Monday, April 18, 2016


Since late last year I've occasionally been peppered with little e-mail prompts from fellow blogger Ms. Moon, reminding me that a Rolling Stones exhibit was due to open this month at the Saatchi Gallery in London. (Any of you who are familiar with Ms. Moon's blog will know she is a fan of the Stones, and particularly of Keith Richards.) "I can't help but want you to go and tell me all about it," she said.

I vowed to go over the weekend. I got a bit worried when I tried to get tickets on Saturday, and found the exhibit -- called "Exhibitionism" -- sold out all day. It was like trying to get tickets to a concert! (OK, maybe not quite that competitive.) Finally I snagged one for first thing Sunday morning.

I have to preface this post by admitting that I am not a huge Rolling Stones fan myself. I can't pass myself off as an expert. I mean, I get why they're a hugely influential and successful band. I don't doubt their artistry for one second. They're just not quite my sound. I have exactly four Rolling Stones songs on my iPod: "Paint it Black," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Waiting on a Friend" and "Memory Motel." (The latter because I once visited the motel in Montauk that allegedly inspired it.)

So as I write about the show, keep in mind that I don't have the perspective of a true aficionado.

Having said that, the exhibit was fascinating -- and HUGE! It's taken up the entire two-story Saatchi Gallery, which is not a small space, and features items such as handwritten song lyrics, original costumes, stage designs for the band's tours, album artwork, tape boxes and log books from recording sessions, and dozens of musical instruments (like the Gibson guitar Mick Jagger used to co-write "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and Keith's Fenders, which he praises for their versatility).

There's a room that reproduces a recording studio, and visitors can "mix" Stones songs to elevate or diminish the different tracks. I reduced "Angie" down to just Mick's voice, for example, effectively hearing it a cappella -- and then reduced it just to Keith's guitar. Pretty cool!

There's a gallery that reproduces the atmosphere backstage at a concert. There are loads of photos and tour posters, a section on Stones-themed movies and various video presentations. There's the barber chair Mick uses when he gets made up before a show. There's a section on musicians who have worked with the Stones over the years, like Billy Preston.

Of course, photography was strictly prohibited, so you're not seeing pictures of any of this. And for that I apologize. I certainly would have taken them if I'd been able. The only "photo zone" seemed to be this hallway, at the exit, where people were snapping selfies against the wildly graphic wall.

(Incidentally, I'd always believed the Stones "mouth" logo was based on Mick's mouth -- but the designer says that's not quite true, at least not consciously. It probably is the best-known rock logo out there, isn't it? Just about anyone on the planet, seeing that mouth, knows to whom it refers.)

The finale of the exhibit is a brief 3-D film of a recent concert performance -- and seeing those guys up there on stage, strutting their stuff and working the crowd, well, it really did bring tears to my eyes. I felt like I was there.

The Stones are one of the foundational elements of our pop culture, aren't they? Other acts come and go, rise and fall on the charts, but these guys have been doing it -- and well -- for longer than I've been alive. And the point was consistently made in the exhibit that they've lasted because they are perfectionists who won't settle for mediocrity. They do it, and do it, and do it again until they're certain they have it right.

I wish I could have channeled all that I saw straight to Ms. Moon's brain, but unfortunately this post, inadequate as it is, will have to do!


  1. Like you I have never been a big Stones fan but I admire their longevity. These guys are multi-millionaires and still they keep going. Their recent concert in Cuba was interesting. It was as if they had become the vanguard of the western world bringing freedom, entrepreneurship and rock and roll irreverence to the downtrodden Commies. As for not being allowed to snap photos in the exhibition, I wonder what the gallery's reasoning behind this was.

  2. Oh, Steve! You've made my day! Thank you a million times for doing something you probably wouldn't have done because I asked you to. Big huge blog love across the ocean!
    I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. And that you even got a bit emotional about it.
    I wonder if you would enjoy reading Keith's book? I found it absolutely fascinating and that was truly, after all of these years, what pushed me down the Stones road so enthusiastically. To get a sense of that history. I mean- they aren't who they are due to sheer luck. They have worked hard at it but I think the true bond which holds them and motivates them is simply...the music.
    It is for Keith. It's why he's still alive and still so joyful when he's playing.
    Thank you again, Steve! And if the exhibit does tour the states (and I think it will) I will try to go see it myself.

  3. I like the Stones but like you I'm not a big fan. I don't have any of their music. I can tell you found the exhibit very interesting.

  4. LOVE the stones! Only been to two legit concerts- best time at a concert EVER and Mick made eye contact and smiled! Oh yes!!! I am with Ms. Moon here, LOVE them...physically they are incredibly tiny which astonished me! I really must get over there to see it! Maybe september or october would be a good time, if it is still there.So glad you went!

  5. I'm not sure I would have gone to this before you wrote about it but, now I'd like to see it too. It sounds fascinating. I love your photos. Especially that first one.

  6. I was too young - or too innocent - to be into the Stones when they were first around, but in recent years I have re-listened to some of their old music and realized how good it is. And Ms Moon's clips and information have been illuminating, too :) Yay for you, Steve, for going and reporting back! P.S. I always thought the lips logo was based on Mick's lips, too. It actually kind of creeps me out, to tell you the truth.

  7. I saw them only once when I was 16. I was flying to Honolulu to stay for 2 weeks with friends of my parents (long story). the plane in LA was taking a long time to take off after we had all boarded. the curtain between 1st class and coach was drawn and stayed that way until it was time for us to debark. imagine my surprise to learn that the Rolling Stones had been on my flight in first class the whole time. The family had tickets for us kids for that night's concert.

  8. Thank you for being our eyes and ears at the exhibit! You were a good proxy for Ms. Moon!

  9. We are extremely tempted, this is a Rolling Stones household. But so far, not enough time. It runs until Sept?