The Rolling Stones are still on tour – something is very wrong with our culture

Now in their seventh decade as a band, Jagger and his vassals are bringing their nostalgic money-printing machine to Croke Park

The oldest musical instrument in the world is a 42,000-year-old bone flute found in southwestern Germany. This week I watched a similar instrument being played for an appreciative Simon Schama in a cave daubed with prehistoric ochre paintings on BBC1's excellent Civilisations. However, I am bad at retaining documentary-delivered facts. So I'm going to go out on a limb and assume it was left there by Keith Richards on an early Rolling Stones tour.

This is a joke about how long The Rolling Stones have been around. I know; I like to break new comedic ground in this column. The Rolling Stones are coming to Ireland on May 17th with their harpsichords, hunting horns, bone-flutes, lutes and an entourage of serfs and retainers and lute technicians. They've been cosplaying as teenagers, wearing their big fibreglass Macnas heads, attempting to reclaim their lost humanity while craving the sweet release of death, or at least a bit of a nap, for over five decades now.

Many of their contemporaries, Count John McCormack, Rod Hull and Emu, Lord Byron and O’Carolan the blind harpist, are gone, but this doesn’t stop Mick and his vassals from ignoring the advice of most gerontologists and bringing their nostalgic money-printing machine to Croke Park. If you like, you can choose to see this as a sort of post-Garth Brooks peace and reconciliation commission, although some of the locals view it as a resumption of hostilities and, predictably, want the concert cancelled.

The Rolling Stones being one of the biggest touring acts in the world in 2018 is the equivalent of the slapstick stylings of Guy Visser and his Singing Duck (trust me, he was huge in the 1920s) being considered dynamic stadium-filling fare in 1968. It means that something has gone terribly wrong with culture. But the truth is, I love them.


Yes, they were the diabolical drug-fuelled bad boys of the 1960s, Dennis the Menace (Mick) and Gnasher (Keith) to The Beatles' Walter (Ringo) and the Softies (the rest). I, however, came upon them significantly later than this, when they had become a vaudevillian travelling revue. As an impressionable infant Rick-Astley-lookalike, I was under the illusion that the best Sixties bands had perfected their oeuvres in the 1980s, when they added synthesisers, digital reverb, shoulder pads and divorce to the mix. For the record, I also liked Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace album better than Sergeant Pepper's Lonely-Hearts Club Band and, for the record, I still do.

So, lets forget for a moment the brilliance of Paint it Black or Get off of my Cloud and let's instead marvel at Mick Jagger in the video to 1980s classic Start Me Up. Wiry Mick, dressed in a skintight T-shirt and baggy pants, prances and pouts like a particularly sexy chicken (not just a routinely sexy chicken). He is flanked on one side by Spitting Image puppet and drug-storage unit Keith Richards, who wields his guitar haphazardly, like he's repeatedly falling asleep then waking up jerkily to his own opiate-assisted guitar clangs. Mick is flanked on the other side by Faces émigré and "good-at-art" Worzel Gummidge impersonator Ronnie Wood. And Mick is propelled from behind by Charlie Watts, who even then looked as though he was pining for an allotment and post-war cradle-to-grave social services. He has maintained this look for more than 50 years.

“That’s the act, boys, but maybe throw in a garish unitard, codpiece and headband?” a cigar-chomping executive must have said at around this time. And so it has been ever since.

The ethnographical soundtrack

I can hear the complaints from the gallery already: Why are you mocking the Stones? If your generation want stadium-filling rock monsters, create your own you whiny Generation X/Millennial/flapper/Greatest Generation snowflake.

Fair enough. It’s just that we can’t. When the baby boomers invented teenagers and puberty and rock and roll and self-pity, it was thought, erroneously to be “youth culture”, a stage-of-life thing. But it was, in fact, the ethnographical soundtrack of their people. They (and to some extent my generation of ageing slackers) never let go. They held tight to rock and roll with their greasy, affluent, demographically fortunate mitts, and woe betide any youngsters who thought to emulate it without a man in a cardigan appearing and saying “actually”.

At concerts and festivals now, I gaze at ageing concert-goers in tour T-shirts snaffling up vinyl and I can’t help feeling that it’s all a bit like those businessmen who like to put on nappies and act like babies in their spare time (legal note: this is NOT a reference to any specific businessman). And the youngsters? They don’t pay for music anymore apparently. They’re all into Deathball or holograms or Furbies and I read somewhere that most of them don’t even have ears.

So, the baton of rock consumption has long passed from pop-savvy teenage girls to screaming middle aged dudes (we were screaming inside anyway). Rock and roll is now a therapeutic process during which a generation regresses to childhood. And soon everything will be part of the nostalgia circuit. Niall Horan from One Direction is already on it, I believe. Jaded small children observe the Wiggles and recall, with bittersweet sadness, their sepia-tinged toddlerhood (note to self: ghost-write a small child's memoirs). The industry is increasingly self-aware about this fossilisation. The music promoters MCD even dubbed an upcoming event "Dinosaurs Around the World" (apologies, I just discovered that this is about actual dinosaurs).

Ah, who am I to be mocking the music industry in its late-life distress? Printing a newspaper is, itself, a strange archaic activity much like thatching a roof, talking to people at the bus stop or arranging a marriage for your spinster sister. Reading print on paper in the age of flashing internet batshittery is also about being lulled nostalgically back to an era when things seemed to make sense. Yes, who am I kidding, we’re all out there just playing the hits. So instead of railing against the Stones and their endlessly twirling money-magnet, I don my leopard skin unitard, pout in the mirror, and jerk my head like a distracted wildfowl. Are we not all, in a sense, Mick Jagger? It’d make a grown man cry.