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The Rolling Stones' disturbing track about an underage girl

Back in the liberated boom of the 1960s, Lori Maddox was a groupie to the stars. Inspired by Sable Starr, she audaciously dove headfirst into the surge of the sixties swinging rock ‘n’ roll scene. As she recounts, “Sable lived to fuck rock stars. She was so glamorous, totally one-of-a-kind, wearing scarves for shirts and going topless without hesitation. My junior high school friend Queenie became friends with Sable and introduced me. I was 14. Sable was the same age. I felt completely in awe of her.”

Once Maddox was under the spell of the awe-inspiring Sable, she dipped her toe into the hedonistic nightlife of Los Angeles and encountered rock stars aplenty. The happenings thereafter are a disturbing footnote of the times, where naivety and the furore of the zeitgeist rubbed shoulders with the nettlesome reality of a lack of judicious control, the manipulative edge of stardom and profoundly problematic question marks that plague the underbelly of the period. 

This is why the lyrics to ‘Stray Cat Blues’ from around the same period really prick up the ears. The track is from the album Beggars Banquet and the song sheet reads: “I can see that you’re fifteen years old / No I don’t want your ID / You look so restless and you’re so far from home / But it’s no hanging matter / It’s no capital crime.”

Those are undeniably thorny lyrics, but by the time that The Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour of the USA came around, they got even thornier as Jagger reduced the age down to 13. “I can see that you’re only 13,” the song would go, “I bet your mama don’t know that you scratch like that / I bet she don’t know that you can bite like that.”

Devon Wilson, who was a groupie of the time and reportedly had relations with Mick Jagger, told David Henderson in the book ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky: “You know the song, ‘Stary Cat Blues’? [Jagger] told me he wrote it about a certain chick. He said he usually doesn’t write like that, but he had this one particular lady in mind. When he was in California the girl called him and said, ‘Thanks for writing that song about me’. He was shocked because he didn’t think she could have recognised herself. But she did and it completely freaked him.”

Of course, this story is difficult to corroborate; however, what is perhaps most indicative of the time is how little an impact such an obscene and incendiary song had upon release. Even if it was written to test the provocative limits of rock ‘n’ roll, the fact that nobody batted an eyelid and it was merely fobbed off as album filler is indicative of the dark side to the hedonism of the day. 

The reason for this is that within the cultural race for daring liberation, there was an undertow of disgraceful elements that regrettably went along for the ride, and there is no hint of liberalised millennial scathing cynicism about looking back questioningly at that. The past was the past, and that much is set in stone, however, unabated eulogising of the truly brilliant elements of the era and the artistic feats that The Rolling Stones and other musicians achieved should not allow for history to scrub off the asterisks attached.

This was a time when the pro-paedophilic North American Man/Boy Love Association had attachments to well-known figures like Allen Ginsberg, and pornographic publications like OZ were happy to run with the Schoolkids edition edited by sixth formers. Thus, regardless of the unprovable elements of this story, artists should have been racing to condemn this despicable undertow rather than salaciously revelling in it for effect or otherwise.

That much is not retrospective but rather morally obvious, and the sanguine hue of nostalgia should not gloss over it.

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