Please allow me to introduce myself - by John Sealander

The Rolling Stones

It must be Fall. The Rolling Stones are on tour again. I can't say that I'm surprised. The Stones have been on tour most of my adult life. Always in late Summer or early Fall. I get the tours mixed up now. I've been there in the stands for most of them. Steel Wheels. Voodoo Lounge. Bridges to Babylon. The names clash together in my head like Keith Richards chords on a cool Fall evening. I'm not sure if I'll fight the traffic and crowds again. Maybe I've seen enough. Maybe I've just got no reason to go this time. As far back as I can remember, Rolling Stones tours have coincided with major departure points in my own life. The Stones and I are about the same age, and not surprisingly, we have discovered a lot of things at roughly the same time. I remember the Voodoo Lounge tour well. It marked the Stones and my own discovery of the Internet.
When I installed an early version of Mosaic on my computer and discovered the World Wide Web, one of the first thing I looked for was a Rolling Stones web site. I didn't find one, but a few months later, with a Beta copy of Netscape 1.0 and my own fledgling site on-line, I was not surprised to find that the Stones had their own web site as well, promoting the Voodoo Lounge tour. I had to go. After all, according to what I was reading on the net, the Dallas show was going to be the big one: the long awaited, much publicized M-Bone multicast. . .the first ever major rock concert carried live over the Internet. That's great, I thought, but a Rolling Stones concert isn't something you experience in front of a SPARC workstation watching 10 frame per second video in somebody's media lab. You have to be there, squashed in a sea of humanity staring at a gargantuan 200 ton, post modern stage that would make Andrew Lloyd Weber weak with envy. I was wired, and so were The Rolling Stones. That alone was reason enough to celebrate another right of passage together.
So, I get my Voodoo Lounge tickets, which seem to cost three times as much as the previous concert I attended. And as Keith's familiar chords begin to resonate with the almost identical riffs already etched indelibly in my head, I am struck by the passage of time. Things have changed. And yet, things have stayed remarkably the same. The band is playing Not Fade Away to a sold-out Cotton Bowl crowd. I remember my first encounter with The Rolling Stones when I heard a Fairbanks, Alaska DJ play a brand new song called Not Fade Away. I was a freshman in high school and Kennedy was still alive. As the song climbed on the charts, I became convinced that this was it. Music! This was what I wanted to do. When my family moved back to Arkansas, I took the earnings from a summer job mowing lawns and bought a white Vox Mark VI guitar exactly like the one Brian Jones played. When he turned up face down in a swimming pool some years later, it briefly crossed my mind that I was never good at picking role models.
A decade went by. I put my music dreams on hold and went to architecture school instead. By the time I graduated, my once treasured Vox guitar had been relegated to a dusty corner in my parent's attic. I moved to the West Coast and attended my first Stones concert. It was a warm late-Summer evening in Seattle. I remember walking to the concert in Seattle Center, because it was just down the hill from my apartment. There were no giant stages, just a ten foot plastic inflatable thing that looked like a big condom. It was considered provocative then, although in an era where a major touring show can easily fill 35 semi-trailers, it seems hard to remember why now. The music was good in Seattle Center. Life was simple. I didn't have a date, but I had a real job, and no longer had to worry about saving up for months to go to one of these things. When I walked home to my apartment well after midnight, it never occurred to me that twenty years later it would make me nervous and uneasy to be wandering around in the wee hours on the streets of a major city. At the time, I didn't live in a fortress. I didn't have a car alarm. Hell, I didn't even have a car. A city bus seemed a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation.
It wasn't until the early 80's that I saw the Stones again. I'd left Seattle behind and relocated to Dallas. But the move wasn't the only thing that had changed. The old Vox teardrop guitar had been given to the Salvation Army by my parents. Brian Jones had been forgotten as well, replaced by Ron Wood. Everything about the Stones seemed very corporate this time around. The band had a sponsor for their gargantuan Steel Wheels tour and the novelty of the concept caused a bit of an outrage, even though everybody would have tour sponsors just a few years later. Steel Wheels was the zenith of an analog rock world that was going to be shortly transformed by computers. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I was at the zenith of what was to be a short and rocky corporate life as well. I flew to Europe to do commercials. Stayed at the Beverly Wilshire for weeks at a time editing in Los Angeles. With lots of ad agency connections, I had easy access to the best seats in the house, courtesy of Showco, the sound company for the tour. True to form, I squandered this generous gift and jumped into the stadium infield pit to watch the concert packed like a sardine with a solid carpet of very rowdy fans. By the time the band launched into a spirited rendition of Jumping Jack Flash, I had wormed my way to within fifteen feet of the stage. I never realized I was witnessing the end of an era.
A few years later, promoters would start making people go through metal detectors just to get inside the stadium. As the 80's ended, I no longer walked home alone after midnight from public events. And I no longer jumped into the infield crowd at rock concerts. It wouldn't be long before I abandoned the inner city entirely. A year or so after the Steel Wheels tour rolled through Dallas, I absent-mindedly tossed some trash into the dumpster behind my townhouse and startled someone inside who immediately jumped out of the dumpster and began screaming at me. Evidently I'd hit the guy in the head with my garbage while he was rooting around looking for bottles and cans. He said it was his dumpster. Ironically, if we'd met just a few years later, after they started dispensing Prozac like candy, this bi-polar dumpster dweller could have had a whole new life as one of my ad agency co-workers. Six months after this unnerving experience, a very nervous policemen emptied all six rounds from his service revolver into a suspected car thief outside my bedroom window and I reluctantly moved to a safer part of town.
Safety was evidently still on people's minds on the rainy November evening the Voodoo Lounge tour rolled into Dallas. This would be the third time I had seen the Stones in as many decades. This time, I didn't have a job. . .I had my own company. Walking in from the parking lot, I could hear a chorus of car alarms, chirping like angry crickets as a very middle-aged crowd locked their shiny new minivans, Suburbans and Lexus 400's with remote clickers before walking the final 500 yards to the Cotton Bowl. There were police on horseback and fifteen foot tall chainlink fences everywhere. But there really wasn't that much to worry about. This crowd wasn't going to hurt anybody. They were all preoccupied, talking to the baby-sitter on their cell phones. Many even brought their kids. It was a family event. All the teenagers looked distinctly embarrassed to be seen arriving at a major rock concert in the back seat of their parent's minivan.
It was an eerie feeling indeed as the rain got heavier, blending subtly with the computer controlled smoke machines, lasers, pastel vari-lites and fifty-foot tall inflatable apparitions of Elvis Presley and what appeared to be a giant Aunt Jemima. As the familiar chords rang out and the crowd roared when Mick started to belt out "Please allow me to introduce myself" there was this very visible moment where the entire audience realized that no introductions were necessary. We knew each other well. We had all grown up together. Our turn at the wheel was just about over, but for the moment, we were still in charge.

And as I looked into the eyes of the teenagers in the audience, watching disdainfully as their soaking wet parents sang along gleefully "Who killed the Kennedys. . .it was you and me" I knew there was a new generation of bitterness brewing that would make my own cynicism seem almost trivial by comparison. I knew the Stones would tour again, but later, as Voodoo Lounge became another memory in a life of Stones concerts, I couldn't help wondering how much longer time was going to stay on my side.

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