Back in 1972, during the spring semester of my first year in college, it was announced on the radio and in the local alternative press (either The Phoenix or Boston After Dark) that the Rolling Stones would be embarking on a U.S. tour in the summer, with a mid-July stop in Boston, and that the tickets were to be made available on a first-come, first-served basis. We didn’t waste a moment: Andrew and I sent away for them immediately, and waited impatiently for confirmation of our reservations. Then, as the summer approached, came another announcement: there had been a change in plans, and the tickets were to be allocated randomly, not in the order of reservations received. Shortly afterwards, we learned that the show, to be held at the cavernous Boston Garden, was sold out, and we had not got tickets, despite having been so quick off the mark.
We were bitterly disappointed and furious with whoever had changed the policy in midstream. It was our cherished dream to hear the Stones perform live. Their songs, played incessantly on the record player in the tree house (See TMA 4. The Tree House), had been the soundtrack of our lives, and that is no mere cliché. We had a precious poster, entitled 209 reasons why the ROLLING STONES is the WORLD’S GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND, that listed every single Stones song released to date, and we knew every last one of them. (Sadly, that now-rare poster was stolen when vandals broke into the tree house toward the end of high school.) Of the three of us I was the most verbal, so I knew most of the words (except for the ones that Mick Jagger deliberately mumbled), but Andrew went one better: he could identify the songs by their instrumental lead-ins. Even today, when I hear a song from Aftermath (1966)—the first album on which the Stones performed their own compositions rather than covers of other artists’ work—I flash upon Andrew, Michael, and me singing along together, or just chatting companionably as the tree house swayed gently, keeping us safe from the demands and depredations of the outside world.
Determined not to take this gross injustice lying down, I decided to write to Mick Jagger, making a direct appeal to his sense of fair play. I plotted my strategy carefully, using the letterhead of David R. Godine, the publishing company where I worked (sorry, David!), so as to make it seem like official correspondence, sending the letter to the box office at the Boston Garden but starting off with a sharply worded warning to anyone reading it who was not the addressee, and presenting our case in colorful and persuasive language that would charm and intrigue him. This was high-stakes writing indeed, and I’m sure I worked on that letter harder than I had worked on any of my college essays to that point, revising a number of drafts before finally sealing the envelope and dispatching it.
July 18th came and went and by the evening of July 19th I had still not received a word in reply to my letter. However, I was undaunted, because I knew that the Stones had been held up the previous night, arrested in Rhode Island in an altercation with a photographer, and having arrived extremely late for their first Boston concert, sprung by the unlikely figure of Boston’s notorious Mayor Kevin White in order to avoid a riot. Before I left Andrew’s parents’ house for the night I reminded Andrew to listen out for the phone, because Mick Jagger would be calling. He laughed indulgently: “Yeah, right!”
I received a phone call at the crack of dawn the next day: before Andrew even uttered a word, I said, “So, he did call.” He was surprised: “How did you know?” That was a silly question: what else could he possibly be calling me about at 5:30 in the morning? Here’s what had happened, as Andrew told it to me:
When the phone rang he stumbled to get it, still more than half asleep. When he heard a voice asking for me in a familiar and distinctive accent, he thought someone was taking the mick, so he told them to knock it off. But the speaker on the other end of the line persisted, and all at once it dawned on Andrew that this was the call that I had been anticipating so confidently. It was Mick Jagger, calling from the Garden after the show. He said that the band was about to board the plane for Philadelphia, apologized for the mix-up in the ticket sales, and asked if we were in the tree house—that part of my letter had clearly piqued his curiosity. Absolutely flabbergasted, feeling as if he were in a dream, Andrew managed to accept the apology and mumble a few words of thanks before the call was over. He hadn’t even thought to ask for tickets to the next show!
Funnily enough, I wasn’t disappointed, either that we weren’t going to see the Stones in concert after all or that I hadn’t been there in person to take the call. (Of course there was no phone in the tree house, but why on earth had I given him Andrew’s parents’ phone number?). None of that mattered: Mick Jagger had actually called and asked for me! My happiness was complete.
Postscript: A year later, in the winter of 1974, Eve, Andrew’s sister and my dearest friend, wrote to me in London, where I was studying for a year, from the East Village in New York, where she was living at the time. She had been hired as a waitress for the opening night of a new club, The Bottom Line, and had waited on none other than Mick Jagger! She reported that he had been as kind as he was good-looking and that although she had been almost overcome with shyness she had told herself that she would never forgive herself if she didn’t take the opportunity to speak to him. At last, screwing up all her courage, she had approached the table and told him how much she admired his work. He accepted her tribute graciously and left her a generous tip to boot. She was still basking in the afterglow of the experience.
Another year later, in the immediate aftermath of my graduation from college in June 1975, the Rolling Stones returned to the Boston Garden, and this time Andrew and I did get tickets. At last we got to see the show we had anticipated for so many years. But it was a disappointment. This was the period when rock concerts were making the transition from musical performances to spectacles, the beginning of the shift to projected images on big screens and lots of sideshows. The Stones were on the leading edge of that shift, and the show was like a three-ring circus, with a red, inflatable tongue shooting crudely in and out like a giant phallus, and other similar special effects which seemed to be crowd-pleasers but which left me cold. Though I was barely twenty, with crowds of teenagers around me in the massive arena, I suddenly felt too old for this. Throughout the concert I felt alienated, unable to allow myself to be caught up in the experience. To be honest, I would have preferred to be listening to the Stones on the record player in the old tree house, with just Andrew and Michael for company.
In an unguarded moment early in my teaching career, I found myself mentioning in class that Mick Jagger had once called me. The story soon spread well beyond that classroom and probably did more to raise my reputation among the students than all the hours I had spent assiduously preparing my lesson plans. I was asked what I had written in that letter to make the man pick up the phone and dial my (well, my boyfriend’s parents’) number, but that information is mine and will remain mine alone.
I’m still a fan of the Rolling Stones but, to be honest, there’s very little of their music composed after the Seventies that I truly love. More than forty years and many albums later, I think that there are still only a few more than 209 reasons why the Rolling Stones is the world’s greatest rock-and-roll band.