Exhibitionism, the Rolling Stones exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery, is all show and no tell. Fair enough for an exhibition, you might say, and especially for an exhibition which draws attention to its own showiness by giving itself that title. That’s not to say that it’s unenjoyable. In many respects it’s great. There’s a load of Stones stuff to look at and there’s a load of Stones stuff to hear – it’s feast for any Stones fan.
Too much of it, though, stays on the surface, and I left the exhibition having had a good time but not knowing much more about The Stones. I did, though, leave convinced of two things.
- The Rolling Stones may or may not be the greatest rock and roll band in the world but they are, without doubt, the greatest rock and roll BRAND the world is ever likely to see. I had to shut my eyes as I walked through the merchandise store.
- It’s the music that matters and, for me, it stopped mattering after 1971. Their best hits from the 60’s, together with Let It Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street are all I really need.
I also left the exhibition reminded of my only personal contact with the great band.
A few years ago we were going by Eurostar to the South of France. At St Pancras we sat down to have a coffee and were joined by a couple of blokes. One of them was pretty old and had done his level best to look like Bill Wyman. I kept looking at him and discreetly nudged my wife and asked her if she thought the same. Given that she didn’t know who Bill Wyman was, this was not a smart move. We boarded the same train as the blokes and ended up sitting not too far away from them. I now had a chance to explain to my wife who Bill Wyman was (leaving out, for the sake of decency, a few details about his personal life) and to make a couple of trips to the gents to see if the bloke in question was a Bill Wyman lookalike or possibly the very man himself. I came to the conclusion that it was, in all probability, the man himself.
My wife who, until very recently, had not known who Bill Wyman was, now felt like an old friend. She encouraged me to say hello, but I, having always preferred feigning nonchalant indifference to naked fawning when in the presence of celebrity, was less keen on the idea.
We were changing at Lille and so, it transpired, were the two blokes. As we stood by the door with our bags waiting for the train to pull in my wife kept nudging me and I summoned up the courage to make an approach.
Not wanting to appear too obvious, I opened with this question. “I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you look like someone I think I should recognise. Am I right?”
The bloke smiled. “You mean, am I Charlie Chaplin?”
“Exactly,” I said, “Are you Charlie Chaplin?”
“You’re right,” he said. “I am Charlie Chaplin”
I was pleased with the way I had gone about it – subtle, knowing, and with none of the autograph-hunting of the star-struck fan.
We got off the train together and walked to the connecting platform. I headed off to buy a coffee leaving my wife with Bill and his mate. By the time I had got back, she had not only struck up a long conversation, she had also managed to get his autograph.
I had also been reminded of Bill Wyman’s great solo hit from the 70’s.
“I’ve just realised,” I said to Bill as I gave my wife her coffee, “where you’re going. And I’ve just remembered your song.”
Bill smiled. And then, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, I quoted these lyrics to the man who wrote them.
“Je suis un rock star
J’ avais un residence
J’ habite la
A la south de France”
Bill smiled again, and broke into a laugh. I like to think he was laughing with me, rather than at me.