The Middle Distance 8.19.11: Rolling Stoned

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

photo by Sean Cayton


In the summer of 1972, my big adventure was a trip to Nashville for the Rolling Stones concert. I had just graduated high school in Memphis, and my best friend David had bought tickets as a combination birthday/graduation gift. We had waited with rapt anticipation, following the media storm that accompanied the Stones’ decadent romp across America. Finally, June 29 had arrived.

David borrowed his father’s car and we drove the 200 miles from Memphis to Nashville early in the day, giving ourselves adequate time to hang out a while before the concert. The drive wound past summer meadows and lounging cows, through a Tennessee countryside still trademarked, at that time, by barn roofs painted with tall letters: SEE ROCK CITY.

Compared to Memphis, which started at the Mississippi River and stretched in a straight line eastward to its distant suburbs, Nashville was a compact, friendly city, circles of roads and hills all surrounding the beating heart of its center. David and I decided to picnic at Centennial Park. Our moods heightened and our appetites exaggerated by long tokes on a fat afternoon doobie, we stuffed our faces with barbecue, climbed the giant stone steps of Nashville’s Parthenon, and frolicked on the great green lawn until it was time to hightail it to Municipal Auditorium.

My memory goes blank at the moment we discovered we’d lost our tickets. There must have been a frantic search through our pockets and the car. In the blur of it all, a pay phone. David, stoned and self-assured, calls the ticket office at the Municipal Auditorium and finds the woman who’d sold him his tickets months earlier. She tells us to come on down; she’ll meet us at the box office.

It’s hard to believe 40 years later, out here in the jaded and digitalized middle distance that she actually did remember David and did meet us at the box office and did show us to our seats, high up above the stage. The opening act was a virtuoso, solo, multi-instrumental performance by Stevie Wonder. Then the sky cracked open and the earth shook when the Stones took the stage with “Brown Sugar.” Mick Jagger strutted and preened and tossed handfuls of rose petals into the crowd. David captured a few and stuffed them in his pockets and we left Municipal Auditorium in a trance.

We had agreed to meet up after the concert with some older friends of David’s from Memphis, one of them a college junior at Princeton where David would go in the fall. What remains in memory of that visit to their hotel room is the startling vision of two couples, completely naked, casually sitting on two double beds, passing a huge jug of wine, conversing with us as if all was perfectly normal. David and I sat at the end of one of the beds, fully clothed, trying not to notice the dark shadows on those bodies, the jiggling buttocks of one of them racing to the bathroom. We escaped finally, and nearly collapsed in true comic relief.

But our adventure was not over. In the Municipal Auditorium parking garage, David’s father’s car was frightfully silent as he turned the key. A parking lot attendant came over and listened and shook his head. Yep, it’s the starter, he said and kindly called an all-night garage a few blocks over on Third Avenue for a tow truck. While the car received a new starter, now well past midnight, David and I wandered lower Broad, the seedy part of downtown Nashville back then, with guitar-themed porn shops and dirty men with missing teeth stumbling in and out of darkened bars. Tired and more than a little scared, we took refuge in an all-night diner with a miniature jukebox at every booth. We poured nickels and dimes into it, guzzled bitter coffee, and listened to George Jones, Hank Williams, and Charlie Rich until 3 a.m. when the car was ready.

Buzzed with caffeine and the drug of new experience, we headed back to Memphis and into the darkest, quietest, loneliest night imaginable. No trucks, no cars, just a black sky with a million stars overhead, and I-40 stretching endlessly before us. Even the all-night disc jockeys sounded weak and tired as David drove and I turned the radio dial. We settled on an AM station and a teenaged evangelist we knew would keep us awake with his shouts. We arrived home just as the sun illuminated the flat expanse of Memphis. I hung my Mick Jagger rose petals on the bedroom wall with a thumbtack, then slept like a stone.

Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.

 

10 Responses to The Middle Distance, 8/19/11: Rolling Stoned

  1. Beth Carlson says:

    Excellent writing—-those memories were the beginnings of an exciting time–a bit scary for a girl like me from Missouri.

  2. Ellen says:

    Fun column Kathryn. I saw the Stones in San Francisco in the 70s and again a few years ago in the Oakland Coliseum. 30 years makes a huge difference. The grandparents in the audience were stoned, the teenagers were not. Mick Jagger was still fantastic.

  3. Hal says:

    This is a great story. One question — was the highway you traveled home on I-25 or I-40?

    • kathryn says:

      Hal: Of course it is I-40; we corrected the slip in the recording but apparently not in the text. I’ll let the producer know. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. pete says:

    As always good writing. I saw that tour in Boston and it was great, Stevie Wonder included. Some people our age have lots of funky memories.

  5. Clyde says:

    I’m only thirty and I’ve never seen the Stones, but as I read I felt that had I lived a little bit of your story. Thank you.

  6. Linda says:

    What memories your story brings back. Jethro Tull at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, maybe 1969, setting the back seat of my friend’s parents’ Lincoln Continental on fire when a joint fell and no one bothered to pick it up. That’s when I learned that back seats can be removed from the car very easily.
    And whoever heard of an all-night car repair shop?!

  7. hannahfriend says:

    I’m glad I was young once. Looks really silly for a fifty-something to be stoned at a rock concert. Alas.

  8. Diane says:

    Been there, done that. Great memories. Thank you for a roll down memory lane…and a raucous one at that! Thank you, Kathryn!

  9. Don Goede says:

    Made In The Shade and Brown Sugar specifically helped inspire me to become a songwriter. Thanks for words.

News

Courtesy of HBO
April 23, 2014 | NPR · In the Internet Age, spoilsports abound, What would drive someone to ruin it for everyone else?
 

AFP/Getty Images
April 23, 2014 | NPR · Angry residents of a favela, or slum, set fires and threw bottles after a young man’s body was found. They blame police for his death. Authorities have stepped up security in advance of the World Cup.
 

AP
April 23, 2014 | NPR · Some of the guides have reportedly packed up to leave. Shaken by the deaths last week of 16 Sherpas, many don’t want to climb this year. Negotiators are headed to Everest’s base camp.
 

Arts & Life

Laura B. Weiss
April 23, 2014 | NPR · The Australian state known for its marsupial “devil” has a local food scene that might be described as heavenly. If you can’t try it person, get a taste with these Tasmania-inspired recipes.
 

Fox
April 23, 2014 | NPR · Fox has started releasing images from an upcoming episode of The Simpsons that renders the family in Lego pieces. And as always, all rights are carefully reserved.
 

Getty Images
April 23, 2014 | NPR · Also: a previously unpublished story by Shirley Jackson; tips to tell whether you are in a Charles Dickens novel.
 

Music

Courtesy of the artist
April 23, 2014 | NPR · The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has announced recipients of its 2014 performing arts grants. Noted composers such as Roscoe Mitchell, Oliver Lake and Randy Weston received a first tier award.
 

YouTube
April 23, 2014 | NPR · A new song from Jamie xx, the producer behind the stylish, seductive British trio The xx, manages to push his sound in new directions while getting back to bedroom basics.
 

Courtesy of the artist
April 23, 2014 | NPR · Twelve years after its last album, the scrappy, nails-dug-in emo band returns with a bright and sunny power-pop song that can’t help but be tinged by some regret.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab