The question rages: When should prominent elders leave the public stage?
Some want to see it happen en masse. Others say those judgments should be based on individual performances. I say: When it comes to The Rolling Stones, the question is moot. They don’t just suspend time, they transport us baby boomers through it.
Listening to the Stones takes me back to the summer of 1971. I was a preteen. My family had moved from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to Eastport, Maine. We’d bought an old house that needed many things. New wiring. A new roof.
And a paint job. The place was trapped in bleak and brittle gray shingles, which when removed revealed scabby green paint. My father had his hands full with other this-ramshackle-old-house repairs. And so I took on painting the place as a summer project. That involved long hours on a ladder scraping the peeling remnants of the ancient paint, then priming the clapboards and applying a crisp mid-range yellow.
It was tedious work but luckily I had something to keep me going. I had recently gotten “Through the Past, Darkly,” the group’s second collection of hits, and I had a portable record player that, once an LP ended, played it again and again and again, into infinity.
I listened to the album, and particularly the A side, oh, maybe, 200 times as I worked that summer. It began with “Paint It Black,” which amused my 12-year-old simpleton self because I was painting it yellow. Then came “Ruby Tuesday,” who would never say where she came from, but whose advice made me dream of what the future might hold.
“ ‘There’s no time to lose,‘ I heard her say/ Catch your dreams before they slip away/ Dying all the time/ Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.”
That was followed by “She’s a Rainbow,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” and another love — well, lust — song, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
It hardly need be said that “Paint It Black,” which plunges into the grief and depression following the death of a lover, is not meant as an uplifting song. And yet for me it is because it takes me back to my youth. I have the Stones’s “Aftermath” CD, which opens with “Paint It Black,” in the glove console of our lake boat. I sometimes play it when teaching kids to ski or hauling them about on a tube. It gives me an excuse to launch into a long-winded lecture to members of today’s teen cohort about what real rock music sounded like.
To them, The Rolling Stones seem like a hopelessly irrelevant band from the musical Middle Ages.
Then, earlier this month, came the news that, more than 50 years after I spent most of a Maine July endlessly listening to an early assemblage of their greatest hits, The Rolling Stones have a new album coming out. The song that’s been released so far — “Angry,” about love gone nearly bad — is not just unmistakably Rolling Stones, it’s terrific Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger belts out defiant lyrics, his voice at times rising almost to a falsetto. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood punctuate and proclaim the sentiments with sweep-you-along guitar work. The love affair might be over but, as “Angry” proclaims, this fabulous band isn’t.
The Rolling Stones obviously aren’t going to displace Taylor Swift or Beyoncé as the musical sensations of this era. If you’ve been in a stadium with 65,000 delirious Swifties asking no one to gimme shelter from the pelting rain, a crowd that knows every word to every song, you realize what a force — no, a force majeure — Taylor is.
Her music inspired my goddaughter to learn to play the guitar, the better to entertain us all with Lila’s version of Taylor’s version of her songs.
And yet, over Labor Day, when I was teaching her to drive the boat, she had this not-Taylor-made musical request: Can we play that song “Paint It Black?”
Can we ever. And when the Oct. 20 release date rolls around, not just that 57-year-old classic, but some new Stones as well.
I can’t wait.