May 12, 2019 | by C.M. Crockford
Writer Christopher McKittrick has always been a lifelong Rolling Stones fan, but he's also a born and raised New Yorker. He's finally written a book on both subjects in Can't Give It Away on Seventh Avenue: The Rolling Stones and New York City. The new book, out on June 25 from Post Hill Press, explores the link between his beloved city and band going back more than 50 years. McKittrick looks at the relationship from their 1965 US tour and onward, reaching the current Stones era of massive stadium tours.
The writer's curiosity was first piqued by his noticing how often the Stones referenced New York in their lyrics and by their launching tours in the heart of the city. "Here's this band, they're obviously English —what is it about New York?" he asks. "The more I looked into it, the more I realized the Rolling Stones have such a deep connection with New York in terms of the music scenes, in terms of the cultural changes. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood all lived in New York at some point." McKittrick's prime focus became the late '70s and early '80s, when the band recorded the seedy and brilliant Some Girls. The record incorporated punk, funk, disco, "all different elements going on in the New York music scene that... congealed into this amazing album."
Not only were their albums influenced by the city but many of their concerts there were seminal. "The 1969 Madison Square Garden shows — It was the first time the band had ever played there. Much of the material from their first live album Get Your Ya-Ya's Out was recorded at those concerts. And... it was when [guitarist] Mick Taylor was in the band, and what he contributed there was just phenomenal work." The band has played every major venue in the area, including getting thrown out of Carnegie Hall, and are set to reschedule a date to play MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on June 13. "They've had so many amazing live moments in New York, more so than any other city in the world."
The band and the city have come to resemble one another, sometimes in disconcerting ways. "One angle I take in the book," McKittrick says, "is when the Stones were emerging in the '60s, they were looked at as the rougher cousins of the Beatles. And that was also the time when New York started to get a little seedier." And when the band was going wild in the '70s, the city was dealing with similar issues — "the era of Studio 54, it had a bit of lawlessness to it." As time went by however, New York "cleaned up" its act and began to ruthlessly gentrify its neighborhoods, rendering Times Square a squeaky clean Disneyland. Similarly "the Rolling Stones became this corporate juggernaut... there's such an interesting parallel in... how New York changed and how the Rolling Stones changed."
We ended up chatting about New Yorker Martin Scorsese and his own relationship to the group, including shooting their concert film Shine a Light, as well as Vinyl, the 2016 HBO disasterpiece Scorsese and Jagger produced together. "Scorsese came of age as a director right at the time that the Rolling Stones were on top of the world and doing their best work. And of course these two great artists of different mediums were going to recognize genius in each other." Scorsese ended up using "Gimme Shelter" at least three separate times in his movies, the song becoming a sort of occult mantra of rising violence. (Though McKittrick notes that ironically they never played it in Shine a Light.)
Check out the "Gimme Shelter" Scorsese montage below.
I ask him which Rolling Stone member has enjoyed the city the most and he thinks. "I'm gonna go with an outside pick here. Even though he never lived in New York City, Charlie Watts. He was probably the only Stone who grew up wanting to perform [there] because... he always dreamed of performing in a New York City jazz club. And when he does do his solo band... jazz groups and side projects, he always works in a long residency in one of the great clubs there. It was always special to him."
But as McKittrick reveals, the Stones always felt comfortable in the city. "New York has such a rich history in jazz, blues, and one thing you can definitely say about the Rolling Stones is they're all huge fans of music. Keith Richards is just a student of the blues, Charlie Watts was a student of jazz. New York, where so much of this had already happened — it was important for them to be part of that." Some places just feel like home.
Preorder Can't Give It Away On Seventh Avenue: The Rolling Stones And New York City here