Faced with right-wing criticism and a potential miniscule dent in profits, the Rolling Stones clammed up and pocketed the mega-bucks.
By Stewart Nusbaumer
Budapest, Hungary -- Stones Blast Into Beantown, the headline blasted. Rolling Stones Off To Sizzling Start, another one sizzled. Evidently it was one dynamic, stomping performance by the Rolling Stones in Boston.
"Mick Jagger appeared as spry as ever, strutting across the giant stage," wrote a journalist.
In Beantown's historic Fenway Park, a jam packed crowd of 36,000 rocked to the heavy music of the Rolling Stones who proved senior citizens can still crank it up. At least they can. It was the Stone's first performance of their new world tour, "A Bigger Bang," and evidently no one was disappointed with the initial bang.
"It was incredible, they are the greatest!" a fan shouted.
Well, I was disappointed. Although not there -- I wish I was there, a few hours of an adrenaline rush ripping through my brain would have been helpful. But I was busy brooding, hunched over ugly thoughts in a strange bar far from Boston, far from America, brooding over ugly thoughts that just won't go away wherever I am. Ugly thoughts about a war manufacturing countless dead Iraqis -- innocent children, harmless grandparents, hard working parents -- dying because of what my country is doing in their country. Ugly thoughts about a war that has delivered nearly 2,000 Americans into the ranks of our "honored" dead, a suspiciously low number furnished by a lying Bush Administration. Although the Stones performance was a "blast" that "sizzled," and I wish I was there, for me the Stones performance was also a dud that, well, fizzled.
"Party pooper," echoes in my slightly numb ears. "You must maintain balance and perspective in life, otherwise --"ï¿½
"True," I say to my blitzed drinking companion in the grip of an admirable losing battle to avoid the ugly, "but sometimes balance is the enemy of perspective. Like when perspective includes a stupid war."
"Yeah, but --"ï¿½
"I was given my perimeters for balance in Vietnam, so I can't handle your perspective omitting the dead and dying in our stupid wars."
"Yeah, but --"ï¿½
With a huge press contingent hanging on each breath of each syllable of each lyric of each song, the Rolling Stones chose not to sing their most important song in their entire repertoire, the one song that speaks directly to the tragedy we are struggling through, the one song that evokes human outrage in our era of darkness. "Sweet Neo Con," which is a scathing attack on George Bush and his foreign policy:
You call yourself a Christian
I think that you're a hypocrite
You say you are a patriot
I think that you're a crock of sh*t.
When Jagger introduced "Sweet Neo Con" to the band, Keith Richard immediately disliked the song. Soon Jagger himself was backing away from its harsh criticism of George Bush, claiming, "It is not really aimed at anyone." Shortly before the start of their U.S. tour, the Stones announced they would not answer any more questions about the song. So now it's, "No comment."
Let's face it, the Stones buckled. Right-wing criticism scarred their wallets. They rolled over for the almighty Neo Con. They acted like whores -- actually, acting like whores doesn't bother me, since "entertainment engineers" can retain some self-respect.
A coward is, according to my online dictionary, "one who shows ignoble fear in the face of danger." For the Rolling Stones, the fear is not getting the maximum number of paying fans and the danger is not making the greatest profit humanly possible. With ticket prices in Boston going from $400 in the grandstands to $1,500 in the plush VIP section, with millions if not billions rolling in, who said you can't always get what you want? But the cost?
"They have a right --" my blitzed companion struggles to say, before wising up and reaching for his Dreher beer.
The Stones understand "Sweet Neo Con" is beneficial for selling their forthcoming album, A Bigger Bang. A blockbuster album is like a blockbuster movie, they need diversity to attract the various buying sectors, but nothing too controversial to push any sector away. Fine, "Sweet Neo Con" has its commercial role to play. The Stones are not the wild horses they used to be.
At a concert in the United States starting out a world tour with the media hyper-attentive, "Sweet Neo Con" could have generated negative publicity for the Stones, which may have dampened ticket sales -- doubtful, but maybe a little. The Stones today attract not only the anti-Bush and the antiwar crowd. OK, I understand that.
Yet, performing "Sweet Neo Con" could have given a stimulus to the antiwar movement in the United States that is desperately struggling to become vibrant and effective. With a song like that coming from the Rolling Stones, the effect could have been significant. But the Stones chose the money, ignored the war and gave George Bush a free ride. They chose the safe and wealthy way, they left the struggling beggar's banquet and joined the Bush nobles.
In the face of fear, the Rolling Stones chose the ignoble.
