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Artist of the Year: The Rolling Stones

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For years, the Stones earned a reputation as the bad boys of rock & roll, and Richards was the baddest of the lot. He's taking it a good deal easier these days. "I recognize that I'm not twenty or thirty anymore," Richards says, almost wistfully. "I make sure I get . . . a little sleep." He chuckles. "Not a lot, but at least a bit. It's the longest show we've ever done, and you want to do it right. There's this incredible feeling amongst the band: We've got to deliver. Instead of hanging out for that extra five minutes — which usually means five hours by the time that five minutes is over, because that's the killer five. You say, 'Oh, one more drink,' and then suddenly, 'All right, who fancies a game of poker?' 'Well, why not?' And then five hours later, you've blown it. They don't do that. It's amazing to me to watch this lot's self-discipline come down."

In the early days, when the Stones came to a city, the band incited a heady combination of arousal and fear, as if a street gang had blown into town. Asked whether he missed that aspect of the Stones' appeal, Richards laughs and says, "The Wild Ones? Not really. You get older, you know? You've got families and kids. It will happen to the best of you, baby, don't worry. The one thing I can guarantee is you're gonna get older — if you're lucky. If you're really bad, you get older; only the good die young. But I've known a few exceptions to that rule, as well.

"There's no point at this point of life still trying to play bad boys just for the sake of it," Richards continues. "I was as bad as you could get. I look back, and I say, 'I was trying to commit suicide for ten years.' But I couldn't kill it. So I came to terms with myself: 'Okay, well, then, we'll get on with living.' Now I want to see how far I can take this thing. If I can grow up, then surely my music can."

Richards knows that the context in which that music will grow up is somewhat in doubt. Jagger, while fully committed to the Stones for the present, isn't saying much about the future of the band. Such reticence used to make Richards's skin crawl; now he accepts it. "From the very minute that I waltzed into this joint in Barbados with my little bag, thinking, 'Mick and I are gonna write some songs,' I'm taking it a day at a time," Richards says, adding significantly, "at the moment."

Taking it a day at a time has, so far, produced an album and a North American tour. The Stones have played Japan and will likely go to Europe in the summer. Jagger is fronting the band and doing an extraordinary job of it. For Richards, that's enough — at the moment.

Still, Richards values the time he spent away from the Stones. "The Stones, it's a weird thing, it's almost like a soap opera," he says. "We needed a break to find out what you can and what you can't do on your own. I had to find myself a whole new band. Hell, I've got another band round the corner that's damn hot. And they're still there; my guys are still there. I kind of provoked the Stones with the Winos. Before I did that, the idea of doing something like that meant to me 'You failed to keep your band together.' I thought I always could. But then I realized maybe that's the way to keep the band together: leaving for a bit."

Clearly, however, the absurd amounts of money and the hoopla of the past year mean far less to Richards than the fact that, in 1989, his real band, the Rolling Stones, won the battle of the bands hands down. Of skeptics who had written the Stones off before the tour, Richards says, "Loads of people have tried that. That was the idea: Saying, ' 'Ey, I've got a good band here. All you've got to do is come and see them. We'll take you down in the basement and show you what's what.' And try and make a basement out of a football stadium, get back in the garage. Get that feel going. I never doubted the band, personally — but I'm an incredible optimist where this band is concerned. It never occurred to me that they might not be able to cut it. Absolutely not."

"Back out on the killing floor," Richards says cheerily as he sets off to prepare for the first of the two Silverdome shows. But first he goes looking for Jagger with the words "I'll send Her Majesty back over."

Referred to earlier by one member of the Stones entourage as "The house of God," Jagger's dressing room is not especially posh, just a rigged-up space off the sterile corridors within the bowels of a stadium, outfitted with a couch, a table, some chairs and a humidifier. Jagger's assistant, Miranda Guinness, kneels on the floor preparing a pot of tea to his specifications; someone else's previous effort had proven unsatisfactory. She will later bring him a plate of fish that he will pick at as he speaks.

Sitting on the couch, Jagger is wound up much tighter than he was just an hour ago. It's nearing show time, and he's pulling into himself. When the Stones hit the stage a little over an hour later, 55,000 people will roar at the mere sight of Mick Jagger and will follow his every move, blown larger than life on the video screens, for two and a half hours. It's not the sort of prospect that makes you want to kick back, get vulnerable and bare your soul — or makes you feel that you need to.

Despite his obvious intelligence, Jagger is impatient with introspection and speculation. He doesn't question his desires — he wants them satisfied — and, as a result, he exudes an extraordinary air of self-possession. The world and what can happen in it — that is, the present and, as concerns his specific plans, the future — are his exclusive focuses. What might have happened, could have happened, should happen or, even more improbably, whatever you might feel about any of those issues, are quite beside the point.

"I hate talking about future plans, because if they don't work out, you look like a cunt," Jagger says, while discussing his interest in television production. "Then you'll say, 'What happened to that idea?' It didn't work, you know?"

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