The Stones Were Here

A band, a Massachusetts barn, and a rock stay for the ages.

rolling stones

Photo by Ken Regan

This summer, as the Rolling Stones celebrate their 50th anniversary with stops at the TD Garden on June 12 and June 14, local fans of a certain age might remember one summer 32 years ago when the band temporarily made the little town of North Brookfield their home—and thus the center of the rock ’n’ roll universe.

Back in August 1981, the Stones had a number-one album in Tattoo You. The tour was going to be massive. To rehearse for it, they descended on the bucolic Worcester County town of North Brookfield, home to Long View Farm and its big red barn turned recording studio. At that point it was owned by Gil Markle, a former Clark University philosophy professor.

For six weeks, the Stones rehearsed secretly in the barn, living on the property, which Markle had renovated when he bought it in 1973. Markle’s memoir of the time makes clear how each band member lived up to his public image, whether it was Mick Jagger, direct and businesslike, or Keith Richards, lazing on the couch. What’s more remarkable is how workaday the experience was, filled with the band’s endless tweaks to songs and Markle’s daily duties, such as making dinner reservations for Jagger and his then-wife, Jerry Hall. “I don’t know why [the fans] make such a fuss over us,” Charlie Watts told Markle over some 7 a.m. tequila. “Never did understand it. Still don’t.” Of course, the band’s whereabouts didn’t stay secret for long, and soon locals were taking Route 9 out to North Brookfield for a sneak peek. As a thank-you for their stay in the area, the Stones previewed their tour with a show in Worcester, billing themselves as “The Cockroaches” and inviting Long View’s staff. Soon after that, the local whirlwind was over, and the group embarked on a three-month tour that would bring in $50 million ($124 million in today’s dollars). That made it the highest-grossing rock tour of that era, but soon afterward the Stones nearly broke up, and didn’t go back on the road again until 1989.

Today, they’re an oldies act, albeit a great one. Markle (who hasn’t owned the farm since 1994) is still a Stones fan—and yes, he’ll be there at the TD Garden show with everyone else.