Last week's Rolling Stones concert at the Oakland Coliseum and the experience of riding Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland have more in common than one might think.
Both drain the wallet, beat up your feet, include menacing security, and feature animatronic stars skeleton captain vs. Mick Jagger that move and sound exactly how you'd expect. If you get an opportunity to go and you haven't been, you should, because they're both among the strongest shared cultural experiences we have.
Now, the received wisdom on the Rolling Stones and Disneyland can put anyone off for life, but you shouldn't listen. I made it to the age of 26 before having my first genuine stadium rock experience, largely because stadium shows didn't play my hick hometown, and nobody paid $100 for overexposed rock blowouts during college. It simply wasn't cool.
For one, "The Rolling Stones are old," goes the logic.
"And old people will be there with their kids."
"And they stopped making good songs years ago."
"And it's expensive and fake and immodest and everything modern musicians are trying to combat," goes the cant.
Which is all true, of course, but none of that has stopped 515 million people from going to Disneyland, nor two million from attending the Stones' eighteen-month "A Bigger Bang" tour.
Down on the Coliseum field, twenty feet away from where Mick Jagger was rolling by on a moving stage in front of a forty-foot inflatable tongue, it was easy to see the haters' point. The band formed in 1962, four years before this stadium was built, and both look worn. Jagger's got a larynx injury and five new titanium screws in his kicking leg. The drug-damaged Keith Richards wears a head-scarf and hobo suit. If Keith were the Coliseum, I'd move the A's to Fremont, too.
And yes, my neighbors in the floor section were indeed quite ancient; so much so that a third of them left by 9:30 p.m. for Matlock reruns. And it's also true that the Rolling Stones play almost no new material, of which they have nothing great anyhow, while a hundred excellent new bands starve in obscurity. And they bring enough pyrotechnics and staging to make Walt Disney roll over and blush.
We're talking about America's Top Tour of 2006 based on gross dollars; a tour that netted the musicians $152 million last year, once they paid for the football-field-size stage, movable island stage, fifty-foot video screen, flamethrowers, fireworks, and the huge tongue. Yes, there is much to riff on at the Rolling Stones show, but then there's this:
"Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, dreams, and the hard facts that have created America ... with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world." Official Dedication, 1955
"Age" definitely relived "fond memories" in the Coliseum stands last week. Longtime married couples danced together in front of their seats. Pot-bellied old dudes told skinny little kids, "You were just a twinkle in your father's eye when I first heard that song." The kids shuddered at the thought of dad's eyes twinkling about anything, especially mom. But that twinkle the possibility of a bigger, better bang still permeates the Rolling Stones aura, even though it's as preposterous as a snow-topped Matterhorn in Anaheim.
Jagger hosts a two-hour, costume-change-filled dance contest in tight pants. The women in the crowd worship him. They emulate the moves of fifty-foot-tall topless women who grind the Eiffel Tower like pole dancers in a video accompaniment to "Brown Sugar." The huge inflatable tongue laps at the crowd of 42,000, and the aerial shot must look like a titanic cunnilingus session.
As far as youth savoring "the challenges and promises of the future," it doesn't get any more American than the ideal of getting rich as a rock star. Work hard. Make boatloads of money. Get as much sex and drugs as you like. Fall out of a coconut tree. Done deal.
But mostly it's the last part of Disney's dedication that explains the longevity of both thrill rides: "with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world." People start a lot of bands for a lot of reasons, but very few desire to be sources of joy and inspiration to all the world. The Stones could be arty bastard divas at this point, but instead they go for the joy jugular with a "best of" set list, unparalleled spectacle, and more sweat than rockers a quarter of their age.
When they finally do keel over, may their estates take a page from the casting agents at Pirates of the Caribbean 3, in which Richards is slated to play Jack Sparrow's father. The whole band would make a fine new addition to the original Pirates ride. A stuffed, animatronic Mick Jagger could swill rum and sing "Brown Sugar" until the end of time. Mothers would cover their children's eyes during the requisite crotch gyrations. Fathers would look around half mad, half nostalgic for whichever punk kid was sneaking a toke in the boat. It wouldn't exceed expectations, but it would still be the kind of thing we all should do at least once in life.
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