LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE ROLLING STONES is the outpouring of a Marshall McLuhan plan for rock n' roll lovers. Here they are--the undisputed KINGS of rock-- released to you in quadrophonic sound. It's the meeting of two usually widely separated areas of twentieth century technology--the science and art of movies and live concert sound. The visuals were shot over a weekend of the Ft. Worth and Houston concert of the Rolling Stone's 1972 concert tour. Six cameramen were placed around and on the concert stage to record the event. And for local thrills, two of these cameramen-- George Manupelli and Jay Cassidy--are former Ann Arbor residents. George is the director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and Jay the Festival manager.
It is appropriate that a major share of the shots come from two men who have worked and aided independent film for a number of years. (The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the world's largest, and oldest, festival of sixteen millimeter film.) LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE ROLLING STONES is an independent venture-- the production of a wide number of people who are not in the mainstream of commercial movies. The production company, Dragon Aire, Ltd., has aimed for a goal and experience which normal commercial films not only do not provide, but refuse to gamble on.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN takes you very far away from the usual movie experience of getting your popcorn and settling into that seat for a couple of hours. Gone is the traditional sense of quiet, passive and individual viewing, in which your imagination and vicarious identification with the protagonists is the major stimulant. The Stones' film makes the big demand of a live concert--you cannot help but get excited, shake your feet, dance, and feel that you are in fact, THERE.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN's producers claim that they have created an entirely new media. They give you the comfort of your local theatre, but with the sound of live rock n' roll. You don't have to pay an outrageous ticket price, submitting yourself to the whims of the scalpers. You don't have to wait in line for three days, and once there, you can avoid the experience of jostling elbows and all other limbs with fïfty thousand other people. There are no cops, no parking problems. In sum, there are none of the obscene aspects of live concerts that have caused so many people to stay away from live music.
The Gods of lucre have made live rock n' roll a business far too big for human comfort. The large concert hall era sadly hit when the music--as music--is especially good. The Rolling Stones you see in this film are better than ever. They have lost their rough macho edge, and they perform with a sensitivity and enjoyment that is really catchy.
They no longer come across as a heavy male act. That is, they are not confïned by the limited macho roles which turned many women away from their act for a number of years. They have cast off the aura of decadence that hangs over their image. Their excitement is visible, and highly contagious.
These Stones are an entirely different group from the old time heavies, the rock stars who really didn't care what effect their music had, and seemed only to be doing it out of some sadistic and ego-oriented lust for leadership and influence over the screaming thousands. Those are the Stones of the Altamont concert--that infamous carnage in 1969 California, with a half a million people together for an entirely ill-fated if free event.
The Stones you see and hear in LADIES AND GENTLEMEN have grown into a new stage, obviously more mellow, and extremely attentive to their roles as performers. Jagger does not try to cajole you, or lead you into anything at all- he only exudes himself. That's plenty-- that's a performance of intensity, constant movement and participation with the music. His body is the starring instrument, tuned and moving so perfectly to the mood of each song. And thankfully, he has grown through and beyond his limited former role as the King of Sex. Both Jagger and the band have learned to say things of subtlety, to be sincere actually. Of course our Mick can still talk about sex like no one else. His words and movements, along with the whole band's interpretation of "Midnight Rambler" is like a musical improvisation of the Master's and Johnson scheme of sexual course-- excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. Think of it that way when you watch it, and you can finally see that that pattern of sexual communication is in fact, one of the really exulting patterns of life. Whatever you are working on, thinking about, whoever you are talking to-- the Stones tell us that doing whatever it is in the pattern of sexuality makes it an even greater experience.
