Monday, April 13, 2009

The Stones Pwn Rock and Roll (My Music Retrospective - The Rolling Stones, Part 2)

The first recording by the Rolling Stones I ever owned was an import cassette tape called Satisfaction. The tape contained their greatest dozen or so hits of the sixties, including the eponymous tune that gave modern rock and roll its stamp. It also had a few unusual tracks, one of these being the deliciously wicked “Memo from Turner”:
Didn't I see you down in San Antone on a hot and dusty night?
We were eating eggs in Sammy's when the black man there drew his knife.
Aw, you drowned that Jew in Rampton as he washed his sleeveless shirt,
You know, that Spanish-speaking gentlemen, the one we all called "Kurt."

Come now, gentleman, I know there's some mistake.
How forgetful I'm becoming, now you fixed your business straight.

I remember you in Hemlock Road in nineteen fifty-six.
You're a faggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick.
You're a lashing, smashing hunk of man;
Your sweat shines sweet and strong.
Your organs working perfectly, but there's a part that's not screwed on.

Weren't you at the Coke convention back in nineteen sixty-five
You're the misbred, grey executive I've seen heavily advertised.
You're the great, gray man whose daughter licks policemen's buttons clean.
You're the man who squats behind the man who works the soft machine.

Come now, gentleman, your love is all I crave.
You'll still be in the circus when I'm laughing, laughing on my grave.

When the old men do the fighting and the young men all look on.
And the young girls eat their mothers' meat from tubes of plasticon.
Be wary of these my gentle friends of all the skins you breed.
They have a tasty habit - they eat the hands that bleed.

So remember who you say you are and keep your noses clean.
Boys will be boys and play with toys so be strong with your beast.
Oh Rosie dear, don'tcha think it's queer, so stop me if you please.
The baby is dead, my lady said, "You gentlemen, why you all work for me?"
I heard this song the first time, it must have been 1983 or 1984, and got completely knocked over. It was so…decadent. As I mentioned in a previous post about the Stones: They really committed to their image, that is, to the act of being anti-bourgeoisie. They delighted in it and did it really well. In their best songs, they smile at us from out of the widening gyre, presiding over the loosing of mere anarchy upon the world:
I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right. I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash,
It's a gas! Gas! Gas!

I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back,
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right, I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash,
It's a gas! Gas! Gas!

I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.
I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gas!
But it's all right, I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash,
It's a gas! Gas! Gas!
Melodically, lyrically, and conceptually, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” takes “Satisfaction” to its logical end. The 1968 song revises the earlier riff, making it sleek and sinewy. Instead of wailing about being unable to get satisfaction, Jagger now yawls about embracing that condition. He draws strength and power from it. His Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a child of the storm but in no way dour or morose. He’s cool, happy, and he just don’t care.

Conceptually, then, the song tells of turning away from all bourgeoisie morality and hang-ups. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is too cool to reject these things and thereby give them some due. The song instead summarily closes the door on middle-class values and joyfully steps into the whirlwind of new standards: life, spirituality, obligation. All of these concepts become wiped clean, erased for new standards based on experiencing happiness. It's a terrific and infectious song, made all the better by being tied (at least in my mind) to “Satisfaction.” I still think “Satisfaction” defines the quintessential rock and roll posture, but “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” establishes the quintessential Rolling Stones posture - which is even better.

And 1972's Exile on Main Street remains the definitive extended statement of the Rolling Stones posture. It’s a beautiful work, a devastating journey in and through rock and roll’s heart of darkness. This is no album from a studio band, no record from a touring outfit. This is the Stones, a band in the truest sense, playing together in a bunker because there's nowhere else to go. After Exile, the Stones would never return to that place again. I don't see how they, or anyone, could have.

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