‘I hope I die before I get old,” wrote Pete Townshend in 1965. It turns out that the Rolling Stones don’t just refuse to get old — they refuse to stop touring.
The band announced, then postponed, and then re-announced new tour plans, assuring fans they’ll be on the road in 2012–2013 to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
But there’s a new twist: This tour will take into account the aging nature of the band, and of its fans. Indeed, the new tour, tentatively called the Steel Wheelchairs tour, was delayed because of technical and health issues involved in doing live events with such an old audience, and such old musicians. “This tour is different from others we’ve done,” the band’s promoter explained.
How different? For openers, the Steel Wheelchairs tour will not be playing big stadiums, but smaller arenas and theaters. “Half our fans are dead, and the other half are on Medicare,” the Stones’ business manager explained. “They can’t fill up stadiums they way they used to. Heck, they can’t make it up the stairs the way they used to.”
Dozens of other accommodations are being planned in order to make the experience “geezer friendly,” according to the tour spokesman. The concerts will begin at 5:00 p.m. sharp, with no opening acts, and there will be a half-dozen set breaks for naps and diaper changes.
There will be jumbotrons everywhere so fans can see the show, and lyrics will appear on the screens in large type so they can sing along. “It will be like one big karaoke night,” the tour’s marketing director revealed, “and you know how much old people love karaoke.”
The concession stands will not serve alcohol of any kind, and chili dogs, soft pretzels, and hard candies will be replaced with snacks that are denture friendly, and approved by the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Society. Pureed organic vegetables, baked chicken strips from free-range birds, fruit cups, and tropical-flavored Jellos are on the menu, according to a concert caterer. “The last thing we want to do is get the fans’ stomachs riled up,” she told me. “That would make for an unpleasant concert experience for everyone.” Extra portable toilets will be available in case there is a run on the facilities, she added.
Gone are old Stones sponsors like Budweiser. New sponsors include the Scooter Store, Metamucil, and AARP. The tour is still negotiating with a prominent catheter maker and with the company that produces The Clapper.
Health security is the tour’s overriding concern. Dozens of emergency kiosks will be scattered around the venues, staffed by an army of EMTs. There will be self-service defibrillators and oxygen tanks at every aisle.
Given the band’s age, no one expects there to be issues with groupies, the band’s personal concierge explained, let alone drugs — unless one takes into account the dizzying array of pharmaceuticals dispensed daily to the band. “Unlike the old days, when drugs were a problem for the guys, this tour will depend on drugs to go off without any problems,” the band’s pharmacist explained. “It’s like a Walgreens on wheels,” he added, describing the medical bus that will accompany the tour.
And there won’t be any need for the Hells Angels to protect the Stones from wild audiences. “This ain’t exactly Altamont,” a tour security adviser told me. “Think Woodstock, but filled with folks who live in The Villages.”
Departing from tradition, the Stones decided to announce their set list early. “We don’t want any surprises,” explained the tour’s medical director. “Old people hate surprises, so we hate them too.”
And then there’s the music. The tour’s artistic director explained that the musical selections reflect the real-life changes the band has experienced. “This is something the guys have been thinking about,” she told me. “Songs that made sense when they were younger — like ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’ — don’t make sense now.”
“Who wants to hear a bunch of septuagenarians sing about sex and rebellion?” she added. “It’s really . . . gross.”
The Stones were inspired by the late Johnny Cash, who decided not to run from his old age, but to embrace it. So the Stones went into the studio and reworked some of their classics.
Here are a few of those reworked hits, with the old titles first, followed by the new ones:
“When the Whip Comes Down” / “When the Hip Goes Down”
“(Hey, hey you) Get Off of My Cloud” / “(Hey, you kids) Get Out of My Yard”
“The Girl with the Faraway Eyes” / “The Girl with the Hairs on Her Chin”
“Midnight Rambler” / “Early Bird Scrambler”
“She’s So Cold” / “She’s So Old”
“Honky Tonk Women” / “Bingo Parlor Women”
“Waitin’ on a Friend” / “Waitin’ on the End”
A last-minute press release by the band ended with some heartfelt words from Mick Jagger. Gone was the Jagger swagger, replaced by humility and gratitude. “We’re as surprised as anyone that we can still perform,” read Jagger’s statement. “And even more surprised that anyone wants to watch us.”
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt.