Almanac Music: When Mick Jagger Met Fidel

 

 

 

As a younger man I would try to avoid the herd, mobs and obviousness. “Beatles or Stones?” people would ask, as if they were the only two options. Or, Stones fans would ask, ready to dump some smugness on me. The difference between the two bands, I figured, was the Beatles would not bother to compare themselves to anyone.

 

“What vintage?” I’d ask.

 

That would confuse them.

 

“The 60s?”

 

 “Oh, without a doubt, the Sonics! Maybe Andre Williams, though he was more 50s. Definitely Bo.”

 

Sure, as a teen, I grew through a Stones phase, like you do comics and an obsession with Richmond, on the way to personal evolution. I even half liked a few Doors songs, just to keep my mates happy, while searching for something more.

 

The Stones came under my INXS policy. Music that had done me no wrong. That I knew was good, made people shiver, but just couldn’t find my on button. Midnight Oil, Dylan, Blondie, the Pistols, it was a broad folio.

 

Then, one summer weekend, an ex-teammate, Maurice Efron, asked me to come to town to see an American blues harp player at the Corner. Or maybe it was Jimmy Witherspoon, I dunno. Time.

 

The ol’ sleazy, sweaty Corner Hotel, under the railway bridge. A great, little big venue for medium-popular local bands. Yet the queue went around the block, then for two more. And wasn’t moving a dot. The place had been sold out since 4pm, but people stayed in line, clinging to hope.

 

Maurice shrugged, gave a tired-eyed laugh, and we went to a few bars looking for something more regional. A grunge band, a cover artist, some kid playing harp while on a pogo stick, anything. Yet everywhere was full to shutout with the Corner’s overflow.

 

“Bullshit you’re here to see some blues player!” another person in another queue scoffed. “You’re like the rest of us! Jagger’s in there, man!” he pointed to the line across the road. “Jagger, dude!”

 

“Oh,” said Maurice.

 

 “Some idiot on the radio leaked it! Now everyone’s trying to get in! It was meant to be a secrete pub show!”

 

I looked at the man, who seamed likeable enough, and not. Just there. Surely, he was morning radio, all its static, its traffic and coffee mugs with cute sayings. This puppet.

 

Jagger was filming his tour of Oz. He needed a street cred portion for the vid. Made sure it would be packed. Leaked? Orchestrated. It was fucking Hooked on Classics!

 

Maurice was a dead set ripper, a surfer, wood yard worker, loved to have a go.

 

“Let’s see Jagger,” he laughed.

 

“It’s a fucking fortress,” the void insisted.

 

“Mate, you’re in a queue to get in somewhere that’s not even showing what you want to see. Come with us. We’ll see Jagger,” I said.

 

   *****

 

Fidel was the man’s name, which was nice. Given to him by some high-minded hippy mother, in honour of a killer who would have slit his capo throat. But what a poster! Damn, he looked the guts!

 

 

I watched the bouncers at the Corner’s front doors for a while, just to imagine every bluff they’d heard, every sob story, every tantrum, bribe offer, death threat. They could have written a book of them based on tonight alone.

 

 

“Let’s try the stage entrance,” I said, there were only about 200 people there. The show had started. Jagger was doing a tune from the Stones psychedelic faze, just audible through the double wooden doors, and the glass vent windows of the dunny, half way up the wall, all distorted until it sounded more like Pink Floyd. People were laughing, digging it, stressed to the max, so close!! Just a wall away from MICK JAGGER! Ignoring the river off piss floating down the lane from those in the queue.

 

 

It was nice. As grimy and real as Exile on Main Street.

 

Not the well-established Pommie lads pretending to be black men from the NY ghettos. But the genuine grime in that album, the drugs and smokes and contempt for hits. All oddballs, back rooms and low riders.

 

“Righto!” said Maurice, “Up you go!” and boosted Fidel onto his shoulders, where he stood, taking the slats out of the dunny windows.

 

Everybody in the lane cheered! Fidel looked happy! Alive! He shook his fist and worked one slate out. People cheered more, laughed, another. Anticipation built. We were breaking into Alcatraz, reverse Steve McQueen. Once all five were out, “pop” Fidel was in. Good-bye mate! Good-bye, good luck, go well! Within the box full of want.

 

 Pop, pop, two more went in.

 

 “C’m’on,” said Maurice.

 

I got up to the window to see Fidel and the other two in headlocks, being pounded by generic, black wearing bouncers. It was almost funny, cliché on cliché. Another bouncer was glaring up at me, 95% teeth, as something from Jagger’s solo stint played, beckoning me to come into his loving arms. I gave him a “Thanks anyways” smile.

 

“No go,” I called down to the crowd, who “Awwed.”

