Mick mania: fans amass amid pyrotechnics. Photo: Jon Gardiner
Mick mania: fans amass amid pyrotechnics. Photo: Jon Gardiner

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

In a predictable but eminently satisfying highlight, Jagger pranced along a ramp that projected from the stage onto the field, for a rousing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
January 31, 2006

It was a complete sensory experience and a smooth meshing of past and present: classic rock 'n' roll, edgy new music, striking video images, dazzling pyrotechnics, an audience fired up with fervor about the band even before the first brash notes sounded. And plenty of opportunities to buy stuff.

When, in early October, the Rolling Stones came to Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium, it was all about the music--almost. It was also about gawking: A colleague told me that she and her friends were fixated as much on Mick Jagger's well-toned abs as on the so-familiar tunes--evidently, one of the dividends from several decades of strutting, jabbing, pointing, and gyrating on stage. And traveling with your own fitness team.

This was a happening that straddled the generations. There were fans attending their eighteenth Stones concert and parents determined to turn their accompanying kids into Stones aficionados. Concert-goers came decked out with tie-dyed T-shirts, T-shirts with the band's lips-and-tongue logo, and T-shirts with more obscure, but evidently meaningful, identifiers like "Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge." The Stones are, of course, a property as well as a musical act, and fans clustered around a makeshift souvenir stand just outside the stadium, vying for $65 Stones sweatshirts, $35 Stones baseball caps, and $10 Stones magnets.

With 40,000 fans in attendance, this was the biggest thing to hit Wallace Wade since the Grateful Dead played there in the spring of 1971. At the time, a reviewer in The Chronicle declared that "The rite of rock 'n' roll was enacted in Wallace Wade Stadium ... with a vitality new to Duke University." This time, the campus buzz was more subdued. Matt Dearborn, a junior and general manager of the student radio station WXDU, spoke for many of his peers in suggesting that the Stones--average age sixty-two--form "one of the great bands of our time, although it's not really our time, per se. It would be better to say that they were one of the great bands." He told me that WXDU doesn't even own a Rolling Stones album, because it's committed to "sub-mainstream" music.

A man seated next to me identified himself as the brother-in-law of Mick Jagger's local limousine driver, who had met the star at the steps of his private plane. Around 8:30, I asked him when he thought the 8:00 (as advertised) concert would start. "Whenever Mick wants to come out," he replied.

Fifteen minutes later, various astronomical objects exploded on the screen, flames erupted from the stage, and the band launched "Start Me Up." And then Mick Jagger, a small animated shape from my distant perspective but looming large on the screen in black low-rise jeans, a tight T-shirt, and a Kelly-green satin jacket, expressed pleasure at performing in "Durrrrham" and acknowledged the heroic efforts of the stage crew in putting up with five days of pouring rain. Zippo lighters spouted their ritually significant flames, cameras flashed, and a cell phone snapped open to communicate the music to a distant listener.

To the accompaniment of strident drums and guitars, Jagger sang a raunchy new song, "Oh No, Not You Again," from A Bigger Bang, the band's first new album since 1997. He was joined by a backup singer for a moody, bluesy rendition of Ray Charles' "(Night Time Is) The Right Time." He led the crowd in shouting out insistently, joyously, "You can't always get what you want." And in a predictable but eminently satisfying highlight, he pranced along a ramp that projected from the stage onto the field, for a rousing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." He sang, " 'cause I try and I try and I try and I try." And you knew he did.

The tour selected Duke after canceling a planned concert in Atlantic City. Representatives from the promoter contacted Duke last June and then surveyed the site; according to Duke officials, they liked what they saw--the stadium layout, the size--immediately. Beginning in mid-July, meetings were held every few weeks with up to two-dozen representatives from the campus police, parking services, building and grounds, student affairs, news and communications, and others. "If you're going to host the Rolling Stones," said Mitch Moser, associate director of athletics, "you know that's pretty much as big as it's going to get." Duke representatives made a road trip to Charlottesville, scouting out a Stones show at the University of Virginia two days before the Duke concert on Saturday.

By that Tuesday, crews were moving into Wallace Wade: 265 workers, eleven buses, seventy trucks, and a giant tent that served as a dining area for that rather sizable crew. The show would include a nine-story stage with a retractable roof (in case of rain), the video screen for showing off a super-sized Mick Jagger, a sound system that rewarded the crowd with crystal-clear clarity, and the apparatus for delivering fireworks and flames. The complexity of all that infrastructure, and the promise of all that music, produced ticket prices that ranged from $60 to $350.

