A Typical Rehearsal
"Always a bit rough around the edges. You expect them to
be." The band forges on, and starts "Hang Fire" all over again
from the top."
"Oh, they're playin' tonight, Gil. No doubt about it. Didn't last
night, even though everybody was here and ready. Think it was Keith who
just couldn't get it together. The night before it was because Mick
didn't get back from New York. So that was two nights people were
basically just lying around. They'll play tonight for sure."
It's Jesse Henderson speaking, Long View Chief Engineer, standing up
against the Dempster Dumpster in the shed, nursing a beer. He caught my
attention as I walked past. It was now after supper for the "regular
schedule" eaters and their guests, of whom there were many tonight. A
Saturday night in mid-September. Kurt Loder from
magazine had arrived, hoping to get some material for his cover article
on Keith Richards. Nancy Griffin, who wrote the copy for the eventual
magazine, was also there, demure, out of the way,
and taking notes. Abe Brenner and Mark had just arrived. These were
friends of Keith's, as best we could tell. It was rumored that Abe
Brenner who looks old enough to be Keith's father had once gone
to jail for Keith in some drug-related police action. We didn't ask too
many questions about Abe Brenner and Mark, who didn't seem to sleep
much either of them and who always seemed to arrive just
minutes before the best parties began. They had somewhat sallow complexions
and traveled via a different chartered airplane each time.
"Yeah," Jesse repeated. "Gotta play tonight. Piano's tuned. Rhodes,
"Space heater for Bill Wyman?"
"That's up there, right beside his stool. He should have no bitches.
"And overall, the place looks O.K. up there?"
"Except for the butts on the floor. They won't listen to me, Gary and
Chuch. They put 'em out on the floor on purpose. Their way of getting
even, I suppose. Everyone else beats on them, they beat on the studio.
Weird, but I can understand it."
Gary and Chuch were roadies, and this was not the first time that they
had worked for the Rolling Stones. They were in charge of all the gear
like the amps, and guitars, and the dozen or so packing cases full
of assorted paraphernalia. They also functioned somewhat as court
jesters whenever they were in presence of the band. They would do
errands, roll joints, and most important absorb punishment
otherwise meant for the band members themselves. Gary and Chuch would
things that were somehow fated to be lost; it's either Gary
or Chuch who would get
front tooth chipped on the corner of
the pool table in the Game Room, not Keith Richards. A door swinging
open unexpectedly would catch one of
square in the forehead,
not Mick Jagger. Hangovers the morning after? Not the band members, as
best we could tell. Gary and Chuch would suffer instead. They provided
Karmic insulation, you would say, in addition to the usual services
provided by professional road men. They rendered themselves up for poundings
and punishment in service of the myth, and that's what they were
paid to do, if you ask me. And they put butts out on the inflammable wooden
floor of Studio C at one point almost prompting an ultimatum from me which
would have been served up to Mick himself. Fortunately, this never had to
"Thought I'd hang out up there a bit tonight, Jesse," I said.
"See how things are going."
"Might as well, man. They won't kick
out. That's for sure."
"I've been trying to set an example, Jesse. They don't need us up
there, even though they say we're welcome. We're welcome, but we're not
either, if you know what I mean."
Jesse knew what I meant. He'd seen Long View staffers hustled quietly
away by Jim Callahan or Bob Bender upon the raising of an eyebrow from
Mick Jagger, and hadn't seen me up there very much at all. Oh, I'd take
a tour through, once a night, but these were official visits only, not
listening visits. As owner, I'd appear sometimes during the first few
hours of the rehearsal, pass a remark or two in the company of lovely
Patti Hansen, take an approving puff of the everpresent
dim the house lights a touch in evidence of Owner's
Concern for Creative Environments, and then get the hell out of there.
In a straight line, no detours, no dallying about, no mesmerization
much less acted out. I had to be the
one to lead the charge in this whole area of professional self-image.
We were doing this as paid "pros," and that left no room for any
personal displays affected or genuine. They didn't come here to see
us, or hear our theories about their music, their personal lives, or
whatever. Nor did they coome here to be
with us. So enter, bow, depart; and don't get your feelings hurt if you fail
to establish eye contact with all five members of the band.
It was a bit earlier than usual that night, when they started playing.
Patti Hansen had appeared in the kitchen about 10 PM, willow-thin and a
touch wan, wearing only a robe. "Keith's up," she said to John Farrell.
"Wants his breakfast."
"Usual," Patti said, and John disappeared into the pantry for some raw
hamburger and for the potatoes to make the home fries, and for the
bottle of H. P. sauce. Patti would bus the completed "breakfast" over
on a tray. She didn't mind; it gave her something to do "in the
An hour later, Keith was up on the stage wire-haired, crazed
looking, and full of Long View protein. He stands still as Gary slings
one of a dozen or so guitars around his shoulders, which are bare, and
rippling with muscle tone. The guitar settles down and hangs low as
low as Keith can reach with his long arms. Keith slices across the
metal strings with a guitar pick, and a massive, barn-rattling "SPRONG"
issues forth from the Cerwin-Vega monitors.
