BY GRACE MCQUADE
There’s been much written about the Rolling Stones over the years, but one Long Island writer’s take on the iconic rock band takes root in our own backyard.
In “Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue: The Rolling Stones and New York City,” to be published by Post Hill Press June 25, local author Christopher McKittrick explores how the rise and progression of the British rock group over the past 50 years closely parallels the evolution of New York City from the 1960s and beyond.
A Port Jefferson native and an entertainment writer who has interviewed industry luminaries, including M. Night Shyamalan, Nick Hornby, Richard Linklater, and Ed Burns, McKittrick took a phone break from his latest assignment in Los Angeles to discuss his book and fascination with the Rolling Stones.
“I always noticed that probably since 1975, when the Stones did a huge tour announcement by rolling a flatbed truck down Fifth Avenue playing ‘Brown Sugar,’ that they have announced most of their tours with major publicity stunts in New York,” McKittrick said about the inspiration behind his book. He pointed out that the Stones have done some of their biggest concerts in the area, with two upcoming shows at Met Life Stadium on Aug. 1 and Aug. 5.
“The Rolling Stones have this really strong connection to New York, and what’s even more apparent to me as someone who grew up here is how many references to New York are in the Rolling Stones’ songs,” McKittrick said, a fact that led to the title of his book.
“The reference that’s in the title, ‘Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue,’ is a line in the Rolling Stones’ song ‘Shattered,’ which is about the ‘70s’ dirty, grimy New York City,” he said. “The entire album that song comes from, ‘Some Girls,’ has about five or six songs on it that directly reference Manhattan or Central Park or something New York-related.”
This has always intrigued McKittrick about the Stones, so he decided to take a closer look at the band’s history, reading biographies and sorting through more than 50 years of interviews they gave to reveal how the group – and their second home, New York City – have changed since their very first visit.
“When they came here in 1964, they were sort of like the dirty cousins of the Beatles,” McKittrick said, noting that this resembled New York City in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, “having that element of danger, that element of rough around the edges.”
“When the Beatles arrived in the early part of 1964, they were already world famous at that point. They arrived here with screaming people at the airport and they already had hit songs in America,” McKittrick said. “When the Stones first came here a few months later, they didn’t have a hit single. They didn’t even have an album out.”
McKittrick said the Stones’ arrival was “anticlimactic” until they got to their tour’s final two shows at Carnegie Hall, which he described as “pandemonium” and “so crazy” that rock bands were banned from playing there for a year and the Stones were never invited back.
“So already they made an impression on New York right off the bat as kind of the bad boys of rock ‘n’ roll,” McKittrick said. “By the end of that decade, they were playing sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden multiple nights, which goes to show how much had changed for them in just five short years.”
In the 1970s, the Rolling Stones’ relationship with New York would only grow stronger, landing them on Long Island in the summer of ’75 to rehearse for the Flatbed Truck tour.
“That summer they rehearsed for the tour in Montauk… There’s a great Rolling Stones’ track on their ‘76 album ‘Black and Blue’ that’s titled ‘Memory Motel’… they took the title of that song from the Memory Motel in Montauk, which is still there.”
McKittrick said that one of the interesting things he uncovered from all of his digging into the Stones’ history was just how many myths there are about the group that are either untrue or embellished.
“The story about the Memory Motel is that the Stones went there every night and played pool and they wrote the song ‘Wild Horses’ in the bar, but you start looking at the dates and it doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “’Wild Horses’ came out several years before, so it was impossible for them to write the song there.”
McKittrick also revealed that while the Stones were out in Montauk, they didn’t actually stay at the Memory Motel, but were guests at Andy Warhol’s estate instead. But, he admits, “Memory Motel” is still “a great name for a song.”
By 1978, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were living in apartments in New York City, where they were often spotted at the poplar nightclub, Studio 54, and closely involved in the music scene of that era.
“So that’s why if you listen to the ‘Some Girls’ album, it’s got songs like ‘When the Whip Comes Down,’ which is so punk-influenced it could have been a Ramones song, and then you listen to the song ‘Miss You,’ which is so disco-orientated… that’s a Studio 54 song… and you can see them really tap into the different cultures of music in the city at that time.”
In the 1980s, McKittrick said there was a lot of infighting within the band, but they came back together in 1989 to do the Steel Wheels tour, which they announced at Grand Central Station and rehearsed for at Nassau Coliseum.
“Involved on that tour were six sold-out shows at Shea Stadium,” the same stage where the Beatles performed a concert in 1965, McKittrick said, “but the Stones did it six times in one tour. I’m sure they had a little bit of pride about that.”
Going into the ’90s, McKittrick said the Stones would keep doing their big publicity stunts in the Big Apple. They announced their Voodoo Lounge tour by arriving in a yacht at Chelsea Piers, the Bridges of Babylon tour in a vintage Cadillac under the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Licks tour by landing a blimp with their tongue logo on it in the Bronx.
“So there was always this idea that if they wanted to make a splash in terms of an announcement, New York was the place to do it,” McKittrick said, calling it the “media capital of the world.”
Today, McKittrick says the Stones are pretty much a corporation in terms of merchandising and ticket sales, comparing their transformation to New York City’s gentrification, particularly in Times Square, which is now often referred to as Disneyland East.
“When I was growing up, Times Square was not the place you’d want to go to and now it’s a No. 1 tourist destination when people come to New York,” he said, further illustrating the Stones’ and New York City’s parallel universes, going from gritty to glittery.
McKittrick’s own connection to the Rolling Stones began when he was a student at Gelinas Junior High School in Setauket and the Stones had filmed their Steel Wheels tour for the Imax movie, “Stones Live at the Max.”
“I went on a school field trip to the Museum of Natural History and we went to the Imax Theater to see some nature documentary,” McKittrick said. “They played the trailer for the Stones movie and it just blew me away… that’s where I got the bug and was like, ‘I need to know more about them.’”
McKittrick said he’s still into the Rolling Stones and all of their pageantry. “It’s really exciting to see that kind of stuff as a New Yorker,” he says about the one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time that hails from the other side of the ocean, “because they’re doing all this in New York.”
McKittrick will celebrate the launch of his book at two local events “to cover both sides of geographic Long Island,” he says. The first is a traditional bookstore appearance at Burton’s Bookstore, owned by one of his Hofstra University buddies, in Greenport on Saturday, June 29, from 1 to 3 p.m.
On Sunday, June 30, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., McKittrick will shake things up at SingleCut Beersmiths, a brewery in Astoria that serves rock ‘n’ roll-themed beers and is named after a guitar reference.
The events are open to the public and books will be sold. For more information about Christopher McKittrick and “Can’t Give It Away on Seventh Avenue,” go to chrismckitt.com, posthillpress.com or amazon.com.