This just in: "The Rolling Stones will announce 15 new dates for their A Bigger Bang world tour later today (Aug. 24)." And there is more news just in: SIRIUS Satellite Radio will launch an all-Rolling Stones music channel dedicated to the rock music icons."ï¿½
Well, not fighting the Neo Cons is certainly paying off for the "Street Fighting Man."ï¿½
My drinking companion is not interested in the breaking news, not interested in the wimping out of the Stones, his desperate attempt to escape the ugly is not going well. I think he's about to break. His eyes look strange, like an unstable Hoover Dam. "Damn flies!" he suddenly spits.
"There are no flies in Budapest," I remind him. But he's already gone, traveled in his seat on the plane of intoxication to a lost world far away. He has probably gone to America.
We're sitting at a table in the Frank Zappa bar. It has huge wall murals of Frank. Murals that show him serious, in flowery hippie clothes, with guitar in one hand and a chick in the other, angry, happy, sitting in a Model-T, Frank is everywhere, doing everything. And this sends me back in time.
There was once a strange species with heavy eyes and flashy clothes who roamed the North America continent in Volkswagen vans. They were a peculiar tribe that existed during an unsettled time. They were known to panhandle during the day and talk philosophy at night. And they were known to question, to question everything. One of their questions made it into Oliver Stone's movie, Wall Street, asked by a young man struggling to regain his morality, asked to an extremely wealthy businessman who lacked even a bare thread of social conscience. He was named Gordon Gecko. The question? "How much [money] is enough?"
For the Rolling Stones who probably rank in the one percent of the one percent of the wealthiest people on this planet, their actions speak clearly that there is never enough money. To my not-yet-dead hippie conscience, now beginning to float in a bloated sea of Hungarian beer, the Rolling Stones sound like Gordon Gecko. And on the far wall, Frank Zappa nods in agreement.
How come you're so wrong?
My sweet neo-con,
where's the money gone,
in the Pentagon ....
Great, hammer those greedy scumbags who possess the social concern of a Bronx cockroach. But Mick, not all the money is going to the Pentagon for Halliburton. And Mick, you really should have played the song. Frank Zappa would have played the song.
And Frank nods.
Women of Honor
On the same day as the wild and racy -- well, former wild and racy -- Rolling Stones performed to a packed house in Boston for millions of bucks, another famous musician from the past, still vibrant, but with a gentle edge to her music, held a concert. Her concert was free. This was in Crawford, Texas for antiwar protestors, and anyone who showed up at the simple stage built in a farmer's field. Folk music legend Joan Baez is unintimidated by the Neo Cons and uninterested in the corporate money trough. Her stone gathers no expensive moss. She is for real.
There are times when you must take a stand; your humanity, if not your sanity, demand it. The alternative is to wither, to become selfish and greedy, to lose perspective on what is important in life. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a dead U.S. soldier, understands this. Cindy stood in a ditch in Crawford, Texas to protest the death of her son in Iraq and demand that our troops be brought home now. The Rolling Stones have shown where they stand, and it is not good. Joan Baez has shown where she stands, by going to Crawford Texas and singing her antiwar songs.
Baez was a fierce critic of America for its horribly wrong war in Vietnam, and then a fierce critic of post-war communist Vietnam for its human rights violations. Joan is a woman who believes in principles, opposes hypocrisy, and stands solidly by her beliefs. Joan Baez is a musician Cindy Sheehan.
The Stones, for me, are a musician Gordon Gecko. Of course no one is pure, certainly not me, and not you. Not even Frank up on the wall. But there are choices that must be made in life. The Stones chose to avoid the war and go for all the bucks -- while the dying die, and the screams go unheard. I cannot accept this. Can you?
Never have I seen America so desperate for people with courage to stand for noble purposes. The antiwar movement is stagnant, but on the edge of awaking; the county's youth are mostly indifferent, are they stirring yet? Although materialism is nice, it's not noble. Although education is essential, it won't stop the horror. Although America is a great country, it is acting ghastly. It is not surprising that Cindy Sheehan is galvanizing the antiwar movement, that she has becomes a national figure overnight. We are desperate for heroes. I am desperate for heroes. You are desperate for heroes.
I say enjoy the Stone's music, but don't take them seriously. Listen to Joan Baez, she has something important to say. Follow Cindy Sheehan who is a small but mighty moral light in our huge, dark American universe of greed and violence.
And always, always try to make Frank Zappa on the wall of Budapest smile.
Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. You can email Stewart at Stewart@interventionmag.com.
Posted Wednesday, August 24, 2005