The Rolling Stones are a 50-year-old rock ’n’ roll music and commerce machine.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, known as the Glimmer Twins and arguably still the best frontman/lead guitarist combo in rock, have been steering the band behind the lips logo for decades, and every time the band hits the road, it generates enough cash to dwarf the GNP of some countries, a few of which it has probably played.
For years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland has wanted to do an exhibit on the Stones’ music and legacy, but were politely rebuffed by the band. But after years of negotiating and perhaps a bit of respectful pleading, the Stones have relented.
The exhibit is called The Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction. It opened on Memorial Day weekend, which coincidentally (if you just fell off the turnip truck upon which you were born yesterday) or perhaps more accurately strategically and synergistically, was just in time to coincide with the spring/summer American leg of the Stones’ current 50 and Counting tour. It’s due to close in March.
Right now, the tour will not be visiting Cleveland. But don’t lose faith, Stones fans. The S.S. Rolling Stones usually sails for close to a year, so perhaps Cleveland will be a port during the late summer or fall.
Nevertheless, area fans who aren’t keen on or financially able to travel to shows can bask in the collection of Stones-related artifacts and information found in the exhibit.
50 Years of Satisfaction commands 2½ floors of the rock hall’s exhibit space and attempts the daunting task of trying to tell the Stones’ complex, action-packed history through an impressive amount of cool stuff and, of course, music.
The exhibit was constructed by curatorial director Howard Kramer along with associate curators Craig Inciardi and Meredith Rutledge-Borger, who dug through the hall’s collection as well as items procured from band members and collectors around the world for a total of around 300 pieces.
Kramer, a hard-core Stones fan who has seen the band perform more than 30 times in several countries over the years, said one of the challenges of putting together an exhibit about a band with such a storied, lengthy history and a large longtime fan base is ensuring that both audiences, the obsessive fan who has every album and significant bootleg and has read every book can get as much out of his or her visit as the casual fan who just bought Tattoo You for the first time on iTunes.
At the entrance to the exhibit, visitors are greeted by a brand-new interactive display offered by the rock hall and endorsed by the band. Fans can use #rockhallsatisfaction on Twitter, Instagram and other social media websites to share photos of themselves at Stones concerts and/or their collection of memorabilia, artwork or any other Stones-related photos.
The display has hundreds of photos scrolling in a continuous loop, including an image of longtime Stones fan and fellow rock hall inductee Alice Cooper mugging in front of the exhibit entrance.
Then it’s through the giant ruby red lips and up to the exhibit proper, which lays out the band’s timeline on an easy-to-follow path beginning with the original members — including pianist Ian Stewart — in England. There are photos of all the band members as schoolboys and other artifacts such as Mick Jagger’s French class workbook.
Hard-core Stones fans probably know the story of young Jagger and Richards bonding over a mutual love of a couple of albums Jagger possessed. Now you can see the album covers for Chuck Berry’s Rockin’ at the Hops and The Best of Muddy Waters that helped bring the Glimmer Twins together.
There are rare photos, posters and handbills from the early 1960s when the band played for 20 minutes between the sets of headliner and British blues pioneer Alexis Korner.
Fans can check out a musical breakdown of the differences between some of the band’s early covers of songs such as Howlin’ Wolf’s The Red Rooster covered as Little Red Rooster by the Stones as well as side-by-side comparisons of the Stones’ versions of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away and Irma Thomas’ Time Is on My Side.
The exhibit offers quite a few cool instruments for gearheads to drool over, including Brian Jones’ famed Vox prototype white-teardrop guitar, one of the band’s early iconic images made famous on its television appearances. Also prominently displayed are the Mellotron that Jones used on the album Their Satanic Majesties Request, several of Keith Richards’ guitars seen in photos and videos over the years and Ron Wood’s Tony Zemaitis custom-made reflective Les Paul-modeled guitar seen in videos from the Tattoo You album, which when viewed up close, reveals a number of humorous, mostly Stones-related etchings and carvings.
There are plenty of clothing artifacts such as a mariachi jacket that drummer Charlie Watts wore in 1975, Mick Jagger’s early 1980s American flag/Union Jack hybrid cape, a jumpsuit from the 1972 tour (that stopped at the Akron Rubber Bowl) and other pieces that, besides highlighting Richards’ and Jagger’s penchant for wearing women’s sweaters as stage gear in the late 1960s/early 1970s, also help visitors realize just how physically small these rock ’n’ roll giants actually are.
Several iconic Stones images are further revealed, such as the original collages that became the covers of 1974’s It’s Only Rock and Roll and 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request and 1971’s Exile on Main Street.
In another bit of strategic synergy, throughout the exhibit, visitors hear snippets of songs culled from shows that have been made available through www.stonesarchives.com, including the much bootlegged The Brussels Affair from two shows in 1973.
As for telling the Stones’ story, the rock hall has done a good job of at least visually and/or sonically touching on most of the major peaks and valleys in the Stones’ lengthy lexicon of myth and fact.
One of the bigger moments, the death of Brian Jones, is marked with artifacts such as the program from his funeral service and handwritten poems from Jim Morrison (Ode to L.A. While Thinking of Brian Jones Deceased) and another by a young, not-yet-famous Patti Smith.
Other parts of the band’s story included are its drug-fueled legal troubles, the fallout between Jagger and Richards in the 1980s and what brought them back together (hint, their induction into the rock hall in 1989 was a partial inspiration) and the magnificent cash-sucking beast that the Rolling Stones tour machine has been for decades.
For Kramer, the band’s continued appeal across generations of rock ’n’ roll lovers is easy to explain.
“Two simple things — their music and their ability to perform,” he said. “Their music remains compelling and they are still without peer as a live act. Someone once said, on any given night, a different band is the greatest rock and roll band in the world. That’s true if the Stones aren’t on stage somewhere.”