By Shawn “Speedy” Lopes
When my package arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I immediately ripped open the envelope, hoisted its contents up to my nose and sniffed it. Deeply. I’m not sure why, but I suppose I just wanted to know what 1973 smelled like.
I had never seen a vintage copy of Rolling Stone magazine in its original all-newsprint format up close before and its previous owner was either very careful or just plain lucky as its keeper. While slightly yellowed around the edges, it was a surprisingly well-preserved relic, considering its age.
Mick Jagger was the cover boy for the March 1, 1973 issue. He stood on the deck of a schooner, adrift in the Pacific, staring out at the coast of Honolulu, Diamond Head off in the distance. “The Rolling Stones in Paradise: Honolulu on $1700 a day” was the title of the cover story, written by Ben Fong-Torres, photos by Annie Leibovitz.
I had intended this magazine to be a literary guide to my newly purchased copy of The Rolling Stones in Exotic Honolulu, a blue vinyl bootleg LP, purchased rather impulsively one night while browsing eBay. The mag cost me $11.99 plus $4 shipping and handling (in all, more than 26 times its original cover price), while the illicit recording set me back sixty bucks.
You see, as historic as this concert may have been (There were actually three shows played on two separate days at the Blaisdell Arena, or Honolulu International Center, as it was known then), it was before my time. Way, way before my time, actually. So I had no firsthand or even secondhand information on the show. In fact, until I’d encountered a poster of the event online, I had no knowledge of it whatsoever.
It set my imagination racing, though. What could it have been like to have experienced the world’s biggest, most infamous band at the HIC way back in ‘73? What did it sound like? What did the crowd look like? What did it feel like to be there? Aside from a thousand kindled doobies, what did it smell like, even? Without a time machine or a sudden psychic episode, I’ll never truly know, but maybe these purchases might give me a glimpse of the scene in my mind’s eye. That’s what I was thinking, anyway.
As part of the Rolling Stones’ 1973 Pacific Tour, the Honolulu shows were produced as insurance against cancelled performances in Japan and Australia. The previous year’s American tour brought with it an onslaught of bad press: riots, clashes with police, arrests on Jagger and Keith Richards and a bomb explosion. Naturally, authorities were fearful such events might follow the band. Though Australia conceded at the 11th hour, Japan refused to allow Jagger to enter the country, citing a prior drug conviction.
And so just one week after the worldwide broadcast of Elvis’ landmark “Aloha From Hawaii” concert at the HIC, Honolulu audiences were treated to a triumvirate of Rolling Stones shows January 21 and 22, with an 8 pm show Sunday the 21st and an all-ages 6 pm show as well as a 10 pm performance on Monday the 22nd, their first Hawaii engagements since 1966.
For all the great photos and insider reporting in the Rolling Stone feature, the most evocative description of the Stones’ 1973 appearances in the 808 that I could dig up was from an obsessively researched fan piece from Sticky Fingers fanzine, posted online, that linked to a Sunbums review. I have never actually seen an issue of Sunbums (again, before my time), but from what I’ve been told, it was a Hawaii-based publication from the 1970s with a bountiful history of music journalism. This is where I found the vivid account I had been looking for.
“They were dressed, not like the East or West Coasts do for any concert, much less for THE STONES, for which all the swish and finery and chunky, jangly jewels and colors and hairs are polished and prepared — to look properly casual and cool, of course,” wrote Sunbums writer Jennifer Kerr. “But Hawaii people look like they almost forgot they were going tonight and they just grabbed the teeshirt or aloha shirt or shrink top and shorts or jeans that were on the top pile of the drawer or dumped on the bed.”
She goes on to say “A few people dress and stand out all the more: a stunning black, all in white with a big flop hat, a girl with glitter all around her eyes.”
Another outstanding review for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin by Beverly Creamer, which rivals anything Rolling Stone published on the event, can be found on the same Sticky Fingers page, as can articles penned by Ron Youngblood, Ken Rosene and Wayne Harada. I marvel at the resourcefulness and dedication of Harold Colson, author of the exhaustive fan piece, which boasts a number of articles dug up from microfilm catalogs.
As for the bootlegged album, The Rolling Stones in Exotic Honolulu starts with a bang to the familiar opening riff of “Brown Sugar”, without any banter or vacillating, which corroborates Kerr’s review. From there, the hits keep coming: “Bitch”, “Tumbling Dice”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Sound-wise, it’s not awful, as bootlegs go. Someone probably smuggled a portable recorder in and planted themselves a decent distance from the speakers, would be my guess. The wild, chimerical artwork comes courtesy of visionary artist William Stout.
This YouTube upload of “It’s All Over Now” from the Sunday show doesn’t quite match up with the version on my LP, which probably means my bootlegged recording was taken from either one or both of the second day’s shows. Not that the details matter much to me. I wasn’t there anyway, can’t say I was there, and will never truly know what it was like to have been there, and as with many momentous Honolulu musical events of yore, I just wish I’d been born earlier.
This Gen-X life ain’t all bad though. Thankfully, I exist in an age where, through the power of the Internet, one can view, gather and collect a number of artifacts, as an online archaeologist of sorts. With some luck, you might, to a degree, live a past event you never actually experienced. Just be prepared to pay $75 (that’s $14.07 in 1973) or more for the privilege.