I went to the legendary "red diaper" Camp Thoreau in Wallkill, New York for eight weeks the Summer of '65. How red diaper was it? Well, my first summer there, 1964, my bunk's counselor was Robbie, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a sweet and intense guy, who I liked immensely. One of my best camp pals was Dave Robeson, grandson of Paul. Anyway, during my second stay at Thoreau in 1965, I vividly recall a phenomenon I had never experienced before or since.
That summer, there were dozens of campers who'd brought transistor radios with them. WABC was the only station any of us could get. And every hour on the hour, WABC would play the number one song on their chart. Every transistor radio in camp would suddenly go on, roaring out "Satisfaction" with full blast distortion. It didn't matter whether you were in the art barn, playing pool or ping-pong in the rec hall, swimming in the lake, trying to catch frogs down near the creek, hanging around in the main house, in your bunk, out on the ball field, in the infirmary, the pine forest... You heard "Satisfaction" all day, every day. And you LOVED it. Kids would keep tabs of the time... "Hey, only five more minutes 'til 'Satisfaction'..." It never let up. It never got old.
With by far the longest hair on any boy, I was acknowledged throughout the whole camp as The Rolling Stones Fanatic. I'd come to camp the year before in '64 crazed about them after their late June appearance on Hollywood Palace when they were famously insulted by Dean Martin. And I was significantly worse by 1965. That summer, I had two counselors, Chuck and Woody, two very cool guys. Woody was a soft-spoken and cerebral black guy with wire rim glasses. Chuck was a genuinely tough biker/hippie prototype. Both of them thought my Stones obsession was endearing.
One afternoon, against all the rules, they took me into the counselors' lounge (literally a converted chicken coop) and sat me down and played me Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed. They wanted me to hear my idols' roots. Much as I'd like to claim that I sat there mesmerized, my 12 year old ears couldn't acclimate to the real thing at all. That didn't begin to happen until I was about 15 or 16. God bless Chuck and Woody for that first taste. But, the truth is, as they kept playing me the real deal, I started to worry that I might miss the 3pm spin of "Satisfaction".
On August 31, about a week after camp was over, due to the graciousness of my Dad, me 'n' my camp friend, Howie, and my dear neighborhood chum, Ben (who two years later would see the US debut of The Who at the Murray The K show in March, 1967) got on the subway and headed to East 14th St. for a matinee show of The Rolling Stones at the 2000+ seat Academy of Music (later the world famous disco, The Palladium). My Dad bought us lunch at the Horn & Hardart's across the street and then, in we went.
Our seats were in the balcony, but, not bad, slightly towards Keith's side of the stage, about 10 rows up.
My memories of this show are sadly more impressionistic than usual for me. But, with the help of my still-friend Ben who provided a few salient memory-jogging details, here's what I recall.
The level of excitement before the lights had gone down, before one note of music was played, was changing the very air in the theater. A palpable vibe created by the fevered heads and hearts of over 2000 teenagers. At 12 years old, I was on the young side. Things were sizzling. Lots of crazy female energy. The presentation was, by today's standards stripped down bare; a beat up black stage, shabby wine-red curtains as a backdrop, amps and drum set center stage. The lights went down, to shrieks of joy and desire, and on came the Rockin' Ramrods. I believe they were based in Boston. Years later, they were minor legends for their powerful sound. And man, even now, I recall them being a really tough band. Very tight, with a real chugging groove and a loud bassist. They did maybe three instrumentals and then they became Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles backing band. Pale silver-blue glittery gowns, beehives, dance steps, that's it, all I recall. I know we put up with them. We were thrilled to be seeing live musicians. Patti and her gals meant nothing to us, but, their presence made it that much more of an event. Ben says I leaned over to him and declared that the crowd wasn't as crazy as The Beatles the year before at Forest Hills and that we should be able to hear The Stones fine.
The wait for The Rolling Stones seemed endless.
But, as the lights went down, the crowd, seething with anticipation, hit 5th gear. The roar of girls screaming and guys shouting was a physical thing. My ears felt like they were trying to hide in my head. We saw the red lights on their amps, glowing like little warnings, we saw them saunter out in the dark. We were losing our minds. I use 'we' because Ben, Howie, and I were all yelling at the top of our lungs, too. For some reason, even though Keith was my hero, even though I never called him this before or after, as the lights came up on our gods, I started screaming "Micky! Micky! Micky!" over and over. Micky?!
