It’s great to be back in Toronto,” leered Mick Jagger as he pranced onto the stage of the Oshawa Civic Auditorium to join Keith Richards and the other Rolling Stones. “We’ve got a special relationship here.”
Special, indeed. This concert was not enjoined but ordered by a judge. Over two years had passed since the most lurid lost weekend in rock history. It was February 1977, and the Stones had flown into Toronto’s El Mocambo Tavern to record a live LP. Instead they wound up splashed in the headlines with a newly liberated fan, Margaret Trudeau. Worse, Richards was also arrested—his most serious of several drug busts—when Mounties raided his hotel room and recovered 22 grams of high-grade heroin.
In the ensuing trial last October, Richards pleaded guilty, and the Canadian prosecutor asked for six months to a year (he could have requested seven years). But Judge Lloyd Grayburn let a relieved Richards off on probation with one unique proviso: He must give a free concert for the blind within six months. Outraged hard-liners like former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker immediately denounced the verdict as “preposterous and overly lenient.” Even some of the blind were unhappy. One group threatened to demonstrate at the concert on the grounds that “this just increases the people’s view of us as helpless charity cases.” Then, when Richards finally arrived for last week’s Toronto benefit, he was personally served with an “application for appeal” notice from Canada’s attorney general that could ultimately throw out the sentence in favor of a tougher one.
Understandably uptight, all of the Stones isolated themselves on the 29th floor of Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Bassist Bill Wyman flew in from southern France, drummer Charlie Watts from England and Jagger from New York. Richards and guitarist Ron Wood, currently touring with their own subgroup, the New Barbarians, jetted in from L.A. Three hulking bodyguards kept away press and groupies. Mrs. Trudeau didn’t show, but Mick Jagger’s current model, Jerry Hall, did and commented: “Keith is just glad the first judge was so nice, and he has been trying hard not to worry about anything else.”
Richards, whose slashing lead guitar has held the band in place for 17 years, couldn’t resist more defiant noises. “Paper, schmaper,” he said of the prosecution appeal. In the presence of Anita Pallenberg, his common-law wife and mother of his two children, he waved a glass of white wine and added, “We’ll beat this thing. They can’t get anything on me.” Just to be sure, Richards must visit his parole officer, Hugh Osier, three times this year and submit a doctor’s statement verifying that he is free of his expensive smack habit.
As if the legal intricacies weren’t enough, the standard rock benefit hassles occurred. The auditorium owned by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind had only 250 seats, and a hockey playoff precluded use of Toronto’s 18,000-seat Maple Leaf Gardens. The solution was to stage two shows in the Oshawa auditorium (capacity 5,500), 33 miles from Toronto. Though the Stones management maintained that 60 percent of the 11,000 seats would go to the sightless, only 2,600 blind people and their escorts actually picked up tickets, and even fewer attended the concerts. Many, of course, may have disposed of or scalped their passes. Other difficulties included a sound system that seemed patched in from a bus terminal PA. The concerts also started an hour late—and without the rumored appearances of such titans as Dylan and the Eagles. John Belushi did make it to provide some rambling, self-promoting introductions.
Once onstage, the Stones took charge with Richards’ blistering chords dominating the hour-long assaults. Jagger, in Pepto-Bismol-pink pajama bottoms and dense eye shadow, flung his 34-year-old body through recent Stones hits like Shattered, followed by When the Whip Comes Down and Miss You. What may be the Stones’ only concert of 1979 yielded a small surplus for the CNIB and gave evident satisfaction to most of the audience, rock fans or not. Betty Salter, an 80-year-old blind woman, observed, “I prefer more sentimental music, but I would come to hear them again.”