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She's rolling in Stones: UM sophomore vies to be the band's biggest Missoula fan
“I've liked them as long as I can remember,” says University of Montana sophomore Mandela van Eeden of her passion for the Rolling Stones. “I remember listening to their music when I was 6.”
Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

Mandela van Eeden calls him "Ronnie."

The rest of the world knows him as Ron Wood, rhythm guitar player for the Rolling Stones. But you'll forgive that bit of familiarity on the part of van Eeden, the band's biggest fan in Missoula.

It's no hyperbole to call her that. We are not joking around here. When the Missoulian put out a call for Rolling Stones fan stories, no fewer than 30 of van Eeden's friends got on the line.

"We know the biggest fan," they said. "You have to write about Mandela."

Why? Well, it's not just because she has a Ron Wood guitar pick framed in her dorm room from last November's concert in Denver. Or that for Wednesday night's concert in Missoula she's going to paint the "Hot Lips" logo on the entire front of her body with red and black Sharpies. Or because she skipped class Tuesday to help build the stage, or that her dad drove from Billings to join her, or that she's painted in lipstick the countdown to the concert on her bathroom mirror, or that she owns a pair of "Some Girls"-themed shorts.

No. That's mere window dressing on the educated soul of this Rolling Stones fan.

It's that Mandela van Eeden, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Montana, isn't just Stones crazy, she's Stones berserk.

"I love them," she says. "For me, every Stones song is good."

But her love is neither fawning, doting, mindless nor sycophantic. When she talks about the Stones, she talks like a history professor, filling in details that put the band in context, in the literature of world music, in their place in history.

"Mick Jagger is actually my least favorite," van Eeden says, leading a tour through her dorm-room shrine to rock 'n' roll, a shrine that is about 50 percent dedicated to the Stones. "Don't print that," she adds quickly. "He'll read it."

The Stones will read the Missoulian?

"Actually, Charlie (Watts, drummer) does," she quickly offers. "The first thing he does is read the local paper. And he draws a picture of every hotel room he stays in."

Lots of Stones nuggets have accumulated in van Eeden's young head.

"That's Bill Wyman," she says, pointing at a photo of the original Stones bass player. "He quit and Darryl Jones replaced him. Today, people joke that (Wyman) is the guy selling hot dogs outside the stadiums."

Van Eeden's life wisdom and knowledge includes a mental Stones encyclopedia, from where they were born to their earliest musical influences to their personal habits. She's read every book and every article, owns every recording, and never tires of talking about them. It was a passion that her rock-'n'-roll-loving father bestowed upon her as a child in South Africa (yes, she is named after Nelson Mandela).

"He always told me when he was growing up in South Africa, he would listen to the Stones," she says. "And it was really conservative then (during apartheid), so he couldn't even put up his poster of Jimi Hendrix. His mom wouldn't let him."

The Stones love rubbed off quickly.

"I've liked them as long as I can remember," says van Eeden. "I remember listening to their music when I was 6."

Van Eeden is serious not just about the Rolling Stones, but about music - world music of all stripes and flavors, a love cultivated from her extensive world travels to places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, mostly due to the fact that her mother was an airline flight attendant.

"When I travel, that's basically what I do - listen to their music," she says. And it's reciprocal: When she hears people in other countries listening to Celine Dion and other sugary pop music, she tries to spread the word about what she considers real rock 'n' roll.

"There are a probably about a dozen taxi drivers right now driving around Vietnam listening to Hendrix," she says.

It's a passion she brings everywhere. As the former host of KBGA-FM's "The Mandela Experience," she often shared that music with college-aged listeners.

To this day, weather permitting, she drags an old phonograph to the Oval to share her collection, prompting stares from people "who think I'm some sort of hippie."

There is, she's learned, a power outlet right next to the grizzly bear.

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Van Eeden picks up her didgeridoo, a 5-foot-long aboriginal wind instrument she bought in Australia, puts one end in her bathroom sink and blows into the other. A hollow groan comes out, filling the bathroom.

She laughs. In the next room, one of her three Pantzer Hall roommates does a bit of studying.

"I wish I was as passionate about something," says Kassidy Leonard, 20. "I think it's awesome. I just met her this year, and that's the first thing I knew about her, that she loved the Stones."

Leonard lists her musical favorites, including bands like Hinder, Fallout Boy, The Used. Young punk and indie pop. The stuff women her age are into.

Van Eeden? She rattles off a few of her own: Muddy Waters, Led Zeppelin, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols.

The stuff women two and three times her age are into.

"There are a lot of kids my age who fancy the Stones and bands like Led Zeppelin, but it was more something they listened to in high school," van Eeden says. "It's like they'll listen to it, and listen to the same songs, but they don't know much about it."

Her message to people her age? The Rolling Stones aren't just some relic from your parents' generation. They're still a tour de force, and they're definitely not to be missed.

"People are like, 'Why do you like them so much? They're old. They're out of their prime.' And I say, 'No, they're in their prime right now.' "

Though van Eeden's small room is papered floor to ceiling with photos of her musical heroes, there is one band that stands out above them all.

The band she's going to see Wednesday night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, where she has a seat right next to the catwalk. And though she has a lot of friends, she's going alone.

"I'm not there to be with my friends," she says. "I'm there to be with Ronnie."

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