The quadrophonic sound system is personally delivered and catered to specific audiences. The troubles of setting up and running the system make the film a special event, a production quite different from the usual throw-it-on-the-projector style of film presentation. The Fifth Forum Theatre is the thirtieth auditorium in the country to be specifically outfitted in this manner. Speaker systems are moved in by a local crew, and set to fit the situation of the particular theatre. The theatre is transformed into a concert hall situation through the installation of four speaker tiers, aimed towards creating the effect of live sound. The rear speaker tiers carry the crowd noise and ambience of fifty thousand people, as recorded in Texas two years ago. The front speakers carry the music and voice tracks. These two basic types of concert sound are mixed nightly at the movie theatre by sound engineer John Nabb, a young man of obvious electronic genius who comes with the show each engagement. Someone described Nabb as the sort of guy who, when asked if he could build a digital computer, would probably say, "I'm not sure if I can get all the parts in the next few days." Nabb, and eastern US road manager George Langworth, travel to each film appearance and adjust the film to its particular audience.
Nabb exercises the sound controls from a console situated in the midst of the Fifth Forum audience. His controls are the same as used in a concert situation, rather than the set pattern normally recorded and permanently imprinted on the optical sound track of the usual commercial film. Nabb explained, "I try to mix the sound for the specific crowd in the theatre. If the back channels-the crowd noise-is too loud, or present, they'll know it's canned. So I set that, and the music volume and tone as well, to not only the size of the crowd. but their mood as well. Late evening audiences naturally run to a more raucous party mood, so I turn it up for them. But your seven o'clockers usually run in a quiet mood, so we keep it down. And on Friday and Saturday night, they really like to kick it out.
You cannot avoid feeling the presence of these enormous speaker towers, placed at the sides of the stage and the rear of the auditorium. Nabb mixes in a skillful manner, so that happily one doesn't have to confront four separate sound sources. Nearly every seat in the theatre enjoys that special sense of the sound being everywhere present. Speaker horns are adjusted to throw the four sound sources in an interwoven pattern all through the auditorium. Yes folks, it is almost like BEING THERE.
It is, almost. But there are some major handicaps in this ultimate mixing of the media experience. The sound track originally recorded in Texas is not up to the standards which the film quad system demands. The trumpet and sax are mixed almost entirely out, except for solos. Nicky Hopkins' fine and bouncey piano playing is not as present as it should be. That leaves us with the hard core of the Rolling Stones, and who could actually complain about that? They surely deserve that often tossed out title of the World's Best Rock and Roll Band, but horns and piano could well provide the soft edges which the rugged sound of the Stones needs.
The original sound track is also marred by a lack of overall clarity. It is too difficult to pick up Jagger's words, a problem that has often been present in their live concerts.
When you watch the film, shot up with this sound track, you get wired. But the let down is the two-dimensional quality of the film. Movies are movies, can't help that. Confronted with the immediacy of the sound, and the more distant film, one cannot but feel jarred and misplaced. The film questions our very set internal patterns of media reception.
There is no way that you can convince yourself 100% that you are at a live Stone's concert. The majority of the camera angles come from a position and a distance which is unique to a specially positioned camera, a position not possessed by ANY audience member, even one in the first row. Terrific as it is to see the Stones so closely, it is not a live experience, but a filmed one.
A large and enthusiastic audience corrects this sense of disunity to some degree. But the camera's closeness is, of course, a mixed blessing. It also allows you to see the Stones in a new manner. You can see how hard they all work, and the gloss of glamour slides away. Those gods come down to earth. The editing and camerawork are all of an unassuming style, and you don't feel their presence as an invader, as a personna that reinterprets, and perhaps misinterprets, the Stones' performance. The unassuming nature of the production, along with the ever present quadrophonic sound, make this an unusual and unique documentary. Perhaps not a live Stones' concert, but certainly a closer and less biased view, and a far more exalting one than the previous rock documentaries.
The film project was originally conceived under an entirely different plan. Two New York veterans of the independent cinema-Robert Frank and Danny Seymour -filmed the Stones all along the tour. They shot the parties, the backstage antics, the groupies-all those that make rock n' roll somewhat perverse, by revealing its private side. The footage you see in LADIES AND GENTLEMEN was conceived of as a six song supplement to this film.
Seymour and Frank are famous film makers, among independents. They are known for a sharp eye that sees all, maybe too much. Their film of the Stones' 1972 is now un-released. There are reportedly only two prints, one owned by Jagger and the other by Frank.
