Can you imagine attending a circus where Mick Jagger presents the show while John Lennon and many other legends perform for you?
There’s something about the circus that makes it so alluring and exciting. It’s not just a place where it seems like you’re transported into a fantasy realm where basically everything is possible; at least that's what this form of entertainment tried to achieve. But it went beyond that, it became an alternative way of life for those who felt constricted by social norms. This made people want to leave everything behind and start a brand new life in an environment where they could just make a living in the showbiz. Of course, many did actually run away to join the circus, and for years, this became a sort of fantasy people dreamed about. The spectacle, imagery, and style of the circus life have been a source of inspiration even musicians longed to experience.
In 1968, the Rolling Stones were releasing their album Beggars Banquet and were looking for an unforgettable and unique way of promoting it. Fulfilling their own wishes to get involved with the glamour and bizarreness of the circus, they decided to create their own carnival show. Planned as a special program for television, Mick Jagger, who was especially interested in all the flamboyance of this particular theme, teamed with a TV director to shoot a unique concert.
So, what’s the main principle of the circus? A set of performers enacting short but highly rich and exciting presentations, isn’t it? Well, this wasn't the exception. Not only did they hire professional circus performers and made a whole circus stage in a television set, but they also invited some of the most important musicians of the time to join them on their show. Thus, with Mick Jagger dressed as a circus ringmaster, the show was considered by many one of the greatest performances in the history of rock. Besides the common performances you see at a circus, like trapeze artists, clowns, acrobats, jugglers, among others, the show included the notable presentations of The Who, Marianne Faithfull, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, and a spontaneous band formed by Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and the drummer of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch Mitchell.
Those lucky people who could get tickets for the show made a line since the early hours of the morning to secure the best seat possible. All the stars arrived early as well to rehearse and hang out with their friends while the crew worked untiringly to make the program extremely special. By midday, the show began, and all these music celebrities entered the ring wearing the most extravagant attires as Jagger introduced them to the excited audience. Each performer would do their part, and between breaks fans witnessed their idols having fun and just being themselves. This actually took a lot of time to shoot, and even when everybody was exhausted, whenever the camera started rolling again, the spirits rose once again.
It wasn’t until one in the morning that the big moment arrived. The Rolling Stones started their part with emblematic songs like "Route 66," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” While many of the attendants have claimed that it was definitely one of the best moments in their lives, some actually believe that by the time Their Satanic Majesties appeared, they were already tired and a bit wasted, which actually resulted in something completely different from the exquisite sound of their concerts, as people were used to. Still, this is probably one of the most important milestones in the history of rock and one that wouldn’t see the light until almost thirty years later, when a VHS was released in 1996.
Although it might have taken a long time to be available for a worldwide audience, at least now we can relive that fantasy of leaving everything behind and start a new life in a freer and creative space. The best part about it is that we are able to do so while listening to and seeing all these legends in one show.
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