OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: Growing old with the Stones

The first album I owned was a gift for my 8th birthday from an older kid in the neighborhood, a scratched-up copy of the Rolling Stones' "Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)."

I played it on my portable turntable that had a penny on the tonearm to get through the skips. Even at that age, I could tell that the Stones looked and sounded different from the Beatles, who we otherwise spent so much time listening to. But what I liked most were the cool color photos inside the album jacket, especially the ones of Brian Jones sitting in a chair with his guitar and Mick Jagger wearing headphones and smoking a cigarette.

We were in New York visiting relatives in 1972 when the Stones came rolling into town near the end of their first American tour after Altamont, and they seemed to be all anyone wanted to talk about. We even managed to get stuck in a traffic jam near one of their shows at Madison Square Garden.

Three years later, two friends and I camped out overnight outside a Ticketron outlet in Beloit, Wis., to get tickets for their concert at Milwaukee County Stadium, a stop on their "Tour of the Americas." We thought this would make us the coolest kids in school, but most of our classmates, tasteless sort that they were, were more excited about an upcoming Pink Floyd show instead.

A black and white photo of that Stones concert that I bought off the Internet now hangs on the wall in our den, but when I point out me and my two buddies jammed into the crowd on the right side before the stage nobody believes the three long-hairs amid so many other long-hairs are really us.

In the summer of 1978, I was living in our fraternity house, with access to all the food in the pantry and the beer machine just for keeping an eye on the place, and the two albums I would blast at full volume at 2 in the morning after getting home from tending bar at a disco (!!!) were Bruce Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and the Stones' "Some Girls."

Later that summer, my girlfriend and I slept outside Soldier Field to try to get a spot near the stage for the Stones show (festival seating), but everyone else seemed to have had the same idea, and we had to listen to a 15-minute version of "Miss You" from the nosebleed seats.

When the Stones came back in 1981 (they seemed to tour every three years), I decided they were too old to be doing this stuff and skipped it, even though I also thought "Tattoo You" was their best album since "Exile on Main Street." (The most interesting thing about that tour, as it turns out, was that a radio station back home in Rockford organized a petition drive for the Stones to come and do a show to christen the new civic center; most thought it was a joke, but to everyone's surprise the Stones accepted the invite and came.)

Even though I'd moved on by then from rock/pop to blues, jazz and Sinatra, I felt it my parental duty to take my two oldest boys to see them at the Pyramid in Memphis in the late 1990s.

I naïvely assumed, given the Stones' advancing ages, that there might not be many more opportunities for it.

I remember eating ribs at the Rendezvous across the street when the band caused a stir coming out of the Peabody, getting into their SUVs to go to the show. And having to hear my favorite Stones cover, "Love in Vain," amid the urinals because my youngest son had to go to the bathroom.

I had a chance to see the "Strolling Bones" open their last U.S. tour in St. Louis; we happened to be visiting my in-laws at their condo about two blocks from where they were playing, where the Rams used to play (the Jones Dome). Some tickets were still available near the very top for a reasonable price, by Stones standards, but I decided that if they were too old in 1981 they couldn't, as a purely logical matter, be any younger in 2021.

That show was also their first after Charlie Watts had passed, and it somehow didn't seem right. (I later read that it was the first that they had ever played without him; apparently no sick days for Charlie.)

My 8-year-old daughter adores the Beatles and hates the Stones, apparently because she thinks she's supposed to (the old rivalry thing).

For my birthday she gave me tickets to see Ringo Starr in Little Rock, nearly 60 years after I sat in a theater and watched him go on his walkabout in "A Hard Day's Night."

He was pretty good. So, too, somewhat to my surprise, is the new Stones album, "Hackney Diamonds," the first track of which, "Angry," might be the best they've recorded since "It's Only Rock and Roll," or even "Tumbling Dice."

But the cognitive dissonance becomes difficult to avoid when realizing that Ringo is over two years older and Mick Jagger only eight months younger than Joe Biden.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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