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It’s hard to know how to feel about another Rolling Stones tour. On one hand, they are the most enduring rock band in history, so attention must be paid. On the other, most of the members are in their 70s and none of them need the money, so going on the road again, at this point, could be seen as a wee bit self-indulgent. The Stones’ last world tour, A Bigger Bang (2005-2007), made more than half a billion dollars. And of the top 20 highest-grossing tours of all time, four have been Rolling Stones tours.
It’s tempting to dismiss the Stones’ refusal to quit as another sad case of a revered band trying to hold onto its glory days and inadvertently become its own tribute act. Boomer bands reuniting to cash in on their nostalgia are part of the rock firmament now, and Paul McCartney proved last year that age doesn’t really matter if you’re sitting 100 yards away and the light show is crazy enough. But only two Beatles are still alive.
The Rolling Stones are different. They never broke up, they’ve never done a “farewell” tour, most of the original members are still breathing, and their unwillingness to, say, die—or actually die—is a cultural statement all its own; an unprecedented declaration of stubborn persistence that may, in the end, be their defining legacy.
When they invented what has become classic rock, it was a finger-flipping rejection of traditional values in favor of youth and sex and fun. But now the Stones have become the rock-and-roll establishment slipping through time’s wormhole to co-opt that same youthful essence, and as geriatrics, they have become subversive again. They’re still rebels, but instead of rebelling against old age, they’re rebelling against youth by refusing to behave like old people.
This must be very frustrating for kids who expect people to just gum their oatmeal and quietly disappear once they become “old.” And it must be jarring for the legions of responsible young citizens who are currently toiling in a cubicle to pay off their student loans and saving for a down payment on a car or house. Because the pointed cultural message the Rolling Stones are really sending is that conventional life turns out to be a joke. They’ve proven that you really can drink, take drugs, be a jerk, do irresponsible things, follow your bliss, have an indecent amount of fun—and still win at life! And as long as you can afford the blood transfusions, you can do all of this without suffering any consequences save an extremely haggard face.
Mick used to run eight miles a day to prepare for touring. The upcoming shows will be somewhat less aerobic but no less worrisome, because the other message the Stones are sending is that performing in front of thousands of adoring fans every night and making boatloads of money is the only thing that matters in this life. These guys could do anything—anything—in the world, and they are choosing to go onstage and play the same songs they have been playing for the last 40 or 50 years. None are retiring to Tucson, Arizona, or heading to Florida because the heat soothes their arthritis. Instead, they are playing “Gimme Shelter” like they still mean it, and they have no intention of stopping.
Time has been on the Stones’ side, of course, but that can’t last forever. The best reason to see them at TCF Stadium is that this really could be their final tour. Then again, that’s been true for 30 years, and it may still be true in 2035. All I know is that if Keith Richards outlives Mick, and it turns out that marinating yourself in heroin and whiskey is the key to a long and prosperous life, the Stones’ lifelong mission of subversion will be complete—and I will have to re-evaluate my retirement plans.