 

I briefly wondered, as I scampered to safety, if Mick was ever aware of this stuff, his ripple effect of madness? The bi-products of a skinny white boy who fell in love with black American music? Waiters fainting, busboys stealing his leftover food to put in jars? The insane monkey dance that happens wherever he goes?

 

Inside was a crab sandwich of people, packed in way too tight, the victors of lotteries and early calls. Security opened the stage doors to get someone who had passed out in its crush to safety.

 

 And it was on!

 

We fought well, little troopers, but lost. The doors shut again.
We laughed, and half sung to a muffled, distorted Undercover.  Frustrate, strangely satisfied.

 

The doors opened. Another pass out. We charged!

 

There was the sweetest moment of balance, or balanced moment, where crowd and security were pushing, with everything, the doors neither open or shut. I was on one side, a skinhead, of all things, on the other. We gave each other a look, and each kicked a door with everything, and the whole dam burst. They flew open.

 

Maurice and I let the first ten people surge past us, into the arms and fists and bellies of the ten bouncers, then we fell past them, mid wrestle, wobbling our arms, flopping, flaying, “Hey, ho! Stop pushing! What the…!? Ease up!” and “They’ve broken in!” Until we were about ten rows back from the stage, dead centre.

 

Then it stopped being silly wackers.

 

Then, for the first time in my life, the Stones became real.

 

   *****

 

 

Mick Jagger performing ‘Little Red Rooster’ live at The Corner Hotel in 1988

 

 

Mick was singing ‘Little Red Rooster’. The lights were red. Everything was – red and shadows, the air oozing sweat. Everybody dancing, not just at the front, in the middle, right to the back corners,  people hanging from the plumbing between the ceiling and wall, standing on stools, the bar, a wall of flesh, insanely in love.

 

 

The obsessed being satisfied.

 

 

Maurice gave the best ever wide-eyes, happy laugh to me, but I was busy watching a handful people stuck behind one of the room’s pillars, too crushed for a view, arms pinned, smiling like idiots, impossibly content, eyes closed, just happy to be in Mick’s room.

 

 

It was religion, truly. The power of music, of the Stones.

 

 

Jagger finished with two thumpers. Jimmy Hendrix’s ‘Cross Town Traffic’, and ‘Fire’, while we drank each other’s armpits in flashing lights and shadows and had a ball.

 

 

But that moment, the ‘Little Red Rooster’ moment, will stay with me always.

 

 

*****

 

 

The second the show was done, Mick swished off stage, followed by a dozen cameras that just happened to be there for his impromptu small live show. What a scam! But nobody cared. I didn’t care. Those cats behind the pillar were music, were rock’n’roll.

 

 

If Mick died and went to hell, I’d want it to be the nice kind, where he simply had to live the fantasy of each fan that was there, one at a time. Come out after the gig, when most of the people had left, bump into them and share a lazy drink and nothing talk at the bar.

 

 

That’s the beauty of small band venues, local music, if you want you get to drink with your Gods, every time.

 

 

*****

 

 

Outside, wet with sweat, as happy as pigs in mud, we went looking for Fidel, but he was nowhere to be found.

 

 

 

 

More stories about The Rolling Stones can be read HERE

 

More from Matt Zurbo can be read HERE

 

Read more stories from Almanac Music  HERE

 

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Comments

  1. A great yarn, very well told, Old Dog

  2. Peter Crossing says

    Great story. Thanks Matt. A “wish I’d been there moment”. Love the symbolism of wandering up the lane, as “grimy and real as Exile on Main Street” to find that, indoors, Mick had gone back to the roots of it all singing Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster.

  3. Wonderful stuff Old Dog – even though I now live so close to the Corner that I could call it my local with a bit of geographical gymnastics, it still has such a quivering presence. Forget the wall of sound, how about the wall of gigs set out in black and white like Melbourne’s loudest chalkboard?

  4. Superb Old Dog.
    Love the louvre windows. And the crowd behind the column.
    And every-sweaty-bit of it.
    Well played Fidel.

  5. Malby Dangles says

    Sensational! Felt like I was there…I wish I was :D
    Great work mate

  6. Excellent MZ, great rocknroll story, almost punk in its execution. You fought the law and won! I accidentally saw Jagger on that tour. In Perth at the newly built casino’s concrete dome. My sister and I were given free tickets by someone who had won them in a radio contest but wasn’t interested. Little did we know untiwe were escorted to our seats that we were in the second row, dead centre! Seeing Mick on stage i finally understood his power as a performer. Cheers

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant story, loved the break in attempts!

    But especially loved this line- “That’s the beauty of small band venues, local music, if you want you get to drink with your Gods, every time”.

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