Before I even walked in the door, I was already pretty sure that "Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction" might be the single greatest thing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has ever done or ever will do. Meredith Rutledge-Borger, the museum's assistant curator, graciously offered to give me a private tour, and the first thing she told me is how the soundtrack playing in the lobby -- a 1973 Stones concert in Belgium -- accidentally corrupted a bunch of pre-teens.
"On the exhibit's opening weekend, there was a class of kids in the museum," she told me. "And they all walked past just as 'Star Star' was playing." The song, if you're not familiar, is the one with the chorus that goes "star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, star fucker," etc. "They were all singing along as they went down the escalator," Rutledge-Borger said, wincing.
That's all I needed to hear. If kids were losing their innocence OUTSIDE the exhibit, god only knows what acts of moral turpitude were taking place within the windowless three floors full of Stones' minutiae. I walked into the open lips front entrance -- another promising sign. You can't enter the exhibit without literally coming in Mick Jagger's mouth (David Bowie knows what I'm talking about) -- ready to have my faith renewed in the greatest rock and roll band in the world.
Well ... it came close. There were a few choice artifacts on display. I got goosebumps seeing Jagger's jumpsuit from the '72 tour, the very outfit that sexually confused an entire generation of heterosexual men. And it was hard not to be impressed by one of Richards' tour jackets, with a permanent indent on the shoulder from his guitar strap, because that's how hard he rocks. But otherwise, there were no big surprises, nothing that made me go, "Holy shit, it's THAT thing. How'd they get THAT thing? I didn't think it really existed! Is that even legal? Should I be looking at this?"
Rutledge-Borger admitted that compiling a collection of Stones antiquities was an uphill battle. "Trying to get these guys to focus was challenging," she says of working with the band. "You don't want to piss them off. You don't want to bug them so much that they're like, 'oh god, the museum's on the phone again.'" The most frustrating part, she said, was that the one Stone with all the good stuff wasn't willing to share. "Bill Wyman has everything," she said. "And he boasts about it. He's probably got a better archive than anybody else in the band. When we asked him for stuff, he was like, 'No, sorry.' He was really polite about it, but it was still disappointing."
In all fairness, the exhibit is worth a visit, at least if you're in Cleveland anyway and you're like "What the hell else am I going to do?" But in an alternative universe, in which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hired me as a curator, the Stones' exhibit would look very different. Not completely different, just with a few minor edits. Here's a list of everything I'd eliminate from the current collection, and what I'd replace it with because I'm so charming that I'd be able to convince Bill Wyman to stop being a dick and loan us all the amazing and occasionally fictional Stones memorabilia he's been hoarding in his basement like a damn hoarder.
* * *
Jagger and Richard's "Writer's Union Applications (1964)
This legal document offers definitive proof that the Glimmer Twins once applied to be members of the Performing Right Society Ltd., a London organization that helps songwriters and composers collect royalties. It's got Mick and Keith's respective signatures, and the date, 9/16/1964. I guess this is sort of exciting, if you like seeing the first baby steps of a future songwriting empire that would go on to charge a German car company $1.5 million to use a few verses from their song about Satan in a 2013 Super Bowl ad. Me, I just find it depressing. We don't need this any more than we need a note from Jagger to his accountant, telling him to take the latest licensing payment and "Just throw it on the pile."
REPLACE IT WITH
The Mars Bar (1967)
When the British police (i.e. "bobbies") came calling to Keith Richards' Redlands estate in search of drugs and horseplay (greeting Keith and company at the door with a super-polite "'ello guvnor. What's all this then?"), they reportedly discovered Jagger eating candy out of then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull's lady business. The candy in question, a delicious Mars bar ("an almond in every bite!"), might have been lost to history, had the jolly coppers not shown up just in time to interrupt Mick's meal. Something that steeped in history doesn't just disappear. If it isn't still in a Scotland Yard evidence closet, it's definitely in Wyman's basement. Stop bogarting the sex candy, Bill!
* * *
Brian Jones Dulcimer (1965)
Remember listening to "Lady Jane" or "I Am Waiting" and wondering, what's that fretted three-to-four string instrument likely from the zither family? Me neither. In an exhibit that already includes Jones' teardrop guitar, which practically smells like sorcery and virgin tears, we don't need to see the instrument just dangerous enough for a Wes Anderson soundtrack.
REPLACE IT WITH
Brian Jones Murder Weapon (1969)
My first thought was to include the bloody Hell's Angel knife from Altamont, but that's kinda predictable. Who doesn't see that coming (other than I guess the kid who got stabbed at Altamont)? I'd much rather see the murder weapon used on Brian Jones. Whatever it was; piano wire, a bottle of sleeping pills, a rag soaked in chloroform. No true Stones fan believes the "death from misadventure" police report. Jones was murdered, either by some or all of the Stones and any number of co-conspirators and hired assassins. I'd even be happy with a ziplock bag full of the pool water where Jones' body was found.
