Andrew Martin: Against the odds, the Rolling Stones have turned into role models


Those of us born in the year and month of the Rolling Stones' first gig (July 1962) tend to feel we somehow exist in a spin-off from their energy field. But surely even those not so closely tied in to their odyssey would welcome the almost-official news that they will be playing gigs in London and New York in November (this on top of rumours of a new album).

Why? Well, the Stones' story is not so much a rake's progress as a coming full circle back to the much-missed virtues of the decade of their birth, the 1940s. First: reticence.

Yes, they are "the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World", but they didn't call themselves that any more than Jesus Christ called himself the Son of God. Admittedly, when asked "With which historical figure do you most identify?" Keith Richards replied "Myself", but neither he nor Mick is a chat show regular, and they seldom counter negative news stories about themselves.

Also, they turned down the Olympics closing ceremony, offering the polite excuse that "we aren't quite stage ready", rather than stating the fact of the case: "It's because we have good taste."

Second: self-restraint. If invited to a good drinks party, most people in the media or arts will naturally get as drunk as possible. The Stones have been at the best possible drinks party for 50 years continuously and none of them is actually dead (except Brian Jones). Someone, incidentally, should write a revisionist account of Keith Richards, focusing not on how many drugs he has taken, but how many he has turned down.

There have always been a lot of canapés at that ongoing soirée, but the Stones are all thin. Richards recently said that he is appalled by the amount of time most Britons spend watching television. He wanted to tell almost every man he met: "Why don't you take the dog for a walk, for God's sake?"

The Stones eat sensibly and take exercise; indeed, Richards was nearly killed as a result of climbing a tree. Before that, he fell off the stepladder in his library when reaching for some commendably highbrow book. It seems Keef is doomed to die while performing one or another act of old-fashioned virtue: mown down while helping an (even) older person across the road, perhaps.