The Sine Qua Non

I

In July 1972, Gary and I were in New York for opening night of the final dates on the Rollng Stones’ tour. We’d seen them seven times in five different cities. We knew the exact moment in Stevie Wonder’s opening set to break for the stage before the guards were positioned.

Large arena tours were still a new concept and crowd control techniques had yet to be perfected. The only method promoters employed in those days was to have faith people would stay in their assigned seats. They miscalculated.

(It should be noted after this Monday night performance, Tuesday’s concerts featured much heavier security with huge sheets of plywood blocking both ends of the aisles on the main floor. As well as all the entrances onto the floor.)

Crowds in the other cities had been a little unruly, a lot of jostling for position but nothing we couldn’t handle. We always made it to the lip of the stage. In Madison Square Garden, however, it was pure anarchy. We were surrounded by throngs of New Yorkers doing what they do best: push, push, push.

As the intermission was coming to an end Gary and I were five rows back. We realized this was the best we could do. Then the houselights dimmed and over the speakers came the dramatic, low-key announcer’s voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen….The Rolling Stones.”

With the opening strains of Brown Sugar I instantly found myself in an ever-tightening vise: surging hordes behind me, an immoveable stage to the front. I lost Gary in the mayhem and was pinned in by all of the humanity. My back was to the band though show business was not foremost on my mind at the moment. I searched for an exit route but couldn’t move. There was no way out.

Suddenly I felt an arm around my waist and in one fell swoop, someone pulled me backwards on to their chair. Everyone in the first rows was standing on their seats and the space where their feet once rested was now occupied by the influx of fans. We were packed so tightly I couldn’t turn to see who my captor was. But for the next hour a strangers arm around my bare midriff and a three inch sliver of a folding chair were my only security.

When the concert ended and the crowd began to thin I jumped from the chair and turned to meet the person who rescued me. He was a very cute high school senior on a date with his girlfriend. Although I gave him a perfunctory thank you over my shoulder when he pulled me from the scramble, I doubt if he heard me. Now I was effusive. I thought he’d spared me great harm and I was very grateful.

In a very sexy moment he gave me a sheepish smile. As if he’d enjoyed touching the forbidden flesh as we listened to the devil’s music. Sensing trouble his girlfriend quickly sprayed her territory, threw her arm around his shoulder and said, “come on honey, let’s go.”

In the midst of the chaos when I first landed on my perch they were still playing Brown Sugar. I was 10 feet away so I could finally see them clearly. When I looked at Charlie he seemed to be staring back at me. I thought I was imagining it because I didn’t think he could see through the lights. Real or not, we were locked in a stare down for quite some time.

Maybe he’d seen me being trampled and was worried about what was happening on the floor. Whatever the reason, I finally had the attention of one of The Rolling Stones and I wasn’t going to blow it. I continued to act as if things were perilous.

Then I thought better of it. If he was genuinely concerned I should at least let him know I was okay. So I dropped the act and flashed a big smile.

His reaction was immediate. With the coolest indifference he slowly turned his head to the side and stared off into the distance, never to look my way again.

In a very polite way Charlie Watts was telling me not to waste his time with my bullshit.

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