The Rolling Stones’ landmark album Some Girls was released thirty years ago today. In the liner notes that accompany the soundtrack to the recent documentary Shine A Light, Martin Scorsese writes, “When I was offered the chance to make a concert film with the Stones, I knew right away that I wanted to make it New York. For me, for many other people, they will always be a New York band.” The film was shot at New York’s Beacon Theater, which Keith Richards describes as one of his “favorite rooms” before launching into a version of “You Got the Silver.”
When I read Scorsese’s remark, I realized that I felt the same way about the Stones. I first became aware of the band when “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” started blaring from radios in the summer of ’74. It wasn’t the Stones’ most popular single ever — I don’t think it ever cracked the Top Ten — but something about the way it sounded — the thump of Charlie Watt’s drums and the sleazy lilt of the fuzzed and acoustic guitars — had me hooked. I have a vivid memory of hearing the song while stuck in traffic with a friend on the L.I.E. on the way to his parents’ weekend house in Remsenberg, Long Island. That friendship didn’t survive middle school, but my virtual friendship with the Rolling Stones has proven to be durable.
In honor of Scorsese’s remarks, I started putting together a list of the Stones’s most New York-y songs, and I quickly realized that the list was dominated by tracks from Some Girls. For me, the album is indelibly associated with the death of a beloved teacher named Paul-Philippe Bolduc, who taught me French during my high school years at Trinity School on New York’s Upper West Side.
M. Bolduc and I had a comically contentious relationship. I was always one of the top students in my grade, and I knew that he loved having me in a class, but by my junior year (1977-78), I was beginning to act out a little bit. I was already beginning to be a little bored of high school, I’m afraid. So when M. Bolduc wasn’t calling me “Si-roose” (the French pronunciation of my first name), he was calling me “The Weasel.” I know that sounds dreadful, but coming from him it really was a sign of affection. (Wow! I haven’t thought about that in almost thirty years!)
The night before the album’s release, I was at the senior prom, accompanying a friend with whom I had a non-romantic relationship. I no longer remember where it was held, though I have the image of a midtown, East Side disco in my mind. M. Bolduc was there, accompanied by Ms. Pappas, the willowy Greek teacher of linguistics who introduced me to Latin in the fifth grade. I have a memory of them trotting onto the dance floor — “trotting” is just the word to describe M. Bolduc’s lightness of step as he passed by. I don’t remember seeing his lifelong partner, Frank Smith, my high school Latin teacher, in attendance: I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there.
And then at some late in the night, there was a hubbub, and a crowd was gathered on the dance floor, and our principal Mr. Hanly was telling us that we needed to leave because there’d been an accident, and word spread through the crowd that M. Bolduc had collapsed on the dance floor and needed medical attention. We went downstairs and milled anxiously on the sidewalk. And then word filtered down that my beloved French teacher was dead.
Someone started crying. A lot of people started crying. I looked around in stunned disbelief. I ended up standing in the street with Rich Z., one of my friends from French class, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. After they had taken M. Bolduc away and it was clear that he really had died on the dance floor, Rich and I began to walk uptown. I’d forgotten all about my date (and she wasn’t happy about it, as she let me know a few days later). We wandered up Park Avenue, mostly in silence, and I ended up staying over at Rich’s house.
It was my first real encounter with death.
The next day, it was bright and sunny, and as I stood there on the sidewalk, the previous night’s events seemed unreal, hallucinatory. I wasn’t sure where to go. And then I remembered that the new Stones album was going on sale. So I walked down to Disc-o-Mat at Lexington and 59th Street, which had the best prices and sold new albums for $3.69. The album’s packaging was interesting, featuring what looked like ads for wigs on the front, with cutouts revealing faces that were actually printed on the inner sleeve. Some of the faces on the sleeve were celebrites: Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett, Raquel Welch. Others belonged to the Stones, superimposed onto other pictures. All of the faces had bright red lipstick. On the reverse of the album’s cover, the tracks were presented as if they were part of advertisements for lingerie. I couldn’t wait to open it.
Carrying my new Stones disc, I took a crosstown over to Broadway, then transferred to the 104 uptown (no “M” then, I don’t think), and on impulse got off and went to Trinity to see if there was anyone there with whom to commiserate. By the time I got home, it was evening, and I went straight to my room and cued up the disc. And when the wailing harmonic riffs of “Miss You” started coming out of my speakers, I was transported to another place and was grateful to be there. When I got to the track “Shattered,” I sat in stunned silence. I did feel shattered; I did feel like I was in tatters. And then I started to jump around, smiling. What was so great about M. Bolduc, I realized, was that he, more than anyone else I knew, embodied the idea of joie de vivre. He didn’t love rock ‘n’ roll, to be sure, but he would have wanted me to start dancing again. And so I did.
I would listen to the album constantly for the next-year-and-a-half, and gradually it became associated with a host of other moments. But listening to it today on its thirtieth anniversary brings the events of June 1978 back with a piquant immediacy.
The original cover of the album proved controversial, as some of the celebrities whose images appeared under the cut outs in the cover, protested at the unauthorized use of their likeness. The album was reissued with the words “Pardon Our Appearance. Cover Under Reconstruction” printed on the inner sleeve where some of the faces had been removed, and the letters showed through the cut-outs. Some of the faces were replaced with splashes of color. Eventually, I think, the inner sleeve was reworked again, this time only using the faces of the Stones. I was glad to have an original edition.
Today, a copy of the original 1978 vinyl release hangs framed on my wall. It isn’t, I’m afraid, the one I bought on that Friday of grief. That copy went the way of all things, most likely during my move to Berkeley in 1991. Thank goodness for EBay!
My list of favorite NYC Stones songs will appear in a later post.