The Rolling Stones went to Cuba and they played Sympathy for the Devil. I mean, fair enough, historic occasion and all. The Cubans deserve the best of the Stones' extensive back catalog. And it's not like they even have a front catalog, do they? I don't really know- full disclosure, I'm hardly the world's biggest Stones fan. I went to their show here in Edmonton, when was it, back in 1993? 92? It was the ... Steel Wheels tour maybe? Does that sound right? I know I can google but I like to go on memory because memory has all these weird and interesting vagaries and inaccuracies. I seem to recall that I had just gotten home from my three tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot....
So yeah, 1993, Commonwealth Stadium, me and two of my best friends. It was fun. I remember taking the LRT there after University and trolling the fellow passengers by discussing our favorite Stones songs and deliberately only mentioning Beatles songs. We jumped the whole time but after every song we yelled "Paint It Black" and "Sympathy for the Devil" but they didn't play either. I guess karma. At least they didn't play Penny Lane.
I guess you gotta be gripped under the oppressive thumb of communism for sixty years or some shit to merit some Sympathy for the Devil.
Kind of fitting, even- just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on the Rolling Stones were playing their first gigs together. Coincidence? Certainly. But interesting in a 20th Century Nostalgia sort of way.
Of course such a classic and evocative song has inspired its share of covers, which I will rate for you hereby:
Guns n' Roses: I'm just the right age to have some nostalgic love for GnR and quite a bit of disdain, even hate, as well. Slash is cool, though. This song was the credits-rolling song for Interview With The Vampire and is kind of terrible in a fascinating sort of way. Axl Rose starts out doing . . . spoken word? . . . something, before launching into Maximum Axl. Maxl, as it were. The samba rhythm is kept intact and Slash's version of Keith Richards' solo is pretty great. Vampires aren't technically devils though so points deducted for inaccuracy. Sympathy Quotient: I certainly feel sorry for them.
Ozzy Osbourne: if any of the old rock and roll hellraisers can be called the incarnation of the prince of darkness, ole Ozzy gotta be first in the running. To his credit though, there is no cheesiness in this cover, he just has fun with this song. The rolling rhythm is still underpinning the proceedings, but any sort of wistfulness that Mick Jagger somehow mixed into the song with his swagger is gone. Ozzy makes you want to get up and raise a glass to ole Whatshisname. Sympathy Quotient: What's the opposite of sympathy? Oh right, envy. Envy for the Devil, who is clearly having way more fun than me.
Motörhead: This one's a little tougher. I still feel the loss of Lemmy quite keenly. If you can believe it I'm tearing up a little as I give this a close listen. Damn, what a perfect farewell. Remember how Johnny Cash sounded heartwrenchingly feeble in his final American Recordings album, as he neared his passing? Lemmy is clearly not at the top of his game on this one, but he certainly never learned what enfeebled meant. Defiant to the end. Fuck yeah! Sympathy Quotient: 100%. I feel a lot of sympathy for the devil because Lemmy Kilmister kicked him off his throne and took over down there.
- Nathan Waddell