I’ve never done a drug that wasn’t prescribed to me. While I realize that doesn’t really reduce my chances of death from drugs (just ask Michael Jackson…), it indicates my lack of reference points about drugs. I never did pot as a kid, even though some friends of mine and people I knew definitely did. I don’t even know where you’d get pot. They don’t sell it at Target, and no stores have signs out that say “we have pot,” so I’m at a loss.
The same is true for other, harder drugs. Being into rock and roll for a while, I know that drugs are simply rampant in that culture, but I have no idea where they come from. How do people get them? I’ve seen pictures of ecstasy tablets with little smiley faces on them, or stars, or question marks, even doves. That means they’re manufactured, but they’re illegal in the US. Is there some ecstasy factory in Bolivia or something? What the heck?
Suffice to say, my understanding of the drug culture is pretty small. I’ve never been tempted to try them, and I’ve never even had the opportunity. I guess I just wasn’t cool enough as a teenager. The Rolling Stones do a lot of songs about drugs, more than any other band I’m into next to Velvet Underground. As such, I’m only able to enter into a song like “Sister Morphine” so far before I’m in foreign territory.
“Sister Morphine” was first recorded in 1969 by British pop singer Marianne Faithfull, who was another of Mick Jagger’s romantic entanglements during the late 60s. That guy just couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants. Faithfull was a smalltime singer who rode the Rolling Stones wave until it hit the shore. She was part of the London social scene in ’66, at latched herself onto the Stones after being “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager. Her version of “Sister Morphine” sold drearily, not helped by that only 500 copies of the single were pressed. Its writing was credited to the Jagger/Richards team, though Marianne helped pen the lyrics, receiving no credit until 1994. The Stones did their own version in 1971 on Sticky Fingers.
It’s a pretty haunting song, though I didn’t think much of it the first few times I heard it. But when I actually paid attention to the lyrics, I found it to be fairly terrifying. Particularly creepy is the way the narrator refers to drugs as “sister” and “cousin.” Other songs about cocaine and the like that are cautionary tales tell their stories from a high and mighty perspective, accidental though it may be. This is different because the terror of drug addiction feels lived in.
At the cap is “Moonlight Mile,” a hidden gem in the Stones’ discography. After all the posturing of songs like “Under My Thumb” and “Miss Amanda Jones,” the raunchy philandering of “Honky Tonk Women” and “Stray Cat Blues,” and the plastic emotion of “Ruby Tuesday” and “As Tears Go By,” we’ve come to expect a certain character from the Rolling Stones. We think we know them, but they surprise us here on Sticky Fingers. It starts on “Wild Horses,” but “Moonlight Mile is where we truly meet them, and find out they have throbbing hearts and actual vulnerability.
“Moonlight Mile,” unlike any Stones song to come before it, is free of any contrivance, sexuality, or smirking humor. It comes from a place of naked honesty. Through the lyrics, we see that the singer may be a rock and roll superstar, having all the sex and drugs a guy could want, but he’s still, at the end of the day, just lonely. But there’s more. The song is not mired in melancholy and despair, but instead gives a hint of steadfast hope. That hope exists because there’s a girl, and the singer’s “just about a moonlight mile on down the road” from her. He’ll get to her soon, and things will be better.
While Sticky Fingers might have been preparation for the glorious blast of blues, drugs and freedom that is the winner-take-all opus Exile On Main St., to think of it as a mere intro for something greater is to do Sticky Fingers a disservice. It’s a great achievement just on its own merits, and has a definition and form that not many albums have anymore. You can see the Stones letting down the walls here. While they would be completely gone with the next album, Sticky Fingers is a very important step on the journey, one that makes the trip complete.