Saturday, September 02, 2006

Specific Secrets of Geezer Rock

The Times UK
September 02, 2006

Jagger keeps on rocking as the lyrics roll up his auto-prompter
By Adam Sherwin, Media Correspondent

IT’S hard not to feel sympathy for the old devil. Sir Mick Jagger has succumbed to an on-stage Autocue in the battle against rock’n’roll amnesia.

A screen secreted among the 63-year-old rocker’s onstage monitors scrolls through the lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ classic songs in time with Jagger’s delivery. The prompt, used during the band’s £250 million-grossing tour, even tells him the name of the city where he is performing, and cues his between-song ad-libs.

Representatives of the band said that the screen was simply a prompt, allowing him to keep up the high-energy performances for which he is famed.

“He’s running all over the stage but if he gets a memory blank he can get back to the screen quickly,” a Stones source said. “He rarely needs it but it’s a back-up.”

A technician keeps pace with Jagger’s delivery, but after 40 years on the road, the screen may require close reading. He sang the same verse of Ruby Tuesday twice at last week’s concert in Glasgow during a show broadcast across the world by BBC Radio 2.

The Autocue allows Sir Mick to greet overseas crowds in their own language at prearranged breaks. The script suggested “Good evening London” at last month’s Twickenham shows.

The revelation cast new light on the lengths required to keep ageing rockers on the road. Oxygen masks are on permanent standby for Ozzy Osbourne, while the Beach Boys require backstage deep muscle massage from a licensed practitioner.

Autocues are a guilty secret. “Everyone uses them, from Macca to Elton,” said Brian Larter, managing director of Autoscript UK, which provides prompts for BBC newsreaders and rock stars. But discretion is vital. “Singers like to hide them in a front-of-stage monitor,” Mr Larter said. “You don’t want cameras to pick them up or let the audience see them or the gig can turn into karaoke.”

Like Jagger, most frontmen use the cue to cover for a brief mental blank or to prompt them to announce the next song on the set list. Reliance on a prompt, however, would seem to rise in proportion to career intake of drink and drugs. Brian Wilson, the Beach Boy who suffered mental illness through his experimentation with LSD, can perform only by sitting at a piano and reading the lyrics from a screen.

Axl Rose, of Guns N’Roses, has three cues placed strategically along the stage, alongside the band’s flame-throwers and explosives. Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays also requires onstage assistance.

Frank Sinatra pioneered the onstage teleprompter, continuing to perform until he was 80, despite a fading memory. Divas such as Barbra Streisand use a cue for their script and lyrics.

Some stars can turn failing memories into an artistic statement. David Bowie has an onstage lectern containing the lyrics to his most recent songs. Michael Stipe, of R.E.M, adopted the lectern, screwing up the paper lyrics and throwing them into the crowd at the end of each song.

But a spokesman for The Who, the latest 60-plus rock legends returning to the stage, said that Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend needed no onstage prompting to help them to perform their back catalogue.


Ozzy Osbourne An eye, ear, nose and throat doctor must be on site when Ozzy arrives at the venue. The doctor must be able to administer a B12 shot and Decadron (anti-inflammatory) shot. The venue must provide two oxygen tanks, two masks and two regulators

The Beach Boys A licensed masseur/masseuse, qualified in either Swedish or Oriental deep muscle massage, must be available on day of engagement or any day off the artists have in the city. No form of advertising shall contain the word “oldies” in conjunction with the artists’ logo.

Meat Loaf A mask and one small tank of oxygen, which needs to be charged and ready

Aerosmith The venue must provide names and phone numbers of a throat specialist, a physician fully qualified in internal medicine, an osteo-podiatrist and a licensed chiropractor

David Bowie The venue must ensure a dressing room temperature of between 14C and 18C

Paul McCartney One large arrangement of white Casablanca lilies with lots of foliage for a dressing room containing off-white furniture

Metallica Four oxygen tanks. These shall be portable and equipped with masks and regulators if not inclusive of tank. Very important that bacon be available at every meal and during the day

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