Brian was, by far, the wildest dressed of all of them. He had a big lush black turtleneck sweater and bright white shoes. But, his pants, oh man... They were rust-red and they were covered in black polka-dots. But, not regular polka-dots. The ones up by his waist and hips were about 2 inches in diameter and as they went down his legs, the dots slowly shrunk to about 1/2 an inch at the cuffs. To this day, pretty much the coolest pants I've ever seen. Brian's perfect blond hair seemed to glow.
Mick had on a tan collarless sweater and gray pants and tan shoes that matched his sweater, Charlie, Keith, and Bill were dressed similarly, dark suit jackets, white shirts, dark gray trousers, with only Charlie wearing a necktie. Keith and Bill had their top buttons buttoned and both were wearing Beatle boots. No jeans! Brian was using his white Vox teardrop and had his green Gretsch sitting by his amp onstage. Keith was using his sunburst Epiphone Casino. Bill was using his big red/black Framus bass. Charlie's kit was gray pearl swirl. I only remember black-face Fender amps on stage that day.
The concept of "lead guitarist" had only finally settled into my head and heart fairly recently. Keith, therefore, was my stone-cold idol, Stone Number One. I watched him intently through out the whole show.
They opened with "Route 66". Even now, the sound of that Stones groove, that utterly magic phenom, is clear as a bell in my head. They were swinging' hard. Looking back, I think it was a show they were genuinely enjoying. I know they did "Time Is On My Side", "It's All Over Now", "I'm Alright", "Not Fade Away", "Around And Around", "The Last Time". And while the crowd was indeed screaming, we could hear them. By mid-1965, venues and acts were beginning to realize that PAs needed beefing up and Keith, Brian, and Bill all had their amps on 11, no doubt.
Historical oddity: At one point, Mick announced that the "next one is our next single" and they played "She Said Yeah"! [approximately four weeks later, they released "Get Off My Cloud"... which they did NOT play on 8/31/65]
There was an inordinate amount of stuffed toys being throw onstage. Lots of them in all shapes and sizes. At one point, Mick picked up one of the teddy bears and sang a couple of lines to it and then tossed it towards Charlie. Ben remembers thinking, "Oh my God, whoever threw that teddy bear has to be so thrilled right now!" Maybe a song later, someone threw a bright green stuffed toy snake out of the balcony. This was different. This thing was at least 5 feet long and maybe 8 inches in diameter. It was heading towards the stage like a big green torpedo. We watched as Keith saw it coming, and like a toreador, turned sideways and made himself very thin as it landed inches from his feet. From the spurt of increased audience noise at that moment, a lot of us were watching to see if Keith was gonna get beaned by a stuffed toy dragon.
The single most memorable moment of the whole show, all these years later, happened during "That's How Strong My Love Is". Brian Jones put down his guitar and sat down at a red Vox organ, the cool Brit-Invasion kind with black white keys and white black keys. While Brian played basic one-handed organ, Mick sang the whole song to him, Brian fopping it up, running his fingers lazily through his hair, blowing Mick a kiss, Mick pretending to be embarrassed. Me and Ben and Howie were totally but somehow delightfully outraged. I recall myself yelling at the top of my lungs, and apologies for the language, "Oh my God, The Rolling Stones are FAGGOTS!" And, we... didn't care!
As cool as Keith was, and he had the oddest way of moving that just fit perfectly, it really was Mick's show. He seemed to have an endless amount of moves, clearly loved teasing the audience, seemed to be having a lark. His charisma was like nothing I'd ever experienced up 'til then. I mean, I was yelling, "Micky!", for God's sake! Over the last few decades reviews and opinions of Mick Jagger have been a mixed bag. For me, history and my heart tell me that when it comes to guys with pale pink skin, he is the greatest front man/lead singer in The History of Both Rock and Roll.
Soon after, having done about a dozen songs, they climaxed the show with the new global anthem, "Satisfaction." The frenzy, brought on by this song, and the realization that this song meant the show as almost over, reached a strange desperate crescendo during "Satisfaction". And sure, enough, then... they were gone.
