Rolling with the Stones
November 5, 1981
ROLLING WITH THE STONES
By Paul M. Barrett
Last July, Long View Farm manager Kathy Holden got a call from the producer of a "new and upcoming band from New York," who wanted to rent out the rustic recording studio for six weeks. Eager for business, Holden tried to sell the unidentified rookies on Long View's economy package: play in the barn, don't run the horses too hard, and no seconds on dinner. "I didn't want to scare them away," she recalls with a smile.
The Rolling Stones weren't scared, and they opted for the luxury plan sauna, Jacuzzi, and live-in servants included.
Mick and the gang left North Brookfield in mid-September, when their current American tour began, but the crew at Long View still hasn't quite gotten over living with the greatest rock and roll band in the world. The attention from media and fans was only one problem; you can hang up on reporters and slam the door on sight-seers. But what do you do with a rambunctious Keith Richards at 4:30 a.m.?
Long View owner and mastermind Gil Markle has never had anyone enjoy his hospitality with such determination. Anything but worried about their playing, the Stones left themselves plenty of time for the other type of R & R. Only they tended to begin right after breakfast time about 2 or 3 p.m. and continue well past the point when good little farm boys usually hit the hay.
Almost without exception, the Stones lived up to their individual reputations while staying at Long View: Mick did the bossing, Keith did the boozing, and no one really knew what Bill Wyman was doing. And yet, as Markle and his employees portray the scene, there was ample evidence of the men behind the images.
Some of those characters are showing the signs of age a bit more than others, Markle says. Wyman, who turned 45 two weeks ago, has never been big on exuberance, and at this point "he's just not that interested in the rest of the band," explains the Long View landlord. Once considered shy and retiring, the bassist seems to have made the transition to thoroughly bored. "He is much more concerned with living a regular life than with being a rock and roller like the rest," Holden says.
Charlie Watts, traditionally described as the other silent Stone, may be equally tired of the music, but "he's still willing to play in service of the myth" the band has built over 19 years of performing, Markle says. Moreover, Watts has retained his ability to function as part of the team, even when the team hasn't been together for more than three years. Those who sat in on the rehearsals at Long View agree that Watts' understated drumming keeps the group moving on stage as much as his modesty and sarcasm keeps the others on their toes at other times.
For the few fans who follow Watts' career with any interest, let it be known that he still plays on the four-piece Gretch drum kit he has used since the early 1960s, and even in practice he refuses to stray far enough away from the beat for anything more than a few stuttering snare rolls. His mates, however, are not so steady; they played the whole time at Long View with a record player nearby and often had to stop and listen to a cut or two from Sticky Fingers or Let it Bleed to refresh their memories.
While Watts spent time in the farmhouse kitchen, chatting with the cooks, or amusing Holden's 3-year old son, Mick Jagger oversaw the constant in-and-out flow of set designers, costume experts and record company executives. Described as an efficient businessman and an accomplished manipulator of personalities, he rarely feigned interest in things or people outside of his sphere. "We were too respectful of each other to pretend to engage in meaningful conversation," Markle says flatly.
Jagger was the only band member at all aware of the furor the Stones created during their pre-tour tune-up. The group's highly publicized angst over whether to play a date in Boston "was almost purely a charade," says Markle. "They didn't give a shit if they played or not, if someone had told them to go to Providence or go to Boston, they would have."
Most oblivious of all was Keith Richards, who seems to have best preserved the fire and spite that once characterized the Rolling Stones, "He carouses, brawls, and listens to rock and roll, except when he's playing it," says Markle, adding that most afternoons all the guitarist did was "drink vodka and lurch from one hi-fi to another." For six weeks, Richards never got further from the farm than the end of the gravel driveway.
A familiar scene during the Stones' stay was Richards and fellow guitarist Ron Wood carrying on hour-long rough-housing sessions, stopping only to refill their drinks and turn the volume on one or more stereo systems a little higher. On the practice stage, though, Richards joined Watts as the musical task master, even filling in for Jagger when the singer forgot the words to a song.
Markle says he would be surprised if the Stones don't return, pointing out that it had been seven years since the five of them sat at the same table to break bread. And, of course, if the Stones decide to take their rock and roll with them into late middle age, then Markle would certainly profit from being their New England bar keep. Whether everyone else at Long View would survive is another question, his manager says, adding that she used to be a big rock fan before the Stones onslaught, but now she's "beginning to listen more and more to classical music."