The Pebbles on tour

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

Jaime O’Neill is a retired Butte College English instructor and frequent contributor to the News & Review

You have to be pretty old to remember when the Rolling Stones had balls, or when rock ‘n’ roll music seemed to pose much of a threat to the established order. Nobody’s been kickin’ out the jams for a long time, and that includes, of course, those decadent rappers and self-conscious poseurs like Eminem or 50 Cent, merchants of ersatz rebellion that turns rebellion inward and harms those who adopt the pose while ensuring profits for those who market it. These are “artists” who enshrine corrupt, bankrupt, narcissistic self-regard while promoting misogyny, homophobia, and empty consumerism.

Rage Against the Machine rages impotently from deep inside the bowels of the machine, marketed and promoted as a product of a subsidiary of a subsidiary of one of the mega corporations that can turn even anger against them into just another unit of product. The music is all co-opted, used mostly to sell stuff, and it’s been that way for a very long time. Though he predicted that “the times they were a-changin'” nearly a half a century ago, Bob Dylan now takes big money from real estate brokers to sing at their conventions, and these days, when The Band “pulls into Nazareth,” their voices and their lyrics are used to tout a cell phone service.

Gov. Schwarzenegger raises funds from fat cat Republicans by attending Stones concerts with those corporate donors in exchange for huge contributions. All the blows against the empire mustered by the music world don’t amount to a bitch slap from Michael Jackson.

The Rolling Stones have just recorded a new album due for release in synch with their latest tour. That’s the traditional way the rock ‘n’ roll sheep get sheared—the album supports the tour and the tour promotes the album, and the money just keeps rollin’ in.

One bit of hype for the album has focused on one tune that would appear to be critical of George Bush and his minions. It’s called “Sweet Neo Con,” and in the equally time-honored traditions of sell-outs everywhere, the Stones want to have it both ways. The song has a few words that would seem to be speak truth to power—"How come you’re so wrong, my sweet neo-con, where’s the money gone, in the Pentagon"—but ol’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash himself jumped to diffuse any controversy the song might cause by going on TV to reassure fans that the Stones didn’t mean anything by it.

Was the song meant to be critical of George W. Bush? Jagger was asked. Nope, apparently not. “It’s not really aimed at anyone,” Jagger said on Extra, a television “show” used by the entertainment industry as a nightly free commercial for whatever crap the corporations are promoting on any given day.

So, with Mick’s disclaimer, all the football fans can continue to get cranked on “Start Me Up” before the games begin, and all the Republican campaign contributors can get down with the Mick and Keith on tour, secure in the knowledge that the Stones are just pebbles when it comes to actually standing for anything, except for letting the overpriced and dubious good times roll. “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll,” and that’s the way they like it.

It’s increasingly clear that the boomer generation that was going to man the barricades with rock ‘n’ roll as its soundtrack has shown itself to be limp-dicked Viagra poppers quietly going along to get along. Until recently, I worked with a bunch of ‘60s relics, all of whom had been formed by this music, all of whom talked a fine ration of shit about their fierce opposition to much of what has been going on, and most of whom did little or nothing except to exchange sanctioned opinions quietly in the company of like-minded people.

“The times they were a-changin',” remember? We were going down to the demonstration “to get our fair share of abuse,” remember? We were going to change the world, remember?

And we did. Mostly, it seems, we made it worse.