“A rolling stone gathers no moss”
-proverb, credited to Publilius Syrus
The meaning of “rolling stone” in Cambridge dictionaries:
“Said to mean that a person who is always travelling and changing jobs has the advantage of having no responsibilities, but also has disadvantages such as having no permanent place to live.”
As we promised in the last article, we will discuss the Rolling Stones this time. Rolling stone is a metaphor for something that is always moving or changing. This phrase has many connections to music: it’s the name of a magazine that focuses on pop culture and music, it’s the name of a band, and it’s a lyric in the songs by Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters.
These three things may be connected. Rolling stones (when Muddy Waters was singing about them at least) are a reference to stones that Africans brought with them on the slave ships, stones that would have sacred meaning, voodoo stuff or whatever they used to be into…. But they didn’t carry them in any conventional manner because they would have been taken from them, so what they had to do was swallowing the stones…
And what about a “standing stone”? The only difference is between the advantages and disadvantages. A “standing stone” has the advantages of having a permanent place to live, but also has disadvantages of having responsibilities. No matter how you look at life, you will always have advantages and disadvantages, regardless of the decision you make.
That is the reason why we do not have the right to severely judge people based on their decisions. And that was also the essence of Brian Jones‘ epitaph: “Don’t judge me too harshly”. Many consider that Brian Jones was the soul of the Rolling Stones. I agree with that. Even though I also really like the later works of the band, but they lived their Golden Age with Brian.
That degree of musical richness, ambiance and dynamism was not exceeded later on. But Brian was not “designed” for this lifestyle. His nerves could not stand the pressure of fame. He quitted the group in 1968, because the inner tensions deepened due to his excessive drug and alcohol consumption and his unpredictable behaviour.
Formed in 1962, The Rolling Stones have became one of the world’s most recognized and enduring bands. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first crossed paths at Dartford Maypole County Primary School. A decade later the two had became avid fans of blues and American R&B, and shared a mutual friend in musician Dick Taylor. Jagger and Taylor were jamming together in Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys.
Richards would soon join the group and become expelled from Dartford Technical College for truancy. Jones was found dead near London, in the swimming pool of his house located in the earldom of Sussex on July 3, 1969 after a garden party. It is still not clear how the musician got into the water. The official coroner’s report diagnosed an accidental misfortune, but speculations still spread about a possible foul play. However, accusations were not brought against anyone in the past forty years. As usual, this story gave also wings to a bunch of conspiracy theories.
A lot of important things may be mentioned in relation with the Rolling Stones. It is hard to select. But in my opinion, one of the most significant moment was the Altamont festival in their story. Many claim that the hippie movement lost it’s innocence there. Hell’s angels, the motorcycle band charged to ensure the security of the band impinged on the concert: they stabbed Meredith Hunter to death, who drew a revolver on the Stones. The incident was recorded on camera and appeared in the movie “Gimme shelter”.
What is the secret of their popularity? Why exactly them? There are plenty of other talented musicians who still are not anywhere near. Is it about marketing? Or luck? Or good relationships? Or simply they give something more above quality and techniques, something deep and personal? Are they too true to themselves to be unsuccessful?
Let’s have a look at their 6 best songs (I intentionally selected less popular but still exceptionally good songs):
6. Monkey man
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote Monkey Man as a tribute to Italian pop artist Mario Schifano -who is considered to be one of the most significant and pre-eminent artists of Italian postmodernism-, whom they met on the set of his movie “Umano Non Umano!” (“Human, Not Human!”).
He nonetheless struggled with a lifelong drug habit that earned him the label maledetto, or “cursed”.
5. Parachute woman
“Parachute woman, will you blow me out? Parachute woman, will you blow me out? Well, my heavy throbbers itchin’, Just to lay a solid rhythm down”
“The result is a raw and murky but atmosphere-filled blues track that spotlights Mick Jagger’s mumbled sexual boasts and intense harmonica playing. With barely veiled innuendo — just enough to make it comical — Jagger makes like a modern-day Muddy Waters“, said Bill Janowitz, the famous writer and musician.
