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Oh you see that I'm not that strong

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Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman, back in the day

Last night I dreamed I was playing the Rolling Stones' "Sister Morphine" on the guitar.

For readers who are too young to remember, the Stones were the greatest rock band in the world at that time that song was released. "Sister Morphine" is from "Sticky Fingers" (1971), the album that followed "Beggars Banquet" (1968) and "Let It Bleed" (1969) and preceded "Exile on Main Street" (1972). I'll argue those are the four best albums ever consecutively released by any band, and the idea that they came out within a span of four years is remarkable at the very least.

It is impossible now to evaluate the impact the Stones had on popular culture. So much has changed since then that it's impossible for someone who wasn't there to take the temperature of the late '60s and early '70s and properly assess the band's place—especially in light of the fact that the remaining band members are now good-natured, mercenary parodies of their former selves. Back then, the Stones were, in a word, menacing. Not only were they at their creative best (with the vastly underrated Mick Taylor riding guitar shotgun to Keith Richards), but they also were one of the few bands whose every move was awaited expectantly—and the media being what they were, there wasn't so much information about them that we got tired of hearing about them.

"Sister Morphine" is a song about a man dying in a hospital bed, awaiting his next dose of painkiller: "Tell me, Sister Morphine, when are you comin' round again?/Oh, and I don't think I can wait that long." There's little doubt about the fate of the singer: " Oh, can't you see I'm fading fast?/And that this shot will be my last."

At the start of the song, it's just Jagger and a lone acoustic guitar, but as the song reaches its inevitable end, where Sister Morphine can "watch the clean white sheets stain red," an electric guitar kicks in and the coda of the song turns uptempo yet grim. Listening to the song is like taking a sledgehammer to the solar plexus.

It's a hell of a song to have wafting through your head before the morning's first cup of coffee.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 22nd, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
You don't have to remember to appreciate. And I'd make the same argument about those albums. :)
Jul. 22nd, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
Justina, I'm delighted you feel that way about those records. But I'm not surprised ...
Jul. 23rd, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
Jackson and I have been listening to a lot of Stones this summer. He's been referring to them as "The R&S Group" because of a comment made by my dad last month.

Hey, it's only rock n roll, but we like it!
Jul. 23rd, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
Just don't let him listen to "Star Star" just yet.

Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
You make me want to hear it. Now.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks. The Stones (the stuff up to "Exile," anyway) are just so good that sometimes I take them for granted.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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