STONES BEGIN TOUR BEFORE ITS START
Mark Fineman, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 September, 1981 (reprinted with permission)
Worcester, Mass. — A lightning bolt split the midnight sky above the Stardust strip-tease lounge, and the sky unleashed a blanket of rain on this seamy block of Green Street as the 30-foot motor home finally pulled in alongside Sir Morgan's Cove.
Finally, at midnight, Blue Monday had begun. The Cockroaches had finally arrived. But the drenched and drunken throng of more than 4,000 filling the sidewalks and street knew better.
"Stones! Stones! Stones!" they chanted in deafening unison. From the rooftops and car tops and even the tops of the streetlights, they whistled. They whooped. They screamed. They even launched flares. And, as 75 Worcester policemen held their yard-long riot batons ready and snapped down the shields on their riot helmets, the crowd craned for a glimpse of a legend.
The curtains were drawn on the motor home's windows, but somehow even that didn't matter. Somehow, the crowd that had spent half a night out in the rain was too wet and too loose and having too much of its own party to care. Somehow it was enough that they were only a few feet from what may be the most famous rock band in the world.
They said the Rolling Stones' first public tour in three years was going to begin Sept. 25 in Philadelphia.
It won't. The concert in JFK Stadium is still on, but the tour started here Monday, shortly before midnight, in a small tavern in the heart of this blue-collar city of 170,000 about an hour west of Boston.
The Rolling Stones' "private" jam session at Sir Morgan's Cove was supposed to be just that — private — and also secret, with the Stones attempting to pass incognito as the Cockroaches. But as the nature of the business would have it, there was a leak. It occurred early in the day Monday after weeks of rumors. And before the day was over, the local media would claim that "history has been made in Worcester."
Before the Stones finished their free two-hour concert early yesterday morning for 300 "randomly selected" fans, local police would arrest and charge six people with offenses ranging from drinking in public to illegally "launching missiles" (beer cans, mostly). The Worcester police department's already depleted overtime budget would be $5,000 more in the red. And the city's sanitation workers would be faced with a block-long layer of beer cans, bottles and trash.
But for all that, the corporate brass of the local FM radio station that helped organize, promote and execute the event at Sir Morgan's would be more than pleased. In the intensely competitive hard-rock market surrounding Boston, WAAF-FM had scored a major coup.
Still, nobody would be more pleased by the end of the night than the owners of the eight liquor licenses on the same block of Green Street as Sir Morgan's.
For Samuel M. Perotto, 22, Monday night was "a dream come true."
"I've sold about 100 cases of beer already," Perotto, owner of Sam's tavern, said as he sweated his way through two more beer orders at his packed bar just after the Rolling Stones had begun their set a few doors down.
"Usually I have three or four customers on a Monday night, but this — this is how I've always wanted my bar to look. I'm just upset I didn't have more warning. We've already made a few beer runs ourselves."
Up the street at Jimmy's Pub, a gregarious, round Englishman named Jimmy Conrad said that business at his bar was up 400 percent.
"This street has never looked like this before," he said, "and it'll never look like this again."
Never mind that the owners of Jimmy's and Sam's care little for the Rolling Stones or their music. Not a single Stones' song appears on either of their jukeboxes, and Jimmy Conrad admitted candidly that the most popular tunes in his bar are two 1950s relics, "Chantilly Lace" and "Blue Moon."
"Me, I don't really follow the Rolling Stones or their music," Conrad said, "and I certainly wouldn't wait hours in the rain to see them."
"Miss Strip USA of 1980" heartily agreed. Better known as Lady Dee to patrons of the Stardust Lounge, the young woman was standing in full costume outside the nude-dancing parlor across from Sir Morgan's.
"Naw, I don't really like the Stones," said Lady Dee, adding that she had won her "Miss Strip" title against serious competition in Las Vegas with the help of her "famous fire show."
"I know my show is a bit, well, on the sadistic side — I light my arms on fire and swallow fire — but that doesn't mean I like the Stones' music. No, I lean more toward Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand."
Lady Dee looked down the block and shook her head as a member of the street crowd began shinnying up a streetlight.
"You know, one of my customers, an old-timer who has lived on this block all his life, said he hasn't seen Green Street like this since the day World War II ended. Man, these people are just plain crazy."
And all this because of a rumor that Mick Jagger gave a marijuana cigarette to a teenager a month ago 20 miles away in the rural town of North Brookfield.
The Rolling Stones have been staying in North Brookfield for about a month now. Since mid-August, the group has been spending what reliable sources estimated at $2,000 a day to rent a 140-acre farm. There, the group's promotion people said, the Stones have been rehearsing and preparing stage sets for their Philadelphia debut.
The place is called Long View Farm, and it came complete with two ultra-modern recording studios, saunas, whirlpools, a billiard room and even a stage the owner built especially for the Rolling Stones and to their specifications before their arrival.
Long View's owner is Gilbert Markle, a 40-ish "college professor-turned-entrepreneur" who in the past has played host to such celebrities as Stevie Wonder and the J. Geils Band.