You do not need to look for a deep meaning in this song. It is really simple and funny. One might say outspoken and direct, almost scandalous. Sometimes we have to put aside sentimentalism and circumbendibus to be more concise.
4. The Spider and the fly
“Sittin’ thinkin’ sinkin’ drinkin’
Wondering what I’d do when I’m through tonight
Smokin’, mopin’, maybe just hopin’
Some little girl will pass on by”
I wasn’t really that mad about it, but when you listen to it on record, it still holds up quite interestingly as a blues song. It’s a Jimmy Reed blues with British pop-group words, which is an interesting combination: a song somewhat stuck in a time warp.
The Spider and the fly is a playful tune about the search for women on a night out. The song also adumbrates the inner tension and struggling of the narrator: his girlfriend warns against infidelity, but he can’t get the idea out of his mind. The lust of discovery is in fight here with the comforting security of everydayness. And finally the attraction of novelty overcomes…
3. I Just Want To See His Face
‘I Just Want to See His Face’ has the band exploring the music of America, specifically the country, blues, folk, and soul of the South… It sounds ancient and from another planet; a swampy, stompy gospel song that was recorded to intentionally sound as if it is a field recording document of a long-ago church basement revival meeting.”
Tom Waits said about this song: “This is just a tree of life. This record is the watering hole.”
I thinh this piece is really interesting with a mystical longing characterizing it’s ambiance. Less is more. Talk is cheap. I just wanna see his face.
2. Fingerprint file
It is one of their first attempts to branch out into dance or electronic music, and the song resembles music by Sly and the Family Stone.
The song express frustration over government monitoring and surveillance activity, perhaps inspired by reports of the wiretapping of domestic “radical” groups in the US during the Nixon Administration.
1. Dancing with mister D.
Jagger’s lyrics allude to a dalliance with death… Or the devil? “Dancin’, Lord, keep your hand off me” says Mick Jagger, which expresses his desire to be free from guidance, control. He wants to live the adventure freely without the disturbing sounds of the conscience. Mick Jagger seems to be very certain, he knows what he is undertaking and he bells the cat as a brave panther.
The Rolling Stones seem to be invincible, they still play and tour around the world. They made history with their recent concert in Cuba. Tens of thousands of Cuban and a lot of tourists gathered at the concert of great significance of the Rolling Stones in Havana. The band played at the Ciudad Deportiva arena, the entry was free.
“Hello Havana, Cuban Good evening friends!” – Mick Jagger greeted the audience so in Spanish. ”Finally, the times are changing,” he proclaimed also. It was a night with an exceptional ambience, but not everyone was optimistic: “they should be aware that their performance is being used by a totalitarian regime as a symbol of an opening that isn’t really taking place,” said Rosa María Paya, who is campaigning for a plebiscite that would allow the Cuban people to decide their own fate.
“ The stones keep on rolling! ”
Recently they had an affair with Donald Trump, who wanted to use their songs for his campaign meetings. The guys are not really enthusiastic about this idea. They timed the distancing for a Wednesday, which can not be a coincidence, since the billionaire entrepreneur won the pre-election of the Republican Party in Indiana yesterday, and since then two of his opponents in the party, Ted Cruz and John Kasich got out of the race.
The Rolling Stones are still alive, full of energy and they do not show any signs of fatigue or boredom. Not either the recent death of such big stars as David Bowie or Lemmy seem to unman the glimmer twins. Their perseverance and enthusiasm is really exemplary. It is quite rare that a band stays together for such a long time, especially with such small changes in the band line-up: the core remained up to this day with the triad of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. The stones keep on rolling.
Thanks for your attention. This is the second one of our legendary rock bands series. Are you into rock bands? If you want to read more, check out our articles about The Kinks, The Doors, Pink Floyd or The Beatles. Enjoy!