Winning Ugly

Everything seems to be ready. Are you ready? We're sorry for the delay. Is everybody ready? Please welcome the Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World, the Rolling Pins, the Rolling Pins.Ah yes, babies, it's time to get yer ya-ya's out. But some of you may have shared my dismay at encountering a depiction of ultimate musical heroes Mick and Keith cavorting with the vile William T. Esrey. After all those months of anticipation, the Star's presentation just sucked all the enthusiasm out of knowing another tour was about to begin; that Aug. 22 edition wasn't announcing a rock 'n' roll tour anyway, it was announcing a joint business venture.I'm sure the aggressive chairman and chief executive officer of the Kansas City based Sprint telecommunications juggernaut must have dealt hard for the opportunity to align his horrible labor record with the rhythm juggernaut that is the Rolling Stones, and satisfy Mick's need to be seen with the rich and powerful, but he could've at least gotten them to play his personal Xanadu, Union Station here in KC.The Stones where the first to use corporate sponsorship to offset road expenses - Jovan in 1982. It was the highest grossing tour in rock history. (That's since been surpassed many times, but always by the Stones, and always with a sponsor.) Early on, critical newsletter Rock & Roll Confidential attacked the resultant practice of associating music with products by telling rockers, "you can't shill and be taken seriously too."Now we're numb to it. But corporate sponsorship came at a time when, after a long period of prosperity, dreams of guitars and Cadillacs were beginning to crumble, "deregulation" and "corporate citizenship" dominated the lexicon, and rock 'n' roll was making major moves towards being activist again, with support going out to Vietnam vets, the homeless, the unemployed, and the working-class families that played its records and attended its concerts. There started to emerge actual ethical stances shared by some of the most visible artists of the time, from Africa Bambaataa to Bruce Springsteen. For several industries, co-optation became imperative. Criticism and refusal to acquiesce arose mostly from younger bands, who'd often drop their ticket prices just to gut the justification that sponsorship eased the burden of consumers; the old coots, used to living at a particular level, fell right in - Eric Clapton with Camel and Michelob, The Who with Schlitz - and for the Voodoo Lounge tour, the Stones with Budweiser.Funding from the tobacco and alcohol industries has always been the most troubling. With thousands of rock fans dying from drunk driving accidents and musicians drinking themselves to death, RRC wrote in 1983:Sponsors have found that rock, particularly its tours, is an ideal targeting mechanism for the audiences they must reach in order to perform the two functions that justify their multibillion-dollar ad expenditures in the first place: brand identification and (much more importantly in the cases of liquor and tobacco) the indoctrination of young people with the idea that using such substances is not just acceptable but downright cool.Hell, Keith's been doing that for years without the industries' money. After the Jovan deal, the Stones' next two albums ran on ugly subjects. Undercover and Dirty Work rattled off shots at war, avarice, abuse and other forms of institutionalized disregard with a sense of outrage and macabre theater lyricist Jagger hasn't mustered since. Where he once directed bile at corrupt politicians and corporate lazy butts who "find some loser, find some jerk" to manipulate while sympathizing with those victims - "It must be hell, livin' in the world, sufferin' in the world like you" - he now makes like the band can't survive without the exploiters he wags his finger at, be it for selling arms, or selling out workers.And what about those recently dumped by Sprint or kept from organizing who might like a Rolling Stones concert to curb their depression? Sorry, Keef and the boys are working for The Man. Should disputes arise, The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World has put itself in a position where it may have to side with its benefactor against its fans, and that ain't rock 'n' roll."It's beginning to make me angry," spat Jagger in 1986, "you're a user, I'm gonna shake you." I straight up love the Stones, and I'm certain they'll prove their greatness in markets all over the country. But this may be the tour when I have to say, Bonne chance lads, check ya in three years.

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