You can’t always get what you want — or can you?
Counting down to see the Rolling Stones play Hyde Park in London on July 3
ON July 5, 1969, an estimated crowd of up to 500,000 people gathered in Hyde Park, London, on a balmy summer afternoon for a free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones.
Held a month before the Woodstock festival, the concert was touted in advance as the London hippie culture’s greatest moment in the sun.
It was an important occasion for the Stones: their first concert in two years after they had — like The Beatles — decided to concentrate on studio recording and enjoy the, ahem, delights of psychedelic London. Hyde Park was also set to introduce new lead guitarist Mick Taylor to the world in the first significant line-up change of the Stones’ careers.
But two days before the concert, Brian Jones drowned in the swimming pool of his country house. He was 27 years old. Increasingly unstable due to his heavy drug use, Jones had recently been sacked from the band he had founded and his personal life was in turmoil.
Instead of a celebration, the July 5 concert became a wake.
In the late afternoon, the Stones took the stage, led by Mick Jagger who appeared to be wearing a white dress, a studded black leather collar around his neck and a heavily made up face. Solemnly, Jagger read two lines from Shelley’s ode to the death of Keats, Adonais, before releasing 2500 white butterflies in the air, most of which had died from heat in the boxes in which they had been stored during the day.
The Stones played a 14 song set, climaxing with an 18-minute performance of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ with a group of African percussionists. The universal opinion was that they were rusty and out of tune for most of the set, but the concert achieved its goal of reintroducing the band to live performance and creating another unforgettable moment in the epic saga of the Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band in the World.
That was 53 years ago, when I was a little over six months old. Young men in 1969, the Stones are now officially geriatrics. Only two members of the band that played at Hyde Park in ’69 are still left. Mick Taylor lasted just a half a decade before calling it quits on the Stones lifestyle; Bill Wyman retired decades ago, and last year, sadly, Charlie Watts passed away.
Just Mick and Keith, the Glimmer Twins, remain from the group that played its first gigs in 1962.
With Charlie’s death, I thought my chance of ever seeing the Stones play live had gone forever.
From my late-teens, I have been fixated on their music and their history, but my interest has always been in their heyday from the mid-60s to the early-70s. I have had a take it or leave it attitude to most everything they have recorded since Exile on Main Street. I’ve always considered as Ronnie Wood both a far inferior guitarist to Mick Taylor and lacking the instrumental virtuosity of Brian Jones and as someone who had been shunted into the band so Keith had a mate to hang around with as he and Mick became more distant to each other.
The days have long gone since the Stones were dangerous or menacing or rebellious or genuinely revolutionary, as they most definitely were between 1967 and 1973.
And for this reason, whenever the Stones have toured Australia in my adult life, I have shrugged my shoulders dismissively: why would I want to spend a hundred bucks to watch those has-beens play their jukebox of greatest hits and fill the buckets of their corporate juggernaut?
But although the present day Stones may have had little relevance to my life, their music has continued to provide joy and pleasure.
The opening notes of ‘Gimme Shelter’ still send a shiver up my spine. My hips start shaking uncontrollably at the first blast of ‘Brown Sugar’. And I can’t avoid bursting into song whenever I hear the chorus from ‘Jumping Jack Flash’.
Equally, the look and lifestyle of the Stones from that period — the clothes, the hair, the beautiful women, the drugs, the sheer arrogance and self-confidence with which they conducted themselves — have always held a fascination. Hundreds of musicians have died attempting to emulate the debauched elegance of Keith Richards, but there is still only one Keith. And Mick Jagger may have hundreds of imitators, but there is only one Mick.
As the years passed since their last Australian tour in 2014 and ill health and death has caused us to ponder the once unthinkable that the day was approaching when the Stones would be no more, I began to regret my earlier, youthful snobbery about refusing to see them play (truth is, if someone had offered me a free ticket, I would have been there in a flash).
In the intervening years, I had seen other legends of the ’60s, including Dylan, Neil Young and Iggy Pop, so why was I being so stubborn about the Stones? Did I want to feel the same empty disappointment that I felt when David Bowie died, knowing that the chance had passed to ever see him play live?
So when an email lobbed in my inbox a week ago announcing European dates for what will surely be the remaining Stones’ final ever tour, I didn’t delete it. My immediate thought was that if they were playing European dates, surely they’ll do a final swing by Australia for the last time, a place they have been coming to since 1966 (and where, legend has it, Keith Richards squired a child during their 1973 tour).
But then, as my eyes scrolled down the list of dates, one jumped out at me.
July 3 at Hyde Park.
Hyde Park. Scene of that legendary 1969 concert.
July 3. The anniversary of Brian Jones’ death.
Add to that it will be 60 years since the band was first formed.
I had to be there.
But London? Could I justify all that expense, not to mention the logistical planning, for a place in a massive crowd to see two men in their late-70s performing as tiny specks on a distant stage?
A little voice in my head said don’t be ridiculous, you might as well set fire to hundred dollar bills.
But a louder voice said it’s the goddamn STONES, man! The ROLLING STONES! MICK! KEITH! HYDE PARK! MIDNIGHT RAMBLER! START ME UP! SATISFACTION!
The Rolling FUCKING Stones!
Do it! Do it, or you will never forgive yourself.
So a few hundred dollars later, I have two tickets to see the Rolling Stones in London on July 3. Purchasing the tickets online was a saga in itself, technical failings causing me to all but give up before one final effort on a different computer was successful.
I can hardly believe it. I’m going to see Mick and Keith play before their home crowd in Hyde Park. I’m yet to book my flight or arrange accommodation, and it’s still up in the air who will be taking the other ticket. But that will all work itself out.
Just 104 days to go.
In my heart of hearts, I know the concert will be crap. I know I will hardly be able to see the stage, the sound will be terrible, everything will be ultra-expensive. You can hardly expect two old geezers in their late-70s to be able to recreate the magic of their youth. God forbid, illness or worse could still befall one or both of them in the next three months and the whole thing could be cancelled.
But as a wise man once sang, a long time ago, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need.