"SPRONG . . ." Keith goes again. That "SPRONG" was in the
key of "A", I
thought, which made sense, since "Hang Fire" was the first tune on the
top of tonight's "list." Mick's list, I mean. He kept it over on the
packing case behind the piano, and he referred to it constantly during
the night. Mick was very organized, and was writing things down all the
time. It's unusual to see people "write things down" in rock 'n' roll.
Practically unheard of. We "feel" in rock 'n' roll, and don't need to
Keith's ready, and the band lurches into "Hang Fire" little Jade's
favorite tune off the new album. The barn sounds great. Loud. Wooden.
Almost cathedrallike. There's natural "slap" on the snare drum echo
from the far wall and it sounds just like the "slap" engineers
labor to synthesize in the studio, using delay lines. About a third of
a second. House lights are off; only spots illuminate the stage. Red
night lights the sort that glow in the cockpits of bombers and
supersonic jets shine warmly over each of the Rolling Stones
packing cases beneath the stage. Some of these cases are open with
their drawers slid out others half open, guitar cords snarled inside
others closed, but with a visitor sitting on top, fidgeting,
looking about, and trying to stay out of the way. You'd find your
reporters on top of these cases those few who, after cooling their
heels for as long as a week in Sturbridge, were finally allowed in.
Back to "Hang Fire." The harmony "doo-doops" sound terrible;
everyone in the band knows it. They stop playing, and Mick, Ronnie, and
Keith try to figure out who's going to sing what. It's easier in the
studio, where you can overdub voices, taking them one at a time if you
want. Live, it's much more difficult. The three of them reach a
consensus. Now they sound better, but not really great. "Always a bit
rough around the edges the Rolling Stones," to repeat what Keith
Richards said later that night to Kurt Loder the writer from New
York City. "Always a bit rough around the edges. You expect them to
be." The band forges on, and starts "Hang Fire" all over again
from the top.
"Here, Gil. Do you want some of this?"
It's Patti Hansen who has materialized at my side, out of the shadows
and the thunder, and she's extending a large cigarette to me which is
quite lit, and giving off lots of smoke. She's holding her breath,
about to exhale.
"Don't mind if I do, Patti," I said, taking the joint from her. I see
Gary the roadie only a few feet away, dusting specks of tobacco off the
top of the packing case. He winks at me, and gives me the "thumbs up"
signal. He had created this cigarette only moments ago, and he was
proud of it. We'd get to smoke it for a minute or two to "warm it
up," as it were. Then, upon a signal from the stage, Gary would snatch
it away, run with it up the stairs, and feed it to Keith, on whose
lower lip the thing would dangle, through several re-lightings, until
it was all gone except for the cardboard mouthpiece. This cigarette was
not ours forever. So I took another toke.
"You ready to give all this up for the movies, Patti?" I asked. Patti
was going to be in a movie soon, and there was some question as to how
much time she could be on the road, with the band.
"I don't think about it," Patti said. "It is great, though. I
know what you mean. I've never seen them play this way before. Never. They
actually seem to be enjoying it."
"Here," I said. "Do some more of this."
Suddenly, Jane Rose appears out of the darkness with a screech.
"Hi, every-body. Well, don't the two of you look comfortable there. I
was wondering where you ran off to, Patti. Here, Gil. Come here,
please. I want you to meet someone."
I get to my feet, and am given to meet Lisa Robinson noted rock 'n'
roll gossip columnist. I say hi to Lisa, and we chat for a second as
best we can with "Hang Fire" playing live, just twenty feet in front of
us. Behind her, moving quietly along the wall, are two Japanese
photographers. A satellite tracking lens has been adapted to fit a
standard Nikon, and brought all the way from Tokyo by these gentlemen.
It's set up behind us, shooting over our heads toward stage center. A
third, small Japanese gentleman is fussing with it, tinkering, and
staring into the viewfinder. Pictures of Mick Jagger for an
Printed on glossy paper and sold in millions of
copies in Japan. Kurt Loder from
down by the fireplace, banging loudly in time to the music on our
antique oak table. Nancy Griffin from
is sitting on a
packing case, legs crossed at the ankles, wondering how to package what
she's seeing for Middle America.
A new gaggle of visitors appears in the doorway of Studio B. They nod
respectfully toward the stage, and disseminate themselves in ones and
twos along the walls timid, silent, and awed by the dimensions of
the room, the loudness of the sound and the spectacle before their eyes
the Rolling Stones, live.
Suddenly the lights come on, the music stops abruptly, and at least two
dozen reporters, photographers, fashion designers, free-lance writers
and other assorted Stones watchers freeze in their tracks checking
nervously over their shoulders in the direction of the stage. As well
they should. Mick is not pleased; that much is clear. His eyes run over
the faces in attendance the writers, the reporters, the gentlemen
from Japan and his scowl deepens. He puts down his wireless
microphone, and walks in careful measured steps down the beamed
staircase, around the oversized packing case at the foot of the stairs,
through the door to Studio B, and out into the night.
It's break time.