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January, 2008

The Shy Writer

A life with the Rolling Stones
By  Rosie Levine

It's a gas backstage with The Stone's but you have to know how to start up.
When it comes to the Rolling Stones, time is on my side -- specifically 5:30 pm.

That was the hour, on April 25, 1965, when my dear, sweet, terrified, Irish mom finally relented, allowing me to attend the Stones’ first Canadian gig at Maple Leaf Gardens. Having won contest tickets from a radio station, I’d promised my best friend, Dorothy, that we would be going to see the Rolling Stones.

I had no idea when I delightedly told my parents about my total luck in snagging fifth row seats, that my mom’s foot was comin’ down hard. To her, this band represented the devil. My dad though, was fairly cool about it, so I had to cajole, plead, threaten to leave home, promise to keep my room clean forever, etc. for mom to acquiesce.

Well, actually, it was the crucially embarrassing compromise to have my younger sister as my chaperone, which sealed the deal. After all, reasoned my mom, Jo-Ann was far more sensible than I in these matters. Jo loved the Beatles!

So, at 5:30pm, I called Dorothy, who for obvious reasons, no longer considered herself my best friend. I fell in love that night with the doomed Brian Jones.

The Toronto Star headlined its review -- Rolling Stones Show Violent And Vulgar! Hmmm. This was truly malignant -- well, at least about the violence. The article read, "Maple Leaf Gardens looked and sounded like an overcrowded dog pound. A frenzied 10,200 Toronto teenagers, incited by their singing idols, Britain's hairy Rolling Stones, did the yelping."

Looking back on this now, was the press calling us chicks “dogs?”!! As in what… ugly??… supportive of the underdogs.?? Chyeah!!!

Flash forward to August 10, 2005. At 5:30 pm… I am not kidding… I received a call asking if I’d like to see the Stones’ intimate “Thank you, Toronto” gig at the Phoenix?

Need I say more? This was an ongoing, revered, local tradition, following the band’s T.O. rehearsal prior to its global launch.

As if that offer weren’t enough, with a VIP wristband, I’m upstairs, where Mick’s paramour, L’Wren Scott is sitting at a table, behind which I’m dancing like a freaking maniac. (If you’ve seen that Elaine dancing episode on Seinfeld…say no more.)

It was during the 10-minute version of Bob Marley’s reggae anthem, Get Up, Stand Up, with the crowd thrusting its approval, that I went to Nirvana. Rock meets reggae – a message carried now by arguably -- no doubt -- the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.

For the longest time, I was so sure Mick was looking at me for dance inspiration... duh! It then dawned on me that it was Ms. L’Wren whose attention he was attracting. I was surprised, though, as the crowd sang along, she didn’t seem to know the words to the band’s… um… old songs. She is young, pretty and tall. I stole the “Reserved” cards when she and her bodyguard left the table. 

In between 1964 and 2005, I have, as a journalist, taken off for London, Ireland, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Marrakesh (but that’s another story… )

More relevantly, I covered the 1994 Voodoo Lounge press conference at New York's Chelsea Pier and then attended the post-Hollywood Bowl party; in 1997 hit the Horseshoe Club -- at 5:30pm -- for the Bridges To Babylon pre-tour gig; joked around with bass monster Daryl Jones and awesome singers Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer, about whom, of us, is the better pool player; watched backstage at the 2003 SARS Stones' benefit as Mick, Keef, Charlie and Ron played the political game; and admired the ever-subdued Charlie Watts jazz gig in Toronto with Fowler as his vocalist.

Most notably, for this humble journalist, was the stand-out moment when Mick Jagger, in 1997, intervened on my behalf at a Miramax, L.A. flak-controlled party for actor Helena Bonham Carter. It was at the Toronto International Film Festival -- at the exact moment security was about to toss us because we weren’t “American”... in walked Mick.

He knew I was Torontonian. He kept the wolves away and, when leaving, posed for an exclusive shot.

On September 26, oh-five, at -- yes -- 5:30 pm, I received a call. Would I like backstage passes for the Stones show at SkyDome? I had to pinch myself. I had not asked a soul for this. I dared not. It would be, somehow, challenging my pure, blind, Stone-d luck. Taking my dear friend Cathy was a treat. Kinda like making up for Dorothy.

We got yakking before we left home, and then arrived, barely in time for the pre-show closing of the backstage area. I lamented my habitual habit of lateness. I was greeted by Bernard Fowler and Blondy Chaplin. Cool.

And then I saw Gord Lightfoot!!!

He was backstage with his family. I politely asked for a picture, and in that time, we got to talking about peace and health. He was so for peace, and its sign, and two years ago so close to death. A machine, costing $12,000 was imported from England to stave off his departure. He was appalled that no such machinery was available in Canada.

In a wicked twist of fate, his health and my mom’s were tied together. She died, albeit peacefully, from the same type of embolism that hit him.

Backstage, I have never seen more people approach Mr. Lightfoot with a reverence reserved for Bob Dylan or a Rolling Stone.

As my friend Cathy and I left the SkyDome, walking towards the after-party, Al Carbone of Club Lucky and the Kit-Kat, tapped me on the shoulder. "You didn't have to wear white tonight," he laughed.

It was a quick ref to 1994, when he had called me -- of course, at 5:30pm!! -- and said his restaurant was catering the Stones’ pre-show gig -- this time at the Guvernment. If I could get there within an hour, he could smuggle me in as a caterer. I was there.

T.O.’s beloved, quixotic Greg Couillard was cookin’ and I was dicin’… vegetables that is. (For those who know me, the kitchen is where our liquor is kept. I know naught about choppin’; I also know that the fridge is cold, the oven hot.). When they dressed me in whites, I knew I was safe. I always wear black … (undercover in the night.)

And so, I served pizza to Keith Richards’ late dad and watched the lovely interaction between them; saw Ron Wood and his wife Jo celebrate their teenagers; observed shy, shy, shy Charlie Watts. Despite my mom’s worst fears, years later, these were nice people. Older… geezers… as am I.

But what's in our hearts sets us apart.
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Rosie Levine is a Toronto freelance writer and gossip columnist extraordinaire, having covered rock'n'roll and gossip for a host of Canadian publications for 25 years.

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