Rolling the Stones

Call me perverse, or perhaps I've just been around too many musicians for too long, but the part of Exhibitionism, The Rolling Stones traveling show that I liked best was the very opening display in which you walk into a facsimile of the apartment that the five band members once shared in London when they were starting out.

Disheveled would be a compliment. "Dump" or "hovel" would be a significant step up from this rat trap. It was so realistic that I was watching for mice and bugs running between the rubbish piles in the kitchen. You could almost smell the rotting garbage and unwashed socks and underwear. Mercifully, the loo was the one room in the apartment that was not represented.

I noticed that the women in the crowd, most with turned-up noses, tended to scurry quickly through this part of the show. One of the text cards accompanying this display quoted Keith Richards as saying that the apartment was a "pigsty." Again, having slept—more likely passed out—in a number of similar spots during my younger years writing about music, this classic musician's pad is easily the most pungent part of this traveling homage to all things Stonesian.

The foul first apartment set up is also the most real part of the exhibit, currently open in Manhattan at the Industria event space (775 Washington Street, New York, NY 10014). While the folks running the front door said would take 90 minutes to go through the exhibits, in reality, if you know anything about the Stones, this is more like an interesting 45-minute jaunt at most. The emphasis is on the frothy rock starness of it all. A display of guitars used by Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Bill Wyman and what the band's setup in the recording studio looked like were mildly engaging, as were the cases full of album art. The giant 3D lips and tongue logo, onto which different colors and textures were projected was fun, if at this point in history, overexposed to the point of utter meaninglessness.

As a fan of LPs, I missed seeing actual records, perhaps of the band's different UK and US pressings. Or the UK-only EPs they released. And while displaying a master tape is probably asking too much (and to be honest, too geeky and not of much interest to the majority of non-music obsessed civilians), what about some work tapes in boxes with the usual evocative and mysterious scribbling? A display where you could remix the Stones albums to your liking using virtual sliders on an iPad represented the most visible nod to making records or the actual sound of the band's recorded catalog.

One very obvious hole, or more likely missed opportunity, was the lack of any single room or display dedicated solely to Brian Jones, the band's actual founder and namer, who was excised from the band in 1969 and died shortly after at the age of 27 under still unsolved circumstances.

The centerpiece of this traveling exhibit is the costume hall. Because they haven't indulged in it during recent tours—and gee, they are 70-something after all—it's easy to forget that the Stones once spent enormous amounts of money on stage costumes. And it's not just Jagger. Richards, Woods, even Charlie Watts had super elaborate costumes through the years—capes, sashes, feather suits. Jagger's, of course, were the most eye-catching. And were they tiny! After staring at one particular aqua-colored jumpsuit number that laced up in the front, my wife exclaimed, "My God, Mick Jagger was a stick!"

The grand finale was a bare room, into which you were led in 3D glasses, to view a 3D HD digital image of the band playing "Satisfaction" to a huge, adoring stadium crowd. Lots of girls in bikini tops sitting on guys shoulders. And shots of young male Stones fans in open-mouthed ecstasy. Virtual confetti filled the air around you and at times Keith seemed to be out amongst everyone in the room. I saw quite a few of the 50–60-somethings in the audience bopping and smiling and remembering when they saw the band way back when. The makeup of the crowd was telling: all white and older. It's clear that these were the people who came on board the Stones express during the band's Let It Bleed-Exile on Main Street heyday and here they were still, hungry for a final taste.

The New York exhibit closes on March 12 and moves on to Chicago in April, before heading to Sydney, Australia in 2018. The Glimmers learned how to expertly market themselves long ago and I did have a slight tremor while walking through the galleries asking why, yet again, I was giving the Stones any more of my money? But all in all, Exhibitionism, The Rolling Stones is a very enjoyable, if not quite revelatory experience.

dalethorn's picture

In 1967, in an Army unit in Germany, a friend who was black said to me "You know why us black people dig the song 'Satisfaction'?" - because it has a downbeat (and other words I don't recall, to the effect that it had appeal direct to the heart and soul etc.)

The Rolling Stones were very connected to the blues, which you can literally feel in songs like Stray Cat Blues. But they strayed far from the blues too many times, and lost too many opportunities.

Jancuso's picture

Yes, Dale Thorn is correct, the Stones are firmly rooted in the blues. We must thank them for bringing our attention to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon and all the musicians made in America, enjoyed worldwide but widely unknown or under appreciated here until the British invasion re-introduced us.Having been a folk-blues fan when the Stones hit, I recognized the connection and am eternally grateful.

brian_pdx's picture

Brian was definitely the founder and leader of the band until Mick and Keith asserted themselves. Their best music was when Brian was with them or in the songs he influenced even after his sad demise. Fans of Brian Jones should check out the Facebook group: Brian Jones Golden Stone for all things Brian and early Stones info. Wyman checks in now and again as do Oldham and others not named Mick and Keith, which is sad.

dalethorn's picture

I love the old songs when Brian and Bill Wyman contributed vocals. And the stereo recordings of many of these from circa 1964 were superb.

jaysam71's picture

Great article @Rob. Having attending Exhibitionism in both London and NYC, I was a little disappointed that exhibit didn't take into account the Stones unique and rich history from the specific city. I get that it's a touring exhibit but given the Stones history in London versus NYC versus (soon) Chicago, I was hoping they'd tailor it a bit to each market. Finally and separately, aren't the Stones reaching a date when some of their music will default to the public domain unless the release the catalogue? You and I've talked about the fact that they've recorded every show, everything dating back to probably '69 or '70. What's the pipeline look like for new releases from the vault?