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(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 16, 2019,
and in print on Sept. 8, 2019)
Stones roll from the covered Kingdome to the open air
By Clay Eals
So much was it a city symbol and massive gathering place for sports and spectacle that it is difficult to believe we are going on 20 years since the Kingdome departed — in a planned implosion, no less. Even harder to fathom may be that relative newcomers are unaware of the shortcomings (and, yes, charms) of what resembled, from afar, a giant, concrete hamburger.
Long before retractable roofs came into fashion, the Kingdome satisfied our drenched desire for a commoners’ cathedral we could swarm to and revel in, comforted that our “Seattle sunshine” could not cancel or interfere with our fun. In other words, there were no rainouts.
Dow Constantine remembers it well. Our King County executive was a 19-year-old University of Washington sophomore when he saw the Rolling Stones’ sixth show in Seattle, on Oct. 14, 1981, the first night of back-to-back concerts. Among 71,000 packing the Kingdome, he was down front in what was crudely called “the pit.” The Greg Kihn Band opened, followed by the J. Geils Band. The Stones took the stage at 10:55 p.m. and finished about 1 a.m.
This milieu radiates from our atmospheric “Then” image, captured by Mike Siegel, in one of his first photos for The Seattle Times. Constantine stands near left, eying the wilder youths to his side. His subdued expression speaks volumes.
“Near the stage, the crowd was pretty aggressive,” he recalls. “You had to stand your ground against the force of thousands pushing to get closer.” He adds, with no little irony, “We thought it was the last time we would get a chance to see the Stones because they were so old.”
The Oct. 14 and 15, 1981, shows also hosted scores of overdose cases, along with a deeper tragedy. A 16-year-old girl died when she lost her balance and fell backward 50 feet from the outside 200-level ramp onto a landing. Most fans, and probably the Stones, didn’t learn of the death until after the Oct. 15 show. It was the first fatality in the Kingdome’s then-five-year history.
While no one inside felt moisture from the sky, as always there was — beyond the haze and the substitution of rumbling echo for sound — the disquieting feeling, in spite of the stadium’s enormity, of being trapped by the absence of sky.
That was no deterrent for Constantine, a lifelong music fanatic who graduated from grade-school trombonist to arts and music champion as an adult. He nurtured his obsession by volunteering in 1981 at the campus radio station, KCMU (now KEXP), eventually snagging plum DJ shifts.
Fast-forward nearly 38 years, and we find Constantine once more in the front row at a Stones show, their 12th in Seattle, this time on the Kingdome’s footprint at open-air CenturyLink Field. “No pushing and shoving,” he says. “Very much an all-ages, good-vibe, bring-the-grandkids crowd.”
The Kingdome may have lasted only 24 years, but the Stones — and Constantine —roll on.
Here is a bonus, extended interview with Dow Constantine, conducted Aug. 15, 2019, one day after the Stones’ Aug. 14, 2019, show he attended at CenturyLink Field.
You seemed to be in the front row last night. Were you on the left (west) side of the center runway or the right (east) side?
If I’m going to take the time to go to a show, I’m going to do my best to be in the front. Yesterday I was down front, on the left (so, stage right). In 1981, I was down front, on the right (so, stage left.)
What were the similarities and differences between the 1981 show and last night’s show?
The 1981 tour was in support of the album “Tattoo You,” and the singles “Start Me Up,” “Waiting on a Friend” and, I think, “Hang Fire” were receiving heavy airplay on MTV. They ran through those and a lot of the all-time hits, but also a bunch of less familiar songs from that new album.
The crowd near the stage was tightly packed and pretty aggressive, and you had to set your feet and stand your ground against the force of thousands on the floor pushing to get closer to the band. And we thought it was the last time we would get a chance to see them, because they were so old.
Last night, there was no new album to promote. They just played the hits, plus a couple of deeper cuts from the early 1970s albums, and the crowd loved it. And no pushing and shoving. Very much an all-ages, good vibe, bring-the-grandkids crowd.
How many times have you seen the Stones in Seattle, and which shows?
Not many. I really respect the remarkable accomplishments of the Stones, including their longevity, influence and astonishing number of hit songs they’ve recorded. But my first love among the behemoths of old-time arena rock is The Who.
In music, all of us have our church. And often it just comes down to which band you fell for first. Compared to all those hardcore fans I heard talking about traveling the world with the Stones, seeing them in the 1960s and 1970s, seeing them dozens or hundreds of times, I’m just a tourist, a guest in their sanctuary.
In your King County Council days, you displayed a guitar in your office. Do you still? Was it yours? If not, whose was it?
That was an autographed Cat Power guitar! And I never played it, at least not well enough for public consumption. It came from a Vera Project auction, and after many years I donated it to charity.
Do you play guitar? If so, how long have you done so? Do you play any Rolling Stones songs?
Nope. Hacked my way through the chords (and vocals) of a few songs (Kinks, Clash, Neil Young, etc.) over the years, but there is no earthly way I could be called a guitarist. I’m a fan.
What Rolling Stones song or songs are your favorite, and why?
I love the melancholy charts like “Angie,” “Wild Horses” or “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” But it is hard to argue with “soundtrack of a generation” rockers like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Satisfaction.” If you wrote any one of those, you’d do best to set down your pen for good and declare victory.
Below is an alternate “Now” image, plus a fanciful one from the summer of 2018, plus links to a one-hour Dow podcast and a Dow summer playlist, plus, in chronological order, five clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.