For me the The Rolling Stones have always been cool and as a big fan there was no way I was going to miss Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery, a celebration and exploration of the band – there is of course a great video to promote it.
The Stones have always understood how filmmakers, photographers, visual artists, stage and fashion designers can make essential contributions to how they are perceived and how their music is heard. The music is at the core of all they do but it’s by no means everything. What I’ve tried to do is highlight their influence, or how they’ve been influenced, in areas beyond music. A few examples:
They were the first big band to dress like real people, not drones. And post National Service (which they just escaped) they were seen as outlaws. Fashion and music were kicking off in London and particularly Carnaby St in the 1960s. Th key band members all embraced their own styles which have continued to this day, over 50 years later – Charlie Watts the English Gent, Keith the pirate (think Johny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean films – who played his Dad?) and Mick with his mesmeric stage presence and androgynous looks.
The infamous ‘tongue and lips’ were designed by graphic designer John Pasche in the early 70s (he got paid 50 quid!) and have stood the test of time because it’s a universal statement. Sticking out your tongue at something is very anti-authority, a protest. It was supposedly inspired by the Indian Hindu goddess ‘Kali the Destroyer’, although Jagger’s own tongue and lips were surely an influence. And then the album covers, they collaborated with the many of the greats before they were great, always of their time. Sticky Fingers – Andy Warhol; Exile on Main Street – Robert Frank; Goats Head Soup – David Bailey, to name but a few.
There’s been a mixed relationship with film with Mick also taking a turn in front of the camera, most famously in the cult film Performance. Gimme Shelter (1970) was a documentary chronicling the last weeks of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour which culminated in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert were Hells Angels were running the security and 18-year-old Meredith Hunter died. And there was the notorious Cocksucker Blues (1972) following their US tour 1972 and showing the mantra ‘sex, drugs and rock ’n roll’ in all its glory. Martin Scorsese said, “In a sense, their songs were like movies, they were films. And when I started to make my own films, their music played such an important part of it – the creation and the imagery, the visualisation of the film, the behaviour of the actors.” Scorsese made Shine a Light, a 2008 documentary film with the Stones and you can see that the band have still ‘got it’, 46-years after they began.
I’ve only seen the Stones live once and that was the Voodoo Lounge Tour 1995 at Wembley, 90,000 people having a great time. The band were quite obviously not doing it for the money, you only had to see Charlie Watts’ face when he got introduced by Jagger and the crowd started chanting, ” Charlie, Charlie, Charlie…”. What a rush and how wonderful to still love what you do after 50+ years.
The title of this blog comes from “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”, the lead single from the Rolling Stones’ 1974 album. Writing is credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and the single reached the top ten in the British charts and top 20 in America.