Leading Article: Yo] for the ancient fountain-heads of rock

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The Independent Online
ON MONDAY night, to adulatory applause, the Rolling Stones opened their American tour in Washington. It was a brilliant performance, everyone agreed, so clever you almost forgot it was realised by a quartet of men collectively older than Somerset House.

Over the next three months as Mick cavorts and Keith pouts, as Charlie pounds and Ronnie grins, it will be their age as much as their music that will strike the reviewers. All that bouncing around in the arc lights in the middle of American football stadiums, someone is bound to ask, is it any job for a 50- year-old? Is not the Stones' success no more than conclusive evidence that Americans are suckers for any institution ancient, crumbling and British? Shouldn't the boys just accept they cut comic figures these days and retire to enjoy life with their paying-in books?

Keith Richards has been fielding criticism like this for 20 years, since the days when it was considered laughable to be a 30-year-old rocker. His argument is that as rock 'n' roll grows old, so the Stones are at its cutting edge. These days, he says, they remain pioneers: the first rock band to be globally influential at 50.

And influential they are. This is not a revivalist tour, not some greatest-hits jukebox put together by the fat, bald and past-it for the benefit of the Inland Revenue and divorce lawyers. The Stones' album of new material, Voodoo Lounge, has been the best seller in this country since it was released six weeks ago. The 75,000 who saw them in Washington represented the seven ages of rock fan, from the 50-year-old who grew middle-aged with them down to the 15-year-old whose introduction to the band has come through myriad Stones imitators - like Primal Scream, at present as fashionable as a group can be.

The Stones' longevity has proved that rock inspiration is not something that dies when the hair greys, the stomach spreads or the veins clean themselves up. Jagger and Richards's contribution to the genre these days is as valid as anything produced by their youthful progeny - Blur, Pulp, or Primal Scream even.

Like them, the Stones began their career interpreting the music of the ancients, the blues, for the young market. Now Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie have achieved the condition of their heroes: they have become the fountain-head.