Sponsored by the AARP, the Rolling Stones are doing one more tour of the United States. AARP members get advance-booking privileges and other benefits. The AARP is the American Association of Retired Persons.
I have just watched a black-and-white clip of the Stones performing This Could Be the Last Time in the early 1960s. Apparently - and I have learned this only now, 60 years after I first heard it - the song concerns the cynical ditching of a girlfriend because she is insufficiently attentive to her boyfriend’s needs.
Nevertheless, the audience consisted almost entirely of young women, screaming, weeping, fainting and seeming very eager indeed to be girlfriends to one or all of the Rolling Stones.
Clearly they were in the grip of overwhelming emotion, something close to hysteria, something that couldn’t be kept in, that had to find expression. Equally clearly the music had something to do with it, but not everything. If they’d come for the music they wouldn’t have drowned it out with screaming.
Most of the screaming was directed at Mick Jagger, and he played up to it. As he sang, as he strutted, as he mouthed the microphone with those extraordinary lips, he took off his jacket and pretended to lob it into the crowd. Had he done so it would have been torn to shreds in seconds and every shred would have become a religious relic, a love token, a memento of intense adolescent devotion. Jagger then hinted at removing his shirt. It was a strip tease, a come-on. The music was background. The main action was sex.
And what a sexy youth Jagger was: lithe, pouting, ineffably beautiful. But it was a poisoned beauty. The Stones were the bad boys, the boyfriends you didn’t bring home to meet Mum and Dad. They smoked, drank, took drugs and trashed hotel rooms. The danger was part of their appeal. They were illicit.
Mick Jagger famously said he didn’t want to be still singing Satisfaction when he was 45. Well, he’s still singing it at 80. And strutting it in the same skin-tight, 28-inch-waist trousers. His face may be withered like a raisin but his physique is a wonder. Can it be that the wages of sin are eternal youth?
No it cannot. It was all an act. Mick Jagger was never much of a bad boy. He is fond of cricket. He accepted a knighthood. And he has taken very good care of himself, working out, living on fruit and Perrier water. Sir Michael Philip Jagger is as healthy an octogenarian as any on the planet.
The Stones were only ever playing a role, but it was one that sang to the adolescent mind and heart. It was the fantasy of sexual liberation and defiance of one’s elders. It was this that the girls screamed for and the boys sought to emulate.
Now, 60 years later, tickets to the Stones have just gone on sale. And the demand has been such that the American Association of Retired Persons website has crashed. Who’s doing the demanding? This time it can’t be adolescent girls. For all that Jagger has kept his figure, they aren’t going to faint for Granddad.
As the AARP’s sponsorship suggests, it’s the older people who are buying the tickets, people who were raised with the Stones, people of my age and more, the same people as formed the audience in the old film clip. It’s the girls who screamed and wept, now grandmothers, great-grandmothers, along with their husbands whom they love but for whom they never quite felt as they felt for the idea of Mick.
But if the idea of Mick was an adolescent fantasy, a myth, a construct they grew out of, why are they going along? What do they expect to get from it? They’re too old to scream or weep.
Is it perhaps that we never quite shake off our adolescence? Feelings never run higher than at that stage of our lives, and it is feelings in the end that govern our lives. For all that we may see through the absurdity of adolescence, it retains its appeal.
So when the elderly toddle along to the Stones concert on their walking frames, turning up their hearing aids to hear Mick’s voice for one last time, they catch an echo of the folly and intensity of youth. And though time has disproved every bit of it, it remains preferable to the clear-eyed disillusion of age.