I was 15 years old in 1964 when I first heard those twin guitars launch the opening of the Rolling Stones cover of the Bobby Womack song “It’s All Over Now.” It was just beginning for me.
Even through the tiny speakers of the crummy little transistor radio I kept plastered to my ear while navigating the streets of Hyde Park, it was the baddest, most thunderous, outrageous blast of rock ’n’ roll I had ever heard. I was in. All in.
I first saw the band two years later at the Manning Bowl in Lynn. (Where’s Lynn?) I bought a ticket. Of course, I couldn’t tell the folks — they didn’t go for that stuff. “I’m goin’ bowling, Ma.” “Have fun, dear. Be careful.”
Brian Jones was there for that. A couple of songs in, and the crowd decides to rush the stage. The cops working security in front unload the tear gas. WHOMP, WHOMP. I knew that sound wasn’t Charlie’s kick drum. Truncheons swinging, ducking, and weaving. Running down the middle of some street in Lynn, crying, laughing, choking, gagging. Scared out of my wits, and never so alive, I was in. All in.
The next day — “How was the bowling, dear?” “Good, Ma.”
Three years later, I saw them at the Boston Garden. Mick Taylor was there for that. No rushing the stage. This time we were actually there to listen to the music. I was psychedelicized. The band looked fabulous. The music sounded great. Of course, so did the sound of the trolley wheels taking me back to my roach-infested first apartment in Mission Hill.
I started working nights as a copyboy at the Record American in July 1969, two weeks after turning 21. My first month in the business, boxing’s only undefeated heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano, died in a plane crash, Ted Kennedy’s car went off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, 500,000 people showed up for a rock ’n’ roll show at Woodstock, and Charles Manson and his minions went on a murderous rampage. ONE MONTH! I’m looking around the newsroom and thinking, “Man, stuff HAPPENS around here. I’m staying.” I was in. All in.
A couple years later they initiated a one-time-only trainee program for a photographer. I didn’t know a camera from a roll of film but told management I loved photography, it had always been my passion, and I really laid it on thick. I got the gig.
I’ve got my Big Boy pants on now, and I am WORKING THE SHOW! I was given a contact name to check in with for working positions. She saw me coming, looking not much different from that zonked out fanboy from ’69, and I could read her face. I’d seen it before. “Here come the riff raff,” I could hear her say.
I asked about how the band took the stage, who stood where, in order to be prepared. I had one camera and three lenses. A 20mm, 35mm, and a 135mm. She pointed to a white strip of tape about 10 feet from the edge of the stage, and said that under no circumstances would Jagger come closer than that. Good information.
We only got the first three songs to shoot. It all happened fast. I took off the wide angle and put on my telephoto. Showtime. Out comes the band. The music starts. Jagger, running from the back of the stage, past Charlie on the drums, past Keith and Mick Taylor on guitars, right past the white strip and right to the edge of the stage. Right to me! He bends over, pointing, jabbing his finger into my lens, right in my face. “I WAS BAWN IN A CROSSFIRE HURRICAINE!!!” Wrong lens, too close. I took these pictures instead.
It was another 14 years before the band came back to town. The ’80s had been a contentious time for the band. Solo Jagger albums. Solo Richards, who had come to the Orpheum Theatre the previous December on his “Talk Is Cheap” tour. The band had released the album “Steel Wheels” the previous month, and the show was in Sullivan Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
It was a massive, industrial-themed stage, exponentially larger than anything seen before. There were plenty of third-rate jokes from second-rate comedians, none of whom are around today, about ‘The Steel Wheelchairs” and the “Wrinkly Rockers,” etc., all of which went up in smoke, literally, as Richards unleashed the opening chords, complete with fireworks, of “Start Me Up.” Jagger grabbed a guitar for the second song, “Sad Sad Sad,” the opening cut from the new album. Clearly this would be no mere trip down memory lane. I think his expression epitomizes the classic naughty schoolboy the Stones have personified throughout.
Supporting their Voodoo Lounge album, released the previous July, marked the first time in 30 years they hit the stage without bassist Bill Wyman, who retired after the “Steel Wheels” tour. New bassist Darryl Jones seemed to give the songs a slightly different rhythm, which Jagger appeared to revel in surfing. The boys are sporting full-length outfits now. A zoot-suited Ron Wood, and long, flowing robes for Jagger and Richards.
Big change for me. Color film. I’d been shooting black and white film for 25 years. It was exciting because the stage, the lighting, the performances, the energy, the support personnel were all over the top. Electric, just like the guitars. Tour support staff using military precision and execution in herding the 30, maybe more, working press corralled backstage. Barking orders and questions. “You want the Mick side of the stage or the Keith side? Follow me!” I pick the Keith side, Mick’s going to cover it all anyway. Three tunes, then frog marched not just away from the stage, but right to the far perimeter fence and out. Back to the car and haul ass back to the city to file.
Stripped down to basics, the Rolling Stones as a bar band, very few bells and whistles, no props, no giant inflatables. Just blow your hair back rock ‘n’ roll. I’m in. All in.
Another big change for me. Digital camera — new technology. I was overconfident, hubris is the word. I thought: “I know how to use a camera, I’ll just pre-set the dials for the show and I won’t have to practice.” So that’s what I did, and I got my ass kicked. I inadvertently changed my shutter speed to a speed way to slow to catch Jagger, or anybody else, on stage, and I didn’t know how to reset it. It was the longest three songs in my life. A chance at redemption. The band was kicking off the “40 Licks” tour in Boston, playing three different venues. Two days previous at the Fleet Center, this stadium show, and then one scheduled for the Orpheum Theatre. What Keith called the “Fruit of the Loom Tour. Small, medium, and large.” I had practiced, hard. I couldn’t help but notice that Keith now had a lightning bolt where his heart used to be.
“No Filter.” July 7, 2019. Gillette Stadium. It’s my 71st birthday. Don’t mess with the cosmos. Don’t mess with the Stones. I’m in. All in. Here comes the riff raff.