The Rolling Stones turn 50 this year. Which is amazing on many levels. Particularly when you consider that many people in and around the scene over the years wouldn't have predicted Stones guitarist and spiritual guide Keith Richards making it to 50, let alone the band he seems to love more than life itself.
But that's the Stones, isn't it? Even Mick Jagger, as a young man interviewed in the never-before-released 1965 film "Charlie Is My Darling" -- one of two rather brilliant Stones documentaries seeing daylight this week -- only saw the band lasting a few years. It must indeed be an awful lot like Richards has repeatedly stated over the decades -- the only way out of the Rolling Stones is "in a pine box."
The 50th anniversary of this seminal British blues-punk-rock 'n' roll band is notable for more than the fact that millions of people around the world still care, will still pay up to $800 per ticket for the best seats at the band's recently announced handful of live shows, and will likely line up to catch "Crossfire Hurricane" when it debuts on HBO at 9 p.m. Thursday, or head to a retail outlet over the weekend to snatch up the ornate "Charlie Is My Darling" box set.
It's significant because the Stones are the only band to have made it this far. Just as the group was making it all up as it went along in its earliest days, evolving from a cover band specializing in American blues and primal rock 'n' roll into a songwriting force out of necessity, so too is the group navigating uncharted waters as the only outfit from its generation to still be cranking it out as its members prepare to enter their 70s. (Both Jagger and Richards will do just that in 2013.)
There will be a flurry of activity in Stones-land concomitant with the anniversary, including the release of (yet another) career retrospective, the double-disc "Grrr!," which includes the brand-new tunes "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot". (The collection drops on Tuesday.) A private intimate show in Paris at the end of October offered a hint of what the band will be bringing to the four shows it has already announced -- two in London's 02 Arena in November, and two in Newark, N.J., in December -- for the Anniversary tour. Richards has already hinted, to Rolling Stone magazine, appropriately enough, that there will be more shows to come.
Clearly, the demand for a lengthy Stones tour is there. Whether it materializes is anyone's guess, but for the insatiable Stones fanatic, there's plenty to get fired up about, even if you're not lucky (and wealthy) enough to grab a ticket for one of these four shows.
First up is the aborted Peter Whitehead film, "Charlie Is My Darling -- Ireland 1965." The British filmmaker Whitehead, who would go on to create the cult classic "Tonight Let's All Make Love In London," was originally commissioned by then Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to document the band's weekendlong Irish tour of 1965, which took place a mere matter of weeks after the release of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Oldham saw the documentary as "a sort of trial run" for what he hoped would be eventually be a full feature film. That never really came to be, and "Charlie Is My Darling" was only seen in bits and pieces over the years, in the process becoming a much sought-after prize for the Stones collector.
Watching this new 65-minute edit of the film -- available on Blu Ray, DVD and deluxe editions, with attendant soundtrack CD and "Live In England '65" disc and vinyl LP -- it's not difficult to comprehend why Whitehead's film has taken on a mythlike stature over the years. Captured in lovely, appropriately grainy black & white, "Charlie" offers a snapshot of the band in the midst of its first full-blown hurricane of hysterical adulation.
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