The Rolling Stones, Hard Work and Exhibitionism


How do you tell a story of four musicians who, together, are one of the world's most successful bands? How do you tell a story that encompasses more than 1,800 live performances (and more than 46 million attendees) over more than 50 years? How do you capture both the personalities of the individuals and the presence of the collective? 

I don't own a Rolling Stones album. I enjoy their music, but I only know their big hits. I went to their traveling exhibit, appropriately titled Exhibitionism, thinking I'd be most excited by the costumes. Instead, it was the recording studio that really got my attention. But first - a little bit about the exhibit.

About Exhibitionism

It's BIG. 90-minute recommended viewing time big. It winds through an exhibition hall, room upon room of art and artifacts, music always playing under the murmurs of the fans. You start with an incredible visualization of just how many shows these men have done together. Year by year, you watch the band cross countries as the concerts and albums and audiences add up. It takes a good five minutes just to watch the progression (which I did - because I HAD to know just how many shows they'd done).

From there, we see a video wall framing the Rolling Stones' music against the events of the times. So we're reminded how their albums reflect and respond to the world in which they were written. 

And then we walk into a time capsule - an exact replica of the 1962 West London Apartment where four unknown musicians had only dirty dishes and blankets on sofas and cigarettes (so many cigarettes!) and dreams (based on interview fan notes, we know those dreams included owning a castle, owning a houseboat and making the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic).

We see guitars and movie posters, a personal diary and costumes, stage sets from tours and artwork from Andy Warhol.

There’s so many different ways of writing. You can write on guitar, you can write on piano. You get very different songs when you write on piano - these kind of country songs like ‘Worried About You’ and ‘Fool to Cry.’ The rock songs tend to be written on guitars, but there’s a lot of variations in songwriting techniques. You write in every which way that works for you.
— Mick Jagger, Exhibitionism

Inside the Recording Studio

So what was it about the recording studio that got me? It was a small interactive piece - short videos by Producer Don Was about the Stones' individual approaches to recording. I came away feeling like I understood the men - Drummer Charlie Watts is solid. He once drummed for 18 hours straight in studio. Keith Richards is energy and experimentation. He'd wake everyone in the band - saying nobody sleeps if I'm not asleep - and use all the time they needed in the studio to try new things, to make the songs even better. Mick Jagger is magnetism and drive. Ronnie Wood the 'ultimate sideman.' 

Together, you have the brash and the understated, underpinned by an incredible work ethic and the belief that mediocrity is the enemy.

The Rolling Stones' most compelling story isn't the one told through their lyrics or on stages around the world - it's the story of men who built their lives around each other and a love for music. That story came through loud and clear. 

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