when I tried to sneak into the Rolling Stones’ concert at Madison Square Garden, part 2
November 28, 2010
Sheila and I faced a line of cops, big no-nonsense men who looked tired and impatient. We had told them we were bringing pizza to the Stones’ lighting crew and I was waiting for the cops to realize that we were lying, that my pizza box held nothing but a pair of jeans and a tee shirt with a Tarot card design.
The cop who held his hand in front of my face like a stop sign said, ‘Just you wait, sister.’ Sister: it was what men of a certain generation, working men, called women they didn’t know, who had asked for help, directions maybe, or who were in the way: You wanna move it, sister? It was a hangover from the war and the Depression, those times when everyone was in it together.
‘They gotta get these doors unlocked,’ he said. He tapped on the glass with his nightstick. ‘Here you go.’ The doors slid open and he used the stick to keep them from closing on us. ‘The lighting guys are on the top level,’ he said. ‘Look for the door marked staff.’
We smiled at him and tried not to run across the lobby. When the elevator arrived, six cops stepped out and held that door for us. We stepped in. The door closed. A more religious pair might have offered thanks to God or Buddha. We, instead, dropped our pizza boxes and screamed. We had made it in without a ticket.
The top level of the Garden was a hushed and empty corridor. We went into the nearest ladies’ room — also empty — and opened the pizza boxes. Clumsy because we were hurrying, we pulled on our jeans and tee shirts. The white waitress uniforms were crammed into Sheila’s fringed bag. Then we hid in a toilet stall and perched on the closed seat. We were playing 21, tucking the dealt cards under our feet, when a cleaning lady found us. She was old and black, a southerner, and she said something that sounded like, Where’s my Hersey, man? It turned out she wanted hush money. We gave her five dollars and she left us alone. People started trickling into the ladies’ room, first a handful of girls, then streams of them, loud and excited, putting on make-up and lighting joints.
We went out into the packed corridor, not sure what to do next.
But no one was checking tickets. There were no ushers at the entrance to the galleries, no one standing in the aisle with a flashlight and official tag. Either they had given up – there were so many of us piling in – or else they figured that with all that extra security outside the Garden, they didn’t have to bother.
The seating at the Garden was raked; you could walk from the top tier, the peanut gallery, all the way down to the standing area below the stage, face to face or, rather, face to feet, with the band.
That’s what we did.
People let us through, cleared a path when we told them how we had gotten in. They gave us wine and offered us dope, and a Greek chorus of Far out, man, followed our descent. By the time Stevie Wonder burst out with Superstition, we were at ground level, in a crush with the groupies and notables. Not that we knew who any of them were; odd couples such as Zsa Zsa Gabor and Andy Warhol were beyond us, and the likes of George Plimpton and Tom Wolfe were complete unknowns. There were the expected, and, to us, exotic men with flowing hair and embroidered waistcoats and beautiful wasted girls who smelled of patchouli and who danced alone, flicking their feather boas.
Jagger’s strut, Richards’ chords, courteous Charlie Watts, always incongruous, as if he had wandered onto the wrong stage and decided it would be un-gentlemanly not to join in: Who’s to say that Sheila and I, in our tee shirts and bell-bottoms that hid the tops of our white waitress shoes, didn’t belong? At midnight, a room-sized cake of papier-mâché was lowered from the Garden roof. There was a pop! and confetti fluttered down, a rock-and-roll benison, to cover us all.
What made us think we could do it? How did we have the nerve? Looking at it now, the only explanation I can come up with is that we were teenagers, American teenagers, which means we were extremely brave and slightly idiotic.