Do the Rolling Stones still rock ‘n’ roll?

How far they have fallen. How desperate they have become. how sad it all is. The Rolling Stones are playing in Portland tonight, at the Rose Garden. I’m stating this as a fact, not promotion. For the Stones, who now are 30-plus years removed from their best and most relevant work, have devolved into nothing more than a walking advertisement, a weak caricature of their former selves. And the only questions that arise when examining their current, sorry state is: How did it come to this? How did it get this bad?


How did the Rolling Stones, who, once upon a time, were without question the finest, dirtiest and most dangerous rock band in the world, turn into the rock world’s biggest charade? How do the Stones go from making Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. to turning tricks for more corporations than one can count on a pair of hands? Off the top of my head: Best Buy, Starbucks, Ameriquest, Mercedes-Benz, Sirius Radio, Clear Channel, American Express, Yahoo, the NFL, ABC.


In fact, just last week, while paging through the New York Times, I encountered a full-page ad with Mick, Keef, Charlie and Ronnie all proudly smiling and standing around a brand new Mercedes-Benz R-Class sedan. The headline of the promotion read: “The Rolling Stones ‘A Bigger Bang’ World Tour is ready to roll, and so is the all-new Mercedes-Benz R-Class.” This is rock ‘n’ roll? And this has what to do with music, with art? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.


What makes it even worse is that the Stones are now championed, by critics and intense capitalists alike, as being “opportunists.” “They’re just taking advantage of their talent,” they say. “They’re just playing the game.”


No, they’re not. They’re simply cashing in.


The top-dollar ticket price for the Stones on this tour is $350 (and that’s before Ticketmaster’s service charges come into play). $350. For what? For tired, bottled-up nostalgia? And who can afford a $350 ticket? Lawyers, doctors? Moreover, do you know what you can do with $350? A lot of things. The first thing that comes to my mind is paying rent. Yet, perhaps the most disturbing facet of the Stones in the year 2005 has more to do with the culture that buys their concert tickets and their merchandise than it does with the Stones themselves. Because it’s not like no one is going to these shows. In fact, the majority of the dates on the tour have already sold out. And once inside the shows, fans are individually throwing down hundreds of dollars on jackets and shirts and other assorted memorabilia, all with the Stones patented tongue and lip logo emblazoned upon them.


So what does this say about “us”? What does it say about the 20,000 – give or take a few – people in each city that the Stones are playing, across the globe, who are willing to cough up hundreds of dollars just to see Mick and the boys “start it up” one more time? Is nostalgia that addicting? Is the past that hard, that impossible to leave behind?


Apparently, it is. Because the Stones have been doing this for years. They have been on their “last tour ever” since the ’90s. And every time they hit the road, they both fill stadiums and end up as the top-grossing touring act of the year. In pulling the wool over the eyes of their adoring admirers, the Stones are simply taking it to the bank. And they are now so far removed from what once made them great, what once made them interesting and relevant, that now, it’s just accepted as fact. Mick and Keef get paid, like mad, and their fans get to hear “Start Me Up” and “Satisfaction.” That’s the deal. It’s business. It’s money. Never mind that they play nearly the same set list every night. Never mind that they haven’t had a real bass player since Bill Wyman left a decade ago. Never mind that they haven’t put out a good record in over 30 years. The Stones are selling something, for a very high price, and a whole lot of people are still buying that something, with pride. Nostalgia: it’s a bitch.