There are these two guys named Mick Jagger. One of them, whose life is laid out in lurid little exploits in the tatty press, seems a perfect prancing ass. The other one, however, makes these lately great-again albums with the Rolling Stones, whom he also inveigles out onto the road every three years or so in order to dredge up a quick $40 million and thus finance further society wallows. One suspects these two are acquainted, but you never see them together. (Well, maybe onstage.)
Additionally, there is sometimes a third Mick Jagger. While the other two have all the fun, this one makes himself available for interviews each time an album is released. It is an occupation clouded by great, gray billows of boredom. This Mick Jagger has not been asked an interesting question since, oh, Altamont – and how interesting was that? Journalists are always pushing the same old piffle, it seems. Much of it pertains to Mick I. Is he doped up? Shacked up? Fucked up? Fed up? Can he really be forty years old?
As it happens, there is now a whole generation of pop-music enthusiasts out there for whom such questions no longer burn. Mick Jagger? Took a lot of drugs? Used to think he was the devil or something? Hung out with Andy Warhol? Ick. And you say he's still at it?
Yes, dear God, he is. In fact, because the Rolling Stones are about to unleash their latest release, an album called Undercover, he is sitting right here behind a desk in the modest mid-Manhattan offices of Rolling Stones Records, doing his Mick III routine. It is a balmy, sunny afternoon in early September, and Jagger is casually stylish in pale yellow pants, a drape-cut cord shirt and woven leather sandals, no socks. He looks good, rather softer and less chiseled than in photographs, and while he's a bit fidgety – and there's a lot of odd tug-and-snort action going on with his nose – one assumes these are probably mannerisms he's picked up from Mick I.
The material on Undercover, however – rough mixes of which I have audited in the customary interval between when Jagger says he'll arrive and when he actually appears – is very much the work of Mick II, the musician. There is no other singer like him, of course. But this time out, there is also an even more corrosive intensity to his lyrics, particularly in such songs as "She Was Hot," "All the Way Down," "Tie You Up (The Pain of Love)" – the titles tell it all – and in two bracing blasts at totalitarian political tyranny ("Undercover of the Night" and "It Must Be Hell") and one true-life tale of a man in Paris who hacked up his girlfriend and ate her ("Too Much Blood"). As Keith Richards says, "It's a very gory album."
And a very good one. The music, painstakingly put together over the past year by Jagger and the invaluable Richards, is harder and more deliriously guitar-lumbered than ever. Listening as it leaped out of the speakers, I marveled anew at the fact that, come January, the Rolling Stones will have been together for twenty-one years. Not only have they still got it, they've still got all of it.
So, long live Mick II, I say: his is a life distinctively and productively led. If only it were enough.
But of course it's not. Jagger may be a millionaire many times over, but there's still something faintly...frivolous about the way he makes his living. He yearns to branch out, to act, to produce films, though "no one ever asks me," he says. But here he is, forty years old and still best known as the lead singer for the Rolling Stones. As if that's really all he ever intends to do with his life. It's beginning to be an embarrassment. Even his friends are starting to talk. On the occasion of his birthday last July 26th, for instance, Pete Townshend – who's allegedly retired his own band, the Who – wrote a windy salute to his old pal in the Times of London. Jagger might have beat Pete to the punch in sampling sex and drugs and major rock success, trumpeted Townshend, who's two years younger than Mick, "but I have stopped living for rock & roll before he has."
"That," says Jagger with a snort and a tug, "presumes the feet that I ever did live for it. I mean, yeah, when I was like fourteen. But I think after the age of... certainly thirty, if not twenty-five, I had ceased merely living for rock & roll itself, you know. I mean, I love rock & roll; it's wonderful. I know what the feeling is: you wake up in the morning, run down to the record store, get the new record, put it on, can't wait for all your friends to come over. You sing it all day. You go down to the bar, you're still singing it, putting a nickel in the juke. Then you go out and see the band at night, you know? I can do that. I mean, tonight I'm gonna see Yellowman; that should be fun. But being really caught up in rock & roll...that's something you do when you're a teenager. It'd be stupid to do that all the time."
Jagger leans back with a big, cheek-creasing grin. "Pete Townshend is talking about himself," he says.
Michael Phillip Jagger always had big ambitions, right from the beginning. As his father, Joe Jagger, a phys. ed. teacher in a South London suburb, once observed, "He was in business administration at the London School of Economics when he took two years' leave to start his group. He did it because he thought it was something pleasant, but he realized the possibilities of making money, and since he was in business administration, he felt it was a good idea to make money."
Need we note that money is no longer a pressing concern for Jagger? Already awash in nearly twenty years of songwriting royalties and record-breaking concert receipts (much of it safely sheltered in the Stones' Holland-based holding company, Promotone B.V., or otherwise administered by their London-based financial adviser, Prince Rupert Loewenstein), Jagger recently engineered a rather astounding new recording contract for the Stones with CBS Records. The deal marks the end of the band's twelve-year relationship with Atlantic Records and its chairman of the board, Ahmet Ertegun, with whom they've had a longstanding friendship. The reason, Jagger says simply, was that "CBS offered us substantially more money." Twenty-five million dollars, to be precise. In return, among other things, CBS will eventually acquire much of the Stones' back catalog. Both sides seem pleased with the deal.
"I think the CBS offer was based on the performance of our last three studio albums," says Jagger, whose group has been on a dramatic creative upswing since the Some Girls LP in 1978. "I think CBS figures they can sell more records than anybody, so if our next three sell the same as the last three, they're gonna make money."
The heart of the deal, of course, is that CBS will release the next four Rolling Stones albums. In addition, it will also release, for the first time ever, a solo album by Mick Jagger himself. Maybe two or three. This is an unexpected breach in Jagger and Richards' longstanding no-solos tradition, and Mick seems excited by it.
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