The other night I was watching Freaky Friday for the umpteenth time. (Don’t judge me.) Towards the end of the movie, the daughter, played by Lindsay Lohan, takes the stage at the House of Blues with her band, but because she is actually living inside her mother’s body (and vice versa), she has no idea how to play the guitar. In her attempt to fake her guitar mastery, she emulates the Rolling Stones – the only rock concert she (her mother) has ever attended. One of my favorite episodes of Mad Men is when the Heinz people enlist Don Draper to convince the Rolling Stones to sing "Heinz is On My Side" in a television commercial. These allusions got me thinking. When it comes to identifying the quintessential rock and roll band, it seems that it always comes down to the Stones.
The simple reason that there are so many Stones-related references in television and movies could be due to their longevity. Chalking up 50 years with no sign of slowing down certainly elevates any band to iconic status. Because they’ve been around so long, everybody recognizes their music. It’s familiar, and familiarity is comforting. For many of us, music triggers memories and emotion that many film/TV directors use to their advantage.
The Rolling Stones are the most recognized and the arguably greatest rock and roll band of all time. Their appeal and emotional resonance could also work at the unconscious level. In the documentary Crossfire Hurricane, Keith Richard says, "The Beatles got the white hats. What's left?” he asks. “The black hat."
Perhaps Keith is touching upon the Shadow Archetype, the darker side of our unconsciousness. This archetype symbolizes the wildness, turmoil, and madness that reside in all of us. The Stones music, along with the band’s image, tap into our collective unconscious. Carl Jung argues that when an archetypal situation occurs, we feel an extraordinary sense of release. The wild, bad-boy persona of the Stones may have started as a marketing tool, but it has endured because we connect to it as a shared heritage of human experience, making them an ideal and effective pop-cultural reference.
Martin Scorsese seems to exploit this shadowy aspect of the Stones. An obvious Stones fan, Scorsese frequently uses their songs in many of his films, including the darker scenes. One of my brethren from Shidoobee, an online community of Stones fans, pointed out Scorsese’s subtle use of the song “Let It Loose” in The Departed. A moody, slow song from Exile on Main Street, “Let it Loose,” for me, elicits a tender response. Scorsese, on the other hand, plays it in the background as Jack Nicholson smashes Leonardo DiCaprio’s already broken hand with a boot. Ouch!
Whether musical associations are lighthearted or sinister, when you think of rock and roll, nine times out of ten, it always comes down to the Stones.