It is likely that these film makers shot something of the Stones that would reveal a great deal about the evil side of big time rock and roll. The men and women who hang round backstage, the groupies who hitch-hiked all the way around the country to see and sleep with Mick, and the people who are hanging out with the coolest of the cool. continued on page 18
That tells a side of the big time quite different from LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, and perhaps it is time to stop pursuing the voyueristic image of pop stars. We all have some of that curiosity to learn the real inside secrets-what and how many drugs they take- who they sleep with. Every Stones' tour is accompanied by writers who try to capture that provacative image for a very curious public. But actually, what does that matter? Isn't it better to see what those Rolling Stones actually do? Their performance, which is unquestionably one of the most theatrical and dynamic stage music routines around, is their occupation and product. The film makers of LADIES AND GENTLEMEN clearly made that decision along the way. They do not show the back backstage and party games, they don't even show the audience, because they perceived that the PERFORMANCE is so fantastic and liberating that the negative aspects of the music business- despite any potential audience voyeurism- should be done away with. Yes sirree, it's a lot better to just get off on Mick Jagger on your own- as a spectator in a direct sense- than to get off on the people who manage to get close to him.
The Rolling Stones, "It's Only Rock 'N Roll, "COC 79101
Here we are, We who were teens when the Stones were new and low down dirty, the group you never let your mother see. '65 was an easy year to be illicit. It was the year I first stuck a little magnet in my ear and sang along with a cracking voice to "As Tears Go By," tried to get all the words to "Satisfaction," and did a little pubescent boogie down the snow covered sidewalks. I had short hair, but in my head it was long. Rock & Roll was a new religion; there is no rock but roll, & Jagger is its prophet. I was a make-believe hot rod, go cart kidd; secret daydreams and mysterious songs.
Now I'm a semi-mature 22, and the Stones have been an integral part of my life for nigh onto ten years, which is longer than I've known my.wife or any of my friends. The Rolling Stones, the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band: Time is on their side on my cloud with ruby tuesday, mother's little helper Jack Flash couldn't drag me away. They've sold out on me, the fuckers. I can take the new album two ways: either in perspective, compared to all the other Stones albums, or as if it were the first album by a new group. If I take it the second way, it's only rock", no roll, but a decent effort with a couple of neat songs, including what has become a new genre: an invasion of privacy number, called Fingerprint File."
But I can't shuck you because this ain't no new group. This is the 21st album by the Stones, and in perspective it is painfully weak. After I listened to this, I put on an English Import called Rock 'N Rolling Stones: it had a couple of good Chuck Berry numbers on it, a couple of flip sides and two cuts from 'Get Yer Ya 's Out.' Hot damn, I said to myself, that's one hell of a rock n roll band. And friends. they were: they were solid punch, dance & sure like to make love music. The sad thing is that they aren't anymore.
Of course, I'm not saying that the Stones should have stayed on that mindless, boogie-your-brains-out track. The mid sixties were not a time for complacency, and the Stones knew that as well as, if not better than, any other Rock group. It started with Beggar's Banquet, songs like "Salt of the Earth," and "Sympathy for the Devil" and the song that became an anthem tor an entire generation--"Street Fighting Man." As far as I'm concerned, the peak both musically and lyrically of the Stones' career was Let it Bleed. 'Gimme Shelter' was the paranoia song of the 70's (just as "For What it's Worth' in the 60's). Both albums were infused with energy and vision. and they are still classics today. Unfortunately, after that zenith, they began to slide. Sticky Fingers had a lot of tired music. Exile on Main Street had even more (being two records). With Goat’s Head Soup, as one critic has put it, they may have signed the death certificate of that former giant of the airwaves; white rock & roll. It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (which is, in passing, anything but rock ‘n roll,) continues that dead end trail. “What do you expect? What do you want?” asks Jagger. “It’s only Rock ‘N Roll,” Back in the mindless pit. Back to the monotonous riffs and sexism. Back in the naive 60’s, it’s not surprising that Jagger could sing “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl” and get away with it; he (and most of us, of all sexes) didn’t know better. Now we do, but Jagger still sings songs like “Star Star'' and “Short and Cuties” (Too bad! She’s got you by the balls.) Lately it’s come to light in the popular press that Jagger’s infidelities are driving Bianca to try to outdo him. The result is a smug number like “If You Really Want To Be My Friend” which places the entire blame on her. We don’t need this today, we should not take it.
