At the Rolling Stones ‘A Bigger Bang’ concert here in Wellington, I was moved by the faces of the crowd. Most of them, myself included, were aging baby boomers – now more interested in drugs like viagra and botox than mere hallucinogens. The Rolling Stones was the music accompaniment to their youth, middle age, and for some, now for their dotage. Rather than tell the story of the concert, which was perhaps the most superbly orchestrated event I’ve ever experienced, I have stories about how the Stones music has threaded into the lives of my friends and family, and therefore of myself.
We (Gilly, Nich and I) decided we would go camping one weekend. Goodness knows why – it was probably a late summer and we Robert and Deb decided to join us, along with Robert’s and my school chum David. Robert would’ve had his iconic powder blue Commer van with the sliding front doors. We probably had my Dad’s lilypad green pickup truck. The only thing missing was the mullet hairstyle – and trust me – we didn’t miss it then either. We camped in a pit where roading materials had been extracted – not as bad as it sounds because the ground was grassed and the walls of the pit gave us shelter from the wind – we were about 100 metres as the gull flies from the sea. Very sheltered, very secluded – an ideal camping place. We set up camp and then walked to the cliff tops and down on to the beach and generally worked up an appetite. The weather was lovely and we really enjoyed each other’s company – exploring and laughing – just hanging out together.
Evening arrived and we made dinner – I’m guessing sausages, spuds, and some sort of salads washed down with some beer. DB odds are, but I don’t remember. Night fell and we drew into the campfire. Music maestro, please. Down in the pit no radio signal was available – horrors – the one part of our master plan had failed. No music! Robert came to the rescue – he had one tape in his van – Rolling Stones latest, Tattoo You. We played it over and over. The track I remember clearest is not the classic, ‘Start Me Up’, but rather ‘Waiting on a Friend’. The haunting melody still takes me back to that time – we were all in our 20s – struggling in the New Zealand of the mid 1980s, struggling to stay in business, to find an identity, to find a life, to find a friend. I look back on it now and think these were some of the loneliest and desperate times of my life.
My friend Chris very unexpectedly suffered a series of quite severe strokes. I was shattered as he’d been a source of wisdom and quiet inspiration since we’d met. I loved his quick wit and was envious of his stunning grasp on maths and english. I think he was one of Hawera’s finest sons. Chris had married Yvonne – they’d met a mutual friend’s wedding. Chris loved the Rolling Stones, having seen them more than once in the UK. The Stones helped build a relationship between Chris and his then to be brother-in-law. Chris had arrived at the apartment in Zurich. Yvonne was at work. A slightly tense moment was addressed with Yvonne’s brother, Martin, saying, “Das Rolling Stones?” and Chris, exhausting his german, “Ja, bitte.” A beer, Rolling Stones, and mutual good will smoothed a new relationship. Chris liked the Stones, so, even if he was a foreigner, he wasn’t all bad. After some trials and tribulations created by a long distance relationship, Yvonne came to NZ from Switzerland, they married and settled. I was busy establishing a life for myself as were they, and I lost some contact with them. Chris’s strokes and subsequent death has left an empty place in my heart – I’m sure for all who knew him, and even bigger for those who loved him. Chris was taken from the church to ‘Wild Horses’, from the Sticky Fingers album.
I met Liz when I first came to Wellington. She was one of those nasty old smart sharp bitchy caring cynical loving teachers who’s heard it all before. She had the best laugh and she was smart. Liz’s caring included marching on parliament, and protesting outside the Israeli embassy. She’d been a radical in her earlier days, a flower child, she’d seen it and she’d done it. While working at the training provider Liz’s health deteriorated further and too soon her internal war was over. Liz had planned her funeral to an extreme level, including the request that we graffitti her purple coffin. We were too frightened not too. Liz was brought into the church to the pounding beat of island drummers, and taken out to ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ from the Let it Bleed album. Liz had seen the movie ‘The Big Chill’, loved the joke, and wanted to share the real experience with her friends and family. I know Liz would’ve loved it and I think it was a mark of her caring that she’d planned her funeral to be as easy as it could be – emotionally – for everyone.
There are other stories that the Stones have provided the soundtrack for. The best, I think, was on the faces of the patrons last night. Amongst my peers there, I know there were stories of great parties, great risk, great sadness and loss, of the highest highs, and the lowest lows. Of excessive drugs and booze, of diets and depression. Of holding back when we should’ve forged ahead, of rushing in when caution was the wisest course. Of being in that vice of caring for parents and caring for kids. Being lied to by politicians, the media and advertising. And yet the faces were not bowed, instead they were the faces of life in celebration. We have had, and continue to have, Mick and the boys producing the anthems for our generation. And we danced. Oh yes, we danced.