Nik Cohn

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 593

I had once written that the Stones were a wonderful rock & roll band, the very best in creation. But I also wrote that aging did not suit them. Their greatest gift had always been for outrage, and outrage needs youth. Therefore, I suggested that if they had any sense of completeness they should blow themselves sky-high three days before their thirtieth birthdays.

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In its context, it was meant as friendly advice, a gift from an admirer, but clearly it misfired. Thirty has come and gone—Bill Wyman must be close to 40—and still they persist….

Once, the Stones were a genuine explosion. They had urgency and rage, real passion, and though they always loved to play games, there used to be a sense that, underneath, they meant business. (p. 72)

With the Stones, however, the shenanigans were inherent and inescapable. The week that "Satisfaction" topped the hit parade, I had dinner with Burt Bacharach, then the absolute arbiter on all matters Pop, and when I mentioned their name, he cast aside his fork and clasped his skull: "So violent, so rude," he moaned. "Why can't they be polite, like Paul and John? Or at least write poems, like Bob?"

So violent, so rude—that, of course, was precisely their beauty. Rock was never created for good taste or moderation. It was born for fury, and wildest excess, and the Stones were all these things to perfection. Unlike Dylan or the Beatles, they seemed to be true guerrillas: new horsemen of the apocalypse.

Somehow, just as Elvis had done in the fifties, they managed to catch the essential sound and feel of the streets. They were delinquents in excelsis; God's own punks. They were arrogant, boorish, in every sense unsavory. And if you loved rock, they were simply magnificent.

It couldn't last. The pitch was too fierce, too intense, to sustain. Especially in rock, whose appetite for its own flesh has always been insatiable. It lives off novelties, continuous combustions. An energy catches fire, attains its peak, and is consumed. So each new hero has one moment. Then the moment is gone, and he is obsolete.

More or less, that is what happened to the Rolling Stones. For a time, their reserves of strength and desire seemed inexhaustible. Then gradually, they began to slow down. They grew rich, and safe, and fashionable…. By any standards, they were snug.

Mick Jagger was snuggest of all. Even at the best of times, he had seemed a taste out of place on the streets. A scrubbed college boy from the suburbs, he did not belong instinctively, had had to learn the accent and stance by numbers. And now, when the Beautiful People came knocking, he succumbed without struggle. Meekly, he allowed himself to be turned into a pet, their own tame Lucifer—sweet boudoir dream of lust, and danger, and simply divine uncouthness.

All of this showed on stage. The music survived, almost as strong and true as before, because Keith Richard was a master. But Jagger himself became more and more of a caricature. (pp. 72, 74)

Even in decline, he carried a surface dazzle which passed for excitement, and physically, of course, he was beautiful to watch. But his original force had vanished in self-parody; instead of a fallen angel, he now seemed more like an antique schoolboy, forever doomed to play at being naughty, because it was his job. (p. 74)

Nik Cohn, "The Obsolescence of God's Own Punks" (copyright © 1975 by Nik Cohn; reprinted by permission of the author), in New York Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 22. June 2, 1975, pp. 72, 74.

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