THE Rolling Stones don't travel light anymore. They rehearsed for their recent and much-publicized tour at a lavish estate in Connecticut. On the road their tastes ran in the same direction. At Shea Stadium in New York, for example, the Stones turned the baseball Mets' locker room into what the New York Times called a ``luxury suite,'' with leather chairs and drapes. The office of Mets' manager Davey Johnson became Mick Jagger's private tea room, with ``love seats, Oriental rugs, elaborate tables, lamps, mirrors, and a keyboard.''
By one estimate, ticket sales alone from the tour brought the group more than $10 million per member, not counting sales of related paraphernalia, such as $500 leather motorcycle jackets with the title of the Stones' new album on the back.
On stage the Rolling Stones are still rapscallion and rowdy. But their act has become a kind of cultural lip-sync, like the canned backup that - according to one report - was dubbed into their show. The Stones aren't dangerous or even contrary these days. With their rich tastes and corporate sponsors - they're shilling for a beer company on TV - the group is absolutely mainstream, Reagan rock.
The tomcats have become house cats, and some fans are dismayed. Weren't the Stones, as one writer put it, ``the embodiment of 1960s-style anti-establishment anti-materialism''?
No, they weren't. And there's nothing surprising about what they are now. It's where they've been headed all along.
What's called today ``The Sixties'' was really two totally different things. On the one hand was the idealism of the civil rights movement and the Peace Corps, and to some extent the campaign to end the Vietnam War.
This Sixties rejected the consumerist frenzy into which the nation had plunged after World War II. It organized the first Earth Day and sought to live in more self-reliant and environmentally conscious ways. (These efforts were ridiculed then, but given today's trash crisis, they seem prophetic.)
The other Sixties was the ``Youth Culture'': acid and rock, the Doors and the Stones. It wasn't so much anti-materialist as countermaterialist, preferring pot to martinis and tie-dyes to suits. Its main concern was ``lifestyle'': Leave me alone, let me enjoy.
The line between the two Sixties was never airtight. Bob Dylan, for example, bridged both camps, as did the antiwar movement. (The draft was a strong stimulant to geopolitical concern.) But the tendencies were as distinct as Eugene McCarthy and Timothy Leary, Mick Jagger and Joan Baez.
When the Sixties mentality petered out during the Carter presidency, it was the youth culture strand that proved most resilient; as Rolling Stone magazine perceived, the kids could become a market.
For all his preachy ineptness, Jimmy Carter himself was a Sixties idealist. Since leaving office, he has been fixing tenements for poor people and helping resolve international disputes - the Peace Corps and VISTA both at once. In office, President Carter tried to tell us that we couldn't have everything. Energy was short, the budget was out of balance, self-gratification was not the most important thing.
This sounded like Sunday School, and the nation didn't like it. So along came Ronald Reagan, who assured us there was no need for hardship, that we could just enjoy ourselves. It is understandable that many from the Woodstock generation - yuppies now - could feel so comfortable in the Reagan camp. Reagan appealed to the same romantic individualism, the same yearning for self-gratification. Reaganite economics was the hedonism of the '60s drug culture, transferred to the economic realm.
It is precisely here, at the intersection between Woodstock and Wall Street, that the Rolling Stones come in. Most big commercial acts take their fans with them. Frank Sinatra, Elvis - their crowds became grayer as the years passed. The Stones, by contrast, are generational crossovers, gathering new fans as they go.
In the context of the times, this is not surprising. What better soundtrack for the Reagan years than ``I Can't Get No Satisfaction''? What better symbol than the leather chairs in the locker room? The Stones haven't changed. They have come home.