Monday, May 02, 2005


Squeezed into a seat beside two mammoth football-player-sized people with 79,999 screaming others in a stadium has never been my idea of fun. But, many years ago, when the Rolling Stones made an appearance at the Pontiac Silverdome, it was my privilege to cover the affair.

Today, the Silverdome is no more. I think it has been converted into some kind of a drive-in theater, but that sounds too ridiculous to be true. Eventually, it is said, the old dome will be razed and expensive new homes built in its place. That sounds like what is happening all over this country. Onward and upward!

My very first story for the newspaper where I worked for so many years was covering the groundbreaking of the Silverdome. It was just a field then, with a hill used by motorcyclists practicing their skills. I wandered about, watching the festivities, and after going home to change clothes, attended a cocktail party thrown by William Clay Ford, owner of the Lions, at the Kingsley Inn. I dutifully sipped cocktails and nibbled olives in this huge array of food and tried to get an interview with Ford, but he left the party early, so I was not able to impress my new Boss with my expertise as a reporter.

The Rolling Stones were equal to Elvis in bringing fans into the stadium. It wasn't easy for the authorities there to book an entertainer that would attract 80,000 people. But, the Rolling Stones were expected to do so, as Elvis did, as Michael Jackson did, as a few other superstars were capable of doing. For a while, the Lions brought in the fans. They had a winning streak, and enjoyed a great surge of popularity. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

When I was selected to cover the concert, it caused a huge rumpus among other employees of the newspaper where I worked. First, I was considered ancient, by the standards of the young people who were my fellow employees, too wizened by age to enjoy a concert. And, secondly, I was to be accompanied by..of all things..a police photographer! The other photographers were miffed, to say the least!

Ron was the official police photographer for a local department. His usual subjects were various criminals of differing degrees of wickedness, and dead bodies floating in open water, as well as other items of intense interest to his police superiors. But he was willing to not only provide the paper with pictures, but provide me with a modicum of protection from the mobs of strange people my boss decided might be Rolling Stone fans. He had visions of drug-drenched, middle-aged hippie flower children descending upon the Silverdome for one last Hurrah, and so he decided the police photographer would be perfect for the job.

It was a beautiful evening in Michigan that night, and the huge dome of the Silverdome glistened in the evening sun. Ron wore a bulletproof vest to discourage any stray missile that might come his way. I walked beside him unprotected, but alert for anything I might later be able to report as news. And I have to add that Ron was very disappointed, I think, because the fans were well-behaved and sociable, young or old.

About a week before the Rolling Stones concert, in an Ohio stadium, one person had been killed and several others seriously hurt in a "Crush". For some reason that I cannot remember, a packed stadium had undergone a major crisis and fans had rushed for the exits, all at the same time. The injuries had stemmed from people being trampled by the horde of people hysterically trying to reach safety.

Michigan's newspapers had reported this, and also voiced their worry that the same thing might happen at the upcoming Rolling Stones concert. One by one, the newspapers repeated this story, until it became the leading question....will the Rolling Stones concert be safe? Will people be trampled because of some unforeseen incident?

This evidently angered the Rolling Stones. Ron and I had no sooner found the Press Table, laden with food, which we attacked with great gusto, when we were ignominously booted out of the Silverdome! Mick Jagger had made his decision! No Press! Only one lonely radio station employee was allowed in the Press Section.

The Rolling Stones had brought along their own security, fearful that the Silverdome staff could not handle the problems. This security consisted of the roughest, toughest looking bunch of men I have ever seen. If you take a motorcycle gang and combine it with a wrestling team, it still wouldn't describe those men. They also spoke with a distinct twang...saying "Dose guys canna do dat!" and things of that nature.

So, there we were, out in the parking lot again. We considered just throwing in the towel, but I am never one to do that without a struggle. So, I happened to remember that I was acquainted with the manager of the Silverdome's restaurant. Her name was Helena and she was a charmer, beautiful and capable. I could imagine her directing her staff to prepare food for the Rolling Stones, and the thrill that would be for the young people working for her.

Helena was hesitant at first. The restaurant was closed, the tables and chairs stacked. The Rolling Stones wanted no one dining on soup or salads while they were performing! But, she finally allowed us to enter the restaurant, where we hid behind a huge, towering stand of tables.
The big glass window leading to the stage below gave us an excellent view of the proceedings. We missed the Press Banquet set out to feed the reporters and photographers, but Ron had a bag of potato chips and I had scarfed a couple of Cokes from the restaurant cooler. We were set. A private viewing.

Helena dropped by now and then to encourage us. I learned from her that the Rolling Stones had scorned the food prepared by her staff, who were all very disappointed. Instead, they had ordered in seafood....and that order was shipped in through the hordes of fans in the parking lot by, of all things, an ambulance, siren blaring, lights flashing. Hopefully, no one was having a heart attack until after the Rolling Stones enjoyed their meal.

But what a show! The lights alone were mind-boggling, like maybe forty Fourths of July rolled into one. Personally, I thought Mick Jagger looked a little bit like a middle-ager in skintight footie pajamas, but then his music was, as always, inspiring. He jumped around a lot, and of course, some members of the band looked Dracula mixed with Vampira, but one can't have everything!

We got our pictures. We got our story. But, as we relaxed and sipped our Cokes, we were suddenly discovered by one of the Stones' henchmen. Ron blustered a bit, showing his police badge, but it was obvious these men were not intimidated by mere policemen, so we once again left the Silverdome and visited the parking lot.

There, we sat a while, listening to the roars of delight from faithful fans to the tune of pounding drums, then we decided to go on home. A Rolling Stone, I reminded Ron, gathers no moss, so must keep moving.