I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

  • Posted: September 8, 2021
  • Category: Blog
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Charlie Watts, the urbane jazz musician moonlighting as The Rolling Stones drummer, passed into eternity on the Tuesday past. Mr. Watts was something of a rarity in rock music, sui generis. Married to one woman with a passably sedate lifestyle, a family man eschewing the high life of celebrity, he practiced his craft for five decades in the shadows cast by the strobe lit notoriety of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, et alia.

Back in the day, I was very much a Rolling Stones fan, suffering derisive slings and arrows from friends disdainful of such simpleton taste. In endless dorm room expositions, I was repeatedly instructed by those more knowledgeable than I. It was obvious to anyone with ears to hear that The Stones were simply quick buck artists, doing clunky imitations of those revered artistes, The Beatles.

Of course, I really had no comeback other than adolescent bluster. My friends could spend hours discussing the fine points of George Harrison’s finger technique whereas I was a musical doofus listening to the Spanish trumpets of Ennio Morriconi (A Fistful of Dollars) in preparation for Calculus exams. Given my test grades in Calculus, studying would definitely have been a better use of my time.

But despite my ignorance of even the most basic musical nuance, I always had a weakness for the powerful riff of a lead guitar. I remember my first “date” – with a girl that is. I had taken a late afternoon ride into town on my motorcycle to meet one of those ethereal creatures at a summertime street fair. My Dad had excused me from evening chores and I was a free man – off to meet a lissome lass.

As I was lifting my Honda 150 onto its kickstand while looking over the drifting pedestrians in search of this waiting doe eyed ingenue from Biology lab, the speakers on the street were blasting out “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. That same girl would later tear my heart out – by the roots. But even so, that summer evening is a special one, forever etched into memory by that intoxicating riff.

The Stones and The Beatles, two iconic bands from the Sixties, offer an idiosyncratic lens to view my generation, the Baby Boomers. We came of age listening to their music, fashioned and shaped by the chaotic cultural trends of the time mirrored by those two bands. In retrospect, there is a real temptation to say – Adorable & Deplorable?

My friends were right. The Beatles were artiste’s, spiritually empty waifs in search of faith, acquiring “holy men” and gazing into navels. The Greeks understood young men like these, building temples to the fickle goddesses tormenting them, Euterpe and Erato.

In the grip of their passions, The Beatles were naïve idealists and as is ever the case, broke apart in bitter acrimony. The snake is always in the garden, in this case disguised as Yoko Ono. Once the band fragmented, the blaze of their genius sputtered away into the embers of dying campfires. Though as a final gift to the cultural currents they embodied, John Lennon put words to their emptiness in a song that became the Adorables theme, “Imagine”.

For me, The Beatles are a pointed object lesson, timeless as well as trite. They spent their time on the world’s stage in search of meaning, in search of faith. They had it all but were left wanting. Like all who came before, they found our idols to be tricksters, scorning promises. Three of The Beatles sold out, making peace with the emptiness within, taking solace where they found it. The fourth, an increasingly embittered idealist, met a martyr’s fate.

By contrast, The Rolling Stones, poseurs to The Beatles authenticity, have endured for nearly sixty years. They have had ups and downs, not only enduring but prospering, continuing to create. Their music remains popular even as their lyrics grow more mature, increasingly haunted by a worldly wisdom. What more honest expression of a mature man’s yearning to find in a mate than “Waiting on a Friend”? The emptiness we experienced in the Year of Covid is captured perfectly by their eerily prescient hit in 2019, “Living in a Ghost Town”.

Over the years, I have become something of an admirer of Mick Jagger. There has always been a secret part of me, guilty of envy in those up front and on stage, prancing to the adulation of the audience. Undeniably a fantasy on so many levels that even that secret part of me laughs. But then, the heart wants what the heart wants, something else The Stones explore with worldly wisdom in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

It is a statement of the obvious that Mick Jagger has those very talents I lack in great abundance. But it is his demonstrated leadership that intrigues me.  There is no question that he is a leader, a man of more than a little steel. Mr. Jagger has shown his willingness to step up and do what needs to be done. I admire that. I respect that.

Until one is truly responsible, not simply a manager, a modern cowboy riding the corporate fences, one can live in the certitude that the corporate virtues on display in conference room posters will handle any situation if only practiced. It is comforting to live in the child-like assurance that by respecting differences, practicing empathic understanding and showing compassion, good leaders will bring everyone onto the mountaintop singing “Kumbaya” as the team succeeds.

But the experience of being truly responsible reveals this a fantasy, a kindergarten fantasy corrupting in its effect on believers akin to medical students studying unicorns in anatomy class. Even our omniscient and omnipresent God chuckles at this chimera. In my own time living with this onerous truth, my experience was more along the lines of the great Soviet general, Georgy Zhukov – “If we come to a minefield, our men attack exactly as if it were not there.”

In the late 1960’s, both the Rolling Stones and The Beatles were in crisis. Both bands were subject to intense internal strains due to people problems. In response, The Beatles took their cue from chickens hunkering down on their roost. “If we are quiet and just pull in our heads, maybe everything will be ok!”.

In contrast, Mick Jagger of The Stones did what needed to be done. Firing key people is one of the most stressful and painful things encountered in a career. Firing a friend is an order of magnitude worse. Perhaps not as bad as a divorce, I can’t say, but firing friends & close companions in the workplace brings sleepless nights and sour stomachs. It stays with you for a long time.

Brian Jones founded The Rolling Stones. He was a musician of genius and in tandem with Keith Richards developed the iconic guitar melodies key to their early success. But problems in the group developed and those problems fractured the team.  The band was dysfunctional with a breakup clearly coming.

Mick Jagger was not a roosting chicken. He met the problem head on, putting it to the group and getting their support. Then he put on his big boy pants and did what needed to be done. Meeting with Brian Jones at his home, Mick Jagger, supported by Keith Richards, told him – “You’re fired”. It takes cojones to use the knife and it bleeds all over one’s heart and soul. But sometimes it is needs to happen. Good leaders do it.

Three weeks later, Brian Jones killed himself. One can only imagine Mick Jagger’s thoughts at the news. Mick Jagger and Brian Jones had been as close as brothers for nearly a decade. And now Brian had killed himself only days after Mick had fired him. It takes strength of character for anyone but a psychopath to survive that.

There arises the question – “How can a man trying to live a Christian life admire Mick Jagger, a man of dissolute habits and life style – a libertine of the worst sort?”

That is a very good question with no good answer. Each and every one of us – the good, the bad and the ugly – those who manage and lead – has feet of clay. An obvious truth but one that seems little remembered today.

Obscure statues in public squares, white with crusted pigeon droppings, are being torn down, A-list celebrities once red carpet notables are now anathema, historical figures of renown are cast into the purgatory of oblivion. Is there anyone in public life outside of the plaster saints drawn from the sacrosanct oppressed classes worthy of admiration, worthy of respect?

Without models how are we to order ourselves? What does virtue look like in the public square, in our workplace, in our home? Who is left for us, for our children, to emulate? Must we insist on perfection to an ever changing standard?

Jesus, our Lord, gives us good advice, applicable to all whether AOC or Ted Cruz –

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, and do not notice that log in your own eyes? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”








One Response to “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”

  1. Geoff Singleton says:

    Amen to our Lords words. God bless Charlie. I can’t remember who said it but their evaluation of Mick Jagger was that he would have been at the top of whatever his career choice had been. He is that type of person. “Sticky Fingers” by the Stones is one of my all time favourite albums as would “Abbey Road” by the Beatles.

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