Born to Run (2016)

BOOK THREE

LIVING PROOF

SEVENTY-SIX

GARAGE LAND

The phone rings. Mick Jagger is on the line. I had a teenage daydream about receiving a call like this many years ago, but, no, the Stones do not need an ex–pimply faced front man for the next evening’s show. But it’s THE NEXT BEST THING! They’re playing in Newark, New Jersey, and have decided one extra New Jersey guitar man and voice for “Tumbling Dice” might get some of the local fannies wagging.

By the time I was fifty, I’d met many of my heroes (Sinatra, Dylan, Morrison, McCartney, Orbison) and I’d enjoyed it, though I still gave them a wide berth. They still meant too much to me to surrender my star-struck feelings. And that’s the way I liked it. But the following evening I find myself walking into a brightly lit, busy reception area of a New York rehearsal studio. The girl behind the desk gives me a nod and points to a door. I open the door to a modestly sized room where there’s a band in a tight-knit garage setup against one wall. There are two guitars, bass and drums, and a B3 organ in a corner. The lead singer comes up, giving me a smile that still lights up the entire room. Mick welcomes me to rehearsal. Keith, Ronnie and Charlie (from back behind his drums) follow with warm greetings.

They have their small Fender amps, set side by side, in the exact positions in which any band at the Fort Monmouth Teen Club would’ve set up on any empty sixties Saturday night. There are no fancy pedals, no mountain of speakers, just the barebones equipment for making rock music, pure and unchanged. There are few handlers, no entourage, and I am suddenly transported back to the little dining room I rehearsed in daily with the Castiles, except . . . these are the guys who INVENTED my job! They have been stamped on my heart since the chunking chords of “Not Fade Away” came ripping off the little 45 I bought at Britt’s Department Store in the first strip mall in our area.

After some pleasantries, there are two mike stands alongside one another, a few feet in front of the band. Mick, still all sharp edges and pragmatism, moves to the mike on the left. I take the right as he counts off and Keith, the man whose recorded playing taught me my first guitar solo, slithers into the opening riff of “Tumbling Dice.” I’ve come across many spirit-filled folk in my travels but no one as spectrally beautiful as Keith Richards. Some years ago Patti sang backup for the Stones and on Keith’s first solo record. One night we visited him in the studio. He took Patti’s hand, looked me in the eye and, with great regard for her, said, “Oh . . . oh . . . this one.”

From my left, in the voice that’s wet millions of knickers comes “Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always trying to waste me” . . . I’m pretending to be a peer but it’s not easy. Inside I’m reeling as Mick motions to me to take the second verse. It feels good. It’s within the meat of my voice, and if I can’t swing “Tumbling Dice” I should go back to my broom handle and my mirror.

A great group is always about chemistry. Up close the chemistry amongst these players is unique. Keith’s guitar plays off of Charlie’s drums, creating a swing that puts the roll back into the rock. This is the last of the rock ’n’ roll bands. Combine that with the most underrated songbook in rock history and the Stones have always stood heads above their competition. Still do.

I’m having so much fun and I can’t let anyone know! “You got to roll me . . . You got to roll me . . .” Mick and I are trading lines in the coda back and forth like a couple of white Sam and Daves, then it’s over. Mick says, “That was great.”

We played it exactly one time.

I went home. On the way home I kept thinking, “I GOTTA CALL STEVE! He will completely, one hundred percent, full-tilt, rock ’n’ roll crazy understand.” He did.

The next night we did it for twenty thousand thunderstruck New Jerseyans in Newark. It was a thrill but it didn’t have the mystic kick of the night before, when I got to sit in, in that little room with just those four guys, the GREATEST GARAGE BAND IN THE WORLD, in my small piece of rock ’n’ roll heaven.