Aaron Levine, a senior employed for the show at $15 an hour, worked the pricey-seats section that rose from the stage. Those seats were arrayed along two spiraling metal-and-glass towers, framing the giant video screen, that might have been inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's spiraling Guggenheim Museum. Looking down from the heights was, Levine said, a notably over-thirty-five-year-old crowd, fans who elevated, in every sense, the meaning of "Gimme Shelter." One of his responsibilities was to discourage them from lighting cigarettes close to the propane tanks that powered the pyrotechnics.

Concert-crazy: Jagger, meister, with Keith Richards

Concert-crazy: Jagger, meister, with Keith Richards. Photo: Jon Gardiner

There's plenty of power behind a Stones tour. A standard Stones contract was leaked onto the Internet following an earlier tour, "Bridges to Babylon," in the late Nineties. The contract called for "one quality town car with drivers, i.e., Lincoln, Mercedes, BMW," with dark-tinted windows. Also required: a workout room with "extremely clean bathroom and shower facilities"; a "full-size Snooker table--not a pool table--with a full set of cues, bridges, chalk, and racks"; and "two smartly dressed, well-groomed hostesses to assist in serving food in the band lounge from 3:00 p.m. on the day of show. Table waiting experience preferred."

If they weren't all well groomed, the fans were well behaved. The concert "passed without any major incidents and with only a few arrests and citations," reported Bob Dean, interim Duke Police director. Durham police charged seven people with trademark infringement after they were discovered selling bootlegged Stones T-shirts, at the tempting price of $20.

While securing the campus was no easy assignment, the greater logistical challenge was organizing parking. The event produced a massive gathering of vehicles. Walking to the stadium, I passed an area devoted to "Limousine Parking"; lines of vehicles from local rescue squads, along with a van ominously labeled "Special Operations"; and technology-packed TV-news vans. Overseeing all of that for Duke Parking Services was Renee Adkins, special-events coordinator.

This was certainly a special event. I talked to Adkins a couple of days after the concert. From her office on the curiously named Coal Pile Drive, she informed me, with evident understatement, "This was huge for us. The thought of accommodating 40,000 people looking for parking--we have problems parking the number we have on campus normally." Her group went about securing everything from golf carts for shuttling the physically handicapped to "Event Parking" signs to direct the many who would be hunting for parking spaces, to portable toilets--some fifty in all--to be dispersed among twenty-one parking lots on campus. Duke also took over 1,300 off-campus parking spaces, in the American Tobacco Complex, and provided a shuttle service to and from campus. By 4:00 on the day of the concert, one of the bigger campus lots, with 375 spaces, was full; cars had been lining up ten or fifteen minutes before the official 2:00 opening of the lot.

Adkins' operation learned lessons that it could employ for any mega-event on campus. "But," she added cheerily, "we don't have to have it anytime soon."

Where to park all those people was only one concern on campus. The impact of all those people on the grass in Wallace Wade Stadium was another. Mitch Moser, in the athletics department, was the official worrier about the football field. The Blue Devils were scheduled to play Georgia Tech the following Saturday. Would the concert stage and the 7,000 fans seated in folding chairs on the field--covered with something called Terraplas, a perforated plastic system designed to allow grass to breathe--leave a significant footprint? The day after the concert, Moser did a walk-through and was pleased: "The field actually looks pretty good," he said.

There were some who reveled in the weekend but didn't quite make it to the stadium. One was Dana Dolinoy '98, a third-year Duke graduate student in toxicology and genetics. A year earlier, Dolinoy had reserved Duke Chapel and the Washington Duke Inn for her wedding to Michael Cipolla on October 8. Only in July, just before the rest of the world, did she learn that the campus--and the hotel--would be playing host to an even larger event. She said she's long been a fan of the Stones.

Dolinoy and Cipolla had 200 guests at their wedding and had set aside seventy-five rooms at the Washington Duke Inn. That was where the Stones were staying. Good luck trying to walk in there on concert day, as I did, only to be blocked by a guard protecting the perimeter of "a high-security environment," as he called it. The hotel was also housing the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, on campus for an exhibition game, and participants in an NCAA golf tournament. To avoid Stones-related congestion on their way to Duke Chapel, the wedding party was directed onto chartered buses. For her own departure, Dolinoy had the use of a staff elevator, a side exit, and two uniformed police motorcyclists as escorts to ease her through the traffic.

