The Rolling Stones have been around for 48 years. For the first half of that time, they concentrated on making records, many of which were fantastic. For the second 24 years, the Stones focused their energies on extravagant and gigantic concert tours.
Now, as the 50-year mark approaches, the Stones are finally entering their retrospective phase. This can be very lucrative: The Beatles have been repackaging their legacy for forty years, and a lot of us still get excited every time they open the vaults. The Stones have never done it - they never looked back.
So it's big news for rock fans that the Stones have lately re-mastered, re-released, and added bonus material to one of their greatest albums, "Exile on Main Street." Mick Jagger, the least sentimental of rock stars, has at last dipped his toe into the river of retrospection.
Those of us who swim in that stream couldn't be happier.
In the spring of 1972, the Beatles had broken up, Dylan was in seclusion and Hendrix was dead. The Stones had claimed the mantle of Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World with three homeruns in a row: "Beggar's Banquet," "Let It Bleed," and "Sticky Fingers."
"Exile on Main Street" was the topper.
Geometry and Chemistry homework went out the window as we sprawled with our heads between the speakers trying to figure out what Jagger was saying.
At first, it sounded cacophonous: Jagger's voice was mixed so far down that it took about ten listens to hear him above the avalanche of guitars, piano, horns and drums.
That was the beauty of "Exile": You had to play it loud just to make out what was going on. It sounded like it had been recorded in a stinky, sweaty basement - which, it turned out, it had.
The words that finally emerged were a tour of the underside of the mythical American south - juke joints, gunmen, smugglers, diamonds, disease and loose women, married to riffs lifted from gospel songs and Robert Johnson records.
It was the first summer of Watergate and the last summer of Vietnam, so there were also lyrics about black radicals, revolutionaries on trial, and million dollar protest movies.
"Exile" captures all the anxiety, tension and sheer psychic overload of a moment when the old culture seemed to be coming apart and no one had any idea what might replace it.
Those of us who were there never got over it. Those who missed it can now hear what all the fuss was about.
I hope this is the start of the third era of the Rolling Stones - bringing up the diamonds from the mine.
For more info:
"Evening's Empire" by Bill Flanagan (Simon & Schuster)