The censors targeted you when the stamina of rebellious youth had receded into venerable old age. The censors attacked you from an unaccustomed flank, the Left. And the censors caught you while you were heartbroken, mourning the loss of your brother and bandmate, Charlie Watts.
Yes, there had been concessions along the way, such as Ed Sullivan demanding you change the lyrics to “Let’s Spend the Night Together”; a public uproar compelling changes to some of the promotional materials for the album Black and Blue; among sundry other concessions to the times. But overall, as the original bad boys of rock-n-roll, you practiced what you preached: artistic and personal freedom.
True, you’d fought the Battle of “Brown Sugar” before, back when the song was first released in 1971 on the album Sticky Fingers. Then, too, the censorious critics pounced, but you shrugged them off with a flick of the proverbial finger and bounded away unscathed into legend. You damn sure were going to walk before they made you run.
Fifty years later, with licks picked by gnarled fingers and aged muscles girded for a final prance before audiences around the globe, you let your guard down; and, by cancelling “Brown Sugar” for the sake of an illusory peace with the censors, at the very time you sought to cap your career with triumphal concerts, you opened the door for your life’s work to be cancelled.
The self-anointed, anti-social, woke scolds who have handsomely monetized their savior neuroses smell blood. If you think “Brown Sugar” will be the end, think again. “Under My Thumb,” “Stupid Girl,” “Some Girls.” “When the Whip Comes Down”—the list of your next cancelled songs goes on, but it will get worse.
Scrubbing part of your art won’t suffice for the virtue signaling censors, for cancelling these songs is the incremental manner in which they cancel you: the songs will serve as evidentiary exhibits to eradicate you from the culture for being racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. The woke censors agree that your art is a part of you. And if your art is “offensive,” well, so are you.
And, of paramount importance, the woke must grub every buck and click from their puritanical lust as they stuff down the memory hole any speech and art that doesn’t conform to their warped, stultifying ideology. You are a gilded piñata for the censors; and their brickbats won’t stop until you are eviscerated and cancelled.
In your remarks on the matter, you sense the misstep in your reluctance to officially admit defeat. Per USA Today: “We’ve played ‘Brown Sugar’ every night since 1970, so sometimes you think, ‘We’ll take that one out for now and see how it goes,’” Mick rationalized. “We might put it back in.”
The incorrigible individualist Keith echoed the sentiment: “‘I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track,’ Richards told the LA Times.” But, as is his wont, Keith was also brutally honest as to why “Brown Sugar” had been sheltered in a safe house at the “Memory Motel”: “At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this.” Nor should you. But there are no safe houses in the Left’s “safe space,” for the Left has no sympathy for you devils.
This open letter is not meant to add to your burdens. It is a caution, about what is to come—not only for you, but for every artist and, indeed, every citizen.
These inquisitors want to silence art and speech, even as all the while they deny they are censors. Instead, they vainly claim they are “educators” and “healers,” based largely upon their fallacious assertion that the exposure to art is an incitement to violence. Of course, Frank Zappa dropped the mic with his riposte: “There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we’d all love one another.”
At root, ultimately every censor is a narcissistic collectivist who wants to coerce you into groupthink. They are the antithesis of the rock-n-roll ethos of rebellious, joyous individualism. Back in the 80s, Frank Zappa, John Denver, Dee Snider, and others fought them over explicit lyrics warning labels. As current events prove, it was a Sisyphean struggle. The heirs of a legacy of censorship ranging from the Spanish Inquisition to the Parents Music Resource Center are today everywhere and banning damn near everything, including “Brown Sugar.”
Back in your early days, the establishment’s attempts to censor you went as far as framing you up to silence you in prison cells. But it was elements of the same establishment that also came to your defense and, thus, to its senses. The present censors have no such senses to which they can return.
Fairer-minded folks should not judge your commitment to artistic freedom based upon this singular episode. You have suffered for your art; and for your fans’ right to enjoy it. And while understanding and acknowledging your reasons, one can still wish you had once more stood your ground for artistic freedom. Could there have been any more appropriate coda for the Rolling Stones’ legacy than for the “Greatest Rock-n-Roll Band in the World” to tell the critics, censors, and stiffs to kiss its ass one last time?
I’ll see you in Detroit.