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Rolling Stones' 'Exhibitionism' is worth the trip to Manhattan

W hen the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Mick Jagger quoted French avant-garde poet Jean Cocteau in his acceptance speech.

The Rolling Stones in London in 1963, from the band's New York pop-up museum show 'Exhibitionism.'
The Rolling Stones in London in 1963, from the band's New York pop-up museum show 'Exhibitionism.'Read more

W hen the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Mick Jagger quoted French avant-garde poet Jean Cocteau in his acceptance speech.

"Americans are funny people," the quintessential front man said as he prepared to enter what he referred to as Cleveland's "waxworks of rock." "First you shock them, then they put you in a museum."

That cheeky quote is heard as part of the introductory film that slyly acknowledges the idea behind "Exhibitionism," the pop-up memorabilia-and-more Stones show which, after five months in London, has just opened in lower Manhattan. If you're as august an institution as the Rolling Stones, why not cut out the middleman and open a pop-up museum of your own?

That's the multimedia "Exhibitionism," curated by Ileen Gallagher, formerly with the Rock Hall.

It features an art-installation recreation of the unkempt bachelor pad in the Edith Grove section of London that Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones shared in 1963, complete with dirty dishes, overstuffed ashtrays, and vintage Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry albums. (It's done with much more flair and wit than the similarly conceived facsimile of the CBGBs bathroom in the 2013 Metropolitan Museum of Art's punk show.)

There's a guide to the band's cinematic history with critical commentary by superfan Martin Scorsese - from Robert Frank's infamous 1972 tour documentary with the unprintable title to Scorsese's 2008 concert film Shine a Light. For fashionistas, a costume section includes remarks by John Varvatos, Anna Sui, and Tommy Hilfiger, and possibly Jagger's chicest outfit: the Philadelphia Eagles jersey he wore on stage during the "Tattoo You" tour in 1981.

"Exhibitionism" arrives at a time when the most enduring of rock bands has swung back into the popular consciousness.

Last month, the Stones - whose four core members' average age is 72 - earned rave reviews as headliners at Desert Trip, the Indio, Calif., fest known as "Oldchella," where they followed Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan on stage. (In the cover story in the current Rolling Stone, Ron Wood said he told the Bard he deserved the honor, to which Dylan replied, "Do I?")

Throughout 2016, the Stones have gotten plenty of unwanted free publicity, as now President-elect Donald Trump, despite numerous complaints from the band, continued to fire up supporters at his rallies with "Brown Sugar," "Start Me Up," and, in particular, "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the latter a puzzler as it's a celebration of settling for a second choice.

In the wee hours of election night, Jagger tweeted: "Maybe they'll ask me to sing 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' at the inauguration, ha!" And this week, the subject of Trump couldn't be avoided: "Everyone outside the U.S. is kind of mystified," Jagger told the Associated Press when asked about the election. "I'd say that's the polite word."

On the red carpet Tuesday, he added: "I'm not Donald's DJ."

All of that attention, for better or worse, sets up the release of Blue & Lonesome, their first studio album since A Bigger Bang in 2005. It's also the most pure expression they've ever released of the blues aesthetic that shaped them.

The album, recorded in three days in December at Mark Knopfler's studio in London, is the first all-covers collection of their career, featuring songs they went to school on by American blues masters such as Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and Memphis Slim.

It doesn't come out until Dec. 2, but the two songs associated with harmonica great Little Walter released thus far, "Just Your Fool" and "Hate to See You Go," both arrive with a welcome, rawboned swagger from a band fired up to return to the sound that first got their mojo working more than five decades ago.

"Exhibitionism" means to take in the full breadth of that half-century. "It's a thematic celebration of this band that has been part of our popular culture for over 50 years," said Gallagher. "And a deep dive into how they worked with filmmakers and artists and fashion designers and stage designers to create this kind of visual as well as musical culture."

Gallagher was standing in a room whose treasures included Keith Richards' January 1963 diary chronicling gigs at the Marquee club in London. "First set musically very good, but didn't quite click," he scribbled. "Second set swung much better. Brian & I rather put off by lack of volum [sic] . . . 'Bo Diddley' tremendous applause, as usual."

That same gallery features fanzine questionnaires filled out by the band. Personal ambition: Keith wants to own a boat; Bill Wyman, a castle; Charlie Watts, a pink Cadillac; and the London School of Economics-educated Jagger, "a business." (He's found a lucrative one in "Exhibitionism": Tickets are $37.)

There's lots of cool stuff here, from a newly conducted interview with Buddy Guy to a vintage one with Muddy Waters, and footage of the Stones playing with the blues giant at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago. There's the wig ad from Ebony magazine used as the prototype for the cover of 1978's Some Girls, and the fruits of collaborations with graphic artists and photographers David Bailey, Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol, Gered Mankowitz, and Shepard Fairey.

"Exhibitionism" is, of course, an exercise in hagiography that's first and foremost for serious Stones fans. And if you don't agree that the British Invaders are (or at least were) the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time, you are:

a) wrong, and,

b) will likely find the show's 17,000 square feet of gallery space a self-serving brandathon.

Only the hard-core will continue to be captivated throughout the late chronological stages, as the focus shifts to cringe-inducing MTV-targeted videos like "Harlem Shuffle," and shows off a model for the "Bridges to Babylon" tour stage set. The final 3D "concert experience" viewing room is a big letdown, too, with a one-and-done performance of - what else? - "Satisfaction" that fails to captivate.

Much more fun, for me, was geeking out listening to Scorsese, who used the Stones' music so effectively in films from 1973's Mean Streets to 1990's Goodfellas. He expresses the band's primal appeal in a way that gets at the personal relationship fans have with the music that affects them most deeply, and which will draw Stones fans to "Exhibitionism" to get a little closer to their heroes.

"The Rolling Stones' music is like a part of me," the 74-year-old director says. "When I was young, my relationship with it was very personal. I felt like it was speaking to me. It was dangerous, though you could say that about rock-and-roll in general. It was layered and complex. Ironic. Sometimes sarcastic. Honest. And most of all for me, accepting of the dark side of human nature. So very rich and so evocative, and haunting at times. And deeply, deeply rooted in the blues."

Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones: Through March 12 at Industria, 775 Washington St. (just south of the Highline), New York. Tickets: $37-$84.50 (timed entry). Information: 800-653-8000 or