Markle's main job has been security and secrecy. He refuses to even discuss whether the Stones are at Long View on the basis of a "gentlemen's agreement" he said he had made with Jagger.
And he has done his job well, with only a few exceptions. The most notable exception came a few weeks ago when a local newspaper printed a story implying that Mick Jagger had handed a lit joint to a teenage boy while Jagger and Stones' lead guitarist Keith Richard [sic!] were playing tennis at North Brookfield High School.
"Mick was just furious about that story — the only truth to it was that he was playing tennis that day," said Rob Barnett, morning disc jockey at WAAF.
"I think it was that more than anything that got him to talk to me," Barnett said.
About a week later, Barnett camped at Worcester Airport for five hours one afternoon waiting for Jagger. It was Aug. 26, the day Jagger flew to Philadelphia for a press conference to announce the group's tour. When Jagger stepped off his private jet after his return flight to Worcester, Barnett pounced and asked for an interview. Jagger agreed.
Barnett said his five-minute interview was aired as an exclusive on radio stations worldwide, and "we started a relationship that never ended."
Steve Stockman, 23, WAAF's promotions director, said he kept in constant contact with members of the band, but "it wasn't until last Friday that everything started to gel. Ian Stewart, the group's keyboard player, told me the group wanted to make some small, private night-club appearances. They hadn't appeared before an audience in three years, and they needed to warm up to crowds before Philadelphia."
Stockman said Stewart had selected Sir Morgan's on his own. He said Stewart had anonymously visited "every bar in Worcester" in search of a place that seated no more than 400, had a low ceiling and a high stage.
"All he needed was a mechanism to get tickets out to loyal fans in the area without revealing the location of the event," Stockman said. Together, WAAF and the Stones decided that the station would start announcing on Monday morning that the Stones were giving such a performance, but that no tickets could be purchased.
Instead, the station announced, representatives of WAAF and the group would be driving the streets of Worcester throughout the day looking for people wearing WAAF T-shirts or with WAAF bumper stickers either on themselves or their cars.
They, and they alone, would get the mere 300 nontransferable, laser-etched, computer-coded tickets marked, "Blue Monday" and "The Cockroaches."
The scene in downtown Worcester on Monday was a zoo. "It was a carnival," said Dave Goldberg, a city resident who works for a small noncommercial radio station in town. "Traffic was at a standstill. Everyone was running around looking for the WAAF vans. It was like a holiday in the city."
Women plastered the bumper stickers to their chests. One man covered his entire body with them — including one wrapped around his neck brace. Another fan decorated every inch of his custom van in Early Bumper Sticker.
"What can I say? Ya gotta love a promotion like this," Stockman said yesterday. "It's just a shame something went wrong."
A Boston rock station, an arch-competitor of WAAF, was leaked the information by either Worcester police or a member of the band that played before the Stones were to perform at Sir Morgan's. And the Boston station immediately began broadcasting not only where the Stones would appear, but also that people should stay away.
"They said there'd be a riot there or something," Stockman said. "It was awful, and the Stones were almost as furious with that station as we were. But to tell you honestly, we did get lucky. It easily could have turned into mayhem. All I can say is thank God for the rain."
Daniel Egan, Worcester's deputy police chief, was thanking God yesterday, too. Egan, who was filling in this week for the city's vacationing police chief, sat back in his leather chair, rubbed his large red face and sighed.
"No question that Monday night was a disaster waiting to happen." said Egan, making little effort to conceal his anger.
"Of course I'm upset. We didn't find out for sure on this thing until noon Monday. Looking back, I should have smelled something in the wind on Saturday when one of my lieutenants was told that Sir Morgan's wanted 17 off-duty police officers for inside security on Monday night.
"But it just didn't register. Who would have thought the Rolling Stones would come to Worcester?
"We could have planned for this better if we'd had something more than rumor."
By yesterday, a new crop of rumors had started again.
Both Stockman and the Stones' chief publicist, Paul Wasserman, refused to say whether there would be more "secret night club shows" before the group comes to Philadelphia. But Wasserman said the group "definitely wanted to play several times" before their concert debut.
The hottest rumor in Worcester yesterday was that the Stones were going to play at a Boston night club one night this week.
The rumor made it all the way to North Brookfield, but it didn't matter too much to the folks in the 169-year-old town, a town of 4,100 where the only industry manufactures rubber soles.
Between the rock stars and reporters, residents of North Brookfield are accustomed to the excitement by now.
Many of the residents even got the treasured tickets to Blue Monday. Among them was Robert Lemieux, owner of the North Brookfield News Co., known locally as "the news room."
"My daughter has gotten friendly with the Stones' bodyguard, and he gave her a couple of tickets Monday morning out of the blue," Lemieux said yesterday afternoon. "I was going to go with her, but my other daughter kept after me until 5 p.m. I finally gave in.
"It's just as well. There'll be more up here as time goes on — more celebrities, more attention, more excitement. In the meantime, I guess everyone around here is just kind of sitting back and wondering. After Monday night, what can the world possibly do for an encore?"
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.