* * *
Food and Drink Memo (undated)
This concert rider, originally drafted for a North American tour during the Mick Taylor era, will destroy every preconceived notion you have about the Stones in just two neatly-typed pages. When the Stones make backstage demands, you expect outlandish things like "cleanish hypodermic needles" and "2-3 kegs of Jack Daniels." Instead, their food and drink requests include Alka-Seltzer, a half dozen different types of cheeses (no gorgonzola or danablu, no "Jumping Jack Flash"), apple pie ("lots"), and backgammon cards. I don't need evidence that the Stones could've gotten along just fine with my grandparents.
REPLACE IT WITH
Keith Richards' Bad Blood (1973)
To beat a heroin addiction before the Stones' 1973 European tour, Richards went to a Swiss medical clinic and had his blood replaced. I don't care how many smarty-pants websites tell me it didn't happen, I choose to believe. And when the bad blood came out, only an idiot would've emptied it down a laboratory drain. Some doctor or maybe a clinic intern must've thought, "I should probably hang on to this. It might be worth something someday." I imagine the consistency of Keef's old blood must be similar to the lava in Mount Doom. But what about the odor? Does it smell like sulfur, or Tennessee whisky? The world deserves to know!
* * *
Thank You Note to the Who (1968)
According to legend, Jagger opted to shelve their BBC concert special, Rock and Roll Circus, because the Who had rudely out-performed the Stones. His ego still bruised, Jagger wrote a personal note to the band, expressing his hurt feelings in a rare moment of vulnerability. The handwritten letter, which practically exudes jealousy and resentment, contained only a single, damning sentence: "Thank you for working so hard on the television show -- really." Wow, that's.... not really interesting in the slightest, is it?
REPLACE IT WITH
The Pee Covered Gas Station Wall (1965)
It's the peeing-in-public rock story that started them all. Driving home from a show in Essex, the Stones stopped at a petrol station to take a much-deserved whizz. The attendant refused, claiming the restrooms were out of order, and Jagger announced, "We'll piss anywhere, man." And then they did just that. It's debatable who exactly contributed to the carnage -- Jagger, Wyman and/or Jones were all rumored to have released their respective krakens -- but the damage was substantial enough to result in a trial and criminal charges. It was probably mostly Wyman's fault, whose legendary bladder was able to hold a staggering amount of pee. Just one brick from that wall, covered in the battle scars of its golden shower, could have confirmed so much hearsay.
* * *
Bridges to Babylon Press Kit (1997)
Seriously? No. Just no.
REPLACE IT WITH
Burned Chunks of Ceiling From Olympic Studio (1968)
While the Stones were recording "Sympathy For the Devil" at London's Olympic Studio, the ceiling mysteriously caught on fire. And by "mysteriously" I mean "Satan did it." Do I even need to explain why? Have you heard the song? It's about Satan! And blitzkriegs! And rotting flesh! I'm willing to concede that it might not have been Satan but rather a vengeful, Old Testament God, smiting the Stones for writing such a catchy pro-Satan tune.
* * *
Mick's Green Jacket from Steel Wheels Tour (1989)
The first and only Stones show I ever saw in person was in East Troy, Wisconsin (two hours north of Chicago) during the Steel Wheels tour. It's one of the greatest concert memories of my life, and every detail is still crystal clear in my brain. I remember how much the tickets cost ($30), what intoxicants I consumed (5 Miller Lites and a one-hitter in the car), and when I went to the bathroom (during "Mixed Emotions," and then again during "2000 Light Years From Home.") I could almost recite the set list from memory, except for "Little Red Rooster," which for some reason I've blacked out. I remember how the guitar solo during "Midnight Rambler" seemed like it went on for 20 minutes, and then I checked my watch and it had literally been 20 minutes! But I do not remember the green leather jacket that Jagger supposedly wore during the entire tour. I'm sure he wore a jacket of some kind, and it might've been green, I don't know. I couldn't care less. Nobody cares. I bet if I walked up to Mick Jagger and told him he wore a green jacket during the Steel Wheels tour, he'd just shrug and go, "If you say so."
REPLACE IT WITH
Giant Inflatable Penis (1975)
I was only six years old when the Stones toured the country in 1975, but somehow I knew about the gigantic penis that was inflated onstage during their live show. Maybe it was a friend's older brother, or an especially cool parent. Somebody who'd had tickets to a Stones concert told somebody in my peer group, and the news spread like a prepubescent Wikileaks. It would be years before I heard any of the Stones songs, and by then it was "Oh, this is by that band with the inflatable dick?" If I was a curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, my first order of business would be "Find the Tired Grandfather." (That's the band's nickname for the inflatable cock, which more often than not didn't get fully erect.) In fact, I'd use an entire floor at the Hall of Fame to engorge rock's most famous phallus to its original glory, so visitors could venture inside and look around, like they do the submarine at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.
I can't believe I didn't curate this exhibit. Bill Wyman, you have my number. Or if you don't, you should be able to find it. Let me help you help me help you. You've got a new book to promote, right? What better to get the word out than by co-hosting a Rolling Stones exhibit that really blows some minds. Give me a peek into your storage locker, and we'll make some rock museum history.