Keith Richards’ guitar that he played on the Rolling Stones first five albums. Mick Jagger’s crinkle cape worn for “Sympathy for the Devil” during 1997’s Bridges to Babylon Tour. The original art work by a 24-year-old college student used for the Stones tongue-and-lips logo.
Those items are among the 500 artifacts in “Exhibitionism,” a touring museum-style exhibit now on display in Chicago.
But the coolest thing isn’t even an artifact. It’s a recreation of the London flat (below) in which Richards, Jagger and Brian Jones lived when they were hatching their rock ‘n’ roll dreams. It’s a seedy dump, dirty dishes in the sink, empty beer bottles strewn all over the place, vinyl albums (outside their sleeves) by Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters piled here and there.
Yes, despite the multi-million dollar opulence celebrated in this fascinating and informative exhibit, the Stones started in squalor just like most other young rock bands.
For $33 (less than the cost of a T-shirt at a Stones concert these days) at an exhibit hall on Navy Pier, you can wend your way through this sprawling exhibit – from squalor to superstardom.
There are old albums that influenced the Stones and even the band’s first recording contract signed by Jones, the band’s leader. There are forms each band member filled out for the Stones fan club; Bill Wyman’s “personal ambition” was “to own a castle.”
There are so many guitars that you wonder how many more Richards and Ron Wood have in their own personal collections.
Jagger’s outfits for on- and offstage are displayed at length. There are feathers, leathers and velvet but he wears some ordinary black referee shoes onstage.
Andy Warhol’s sketches and paintings of Jagger are on display as well as his famous artwork for the “Sticky Fingers” album cover.
There are posters for every Stones concert tour. Models of elaborate stage sets were created for this exhibit. Perhaps more precious are actual drawings that Jagger and Charlie Watts made suggesting stage designs and even sketches for a half eagle/half airplane for a tour poster.
On display is Richards’ tiny 1963 diary, which reports that in January that year that band made 42 pounds. There are plenty of handwritten Jagger lyrics, including “Some Girls,” and countless boxes of tapes of famous Stones songs.
Some women didn’t like “Some Girls” as a 1979 letter of protest about the lyrics from the Minority Group Task Force of the Michigan Education Association illustrates.
Photos from throughout the band’s history are sprinkled throughout the 18,000-square foot exhibit. Dig Jagger in a fur hood in 1965, captured by celebrity photographer David Bailey (who inspired the 1966 film “Blow Up”).
A couple parts of the exhibit seem forced. A re-creation of backstage is too modest in size (in reality, the Stones occupy many, many rooms – or tents/trailers – backstage) but it does show how guitars, costumes and makeup are stored in cases. A re-creation of a 1970s recording studio seems instructive but artificial, though the instruments are authentic.
Not every Stones fan is going to dig the oversized 3-D logo, which has more than a dozen different designs projected on it at dizzying speeds. It’s a trip – or a series of photo ops. Or just a distraction.
Interactive elements are de rigueur for museums. Exhibitionism allows visitors to play recording engineer and mix the Stones’ 1978 hit “Miss You.”
There are interviews throughout the exhibit – some in printed form, others that you can listen to on headphones (plus more if you rent the $5 audio tour).
Noted film director Martin Scorsese narrates a short series of clips about the various Stones movies, including 1970's “Gimme Shelter” and 2008's “Shine a Light,” which he directed.
Of course, some fans want more. Such as the story of Jones’ drowning in 1969, which is limited to a newspaper headline.
Near the end of the exhibit, visitors put on 3D glasses to watch a clip of the Stones offering “Satisfaction,” the band’s first No. 1 single, on a recent tour.
It’s a fitting capper. Because whether you spend one or four hours here, Exhibitionism gives satisfaction to both the casual and serious Stones fan.
Done with the Stones cooperation, this exhibit has previously appeared in London and New York. Set for a dozen cities around the world, it runs through July 30 in Chicago.