In a recent glossy magazine feature on the lives of the post-millennial East London hipsterati, the writer, somewhat embarrassingly, blathers on fawningly about her subjects indulging in such, um, establishment-defying activities as "trading pork belly recipes" and "obsessing over fair trade coffee."It’s precisely such a banal, eviscerated 21st Century version of youth rebellion that makes it all the more seditiously provocative when, in the new Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane, Mick Jagger matter-of-factly conveys that the band was only half the reason so many fired-up young lads were flocking to their early shows; the other half, he insists, was for the singular fuck-the-old-crusties thrill of "participating in a riot." Indeed, the film electrifyingly recalls how rock ’n’ roll once seethed with all the violence and anger that young people felt towards "he generation that is running our lives." The teenagers were, literally and figuratively, storming the barricades.
Crossfire Hurricane, which has already had a run across the pond and will premier stateside on HBO this Thursday, was introduced by the Stones themselves at the Ziegfeld Theater Tuesday night; and Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and (perhaps a bit less) Charlie Watts still seemed, fifty years on, to be every bit the rock & roll hellions who had initially inspired all that adolescent fury. Uniquely formatted with current interviews (in which interim guitarist Mick Taylor also participates) laid over a lightning-paced pastiche of ’60s and ’70s era clips, it leaves out the gossip (no Jerry Halls, no Anita Pallenbergs), letting the blindingly revolutionary music—and culture-altering behavior—speak for itself. It also unabashedly canonizes the band’s shameless, glorious depravity. An unidentified commentator sums it up: "Parents become homicidal at the sight of them." To which the late Brian Jones counters with a satisfied sneer, "We’ve been called everything from beautiful to revolting."
And revolting they were, specifically against the grey, post-war misery of a still culturally clenched Britain run by stunted old farts. It was "goodbye to all that" times a thousand, the virtual ground zero of us-against-them.
The live clips are, of course, incendiary. From the ragged, anarchic early shows, with audiences full of thrashing boys and screaming, fainting girls (who were, apparently, according to Jones, literally wetting their pretty little panties), to the wildly histrionic ’70s arena clips, the Stones (despite a few inexcusable fashion faux pas) are depicted as nothing less than the coolest, baddest, greatest motherfucking rock ’n’ roll band ever. Truly, watching them tear through "Sympathy For The Devil," "Street Fighting Man," and "Jumpin’ Jack Flash" with such snarling but deadly earnest exuberance is alone worth the price of admission.
Specific epochal episodes—Brian Jones’s funeral, the fatal pandemonium at Altamont, the band’s drug-drenched tax exile in the South of France (which, by the way, resulted in Exile On Main Street), and Richards’s genuinely career-threatening heroin bust in Toronto—are all treated with an intelligence and poignancy by director Brett Morgen, traits usually lacking in rock documentaries. Yet never are such matters allowed to get in the way of the hedonism, debauchery, and, well, balls-out fun.
Indeed, post-bust, an impressively unshaken Richards proudly refers to himself as rock’s Jesse James. "I never had a problem with drugs," he sniffs. "I only had a problem with the cops."
The film’s only concession to normal human reality comes by way of Jagger’s not-all-too-concerned observation that, "You can’t stay young forever." Still, Richards—being Keith Richards—leaves us with an unconditional warning, nay manifesto: "Don’t fuck with the Stones."
It’s a gas, gas, gas.
Photo Credit: ©Rolling Stones Archive