JERUSALEM – And then Mick Jagger walked in.
I was in Israel, with several friends, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified and later buried. It is one of the biggest religious destinations in the world, viewed by thousands of people every day. Some fall to the floor. Others place personal items on a large stone where, it is said, Jesus’ body once lay. They pray. They weep. It is a place of deep reverence.
And then Jagger walked in.
And everything changed.
He happened to stop just in front of me, blocking my view. (I wanted to say, “Hey, Mick, get off of my cloud,” but I resisted.) He wore a plain white sweat suit with the collar up, and he listened attentively to a private tour guide who, being tall, bearded and smiling, looked a bit like Jesus himself. Around them were four plainclothes men who, by their glaring looks, I presumed to be bodyguards.
No other Rolling Stones were present. Trust me, I’d have noticed. A guy who looks like Keith Richards enters a tomb, it’s too ironic to miss.
“No photo,” a bodyguard warned.
I wasn’t pointing a camera.
But in an instant, everyone else was.
Front man becomes the focus
Now, I had heard that the Stones were in Israel. The night before, they’d played a concert in a huge park in Tel Aviv, their first appearance in the Holy Land. Jagger had addressed the crowd in Hebrew and in general, the show got rave reviews, even though there are rocks in Bethlehem younger than this band.
But I figured the Stones had flown out already, since most music stars don’t hang around once the concert is over. Yet here was Jagger, the next afternoon, on a personal tour of this revered church. He stood in the area between the Stone of Anointing and the Chapel of Adam, where a glass window revealed the lower part of the Rock of Calvary, the 12th Station of the Cross. As various tour guides softly explained how a crack in the rock was attributed to an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion, I noticed more and more heads turning to the man in the white sweat suit, cell phones rising, cameras whirring.
Pretty soon, Jagger was the only one really paying attention to where he was. Most everyone else was pointing to, whispering about – and, of course, filming – him.
And when his guide said, “Let’s go to the tomb,” they walked out and the entire crowd seemed to follow.
Of all the rooms Mick Jagger had upstaged, this had to be the biggest.
Celebrity gazing sees few boundaries
But it got me wondering: Is there any place left where we won’t brake for celebrity? Are funerals off-limits? Hospitals? If Kim Kardashian swam by a baptism, would it come to a halt? I don’t know anymore. I kind of thought Jesus’ resting place would be foreboding enough.
Apparently not. Jagger’s every move was followed by the church crowd, which at least had the good taste not to scream or shove autograph paper at him. But everyone looked. We all wanted to see. How tall is he? Is that his real hair? Who else is with him? Look at how skinny!
We are so trained now to put fame over everything that few people in the Holy Sepulchre seemed torn over whether to stay focused on history or post a photo on Twitter. I don’t know how many visitors had a Bible, but nearly every one had an iPhone.
By the way, I don’t blame Jagger. He was perfectly polite, did nothing to call attention, and certainly is entitled to see historic sites as much as the next guy. Maybe a private, after-hours tour would be preferable. But why should he have to do that? Can’t we control ourselves long enough to keep faith and fame in their proper perspectives?
I guess not. I can’t really tell you how long Jagger stayed or where he went next. I finished my own tour and left shaking my head. All in all, that church visit hadn’t gone the way I’d expected.
Then again, it said a lot about what we worship.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.