When you go out to take a peek beforehand, what kind of things are you looking at?
Is the front section empty? Because that usually means that they're older and want to just show up at the time we go on. Or are they there only for the opening act or something? And just how do they respond? How loud they are, how enthusiastic they are. Of course, that's the opening act, too. Depends how good they are, whether they can communicate with them, which is not very easy. I'd hate to be a fucking opening act. You get out there, and you feel the temperature of it, really.
What's that moment like just before you go onstage? What's your energy like?
My energy's usually pretty good. Sometimes I think, "Oh, Jesus, do I really have to go on now?" You have to finally switch into the fact that you're just about to go on, because before it can be unreal.
As you walk down to the stadium from the dressing room, you start to buzz a little bit. And you hear the audience, what their response is when the music starts. And then just before we go on, just while the music's really warming up, you get an extra buzz then.
When you're onstage – can you describe that feeling?
When you first walk on, it's really – let me think.
I walk out to an empty stage; I'm very confident. This is what I do. I've done it so many times.
I'm not at all nervous about going on. It feels very comfortable and like home. But having said that, there's certain feelings that you get, you know: "Jesus, all those people!" There's a few empty seats sometimes, I see, and you say, "Oh, God, how many empty seats?" And funny things that you think of – just silly things – and you must not think of those, because as soon as you start thinking, "I hope that the heavy rains that we've had in London don't block the gutters up [laughs] and the roof leaks again." [Laughter] It's just – anything can come into your mind, but you have to throw it out because you just have to really concentrate on what you're doing.
When you're performing, what's that feeling? Can you describe that thrill of performing and dancing around and singing? Is that possible to describe?
It's very high adrenaline. If you've ever been in this high-adrenalin situation – like driving a car very fast or being in a championship basketball team in the finals or whatever it was – it's really high adrenalin.
Our concerts do have a lot in common with sporting events. I mean, they're held in the same places. And they have this kind of feeling. Obviously, what's lacking is the competition aspect, but there is a certain amount of the same feeling – that you're always present at the event. You know, the event is important. I was at Super Bowl XVII or whatever, and I don't even remember who fucking played, but you were there. You might not remember what songs the Rolling Stones played when you saw them in the Astrodome, but you were there.
But it's quite hard to describe just in trying to offer a description. I've sometimes tried to write it down. I have written it down – what it's like, what you feel like. But there's so much going on, it's hard unless you're really in a stream-of-consciousness thing. Because there are so many references: "Oh, I'm doing this, and I'm doing that," and you're sort of watching yourself doing it. "Oh God, look at that girl; she's rather pretty. Don't concentrate on her!" But it's good to concentrate on her, she's good to contact one-on-one. Sometimes I try to do that. They're actually real people, not just a sea of people. You can see this girl has come, and she's got this dress on and so on, and so you make good contact with one or two people. And then you make contact with the rest of the band. You might give a look-see if everyone's all right.
You're always checking everything?
The first number, I'm totally checking everything.
Now, you said you wrote down this other thing about feeling transported?
I don't let myself get transported on the first number, because that is very dangerous. I used to let myself do that, but it's not such a good idea, because there's too much to check. I mean, is everything working?
You seem to be split in various parts. There's part of you which is saying to you, "OK, don't forget this, don't forget that." And there's this other part of you, which is just your body doing things that it isn't really commanded to do, which I found is the dangerous part. You can hurt yourself if you don't watch out – because you've got so much adrenalin. That's why I rather like doing "Not Fade Away," because I don't do much physically on it. [Laughs] But if you start off with a number like, say, "Start Me Up," which we did on the last tour, your body starts to do all kinds of things on this adrenalin thing. You've got to watch out. You can really hurt yourself – or just tire yourself out too quickly in the first five minutes, and you're just wiped out.
I was standing down at the bottom of the stage in San Antonio, watching you do "Brown Sugar," and there was a look on your face kind of like ecstasy.
At some point in the show, you just lose it. You get such interaction with the audience that it feels really good. And it should be pushed. You should let yourself go. I mean, have those moments when you really are quite out of your brain. But there's always a point where a good performer knows when –
To pull back?
Yeah, when they're allowed to happen, if they're going to happen, and when they're not allowed to really happen, if they start to happen. And it's all to do with concentration, really.
Is it sustained, or does it come in isolated moments?
It comes in isolated moments. It's just a transcendent moment – I don't know whether you can say it's joyful. Sometimes it can be joyful; sometimes it's just crazy.
Charlie said about you, "Mick Jagger is based on James Brown. He's a younger version of James Brown."
[Laughs] Well, that's a nice compliment. I mean, of course, I'm not anything like James Brown. I used to aspire to be like James Brown in his moves, and so I copied a lot of James Brown's moves in the early days. I don't do them, really, anymore. But I think what Charlie means is that James Brown is constantly attuned to the groove, to the drums. I'm also very attuned to the drums. It's just natural.
