Mick Jagger Paul Williams

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Paul Williams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The purpose of this article is to put the Stones in their place: arm in arm with the Beach Boys and Dylan as creators of some of the greatest music produced in the West in this century.

"Something Happened to Me Yesterday" is still capable of dragging the most ambiguous and profound emotions out of me. I don't know what it means, but I know enough things that it means to know that few songs have ever been written to equal it. You don't need to have done acid to know that the simplest and most important experiences can never be spoken of. "Something" expresses that unspeakableness with perfect humor, implies it, hints at it, trombones and choruses it. It is musical genius.

It is also forgotten. Forgotten in the sense that it isn't on the greatest hits albums, isn't performed at the concerts, isn't mentioned in the tedious books … that exploit the Stones' current image: bored jet-set decadence. Coke and cock. Mick Jagger the great performer. Ho hum.

The image is keyed to survival, commercial survival, ego survival. It is tuned to the times. But it has little or nothing to do with the courage, the desire to explore, the leaps into the unknown that created the early albums, that ended apparently forever with the last and greatest rock 'n roll album of them all: Let It Bleed. (p. 47)

From early 1965, when I first heard "The Last Time," until 1970 …, the Rolling Stones spoke with my voice. They stood by my side and gave expression to my feelings almost every day of the five most exciting years of my life….

"Satisfaction" was and maybe is the ultimate expression of adolescent experience…. It's a universal expression of dissatisfaction, directed at God, society, the mirror, the girls on the street—but at the same time that it announces the undefeatable presence of frustration in the teenager's life, it also proclaims the phenomenal power and energy dammed up behind that frustration. Frustration is common to adults and adolescents, but the incredible sexual/spiritual energy of adolescence is a secret only known to young people. That's why "Satisfaction" became our national anthem….

"Jumping Jack Flash" is also the song of spring, rebirth, the unexpected return of strength, energy and self-confidence after despair and defeat. "I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead … I was crowned, with a spike right through my head … But it's all right now, in fact it's a gas. I'm Jumping Jack Flash, it's a gas gas gas!"

"It's all right now"—that's the first conscious thought of the exhausted swimmer-through-life as he looks around and realizes he is again on solid ground, in one piece—and then comes "in fact," the miracle moment of transition: "It's all right, in fact it's a gas!" Hey man, I made it, I never thought I would and here I am … and suddenly out of the exhaustion comes a surge of proud energy: "Hey! I did it! I'm great! Isn't life fucking beautiful?" It's a classic experience, renewal, rediscovery of self, and the Stones' song is so great it not only expresses it perfectly but can even trigger it. Hooray! (p. 48)

The Rolling Stones, during their fat years, constantly gave and then reinforced the impression that they were going through the exact same life experiences as me and coming to the same conclusions—and that at the same time that they were precisely me they were also infinitely-more-than-me, all-wise, all-experiencing, all-encompassing.

Possibly it would be fair to say that the Stones played an older-brother role in our lives, assuming that the amorphous group of (male?) Stones fans that I think of as "us" were mostly teenagers at the time the Rolling Stones arrived on the American scene in 1964. (The Stones were already in their young 20's.)

At any rate we/I identified fiercely with the Stones (as they came through on the records; nothing else mattered—maybe because there was less rock media in those days) from 1965 in my case through the end of 1969, when I felt I knew exactly what they meant by "I hope we're...

(The entire section is 2,343 words.)