24. The Rolling Stones - Shattered

As I get older, I find that I am respecting The Rolling Stones more and more.  They're a band that I dismissed when I was younger as old guy music.  Mick Jagger was more of a charicature of himself and Keith Richards was just a medical miracle - proof that constant physical and pharmacological abuse of the human body doesn't always end in death.  Ron Wood looked like the guy with the weird hair that they brought up from the audience to play a guitar that wasn't plugged in, Bill Wyman was my math teacher on bass while Charlie Watts was my grandpa on drums (and four drums at that!).  I never really gave them a fair shake until about ten years ago, when I started listening to their music and judging it on its merits, rather than letting my preconceptions get in the way.  So now I'm on board.  There is pure genius in there, and lots more than I ever gave them credit for.  So I am a much bigger Rolling Stones fan than I was. 

Although there are more critically acclaimed songs released during my lifetime, "Shattered" is the one that has always impressed me the most.  It may not be the most perfectly crafted song, but that's exactly why it's on my list.  The entire song oozes casualness.  A guitar sound has never matched the personality of its player better than Keith Richards and his 1975 Fender Telecaster.  You can almost picture the guitar smoking a cigarette and mumbling, all the while drinking shots of Jack Daniels.  There's something about the guitar sound in "Shattered" that just blows me away.  It's deceptively simple, but it matches the style of Mick Jagger's vocals perfectly.  Although Keith Richards always said that no matter what guitar he got, "give me five minutes and I'll make 'em all sound the same."  But not in "Shattered."  The guitar sound is so liquid that it melts all over Mick's vocals, like syrup dripping down your fingers.

The whole song is written as if they were performing it on the streets of Manhattan.  There's absolutely no studio feel to "Shattered."  It seems like Mick is just making up the lyrics as he goes along, delivering so many of the lines in that improvisational matter, as if he's just impressed himself with that cool line he just sang.  In keeping with the band-on-the-streets theme, when the guitar solo comes along, it's easy to imagine Mick taking a few drags from a cigarette or sipping some coffee to combat the cold wind rushing down Fifth Avenue. What a kick it would be if they actually did that - all bundled up, with just two drums and a cymbal for Charlie, a couple little kicker amps for Keith and Ronnie.  Heck, they don't even need a bass player.  And Mick just doing it all without any amplification at all.  What a great experience that would be.

Anyway, back to the music.  Charlie Watts plays the drums like he's just a timekeeper, staying out of the way of the rest of the band.  Bill Wyman's bass playing is forceful, but relatively simple.  He helps match the pace of the drums with some quick playing of his own.  The rhythm section of The Stones has always been utilitarian, but also rock solid.  Again, guys putting their own egos aside for the good of the band and the song. 

The lyrics work so well with the way that Mick delivers them.  There are so many lines that, when sung, sound off the cuff as if they just occurred to him.  Every time he sing-songs "Life's just a cocktail party," I just love it.  So many singers lose themselves in the precision of hitting the notes that phrasing and inventiveness fall by the wayside.  Not with Mick.  Many people complain that he's not all that great a singer and I would vehemently disagree.  He's not a great technical singer, but he brings a depth to his vocals that have inspired countless others, most notably U2's Bono.  Neither could hold a flame to the vocal perfection of a Harry Connick Jr., but singing just isn't the notes, now is it?  I also love the backing vocals.  The way the "shadoobies" and the "shattered"s are sung by one backing vocalist while spoken by another also adds that street vibe to the song.  And "Shattered" is all about the street vibe, both musically and lyrically.

"Shattered" is an ode to late 70's New York.  Manhattan in 1978 was much different than it is today.  The streets were not as safe, clean or as nice as they are now, nor were they as homogeneous or corporate.  The streets had soul in the 70's and 80's.  When Mick says that his town (New York has always been his American "home") is in tatters, he's not too far off the mark.  Late 70's New York was a living dichotomy - the richest and poorest all thrown together - a primordial stew of the human condition.  Hope and despair were bedmates.  Mick captures that sentiment brilliantly:

Love and hope and sex and dreams
Are still surviving on the street
Look at me, I'm in tatters!
I'm shattered 

So even though he's in tatters and the whole world is falling down around him, that unbreakable New York symbiosis of optimism/pessimism persists, and this guy isn't even from New York!  One of the trademark songs about New York in the late 70's was written by a guy from Dartford, Kent, England.  But he encapsulates it so well he might as well be a New Yorker:

Pride and joy and greed and sex
That's what makes our town the best
Pride and joy and dirty dreams and still surviving on the street 

All of those things are still surviving on the street, thirty years later.  Even though it was a song written for a specific period and place, "Shattered" can resonate still to any big city.  And I still love its style, which still sounds improvised and fresh, even after listening to it dozens of times.

For the longest time, when The Stones played "Shattered" live they played it much quicker than the album version and I really don't like it.  They've taken the casual nature of the original and tried to turn it into a rock song.  Many songs are better live (like "Secret World" by Peter Gabriel), but this isn't one of them.  I do, however, have to give them some props for the version that they play of "Shattered" much more recently.  After poring through a bunch of YouTube videos, I finally found a live version that I really liked, so I thought I"d share it, too.

I have to admit that the pun was definitely unintended about the syrup running down your fingers.  Sure, part of my brain knew that The Stones had an album called Sticky Fingers, but honestly, I was just trying to come up with a thicker, slower moving liquid that fit the visual metaphor I was trying to describe.  I'm not as smart as you might have thought...
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