Each week, EW writers and editors will share their first concert experiences. Whether we were chaperoned by parents or hanging out with friends, these moments stayed with us and helped shape how we enjoy live music. Now, a music reporter remembers seeing the Rolling Stones.
Eighteen years after the fact, I think I’ve just discovered my parents’ greatest child-rearing blunder. In November 1997, when I was just shy of my sixth birthday, they took me to a Rolling Stones stadium show.
Yes, they were just trying to please a son who was more obsessed with Mick than Barney; and yes, a ticket stub I dug up says this show cost $65 — in 1997 dollars, no less!
But had they ever seen a Stones setlist? There was the one song about controlling women. There was another about rape and murder being — car salesman voice! — only a shot away. There were the songs about gambling, whorehouses, and the transatlantic slave trade. And there was the one that, bafflingly, my parents convinced me was titled “Witch” and not “Bitch.”
I’m not going to sit here and complain about going to a Stones concert when I was 5, because I’m a rational person. I’m also not going to sit here and harangue my parents for taking me, because it was an undeniably sweet thing to do. But a 5-year-old has no business at a Stones show.
That’s partly because of the setlist, but it’s mostly because of the scene itself. Today, legacy acts draw in nostalgic Baby Boomers, but 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case. A Stones fan who was a high school senior when Exile In Main Street dropped was still in her early 40s in 1997. Throw in opening band Pearl Jam and you’ve got a crowd that, if not totally wild, was at least trying to be. Everything smelled like beer and some scent I couldn’t quite identify.
The show was excellent — or at least, what I remember of it was. The Stones often extend a secondary stage that plunges deeper into the audience for the latter part of their set, and that’s when I fell asleep. Maybe it was the secondhand smoke, probably it was just being out way too late for a 5-year-old. But I’m sure my parents woke me up for the final, mind-boggling salvo of “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Start Me Up,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” — even the most sensitive adult would admit it’s rock ‘n’ roll heresy to let your kid sleep through that.
“You knew all the songs,” my dad recently told me when I asked him about the show. “It was a good investment, we really got our money’s worth!” That’s certainly true. Because even if I was exposed a little bit early to the rock concert scene, it infected me and I’ve been chasing that alluring blend of seediness and art ever since.