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Name: Fleabit Peanut Monkey
Subject: 30 Years Ago Today - My First Stones Concert Pt 1
Date: Thursday, June 30, 2005
Time: 10:00:18 AM
Remote Address: 188.8.131.52
Message ID: 161484
Parent ID: 0
Thread ID: 161484
Exactly thirty years ago today I saw the Rolling Stones live for the first time. I was one month shy of my 18th birthday, and had just graduated from high school. I was a curious combination of naivety and hipness – I had grown up in rural PA where nothing ever happened and I had a nagging sense that cool things (like Stones concerts) happened to other people in other places and not to me. I’d been listening to the Stones, seriously studying them, since fifth grade (1968) so my definition of what was cool was ALL about the Stones. I grew my blonde hair to shoulder length, which was really extreme for the time and place; I pierced my ear because Keith did; I took drugs because the Stones did. I played a blue Fender mustang bass with a racing stripe through an Ampeg amp because that’s what Bill played.
That day, June 30, 1975, was absolutely beautiful. Blue sky, puffy clouds, not too hot. I told my mom that my buddy Dan would be picking me up to drive to Philly for the show, but that was a white lie – Dan lived in Camp Hill and I had to hitch-hike the 50 miles from my house to his before that statement would be completely factual. Hitch-hiking wasn’t a completely dead mode of transportation then (as it is now), and in fact a few months later I hitch-hiked 1000 miles from Arkansas to Pennsylvania. But that’s another story. All I took with me was a few dollars and my crappy little camera, a 126 that I “bought” with green stamps. You had to be within ten feet of the subject for it to work at all.
Dan Brown was a life-long mentor of mine, perhaps not always the most wholesome influence; he sold me my first hit of acid, for instance. But he was the coolest, baddest kid in high school, the one you were NOT allowed to hang out – and so of course the guy you needed to hang out with to have any sort of “outlaw” cred. He was a few years older than me and had seen the Stones on the ’72 tour, as well as Dylan’s comeback with the Band in ‘74. So he outranked me by miles, and this trip to Philly was very much in the way of Dan taking me under his wing and showing me the ropes. I’d been to a few “important” concerts myself, notably George Harrison in Philly and CSNY in Atlantic City the year before, but Dan made it clear - there was just no comparison. The Stones have always been head and shoulders above the competition. If you haven’t seen the Stones, you really haven’t seen anything.
After a few easy rides I was on Front Street in Harrisburg. I used a payphone at a rundown motel to call Dan, and he made the short trip across the river to pick me up. Then we stopped at his place – probably to get some dope or a few beers – and said hello to Dan’s room-mate Ben. This is how together Dan was – he played guitar, so he moved his brother, a drummer, and Ben, a bass player, into a house right next to an all-girl Business School. It was party central. But on this particular day the party was in Philadelphia. Soon enough, so were we.
At that point I think I’d only been to the City of Brotherly Love twice before, and I was still somewhat daunted by The Big Dirty City. Very much the country mouse. Now we were in front of the Spectrum watching a display of martial force as the Philadelphia Police Force patrolled the area. Jesus, they were scary. All in black, from head to foot, with riot helmets on. Black leather monsters astride growling motorcycles, atop black horses, and scariest of all once I stopped to think about it, a big black armor-plated police bus with smoked windows. That was scary because you didn’t know if it was empty, or crammed full of Nazis.
I remember that one topic of conversation as we waited for the doors to open was the price of the tickets. I wanted to look at the stub last night, but forgot to, but I think the ticket cost $7.50 – by comparison, my first concert, Ten Years After/Dr. John, had cost $3.50 or $4. So there was a lot of murmurs of “who do they think they are?” in the crowd. Dan dismissed all of that nonsense with a wave of his hand – he had seen the show immortalized in the “Philadelphia Special” boot, one of the rare occasions when they played an encore – “Satisfaction/Uptight Out of Sight” with opening act Stevie Wonder. “You get what you pay for,” said Dan. “You want the best, you pay for it.”
The doors opened and the huge crowd funneled into the Spectrum. When I’d been there before I’d had seats in the stands, but this time we were on the floor in the general crush of humanity. We walked around, Dan being cool, me gawking a bit. The smell of pot quickly became omnipresent and you could see clouds of smoke hanging in the humid air.
After awhile the lights went down and the opening act started. We started working our way to the front, but when we got there we saw that the opening act was the freakin’ Commodores. We saw Lionel Ritchie’s horse face and then split for the rear again. I bought a tour program for $4 or $5 and looked at it while the Commodores finished. The pictures in the program were mostly from the ’72 tour.
It seemed to take forever but finally the lights dimmed and the air became electric with anticipation. We were far to the rear of the floor when we heard the opening chords to “Honky Tonk Women”. We didn’t see the lotus stage unfold, if in fact it did – some shows started with the stage already open. I’m not tall, maybe 5’7, and I couldn’t see much of anything. Dan, ever the mover and shaker, grabbed me by the shirt and started edging his way through the crowd. As we got closer, they finished HTW and charged into “All Down The Line” Every so often I would catch a glimpse of the stage. Mick was wearing what looked like pajamas – green pants and a white jacket with green stripes over a short-sleeved white shirt, and a white sparkly belt. Keith was all in black leather – black leather bell bottoms, a black leather jacket over a blue t-shirt, and was playing his Zemaitis guitar with the knife and skull emblems. Charlie had his hair cut very short, an uncharacteristic look in those days, and there was a giant black man standing behind him – Ollie Brown. I didn’t pay much attention to Bill or the new guy, Ron Wood, although I did think that Woody was really playing some great stuff – the slide in “All Down the Line” was killer.
Of course these calm reflections are the product of thirty years of time having passed. At the time it was like being in the Battle of the Bulge. The floor was boiling hot and people were crushing against each other, the sound was a gigantic metallic roar and not particularly nuanced, and the excitement of realizing that the Rolling Stones were in the same building with me was starting to make me a little crazy. Dan continued to yank me toward the front of the insane crowd. Finally I looked up, and there, right in front of me, was Mick Fucking Jagger. I was stunned. He was beautiful, for one thing.
When Dan and all of his buddies had returned from seeing the Stones in 1972, I had asked them what they thought about Mick as a performer. Jim Kramer, who was the high school’s heavyweight wrestler and as straight as they come, grinned devilishly and said, without hesitation, “I wanted to FUCK Mick Jagger.” Then someone else said “Oh yeah, we ALL did.” Now I saw exactly what they meant. It wasn’t like it made you gay or anything, it was just a fact of life. All of this flashed through my mind in a split second as Mick batted his Tammy Faye’d eyes and exuded an animal magnetism that was beyond anything I’d ever imagined. I pulled my crappy camera up and pushed the button and took the picture which is today’s header. It’s certainly not a GREAT picture, by any standards, and in fact over the intervening thirty years has been through a fire and ravaged by age, scanned and doctored up and scanned again. But it has an incredible amount of significance for me, because it’s a picture of the exact instant that I went beyond being a big fan of the Stones and entered into the lifelong obsession that so many of us share.
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