A couple days ago a dvd from amazon arrived in the mail. Rolling Stones concert 1975. It was the year I rode to Jacksonville from Charleston, a couple hundred miles in August to see the Rolling Stones. My neighbor and friend, Chip, came into two tickets and asked if I wanted to go. Rebel yell: Hail yeah! The Stones filled every major football stadium in the country that year. It was the apex of mega concerts, concerts so big the performers on stage were like colorful ants standing on their back feet. Didn't matter. The sound was dynamic. A Stones concert in that time was the very height of rock n roll as it had evolved to that year. It was also the year punk started in London, NY and LA. I didn't know it until the next month. The show on the dvd was LA in July. I saw this was a new release, had a good price on it, and I wanted to see it. I saw Thelonious Monk at the Bohemian Cavern in DC with Charlie Rouse in 1963. Not many years ago I found a 2cd set of the same concert tour recorded in LA at the It Club, 1962. It was wonderful to hear it. I'd totally forgotten what I heard that night. Hearing the recording was brand new. The show was after the release of one of the great albums in jazz, Straight No Chaser. I did see Monk, but failed to see the Stones. The reason why is so subjective I haven't told it; it's something I don't feel comfortable talking about. This morning on the phone with my friend Carole, I told her the experience, and this far away in time, forty years, it didn't seem as disorienting as it did at the moment. We rode to Jacksonville in Chip's Volkswagen bug he worked on himself and kept in good running condition.
We arrived, parked, walked half a mile to the stadium entrance, went in, took our time milling about, walked onto the field up close to the stage to see the mechanics of it, neither of us being down-front guys, and we walked around in the stands looking for a good spot for visuals and sound. We picked the opposite end of the bowl. The place filled up around us and the Florida sun shone down upon us. The place filled in a short time. We waited. Some recordings were played on the sound system. People on the ground were playing beach party, blankets on the ground, beach balls bouncing around. The day went on and the day went on. The sun turned from friend to enemy. I had thought to wear long sleeves and a straw hat that went all the way around. I knew it would be hot, but had never experienced the Florida sun to know how hot it can be. People packed in tight all around. Shoulders, backs and arms turning red, burning bad. I saw several people who had passed out from the heat carried out on stretchers. I saw a guy walk up the aisle who had a Neanderthal face with big brows that hung out over his eyes obscuring them in dark shadows. Creepy. There came a time the beach party was over, everyone on the field quiet, in place, not moving. Nobody was moving throughout the whole place. It became eerie. I saw the people around me cooking, their faces twisted in pain. The Atlanta Rhythm Section came out and made some noise. They sucked. They didn't move anybody. They didn't connect with the music and totally did not connect with the crowd. Another band played, Paul Butterfield, again no music, just noise. Rufus came on with Chaka Khan in firetruck red pants and long sleeve top, wearing a red Indian headdress that ran down her back to the floor; eight or so feet of it dragged the stage behind her. She was dynamic. Their music soared. I was a Rufus fan; didn't know they'd be there.
Between bands it was wait in the heat a very long time. People streaming out of there carried on stretchers. I fell into a zone of suffering. It became like a desert. We had thought to bring a bag of grapes and some water. I came to a place where I got with self and asked, Would you go through this for God? At the time I thought I was a nonbeliever. My answer was, No. To which I said, If you would not go through this agony for God, why the hell are you doing it for the Rolling Stones? It was becoming obvious the Stones would not play until after dark. The sun was a long ways from the horizon. I did not believe I wanted to be carried out on a stretcher. I wasn't there for that. It became too steep a price to pay to see the World's Greatest Rock n Roll Band. Who gives a shit? So they're the best there ever was. So I'd been hoping for a decade to have a chance to see the Stones. I was feeling a very dark energy in the place, very dark. I was feeling the stadium was a ring, a circle with all these thousands of people in it, drawn by the magnetic force of the dark side. A time came when I felt like I had a choice; stay where I was and receive whatever darkness was going on there, or get out of there, away from it, whatever it was. A time came when to stay any longer became worship. I did not go there to worship a commercial enterprise, a corporation with their own private jet. I wasn't worshiping God, so why worship a rock band just because I like their music? That's not enough for me to worship. If I'm going to worship, it has to be something verifiably worth it. The heat grew more intense. I knew I could not make it til dark sitting in a ring of fire. I told Chip I was leaving. He was not expecting that. I told him to stay where he was. I'd find highway 17 and hitchhike home. He couldn't let me do that. I couldn't stay. He decided to leave and drive me back.
I stood up and wiggled my way to the aisle walking over feet. At the stairwell opening I came face to face with a cop. He was looking troubled. I stopped and spoke to him, saying, Something is going on here that I don't like. He saw it too. We spoke of what we saw, both of us tearing up as we looked out over the crowd where nobody was moving and nobody talking. However many thousand twenty- and thirty-somethings still and quiet as stone. I told cop I had to get out of there and he concurred, it's the best way to go. Under the stands in the big walking area nobody was walking, a few people on the ground leaning against the chain link fence. I felt like I was in a Calcutta slum. Chip had no idea what the cop and I were talking about. He didn't get my Calcutta reference. A Krishna kid approached to me in his orange gown and little pony tail sticking out from a shaved head. I asked where the exit was. At that moment I needed to be outside the circle. Once through the gate I was free. The Krishna guy told me the Stones are not where it's at, come on over here with us, we're just inside the gate. A little gathering of them singing and playing spiritual. I told him nothing inside this circle is where it's at. Y'all are inside the circle. You're not where it's at. Went through the gate and nearly danced in the parking lot. On up the highway we thought to turn right and go to the beach to see the sun set. It was getting big and incredibly beautiful like I'd never seen it before. We made it as far as a marsh at a state park area with a road. We found a place to watch the orange-pink ball sink into the marsh at high tide coloring all the water passageways through the green marsh the pink of the sun. Farther on, arriving at Charleston well after dark, I wanted to go to Folly Beach and lie down in the water, feeling like I'd been in the desert. I went under water, let the water wash over me and everything I was wearing, even held the hat under water to soak it. A tiny light on the horizon I took for a fishing boat and idly watched. It grew bigger. It was the tip of the new moon. I watched it rise up into the sky. I felt like the cosmos, the heavens, were celebrating my decision. A month and a half later, I learned to satisfaction that God, indeed, is. I watch the Stones concert this many years later and feel like I missed nothing.