“First I Look at the Purse” by the J. Geils Band comes up on the iPod. I recently added a bunch of J. Geils tunes. They were a quintessential New England band when I was growing up. Singer Peter Wolf started out as a dj at Boston’s WBCN. But I never saw the band play in New England. I never much cared for them when I was growing up, in fact. The only time I saw J. Geils was when they opened for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles back in the fall of 1981.

I remember it like it was yesterday (here I rest my chin on my hand and stare thoughtfully into the distance as the scene dissolves to reveal . . .)

Los Angeles, 1981. The Rolling Stones have announced their tour for the Tattoo You album. They will play at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which is almost literally a stone’s roll from my apartment building. A bunch of us get tickets. They are general admission, which means an early morning if we want to get good seats. So the crack of dawn on show day finds us sitting in a long line at the Coliseum entrance. I’ve brought a book—Stephen King’s Misery, if I recall correctly—to help me while away the hours.

It’s going to be a beautiful day.

The gates open and we scramble into the venue, which is huge. I mean, it is a coliseum. A lot of people dash to the field right in front of the stage. I figure I’m going to want to sit—it’s going to be a long, long day—so I find a good seat in the stands right next to the stage. Perfect. And then I settle down to wait. And wait.

Finally it’s showtime. The first act is a young fellow from Minneapolis who calls himself Prince. At this point he’s fairly unknown, which explains what happens next. Prince appears on stage wearing a long black greatcoat that opens to reveal he’s wearing nothing but bikini underpants underneath. Why, this kind of mincing sexuality has no place in a Rolling Stones concert! Objects begin to fly onto the stage. Prince struggles through a few songs, but during “Jack U Off” decides he has weathered enough abuse. In an indignant swirl of greatcoat he storms offstage.

George Thorogood and the Destroyers are next and they play a fine, workmanlike set. The undiluted rock ‘n’ roll goes down well. No one throws objects at the Destroyers.

Finally it’s time J. Geils’ turn. All I can recall is some vintage motormouth action from Wolf. (Remember, this was almost 30 years ago).

It’s late afternoon by the time the Stones appear. They play an energetic set, but the stage is so huge there’s not much sense of them as a band. It’s a bunch of individuals spread out over a great distance. Is this the tour that Mick uses a cherry picker to zoom out over the audience? I can’t remember. He either does that or he has some kind of platform that extends out in front of the stage. He does cover a lot of ground during the show, though, running back and forth from one end of the stage to the other. Keith sings “Happy,” and the band does a great version of “Just My Imagination,” which to me is the show’s highlight. They do a lot of their big hits, too. By the time the show winds to a close it’s dark, and once the Stones scamper off the stage fireworks begin to explode overhead. This is rock and roll on a big, big scale. I like it.

The Stones took a day off and then played another show at the Coliseum on Sunday. I understand they had to talk Prince back from Minneapolis to play the second gig. I didn’t have tickets for this one but I managed to enjoy the show nonetheless.

The fun started before dawn when a troupe of acquaintances—friends of casual friends, in fact—buzz the apartment. We let them in. They’re here for the show but they want a place to hang out first. The sun isn’t even up yet, so my roommate and I are not exactly welcoming. They hang out a bit and then head off to the show.

Once the music starts, I make my way up to the roof and listen. I can hear things pretty well. Several of us sit up there, drinking beer and enjoying the show. About halfway through the Stones’ set a friend and I decide to head over to the Coliseum and see what’s going on. We make our across the parking lot and around the big structure until we get to the rear entrance, right behind the stage. Everyone knows the Stones will have to depart from here, and a small but growing crowd is gathering. People get rowdy. They throw bottles and I hear the sound of breaking glass. Police officers on horseback arrive and push the crowd back.

Things are getting interesting.

Suddenly the fireworks erupt high over our heads. Big gates swing open at the Coliseum and a small fleet of limousines pulls out. My friend and I begin running on an intercept course to the road the limos will have to follow. It’s like something from Apocalypse Now. Fireworks explode above us and illuminate the landscape in flashes. We reach the road as the limos are approaching. Suddenly a cop on horseback gallops up. He reaches down and knocks my friend to the ground.

Everything goes into slow motion. The lead limo passes right in front of me. I see Mick Jagger, his face pressed against the limo’s window as he peers up to watch the fireworks. The car cruises by . . . and suddenly things starts moving quickly again. My friend scrambles off the ground and we start running away from the cops, the fireworks still bursting. It’s surreal.

I never saw any of those bands live again. J. Geils broke up shortly after I moved to Boston. I had just started editing a small rock and roll magazine and the story was big news. I tried to score interviews with some of the band members, but no dice. I also scrambled to get a good cover image. The band used to practice just down the road in Allston, in a warehouse with a sign that read “Jim Did It Sign Company.” A young photographer named Derek Szabo lived nearby, and one day he had taken some photos of the band clowning around on the street outside. I can’t remember if I talked him into it or if he volunteered, but we ended up using the shot he had taken of Peter Wolf, hair disheveled, hands raised in a mock boxing pose, on the cover.

Wolf, apparently, was not pleased. Derek later told me that he showed up for one of Wolf’s solo gigs at the Paradise on Commonwealth Avenue, and ran into the singer before the show. Wolf pointed at him. “No photos for Szabo,” he said.

Prince recently played at another coliseum when he did the Superbowl half-time show in 2009. As far as I know no one threw things at him. I don’t know what happened to the Rolling Stones. If anyone out there has heard anything, drop me a line.

I still have the tee shirt I bought at the Stones concert. My daughter started wearing it for a while and now my son uses it. The shirt has worn thin over the decades and now it’s as fragile as a memory.

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