Why Gimme Shelter?

I wasn’t alive during the Viet Nam era but I understand this song to be a product of this violent time in world history. The world was getting bigger every day as more and more information became readily available to regular people, and still it seemed to feel like the world was closing in. War was happening on the other side of the world but streaming into our consciousness through the television while the hippies got stoned and started cults instead of paying attention.

Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away.

How were these people not paying attention? They weren’t the ones being raped, murdered, shot. Just like now it’s very easy for all of you white Americans to pretend the pending Trump presidency isn’t a highly dangerous and world-changing event. It’s not changing your world, is it? Yet.

This song kicks in with a solid ominous Keith Richards guitar solo, some vocal wooooooos, percussion and finally Mick Jaggar wailing on the harmonica.  It builds like a storm, seemingly into a pop song, until Jaggar reminds us that a storm is threatening, and without shelter, we fade away.

And then, after that first verse, in comes Merry Clayton with some of the most profoundly frightening, warning, worrisome vocals I’ve ever heard.  For what it’s worth, a pregnant Ms. Clayton was summoned out of bed around midnight the night of the recording, did a few takes, and returned home where she suffered a miscarriage. It may be more folklore than reality, but there is much speculation that Ms. Clayton’s extreme vocalization (at about 2:59) may have contributed to this tragedy. Or maybe she just realized so much about the reality of the world while screaming out these lyrics, that she willed herself to miscarry? Or maybe it was happenstance.

We listened to this song in my FOURTH GRADE music theory class. I think they just called it that to be a little pretentious and the only reason this song was chosen was because we played with the percussion fish in class that day – in retrospect this is likely not even the instrument Jimmy Miller is playing in the song. But I was smitten. I knew from the first riff on the harmonica that I would never be the same.

I listened to this song at home in my room for hours every day trying to hit Mary Clayton’s vocal range, I failed at it for years, but it felt good to try. My parents both worked for a couple of hours after I returned home from school so I could just wail my heart out in my room. I had no voice to talk to people for what felt like years because I used it screaming into my closet at home.

Like I said, I failed. But I did learn the limitations of my own voice and I discovered what I was meant to do with it, and that was front a band. I pretty much exhausted the Rolling Stones catalog by the time I got to high school and had moved onto the more lyrically interesting but equally as vocally unique Bob Dylan.

So there it is. And now I have this blog because I needed a place to vent about the particulars of being in a small-time band, to avoid talking about doing odd jobs like carpet cleaning, and to tell you all about new music I’m finding and what it means to me!