On this earth, few things reach the level of unmistakable greatness in their category.
There is no greater city than New York. There is no greater band than the Rolling Stones. Bring the debate, you won’t get far.
In the book, Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue — The Rolling Stones And New York City, author Christopher McKittrick gives a blow-by account of the intertwined histories of “Fun City” and the band. He attacks it like Melville describing the intricacies of dealing with whale blubber in Moby Dick. There is mention of not only every show they played in the city, but also shows band members saw in the city and hopped on stage for, tour announcements, recording sessions, the shows of solo tours, of ex-members and of the differing setlists played during multi-night stands.
Diehard fans will love all the details.
Jagger exasperates Truman Capote, ending his career as a rock journalist. Wood appears on stage to play with Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty & the Heartbreaks in the summer of ‘85. While recording Dirty Work in 1985 Lower Manhattan, the band’s studio had a revolving door. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Tom Waits, Bobby Womack and Don Covay were all in the area and made contributions to the album. There are countless short quips, musical icons paling around with musical icons.
Rifling through the newspapers of the time, McKittrick gives the pulse of the New York City press. The band have long held hero status; it’s hard to imagine critics ever writing off any of their previous work, but they did. Skeptical from day one, due to the group arriving on the heels of the Beatles, the press rarely gave the band all-around high praise. Their early antics never helped. When McKittrick highlights venues they played, he’ll continue with a full-forward history of the place, its changes and renovations, up to its current form of use.
What’s interesting here, outside of most accounts of the Stones, is the period in the early-80s to the mid-90s.
Jagger and Richards were at odds over solo careers and, in real-time, the band always felt a step from dissolution. For much of that time Jagger, Richards, Woods and even Watts with his jazz ensemble, lived and recorded in the City, sometimes merely blocks apart.
The underrated Tattoo You, released in ‘81, is actually a collection of scrapped demos leftover from the previous year’s Emotional Rescue. They wouldn’t work together as a unified force in the studio until Steel Wheels in 1989. The Jagger-Richards split was most visible during 1985’s Live Aid Philadelphia concert. Practicing for the gig in Manhattan, Jagger sung with Hall & Oates, while Wood and Richards played with Bob Dylan. McKittrick shows how creatively active these individual musicians were, even though the group was on a downturn.
It’s fascinating how the Stones’ history aligns with New York City’s.
From its clean-cut early days into the seedy 70s and 80s, then transforming into the big business arena it is today. New York City and especially Times Square is today the world’s number one family-friendly tourist vat and headquarters for much of the entertainment world. Likewise, the Rolling Stones have tidied up an image that survived Altamont, shifting musical ideologies like disco, punk and hip-hop, infighting and a wilting music industry to reign as the world’s touring juggernauts and writers of our history’s most important music.
McKittrick gives a gift to lifelong Stones fans with this book, a sort of bibliography of the facts and hard figures that have accumulated with legend. Can’t Give It Away is McKittrick’s first book. He writes about film and music for a number of outlets and lives in Los Angeles, though he is a native New Yorker.
Go further with IMP’s interview with Chris McKittrick from 2019 here.