Jagger unfazed by Chinese censorship of songs

Saturday, April 8, 2006

SHANGHAI, China -- The Rolling Stones have been told not to perform five of their songs at their debut concert in China, but Mick Jagger said Friday he wasn't surprised by the censorship.

"We kind of expected that. We didn't expect to come to China and not be censored," Jagger said at a news conference on the eve of the band's first performance on the mainland.

Authorities objected to four songs from the band's 2002 greatest hits collection, "40 Licks," and Jagger said officials asked them not to play one other at their concert in Shanghai.

"Fortunately, we have 400 more songs that we can play, so it's not really an issue," Jagger said.

He then added, with trademark sarcasm: "I'm pleased that the Ministry of Culture is protecting the morals of the expat bankers and their girlfriends that are going to be coming" -- a reference to the largely foreign, upper-class audience expected for the concert.

The four songs cut from the greatest hits collection were "Brown Sugar," "Honky Tonk Woman," "Beast of Burden," and "Let's Spend the Night Together," apparently due to their suggestive lyrics. Jagger didn't say what the fifth song was, but it was believed to be "Rough Justice," the opening track of their new album "A Bigger Bang."

A request to alter the song list was made ahead of the band's planned 2003 China concerts that were canceled due to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Jagger said he'd hoped the request would be dropped, but "then it came back."

Censorship is nothing new to the Stones. In their 1967 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the host demanded the band change the lyrics to "Let's Spend the Night Together." As ordered, Jagger sang "let's spend some time together," but he rolled his eyes for effect.

More recently, the NFL silenced Jagger's microphone during sexually suggestive passages of two of the three songs the band performed before an audience of 90 million television viewers at the Super Bowl halftime show in February.

"I don't have to tell you censorship exists in China as in other places," Jagger said.

Though visiting for the first time as a band, the Stones' presence has aroused none of the fan frenzy that has greeted them at other locations on their worldwide "A Bigger Bang" tour.

The band is relatively unknown in China, which was mired in communist isolation at the height of the band's fame in the 1960s and 1970s.

While rock has gained an audience here -- music by bands such as Nirvana and Pink Floyd are widely available on pirated DVDs -- the airwaves tend to be dominated by saccharine Chinese pop tunes. Last year's biggest musical event was a televised "American Idol"-style song contest.

However, Jagger said hoped a planned nationwide television broadcast of the concert by the government's China Central Television would boost exposure for the music.

And he said Cui Jian, known as the father of Chinese rock, would join the Stones on stage during the concert for a duet before the 8,000 fans at the Shanghai Grand Stage -- an audience roughly 1.2 million smaller than the one that witnessed their free concert in Rio de Janeiro in February.

Most of the Shanghai tickets are believed to have been sold to non-Chinese, according to the local press. With prices between $37 and $370, tickets cost more than a monthly wage of most Chinese workers.

The newspaper Shanghai Morning Post also complained in an article that only one Chinese media outlet had been allowed to cover the band's arrival Thursday.

"The Rolling Stones come to Shanghai, but they're only performing for foreigners," read the headline on the front page of the paper's entertainment section.

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