The Rolling Stones concert at The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg Austria was a must-see for me. Although I have seen them perform in Budapest in 1995, and in Belgrade in 2007, this was the opportunity to see them for the last time, simply because Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are in their mid-70s, and there is a logical presumption that there will not be many chances to see them again. Still, I may be wrong.
A lot of time passed since I saw them for the first time, and although at the time I was an avid fan, this was the chance to say goodbye to them in a proper way. To be there once again and to enjoy the sheer bliss of the show, or so I thought. I would not call the concert only a musical event, since music is just part of the Event. It’s that other stuff that has made me wonder what a Stones concert actually means.
When I was growing up in the late 80s and in 90s in Yugoslavia, and what was left of it during and after the war, the Stones were a myth. Keith Richards, with his drug abuse and inevitable cigarette, and Mick Jagger, as a notorious womanizer, were like a promise to us kids who grew up in the last years of soft socialism, but still way behind the scene of the broader world. They were the symbol of what is waiting for us, somewhere out there. They were the promise of freedom, and the epitome of capitalism, as we imagined it would have been.
After we finally arrived from Graz to Spielberg, the place was already swarming with people. More than 90,000 visitors in an unfriendly environment. It rained the day before the concert, and on the same day, so the place was muddy, mire in some parts. We were run through narrow corridors of wired fence, so we were moving slowly. After we reached our seats, we faced the stage with four huge upright screens, on which the red tongue was spread over the yellow surface – the official logo of the No filter tour. Just as we settled, the concert began. It opened with “Sympathy for the Devil,” and suddenly the crowd was all in a reddish glow. The mass (liturgy) began.
I call it a mass, because there is a certain religious feeling of coming to a place of worship, a sort of pilgrimage. Many of us (the majority, I’m positive) travelled several hundred kilometers just to be present at the event that lasted less than two and a half hours. We did not complain because of lack of facilities, or because of the prices (the tickets were expensive, but every other thing you could buy there was overpriced, too), we did not mind the weather. Everything that was wrong came to us long after the concert, after we’d slept and cooled down and realized that it was really over.
If it was a mass, a religious event, then who and what did we worship? The images of Keith Richards, as he appeared onstage with a cigarette in his mouth, and for which he received a loud “WOW” from the crowd, or the running and dancing and singing of Mick Jagger, who is pretending that he is a teenager, or the guitar skills of Ron Wood who is, according to the news, fighting lung cancer, or the drumming of Charlie Watts, who bangs the drums with joy and subtle irony, or was it something else? It is hard to argue that the Stones are what they used to be, because they are not. We could hear that, somehow it still possesses a certain charm, we could see that – everything was sort of an homage to things past, true and false at the same time, entertaining but kind of goodbye-ish. There was a feeling that there won’t be any Stones after this tour.
So were we all just saying farewell to everything the Stones had been? Or are? After the concert, I started to realize what they really are – just a bunch of old guys pretending that they are younger than they are, who are living off past glory. OK, who wouldn’t? I mean, as long as there are suckers willing to pay to worship them – why not? The Stones were always the sign of exaggeration, overdoing everything. Acting as madmen, throwing things out of the hotel windows, in constant collision with the law, not because they wanted to change things, but because they simply could. Always wanting more – more drugs, more sex, more alcohol, more money, more and more and more. They are, at the same time, a product of our consumer society and its creators. “Sympathy for the Devil” is, for that matter, just sympathy for the money. We are worshipping nothing else but the consumerism itself, capitalism if you like. The very thing that we should not like.
They never tried to promote any other values than those of life without responsibility, without boundaries. It was indeed seducing, it was intriguing, but it is not real. I don’t want to sound like a stiff moralist, but the power over the people that they had is useless. They did not achieve anything except pure entertainment. Which is great, in fact unforgettable, but still they remain just a money-making machine which serves not only themselves, but also the system that is nursing them. That is exactly what is wrong. They were, and they still are, only entertainers, nothing more, and nothing less. It is just that, right now, I am looking for more.