It’s a matter of integrity--Rock Integrity. People like Bob Seger and Stevie Wonder have it; an ability to produce music that rings true and personal, sails on no trends like Reggae or Moog, and reflects a personal life style worth emulating. The Stones, best represented by Jumpin’ Jack Jagger, have their Lamborghinis and hundred dollar whores and Riviera “cottages;” when they were starting out they had little more than music. But the industry has inflated their egos--they began to believe their press agents. We’re partly to blame, in our hero-worshiping frenzy. Our new Rock Pantheon contains tin gods like Alice Cooper & his Grand-Gugnol brand of guillotine rock, Elton John and his quaaludes and sheep, and lots of fattened calves like the Stones. It’s very chic, true, but hollow as a gourd; they are destructive on the whole. After all, when you’ve spent a lot of emotional energy trying to prove that rock music is a valid adjunct to your personal life style, and deserving of respect, some asshole comes along with pink hair, a customized Mercedes and a $5,000 sealskin jacket singing the blues. It’s pure jive, and we don’t need it.
Rock is supposed to be alive and flexible. Then why haven’t we added a new star in years? The once clear stream has become a stagnant pond, clogged with faded superstars like Leon Russell and Steve Stills and Grace Slick. Once a creative source dies, it ceases to be useful and should have the sense to get out. We retire baseball players when they can’t hit, why not recycle worn-out rock stars every five years or so? “Get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand.” It might be vicious, but it might save the field. Meanwhile we, the old guard, hold our collective breath whenever a new rumor that the Beatles are reforming hits the street. We are becoming rock & roll reactionaries, and many younger people don’t know any better. No wonder Rock has reached a standstill; the industry knows we’ll buy. Why encourage excellence when the same old thing will do just fine?
Jagger owes us more than this. He’s taken millions and given us shit. Jimmy and Janis may be the lucky ones--their memories are hallowed because they never had a chance to grow stale. Maybe in time, we would have discovered that they, too, had feet of clay. Conjecture is pointless. Dylan didn’t die in that motorcycle crash, but perhaps his impact would have remained undimmed if he had. The point is that too much is too much.
Whatever happened to the community spirit that imbued rock in the 60’s? Quicksilver, the Dead and Jefferson Airplane were as much a part of and result of Haight Ashbury as marijuana and Kesey. Liverpool ‘63, New York ‘66. Los Angeles, Detroit, even Ann Arbor in the early ‘70’s --all of these were communities which produced music and musicians that served the community. Today the music barely serves itself.
I could just spend my days with Aftermath and Sergeant Pepper but nostalgia is the cheapest of escape routes. We need new directions with the old energy, new faces with some of the old ideal. Dylan, Lennon, McCartney and Jagger were all poor boys who stumbled into easy living and decided to stay. Once they were vital and revolutionary, now they clip coupons. I could live for five years on what McCartney makes from one single; the millions Dylan glommed out of his tour could set up twenty free clinics. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our Rockstars, but in the system that hallows mediocrity and substitutes Product for that elusive real thing. They serve us shit, and we think it’s steak.
Where can we go now that old Rock is gone? Black music is coming on strong, and the old barriers have fallen. Friends tell me I should get into jazz. I just look at old record covers sometimes and wait for the new rock messiah and/or the next Stevie Wonder album. And I wonder whatever happened to the Stones.
I’ve gone on too long for a record review and not long enough to come up with any real answers. It’s time we stopped supporting a capitalistic empire that is not serving any needs, not giving in proportion to what it receives. Insist on quality, friends, and don’t settle for less. Don’t buy the new Rolling Stones album.
Exec. Producer--Marshall Chess
Director of Visual Prod--Steve Gebhardt
Director of Sound Prod--Bob Freeze
Original recording--Glyn Johns
A Musifilm/Chessco/Binzo/Butterfly Production