Boxing Day and Time Machines
December 26th. It’s one of those perfect Edmonton winter days, pristine freshly fallen snow, a blindingly blue sky and a low pale sun struggling to be as yellow as an egg yolk. If every winter’s day was like this one I could sell the season to the good emirs of King Abdullah Economic City, and they can afford to fake the weather. Inside the house there are leftovers, a mild hangover and the Rolling Stones turned way up loud.
There’s something about the old songs. I’m convinced you pretty much stake your place in pop culture before you’ve shed the awkwardness of your early, icky teens. And so a welcome gift from yesterday resonates in more ways than one. I’m listening to ‘Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981),’ a new release from the Stones’ From the Vault series. The group or corporate entity is following the lead of Dylan’s magical, oxymoronic official bootlegs. Springsteen’s on board; you can now purchase E Street’s ’78 Cleveland show at live.brucespringsteen.net. These aren’t barrel scrapings although these ancient gifts will scour your wallet.
Earlier this year saxophonist Bobby Keys and former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan passed away within weeks of each other (somehow Keith lives). Both men were in the band for the Stones’ ’81 American tour.
I caught two dates of their 50 continental bookings; both were long bus rides from Quebec. One particular gig presented a dilemma for a 21-year-old rocker: the Kinks were playing the Montreal Forum one night but the Stones bus to the States departed at midnight from a long way’s away – what to miss? I now regret not seeing the Kinks. It’s possible we could’ve done both but I fretted about getting west to east through cross-town traffic. I chewed a gram of hash before we crossed the New York border for their Syracuse Carrier Dome Show. Praise the Lord, there were two opening acts before I came to. I slept through Molly Hatchet and somebody else, too wasted to flirt with disaster.
It’s curiously life-affirming to hear these particular renditions of the old songs again. I’ve come a long hard way since ‘81. We all have. Perhaps that’s when the Stones should’ve packed it in. They were riding high on two decent, recent releases - provided you overlook ‘Emotional Rescue,’ that thinly sliced, bland deli meat in the ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Tattoo You’ sandwich. That year gave us their last great set list: a couple of well-chosen covers, material that was fresh since their ’78 tour and enthusiastic runs through of just a few of their war horses, songs people demand from the Stones.
For me the Stones were all about kicking backing, questioning authority and doubting the teachings of the Catholic Church. You grow, you learn. Eventually you realize that rebellion doesn’t pay off unless you’re being compensated like Mick Jagger. Ooh la la, if I’d only known then what I know now. They looked gorgeous back then and I wasn’t half-bad. Time waits for no one but it’s nice to go back and revisit old friends in their heyday.