Film Review: Shine a Light & The Rolling Stones

by Jared McCoy
Special to iVoryTowerz

My my, hey hey,
Rock and roll is here to stay.
It's better to burn out,
Than to fade away....

— Neil Young
“My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”

I was always under the impression that it was better to burn out in some wild conflagration of excess and debauchery than to fade away slowly into rock and roll oblivion. In Director Martin Scorsese’s latest documentary Shine a Light, the Rolling Stones offer another option: to continue rocking either till death or physical decomposition.

Admittedly, I am not the world’s biggest Stones fan but I was still very impressed with the animated and virile display put on in Shine a Light. So much so that it threatens some of my core beliefs. Because watching this film has razed some of my longstanding opinions about the way rock music ought to be done, I feel obligated to devote this post to a larger contemplation of what happens when rock musicians mature.

Rock & roll is by nature a young man’s game. This is the axiom proven time and time again since the dawn of the genre. I do not mean this to sound sexist, as if I am saying that women do not belong in this game (certainly a mistruth given the contributions of Janis Joplin, Heart, Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper, etc.). All I mean by this is that the energy and bravura that has fueled generations of rock musicians is most frequently found in young men. Emphasis on young….

These young men are nowhere to be found in Shine a Light. To put it bluntly, Mick Jagger has the jowls of a prehistoric British matriarch and Keith Richards looks like some skeletal ghoul who has just crawled out from beyond the crypt. Scorsese certainly brings out these differences by flashing back to early footage of a much younger and healthier looking Stones. Given this vast change in age and appearance, it seems impossible to reconcile the Rolling Stones of '08 with the Stones of '68.

This was what I had thought going into the theatre this week and I must warn all of you out there with a similar outlook: I was promptly forced to eat my words. The Rolling Stones’ stage antics in Shine a Light were certainly more energetic than many of their imitators today, who are half their age and regrettably half as talented.

Watching this concert, one is left with the odd sense of seeing the younger and nubile Jagger trapped within the guise of old age. He certainly doesn’t move like he’s 64. His voice hasn’t aged badly either — a miracle if you ask me. I suppose that when it really comes down to it, when you age a band like the Rolling Stones for more than 45 years it’s like aging a fine wine, whereas bands like Metallica on the other hand, seem to age like Jägermeister or Bud Light — which is to say, not very well at all.

So what am I to do with all of the conflicting examples of rock & roll maturation? On the one hand there’s a senile Jimmy Page whoring out the beloved "Kashmir" riff to the likes of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs* and on the other hand we have a genuinely well orchestrated and well performed concert in Shine a Light. Is Neil Young right when he claims that “It’s better to burn out than to fade away?” It will remain a really interesting and relevant question, especially today, when many of the major touring acts are several generations old, for better or for worse. Hey Hey, My My.

*Editor's Note: Rap star Sean Combs prefers to be called "Diddy" now or simply "P." Combs has used at least four other names at one time or another, although he disputes that now, and many of these aliases were never officially associated with his musical releases.

(Promotional graphic from Paramount Pictures. To see a trailer for Shine a Light, please check below.)

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