons and I sank to the ground sobbing. I was then dragged back into the house by our smiling but sadistic guard (you would be surprised at how much of this is true) strapped into a leather chair, wrists and ankles bound with straps, and my eyelids forced open with eyelash curlers (much as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, my Droogies ) before the aforesaid moving picture was played for me.
Its actually really good and quite funny, if mental health issues can really be described as funny. Its about facing the problem of depersonalisation, which apparently is now gaining acceptance as an actual mental condition. In essence, its the feeling that you are not really there, wherever there may be, that you are somehow removed from your surroundings and are not in your body, or as I like to call it (and I will not charge you $200 an hour for this diagnosis) living in cloud cuckoo land. A good example (here comes music again) would be the great David Byrne Once in a Lifetime exhibits all the traits that constitute the depersonalized (I ask myself – How did I get here?). Sufferers tend to have particular obsessions and are not very good at interpersonal relationships. As I watched and laughed (inwardly didnt want to give A the impression I was actually enjoying this) it gradually dawned on me that there were many behavioural similarities between the character and me (oh no! Im like Chandler from Friends I always thought I was more like a cross between Phoebe and Joey! Not that I ever watched it ). Next day I did a little more research on the internet and yes, Im ticking quite a few of those boxes It is at once alarming to realize that I may well be suffering from this syndrome, as I often feel very removed from reality (or deliberately try and remove myself from reality) but strangely comforting that it seems I am clearly not alone. There are many, many of the depersonalised out there, living in strange lands and inside bodies that they do not really know or understand The journey back should be very interesting
Last words come (again) from someone who was comfortably numb long before it was fashionable.
Its awfully considerate of you to think of me here
and Im most obliged to you for m-making it clear
that Im not here
and what exactly is a dream
and what exactly is a joke?
Syd Barrett Jugband Blues