Ben and Howie and I made our way out of the dark dank theater into the scorching daylight of a late August afternoon. Like us, the entire audience seemed to be milling around, unable to leave and have the experience be over. The three of us were just peaking on overload-jazz-dazzled child-strength enthusiasm and excitement. We'd just witnessed the five single coolest human beings on planet Earth play music that rocked harder and with more swaggering authority than anyone of us had ever imagined, let alone actually heard.
At one point, someone screamed, "There's Brian!" We all looked up at a blond guy with a cigarette standing by a window up where the dressing rooms likely were. As Ben reminded me, "We were frantic for more Stones". It took several minutes before we calmed down enough to finally head to the subway back to Brooklyn. Never the same again.
I'm very proud of the fact that the following story was included in the book that is comes with the Deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition of the Rolling Stones' legendary live album from 1969, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!, released on ABKCO Records, November 2009...
Having first seen The Rolling Stones at the Academy of Music on Manhattan's 14th St. on August 31, 1965, the Summer of "Satisfaction", I went to see the Stones again on the afternoon of the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 28th, 1969 at Madison Square Garden. Yes, the legendary Get Your Ya-Ya's Out! and Altamont tour.
Back then, the Garden's concert promoters and security people had no idea what they were doing. There was actually a gap about 30 feet deep between the stage and the front row. The kind of vacuum nature abhors. So, naturally, as the lights finally went down for the Stones, a 16 year old boy like me with nosebleed seats would be tear- ass-ing it up to the front of the stage, dodging ushers and other crazed Down Fronters on their way there. And... that's just what I did.
I even wound up in the Maysles Bros.' "Gimme Shelter" film for three seconds at the very beginning of the movie... left hand side of the screen during "Jumping Jack Flash"... exactly 10 seconds after the "... spike right through my head..." line... in profile, with my John Lennon glasses, long hair parted on the side, chicken-neck boppin' my little teenage head. Check out 2:50 - 2:54 in this video...
Anyway, it was without a doubt the scariest audience I've ever been in. Where you stood, left/right and/or backward/forward in that area in front of the stage was completely and utterly beyond your control. I'd be standing in front of Keef for the beginning of "Live With Me" and suddenly the entire crowd would shift with frightening speed that just swept me along like riptide and now I'd be 30 feet to the left, in front of Mick Taylor... and 90 seconds later, back to Keef... like seaweed near the shore.
This happened through the whole show but then, by the time the Stones got to the last 3 or 4 songs of the set, it had gotten so jam-packed-crowded down front that the shifting stopped, and to my amazing luck, I got stuck smackdab in front of Charlie's drum kit, dead center.
But at that point, it was so insanely crowded I literally couldn't even lift my arms. If your nose itched, you were outta luck. I absolutely could not raise them from my sides. That was scary. Totally crushed together and totally trapped. Of course, I was loving every second of it.
So now, the final encore was over, and Mick and Mick and Keef and Bill were bowing center-stage. But, for some reason, at that moment, I decided to look behind them at Mr. Watts up on his drum-riser. Charlie was standing up, looking at the drumstick in his right hand, and suddenly burst out laughing as he realized he's been playing with a stick that was missing it's top two inches. He shrugged and threw the broken stick into the audience - let me stop here and say that, while I've always been terrible at math, I've got a gift for 3D geometry - and so, as Charlie hurled the stick, I instantly knew that the damn thing was heading straight for my face!
As I've said, I couldn't lift my arms at all, so I just had to let that drumstick twirl end over end right into my nose. It hit me hard enough to knock my glasses off my face. In what had to be a nano-second, I looked down and saw my glasses and the stick sliding down the front of my pea-jacket (yes, I was wearing a heavy wool coat in this mob). Then, I glanced back up and saw about 90 people diving towards me to get the stick. With all my effort, I desperately dove straight down and blindly somehow came up with both the drumstick and my glasses with one frantic grab. I immediately stuffed it inside my coat so no one in the crowd knew who'd caught it.
I thought I'd lost it over the ensuing decades, but one morning not long ago, I found Charlie's drumstick in the bottom of my t-shirt drawer. God knows how long it had been laying under my collection of rock 'n roll promo t's. I have no recollection of putting it there. And the best thing about it, and something I had never realized when I was young, the stick is really dinged up, just dozens and dozens of small dents.
Hell, Charlie Watts must've hit his snare with that stick for half the show.