Several years ago, HBO released a documentary about the Rolling Stones that I watched more than once. During that time of my life, I was stuck halfway between heartbreak and new love, and there was this part of me that wanted to fall in love with a non-presence, with something that could not hurt me. The documentary was a bunch of primary-source clips spliced together—no voiceover, just footage of the Stones at their concerts, in their dressing room, in news stories from the time. It felt a little like watching someone else’s home videos. It made me feel nostalgic for a time I had not come even close to experiencing.
This was a welcome reprieve from my everyday nostalgia and regret, that powerlessness you feel when a thing you tried like hell to keep going ends anyway—that space where it still seems like that ending could possibly be the worst thing, when you are still struggling and cannot yet see the steps you’ve taken toward something you cannot even comprehend at the time: a life without that struggle.
I guess I felt a ghost echo of that life when I watched the documentary, picking up on a possibility I wasn’t even aware of. Or maybe I just found it a more comforting kind of longing. At any rate, I wanted to write about it. I started listening to the Rolling Stones a lot, and Some Girls was the album I ended up listening to most.
Here is what I remember: putting on the album and pulling out the typewriter I liked to write on back then. I picked Some Girls because I had an idea about listening to the album as its own thing—that an album would have a kind of cohesion, be a made thing, in the way that a greatest hits album wouldn’t be. I picked that particular album somewhat at random, mostly because it had “Beast of Burden” on it, which is my favorite of all their songs (I’ve never shared this without people reacting with surprise—I guess that song isn’t usually a favorite, and I never really know what to say to that except: Oh, well, it’s mine).
I was listening to the music in an attempt to channel their spirit, or to work through what appealed to me about their spirit, or to tap into the recklessness and nostalgia I felt, the longing I felt for some other past layered on top of the longing I had for my own past layered on top of the thrill of having kissed a quiet and unassuming-seeming man and being so unexpectedly, completely upended. I wanted to care about it and I wanted not to care about it—which is how the Stones seem, to me. They have feelings, but they also have bravado, they have energy that comes from more than just those feelings, energy that is all their own.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’d ever listened to the Rolling Stones. In my first year of college, they played a concert in the stadium across the street from my dorm, and I bought their greatest hits compilation (a multiple-CD set) in preparation for tagging along with my parents and aunts and uncles to the show. I knew many of the songs already, but in a peripheral way—I had heard them I guess, but I don’t know that I’d ever made a point of listening. Leaving home was both tough and easy; I missed my parents and my old home but I also didn’t. I wanted to adjust, to feel settled where I was, more than I wanted to return home, but I was in flux regardless. I wanted to like something my parents liked, a safely-delayed sort of connection.
They smuggled airplane bottles of booze into the stadium and I felt inducted into some illicit club of adulthood, even though there was no way any of that liquor was going to make it into my soda. Halfway through the show, someone called in a bomb threat and the Stones left the stage while officials investigated. My uncle got pretty upset while waiting, wondering why they weren’t evacuating us, afraid the whole place was going to go up in flames. He and his wife went back to their hotel while the rest of us waited it out, and the Stones eventually got back onstage to play some more songs, and so he missed the end of the show.
It’s funny, because I hadn’t thought of this in ages, and now, in remembering, I wonder if they’d shared a joint on the walk over to the stadium, something that would enhance paranoia—what’s interesting to me about this idea isn’t the possibility of the thing itself, but the fact that such a thought would have been completely alien to me when I was eighteen. The airplane bottles were the limit of my imagination, the biggest rule I could picture them breaking. It makes me want to reach through time and pet my hair, oh you sweet, naïve, serious thing.
It was a lot of excitement, that evening, but the biggest excitement was seeing Mick Jagger onstage. We did not have good seats; he was a small figure in the distance. He was an old and wrinkly man. But he moved purposefully and easily, with an energy that astounded me. Mick Jagger was 43 years older than me, old enough to be my grandfather, and it seemed impossible to me at the time but there I was, thinking it: he was unmistakably and undeniably hot. I’m struggling as I write this to come up with a way to describe it that doesn’t sound laughable, and it occurs to me that I don’t have to describe it, not really: you know Mick Jagger. You’ve seen his energy. It’s part of why he’s famous. But the strength of that energy, how apparent it was even when he was inches high on a stage so far away, how it traversed an age difference of nearly a half-century, that surprised me. But I guess that’s part of what sexiness is.
Years later, in the face of meeting a new man I was excited about, I wanted to understand that swagger, to disassemble it into all its parts (impossible, but that’s what I wanted to know)—maybe more to understand this man I met, who was one person when he talked to you and another person entirely when he kissed you, than to understand it inherently on its own or somehow embody it myself (for a woman it’s different anyway, more passive, such a pretty pretty girl). So I watched a documentary over and over, I listened to the songs, I tried not to be too sad about what had passed or too scared about what was to come. I had met a lovely, lovely man, something promising—but it would take us years to figure out how to engage with that something in a productive way. I didn’t know it, but the giant unknown thing was just tumult giving way to more tumult. Oddly, I’m nostalgic for it now.