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It Is The Evening of the Day: The Rolling Stones at 50

So it’s official: The Rolling Bones -- I mean, Stones -- have turned 50. Can 50 really be so bad? Well, that all depends on who you are. To celebrate the “50th Anniversary” of the Rolling Stones, as the media have cautiously been doing, is really just a polite way of saying that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards & co. will turn 70 next year. And 70, in the context of “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band,” sounds deadly. Grotesque. A car crash you not only don’t want to rubberneck, you want to turn around and drive away from it at maximum speed in the opposite direction.

You can chalk that reaction up to the Stones having once been global ambassadors for youth culture. It’s also an unfortunate side-effect of the historical resilience of their uniquely powerful, raunchy, amoral, decadent, sex-drenched aura. While their fellow ’60’s idol, Bob Dylan, embraced geezerhood and mortality a good 20 years ago, wrapping it around himself in song after song, sucking it into his eyes and flesh as if to conquer it before it conquers him, no rockers have been as successful as the Stones at deflecting attention from just how old they are, and how old they have been, for so long. And now this “50th Anniversary” thing turns up like the Grim Reaper in a smiley mask to strip away the last vestiges of pretence. For the Stones, to cite the beautiful opening line of “As Tears Go By” (allegedly the first song Jagger and Richards wrote together), “It” (finally!) – “is the evening of the day.”

Not that any one is standing over their withered limbs to pronounce the last rites just yet. We’re not quite at that stage. For now, the euphemistic media chatter is only of “last gigs,” a potential “last album” or “last tour.” Which does little to disguise the fact that a very large and weighty curtain will soon be brought down on an era, more or less for good. Before long the Stones will be like Jack Nicholson at the Oscars -- the guy you never see any more.

None of this would matter if so many of us (millions, in fact) -- men and women, truckers and poets, tax attorneys and waiters, conservatives and liberals, kids and their parents -- didn’t deeply, genuinely, love the Rolling Stones. Others have sold more records, or at least sold them more quickly, but few if any have crossed class and gender and race lines so easily. And it’s not difficult to see why. Their best songs (and there are a lot of them) are as hypnotically listenable as the day they were recorded, while the merely good and average ones, the fillers and retreads and often uninspired later work, are still superior to most people’s efforts.