Charlie said that he's following you all the time and that the dynamic of his playing is based on a move that you'll make.
Well, that's probably the oldest thing in music or performing: the link between drums and dancing – before there was any other music, really. If you watch any folk music, if you go to Africa or you go to Asia, you can see it in Ireland or England . . . you'll see the connection between the performer who's dancing and the drums. In Balinese dancing or any of these things, they watch – very closely – the dancer. And there may be accents when the dancer moves, and they make rhythmic accentuations on them – turns and so on. That doesn't strictly go in all rock, because a rock drummer has to keep very basic time.
And then when you leave the stage, when you're done – how is it?
You just let yourself go, just tired, you know. And then you recover pretty quickly. After about 10 or 15 minutes, you feel OK.
Do you think you're gonna come back to the States any time soon?
I haven't made up my mind.
What's at stake for you if you come back to the States so soon?
Every time you go out, you're putting yourself on the line.
And you can't repeat the same show?
That would be a bad mistake. We have to do another show. It's fine being on the road; there's nothing wrong with it, it's lovely. But it is a slightly unreal version of reality – it can be very addictive, and it can be very tempting to stay on the road, because you're absolved of a lot of responsibilities in your life.
I spoke to people in the band, and it sounds like the band wants to go on.
I don't think Charlie's wildly enthusiastic, nor am I. Sure, you can keep touring forever if you want, but I don't know whether Keith and Ronnie have thought it through.
I don't think they'll turn anything down. They just go, "Yeah, cool." They accept everything. Never question four shows in Edmonton. Never look at it and go, "Do you think there really are four shows in Edmonton?" If that's what they're told to do, they do it. I'm sure Keith would never say no.
Keeping Up With the Beatles
What was the relationship between the Stones and the Beatles?
Super, highly competitive – but friendly. Because when you're very young, it's very hard. Looking back, thinking of all that competition, I hate it. But I suppose it's all right, because I won out. But it wasn't only between us and the Beatles but us and all the other bands. I remember one time playing in Philadelphia, and Herman's Hermits were top of the bill, and we were second, and there was some argument about the dressing rooms. [Peter Noone] was complaining because he was top of the bill and his dressing room wasn't good enough. Anyway, there we were, and he was top of the bill because the Herman's Hermits were huge. And one of the most impossible things was going out to have a hamburger, and some guy would go, "Are you Herman's Hermits?" It would kill you. So you go, "Fuck you. Herman's Hermits is shit."
Weren't you particularly compared with the Beatles, though?
The Beatles were so big that it's hard for people not alive at the time to realize just how big they were. There isn't a real comparison with anyone now. I suppose Michael Jackson at one point, but it still doesn't seem quite the same. They were so big that to be competitive with them was impossible. I'm talking about in record sales and tours and all this. They were huge.
Bigger than Jesus?
They were bigger than Jesus!
And there came a point where you were Band 2 after that.
Yeah, we were Band 2. Like Avis. It's horrible being compared to a car.
What kind of a relationship did you develop with John?
I liked John very much to start. We all had a good relationship with John. He seemed to be in sympathy with our kind of music, so we used to go out to clubs a lot. We did a lot of hanging out.
Did you feel you were developing a special relationship with John? You're the leader of the one group, and he's the leader of the other group?
There was a professional thing above the friendship. You could talk about problems, bounce things off each other and get a different take on it. Later, when John wasn't in the Beatles any more, he was bouncing more ideas off me than ever before. I'm not saying I was the only person he bounced off of, but he used to bounce a lot off me – song choices and stuff.
He was educated and very smart and cynical and funny and really amusing company. He had a very funny take on the rest of the Beatles. If they boasted too much about how great they were, he had ways to shut them up. He'd say, "Don't worry, he's just getting used to being famous. Shurrup!" [Laughter] As if he'd been famous longer, you know. But I used to get on with Paul as well. Paul is very nice and easy to get on with – didn't have the acerbic side. You always knew with John, you're gonna be on the end of a lot of sarcastic remarks that you weren't always in the mood for.
What do you think was going on with him? What do you think motivated him?
Wanted to be the most famous person in the world [laughs].
I think he said as much.
Did he really?
Along that line. "We want to be more famous than Elvis." Something like that.
Yeah. Elvis just did it all wrong, didn't he? Put all these silly ideas into people's heads. And John picked up on it.
Do you think that drove him?
It seems incredibly crass and superficial, doesn't it?
Yeah, but if you feel you have this big message for everybody ... and at the end, he did.
Yeah, he did have a big message. I don't think he had a message in the beginning, although he might have thought he was gonna get one. Or you think the message is to be famous, and then I'll think of the message later [Laughs].
So now, looking back on his work, what do you think his contribution was?
He did wonderful things. John and Paul, I mean, because it's hard to separate this thing, and having been through a partnership, with people always asking you who did what, and, of course, you either exaggerate your own importance or you downplay it, but you never get it right. I think John himself was a very talented guy, very influential and wrote some wonderful songs. And he was very funny. I think he really was larger than life.
