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Satisfaction At Last

A lot has changed since I last saw the Stones on July 4, 1972

As a wild child of the 1970s, I spent a lot of time going to some truly amazing concerts. I pretty much saw everyone — Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Doors and the Rolling Stones, to name but a few — at venues large and small up and down the East Coast.
    The last time I saw the Stones was at RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., on a broiling July 4 in 1972. Stevie Wonder was the warmup act.
    Those were indeed the days.
    The Stones always put on a helluva show, but they were never one of my favorite bands. Mick was a little too flamboyant for my tastes, with all of the costumes and prancing and the curled lip bravado. Keith Richards seemed like a sullen, chain-smoker who mumbled incomprehensively and hated everybody and everything.
    Like many bands of that era, the Stones’ music was taken — dare I say stolen –— from the old blues men of the south like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley.
    To their credit, Mick and the Boys were always right up front about their musical influences, and they played a major role in popularizing the works of the old blues masters who were toiling away in anonymity. But I always felt like the Stones were more about the show than the music.
    A few weeks ago, my good friend Larry from my Grand Canyon days, called to say he and his wife TC were heading up to his hometown of Pittsburgh from their home in Florida to catch the Stones at Heinz Field. They had two extra tickets and invited Inna and me to meet them there for the show.
    This was also Larry and TC’s 29th wedding anniversary. In 1986, we stood at the end of Shoshone Point, on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, on the Summer Solstice, and witnessed the joining of our dear friends in the bonds of holy matrimony. I had been Larry’s best man and delivered a legendary toast at the raucous reception that followed.
    So we drove to Steel City.
    The Stones concert was amazing. To see those old coots, now in their early 70s, still cranking out the tunes made me feel like a teenager again. Mick danced and skipped across the huge stage and runway that jutted out into the field like he was in his 20s, not 72. A perpetually bemused Keith Richards never stopped smiling. Ronnie Wood bounced around in his yellow Chuck Taylors like a young punk rocker. And Charlie Watts was well, you know, Charlie Watts, which is to say stately and spot-on, sporting yellow and black Steelers socks.
    What hit me the hardest was the collective joy that surrounded their last few songs. As I stood clapping and howling from our club seats, I appreciated the Stones for the very first time in my life as I was blown away by how those songs captured the insanity and wonder of the ’70s — like the musical Cliff Notes of an entire generation.
    “Gimme Shelter” came first. I thought the whole place was going to explode the first refrain on Keith’s guitar. I suddenly realized it was my favorite Stones song. When they — and everybody in the place sang “It’s just a kiss away,” I started to cry.
    The stage went black as the stadium seemed to take a deep breath. Then a red-and-black-caped Mick Jagger sauntered to the front and sang, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.”
    After the last notes of “Sympathy for the Devil” faded into the sultry night, the band segued into the plaintive intro for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” accompanied by the stirring voices of the Penn State Concert Choir. I stood transfixed while the spitfire images of my rocky past rolled over me like some acid flashback. The truth of those simple yet profound words that often take a lifetime to learn was sung in unison by the thousands of joyful old geezers, many standing on their seats and pumping their fists defiantly into the sky.
    You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
    Everybody in the place knew what the encore would be. It was 50 years ago this month that the Rolling Stones crashed upon the music scene with their first big hit, “Satisfaction.”
    What more could anyone really ask for?