Rant ‘N’ Roll: Stones On Film

How any white music-obsessed Jersey boy like me could not have passionately loved The Rolling Stones upon the release of their 1964 England’s Newest Hitmakers debut is still beyond me. The only Beatles song at the time to be heard was “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and that was for girls. The Stones were so cool, they were alien-cool. They say the music you loved first as a kid stays with you your whole life and in my case, hearing that first album—which my mother so graciously agreed to buy me at The Belmont Record Shop in Bloomfield—changed my life. At first I thought they wrote every song. Only later did I realize that the only original on the album was the first song Jagger and Richards ever wrote together, “Tell Me.” Years later, when I sang for The Rock Garden, a local cover band, I demanded to sing that song and another from that album, “Walkin’ The Dog.”

Being a fanatical type about music, I finally checked out where these songs came from. Hell, if it weren’t for the Stones, how many more years would it have taken me to discover Slim Harpo, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Holly, Rufus Thomas, Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, Marvin Gaye and Nat King Cole? They were not exactly on my 13-year-old radar.

Crossfire Hurricane brings it all back. People who know me know I never watch a movie twice (there’s just too much to get to in my limited time left on the planet). Be it known I will be watching Crossfire Hurricane every year for the rest of my life…preferably with a different person each time. THAT’S how good it is. How brilliant of a move was it for the Stones (including Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor) to not allow themselves to be shot while they, in essence, host this party. So rather than the standard talking-head documentary, when they speak, what you see is what they’re talking about…the real thing. It’s almost hard to believe how cameras were rolling at these pivotal moments in rock ‘n’ roll history. Director Brett Morgen has seamlessly cross-stitched a dramatic chronology of existing film of such epic proportions both sociologically and musically, you literally cannot take your eyes off the screen. Plus, the soundtrack is explosive. When the Stones take the stage with that “Ladies And Gentlemen…The Rolling Stones,” the volume is pumped up and the music, combined with the visuals, gives such a rush—and it happens more than just a few times—that it reminds one of the power of cinema itself.

Try to explain the true essence of rock ‘n’ roll, that original rock ‘n’ roll rebel-yell invented in the 1950s as a fuck-you to the complacent establishment. You can’t. You have to feel it. The Stones epitomized what rock ‘n’ roll could unleash. The one scene that is forever emblazoned in my brain is a show in Ireland in 1965 where the power of the music itself incites an all-out riot as momentarily insane boys bum-rush the stage, knock over the Stones and trash the instruments. It’s rock ‘n’ roll to the nth degree, the very same rock ‘n’ roll that preachers preached against, that could—indeed!—incite violence. It was the Stones—and the Stones alone—that took what Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Elvis and Buddy and Fats could only hint at: a natural progression into all-out chaos. Now THAT’S rock ‘n’ roll. Dangerous. Combustible. And you see the full and complete manifestation of that power in that one scene.

Yet it goes on for more. It goes on all the way to murder. And, again, you see it as it happens. The scene in Gimme Shelter where Meredith Hunter is stabbed in the back by a member of the Hell’s Angels was originally viewed as Mick and Keith huddled around a small 8-mm replay. Now, it’s in color, it’s loud, it’s brutal, it’s painfully ugly…and it’s in high definition.

Then there’s the way director Morgen juxtaposes film of the band and crew doing drugs and cavorting with groupies on an airplane with images of brilliant on stage Jagger choreography: it’s palpably exciting and meant to arouse prurient desire, which is the flip side of the original rock ‘n’ roll essence. Those anti-rock ‘n’ roll preachers were right!

Criticism has been levied against Crossfire Hurricane for stopping in the ‘80s. To me, that’s where it should stop. As much as I love the Stones, really now, have they written a great song since the disco era? It doesn’t matter. They’re still the greatest rock band ever. And the fact that they can do it now, while roughly in their 70s, is testament to that fact. Let everyone else go see what they missed. I don’t have to anymore. Been there, done that. More power to ‘em, but I have no interest in seeing the Stones jam with Taylor Swift as they did recently unless Mick rips her top off.

Crossfire Hurricane borrowed liberally from a long out-of-print film called Charlie Is My Darling: Ireland 1965. That gem has just been released and we’ll cover it in this space next week.