After the concert, the campus was rife with rumors that Mick Jagger had offered Dolinoy's father huge amounts of money to give up the presidential suite--and perhaps the entire block of rooms at the hotel. It never happened, Dolinoy told me. "He probably wouldn't have accepted money, but he would have said, 'Well, would you come to the reception and sing a song?' We heard the offer was for $50,000, and we heard the offer was to pay for the entire wedding." But the rumors did pay dividends: Dolinoy's sister managed to snag an autograph from the 76ers' Allen Iverson; when she tracked down the team's coach at the hotel, he told her, "Any dad who will stick to his guns and not sell off his daughter's hotel suite is worth an autograph."

Concert-crazy: overwhelmed fans

Concert-crazy: overwhelmed fans. Photo: Jon Gardiner

The night before Saturday's wedding, the couple held a large cocktail party in the presidential suite and the adjoining balcony. "We thought that the party would end around 11:00 or 11:30, but it went to around 1:00 a.m. And then someone from the Rolling Stones called the front desk to complain about the noise. That was a real hoot."

Lemurs make plenty of noise, but they don't generally complain. Still, by and large, they are not nocturnal, so I could imagine "Start Me Up" startling the lemurs out of their sleep in the Primate Center about a mile off campus, just down Lemur Lane in Duke Forest. The center's director-designate, Ann Yoder Ph.D. '92, had written a letter--complete with a doctored photo of a leering lemur displaying the Stones' trademark extended tongue--to be delivered to Stones guitarist, songwriter, and artist Ron Wood. Wood had, she reported, "painted a lovely painting of one of the more obscure lemurs some years ago, and thus we had reason to believe that he might have some special interest in the lemurs."

In what she characterized as a "shameless" appeal, she wrote that "the gentlemen from Aerosmith have been to visit us on numerous occasions, but we can't let them remain as the coolest band yet to visit us. That distinction should rightfully belong to the Stones." Sadly, while the physical conditioning of the ever-leaping lemurs might have inspired the Stones, they resisted the appeal.

Duke's president, Richard H. Brodhead, was happy to see Duke leap on the prospect of a Stones concert; he inhabited one of the best concert seats, on the roof of the Finch-Yeager Building, overlooking the football stadium. Brodhead had had an unusual, if not necessarily enviable, perspective on the event. "The really special thing is that the new president's house adjoins the football stadium," he said. "And what this meant was that I not only could see the back of the set from my bedroom window, but that we got to participate in the assembly of the set. Construction would begin at about 4:00 in the morning, starting a week before the concert." Listening to set construction at 4:00 in the morning? Perhaps that would deepen presidential empathy for students disturbed out of their sleeping patterns by, say, the jack-hammering into oblivion of the Bryan Center walkway. "It was a small price to pay," he said.

Brodhead, who chided me for not owning a Stones album, said he had never previously seen them perform. But, he added, "The Stones and my life have a lot of overlap. The Stones first jumped to the musical scene when I was a freshman in college. I drove across the country in the summer of 1965, and probably every sixth song played on the radio was 'Satisfaction.' "

"I'm not keen on going to events that are just kind of nostalgic rehashes of things that were great many years ago," Brodhead said. "And of course what was so wonderful about this concert was it wasn't like a museum piece. It was in itself a wonderful, vital performance."

I asked Brodhead, a scholar of American literature, whether he saw something uniquely American about the Stones' story, about a musical act that keeps going and going and manages to reinvent itself eternally. He observed that this is, after all, a British act--though one, like all British acts, influenced by American musical traditions. He did, however, muse on the theme of musical endurance. "Bob Dylan still performs. But that's a different story. Because there's the golden age of Dylan, and then there's a lot of later performance with occasionally great songs that come out of it. But the great Bob Dylan remains the Bob Dylan of 1962 to 1968. And that's what is so interesting about Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger did not alter his songs to make them different from the original version. Nor was he slavishly copying the original version. He was just singing a great version of that song."

After talking with Brodhead, I thought about how a literary scholar (and music fan) might see the Stones as a perfect metaphor for Duke, and might imagine that the Stones found in Duke a perfect venue. Especially this fall, when the campus has dedicated a new building about every weekend, Duke is a study of constant motion. But with all the obvious evolution, the master plan has preserved an unmistakably Duke look. Established and, at the same time, rebellious. The Rolling Stones and Gothic stones. Rock on.