But the rest of them took it more seriously than John.
You got that feeling, and that's why I told you that little story about him shutting them up. He knew it was all bullshit.
And he showed he could walk away from it. But don't you evaluate his contribution as greater than, he wrote some good songs?
He obviously did more than just that, but he wrote really wonderful songs and performed them wonderfully. The stage performances were not mind-boggling, and after nineteen sixty-whatever-it-was, they didn't do any stage performances, so for all intents and purposes, Shea Stadium and the concert on the roof was it. But great songwriting, great personality, and he had all these other sides, which added to it: the writing, the drawing, the little books, the all-embracing, modernistic push, which was refreshing without being pretentious.
What was your thinking when you heard he was shot?
I was very sad and surprised. And it was all so horribly ironic. He thought he had found a place to be on his own, have this life, and he was quite taken with the idea that he was no longer in the Beatles, that he didn't have to have a lot of protection, bodyguards. He used to tell me how he would go in a cab in New York – go in a fucking yellow cab. Which, as you know, is probably to be avoided if you've got more than $10. [Laughs] A London cab is one thing, but a New York cab is another. He wanted freedom to walk the block and get in the cab, and he felt in these big cities you can be anonymous.
Did it have some deeper personal resonance with you when he died?
I just felt very sad for the loss of someone that I loved very much. I didn't write it up as a piece in The Guardian. I think journalists have this temptation to keep marking time lines. [Laughs] There are wall charts for children: dinosaurs end here, wooly mammoths here, and John Lennon dies here. You know?
Do you think John deserves this huge reputation he still has? The Beatles being the greatest group?
They certainly were not a great live band. Maybe they were in the days of the Cavern, when they were coming up as a club band. I'm sure they were hilariously funny and all that. And they did have this really good onstage persona. But as far as the modern-day world, they were not a great performing band. But do they deserve the fantastic reputation? They were the Beatles. They were this forerunning, breakthrough item, and that's hard to overestimate.
What do you think of Tina Turner?
I was influenced by her. She's one of the first women performers I worked with who has the same aggressive thing that I've got. A lot of women performers are quite static – or certainly were in the '60s. They did their best, but they weren't like Tina. She was like a female version of Little Richard and would respond to the audience – really go out and grab them.
I always loved Pete. He's very bright, always thinking. He had this insane, rebellious, self-destructive streak. The first time we traveled with him, we were on the same plane going somewhere like Belgium. He got on the plane and got completely drunk in an hour – drunk and crazy. We just watched. But I love Pete. He was an exciting performer in the heyday of the Who.
I loved Jimi Hendrix from the beginning. The moment I saw him, I thought he was fantastic. I was an instant convert. Mr. Jimi Hendrix is the best thing I've ever seen. It was exciting, sexy, interesting. He didn't have a very good voice but made up for it with his guitar. I first saw him at the Revolution Club, in London. I was one of six people in the club, and Jimi was playing. I couldn't believe it. It was insane – so good and the whole idea of this kind of English band behind him, this bizarre mixture between a blues performer and a rock player with an English touch.
Did you have any kind of relationship with him?
I was quite friendly with him. He was a really sweet guy. A bit confused. It's the same old story: Jimi Hendrix played all over the place with all these bands. He'd been a background guitar player for donkey years. And suddenly he gets what he wants, then has to play "Purple Haze" every night. He goes, "Uh, I don't want to play 'Purple Haze' every night. I don't want to burn the guitar." And then when everyone went off the deep end, he had to go off the deep end. He became a heroin addict.
What's your take on Prince?
It's fashionable to knock Prince now because he seems to have gone off on a tangent [laughs].
You mean the way he has no name?
That's become a bit of a joke. No, I think Prince is a great artist, very traditional in some ways. Prince has been overlooked. But he's so incredibly in the mold of the James Brown sort of performer. He broke a lot of musical modes and invented a lot of styles and couldn't keep up with himself. Very prolific, which is rare. Mostly people write three songs and repeat themselves. Prince has a lot of talent as a writer, and I've seen great performances by Prince. He's outperformed almost everyone. I'd rate him at the top. I don't think there's a lot of competition from new artists.
What about today's music?
I'm not in love with things at the moment. I was never crazy about Nirvana – too angst-ridden for me. I like Pearl Jam. I prefer them to a lot of other bands. There's a lot of angst in a lot of it, which is one of the great things to tap into. But I'm not a fan of moroseness.
Some of this music reminds me of the '60s. Do you see that?
In that there's four people playing guitars and so on, there's a lot of '60s influence. It may appear that they're playing the same thing or look the same on MTV, or there's certain haircuts you've seen on the Byrds. But the grooves are different. It's all influenced by dance music. In 30 years you don't keep playing the same beat. Which is good. I don't think any of these bands would claim to be daringly different. But it's heartening to return to live music, heartening for people like me in a band. It's a very traditional thing to return to. It re-validates the original form that we fell in love with.
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