HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — Given that musical acts today have a shelf life about as long as J. Lo's latest romance, it's remarkable that any band can stay together for more than a single album, let alone 40 years. Unless you've been on Mars for the better part of that time, you know that the only band close to that marker is, of course, the Rolling Stones.
Now, for the first time, all those fans who've managed to miss an actual tour date over, lo, those many years, can finally see them live in performance tomorrow at 9 p.m. on HBO. "Rolling Stones: Live From Madison Square Garden" will rerun on HBO for the rest of the month and into February as well.
The group booked its first tour in 1963 with Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers. But the "age question," says lead singer Mick Jagger, doesn't bother him. "All the milestones have been passed and surpassed, so we'll coin a few more new ones."
One of those newly minted landmarks includes the companion two-CD release, "Forty Licks," which came out this past October to coincide with the kickoff of the group's current Licks World Tour. It includes 36 classic Rolling Stones songs as well as four new tunes.
Even though the group has weathered decades of musical trends, it has never strayed from its rock roots. Jagger says there is still an audience for their sound.
"Rock music is still interesting," he says. "It's not true that young people don't like rock music. There's lots of very young bands that are out there and that people like. And of course, there's lots of other kinds of music and I hope there always will be."
Despite the fact that the group has played the same songs in concert for decades, guitarist Keith Richards says he doesn't get tired of them.
"I can play 'Satisfaction' today or tomorrow and still find new stuff in there, new nuances," Richards says. "In a way, it's kind of jazz. I hate to put labels on any kind of music. To me, it's all music. But there's a lot of improvisation, because the song leads you to that."
Rather than tiring of the old tunes, Jagger says time has given him perspective on why he wrote them and what they mean to new audiences.
As a songwriter, Jagger says he didn't consciously go after weighty topics.
"It was just everyday stuff that I'd observe and write about," he says. "It's what writing is for, really. There is a sort of naiveté, but there's also a lot of humor in those songs. They're all based on humor. It was almost like a different band, a different world, a different view, when we wrote them."
The song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want," he says, is a "very simple musical statement, but it speaks to you very directly, 'cause it's a very simple message in the song. Everyone can understand it. And you go, 'Well, it's true.' I think it's a Hindu proverb, though I didn't know that at the time ... and it's pretty good advice."
There are many reasons to marvel at the longevity of a group that long ago became a rock legend, but the sheer physical demands of touring may be the most basic.
Again, Jagger, arguably the man who defined the rock athlete for generations, says this is the part he enjoys most. "You just keep going with it," he says. "I don't know, when you get in front of an audience, you just seem to have a lot more energy than you'd imagine."