Saturday, December 12, 2009


As a consequence of last night’s extremely rare screening on TCM of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970) starring Mick Jagger, I awoke this morning thinking about the Rolling Stones. I realized that today’s date, 12 December, serendipitously was the date the Stones finished the filming of The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, filmed 11-12 December 1968 (frequent delays on the 11th caused the filming to continue on into the wee hours of 12 December). A true museum piece, the show was designed as a made-for-TV special intended for airing on the BBC as a Christmas special in order to promote the release of the Stones’ album Beggars Banquet, which had been released in the UK a few days earlier, on 6 December. Featuring appearances by Jethro Tull, The Who, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithful, and Eric Clapton, Rock And Roll Circus was to have been the first appearance of the Stones after an absence of several months, a consequence of Mick Jagger making Performance. With most of its featured performers dressed as clowns, and Mick Jagger, improbably, serving as the Ring Master, the outcome was so ludicrously silly that it was deemed unreleasable, and remained so for 28 years, until 1996. Additionally, legend has it that the Stones felt they had been upstaged by The Who. Bootlegged Rolling Stones tracks from the soundtrack appeared in the years after, but Rock and Roll Circus is perhaps more significant as the last time the original Stones—with Brian Jones—performed together. He was fired soon after.

When the show was eventually released on home video in 1996, the music the Stones played on the show was shown not to be as terrible as rumor had it, but the show’s concept—an extravaganza produced and starring the Rolling Stones—simply didn’t fit the Stones’ image. In contrast, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967) concept—in which the Beatles, along with a large number of their friends, drove around the British countryside zonked out of their minds playing psychedelic music—had a certain commercial potential based on its novelty. Critics, however, excoriated it, even if it roughly conformed to the Beatles’ image, given the picaresque films they’d made previously with Richard Lester. The Stones, however, had made no such movies, and simply weren’t convincing as fun-loving hippies, especially when dressed up as clowns. As a joke, it wasn’t funny, or rather, it was painfully funny. The trouble is, the Rolling Stones never made convincing hippies. Bohemians they were, hippies they were not. What Performance would reveal—which had finished filming a few weeks earlier, in mid-October, but would not be released until August 1970—was the threat and danger of Mick Jagger’s persona. I find Rock And Roll Circus a curious misfire, a true oddity in the history of rock, significant only because it represents Brian Jones’s last “live” appearance with the Stones. And for Mick Jagger’s first performance after Performance.

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