I'm 'fraid rock & roll has no future," Mick Jagger said. His famous lips formed a perfect moue of distaste, as if they hated to utter such treason.
Jagger was curled up on the chocolate-brown sofa in the living room of his second-floor Manhattan apartment. Golden sunbeams and raucous street sounds flooded through his open windows, and he welcomed both, jumping up to lean out the window when a reggae beat wafted in from a passing radio.
"Why doesn't it?" I asked him while opening two bottles of Löwenbräu.
He turned back from the window and laughed. The flashing diamond set in his left incisor was a mark of his long years of service to rock & roll. The age lines around his eyes were as old as the weariness and cynicism in his voice.
"'Cause it doesn't," he said flatly. "There is no future in rock & roll. It's only recycled past." He sounded genuinely sad. We both fell silent and stared into our beers.
As a band, the Rolling Stones are now eighteen years old. Mature rock & roll, as represented in their new album, Emotional Rescue, is a strange new territory, and the Stones still don't know exactly what to do with it, even while they're doing it. It's a curious half-world they inhabit; it's as if they rule a kingdom that exists out of time, but one that nonetheless exists and whose citizens demand the Rolling Stones. No substitutes accepted.
Though they have never sold records in enormous quantities (Some Girls was Number One for only two weeks in 1978), their legend and aura make most other popular bands pale by comparison. Just the hint of an impending Stones invasion can strike terror in the hearts of city, state and even national governments. Canada has still not fully recovered from the Stones' extended stay in 1977, when Keith Richards was arrested and tried on charges of possession of and intent to sell heroin. Had he gone to jail, there would doubtless have been rioting in Toronto. When Richards was arrested in Fordyce, Arkansas, during the band's 1975 tour, hordes of young, angry longhairs surrounded the jail. The judge quickly decided it would be in the interest of public safety to let Richards board the chartered plane that suddenly appeared in Fordyce.
The Stones can justifiably be proud of their image. The fact that they as grown men — rich grown men, at that — can actually perpetuate the spirit of adolescent rebellion is remarkable in itself. The fact that they seem to mean it is astonishing.
Back at Jagger's apartment, Mick was patiently explaining, at great length, why rock & roll is really not worth talking about.
"Rock & roll is a funny thing," he said. "There are two different attitudes, right? One is the English attitude, like when Pete Townshend talks about rock & roll like a religion. And then there are the others, like me, who think it's really a lot of overblown nonsense. Why bother? I mean, it's not worth bothering about. As a form of art or music."
"But, Mick, is it a form of art? I mean, England's got all these art students forming bands now, and they talk about it as art and about 'distancing themselves from rock & roll's traditions."'
"Well." He poured another glass of beer and thought for a moment. "I do kind of see it as a form of art, but what I'm saying is that there's no point in me trying to start some spiritual or cultural organization to distance myself from the traditions of rock & roll. It doesn't seem important enough. In other words, it's not a great movement in painting. I just think . . . I don't know. I'm not going to take sides, really. I think the music seems to be in a pretty healthy state because there are so many things going on."
Warming to his subject, he got up and began to pace around the couch. "And then you've got all these idiots who review rock & roll — I can't read them. All these people who try to read so much into the music, read things into it that aren't there. It's totally phony, isn't it, because I know that the things they read into it aren't there."
"Is that like these theoretical bands that say they're reinventing rock & roll?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, I mean, for anyone who is in some sort of business or art or whatever you want to call it, and who actually makes larger claims for himself — I don't know what that is. Let's take Rough Trade [a British independent label], right? To my mind, it is connected to the rock establishment because it's gonna make a journalistic impression. They have a great line, don't they? Journalists will hook stories on that, and they'll be noticed no matter how anonymous they say they want to be. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah. They can be noble and still be in the rock press. When you talk about there being two attitudes to rock & roll, would that mean that there are two ways to play 'Louie, Louie,' and one of them is to claim that it's art?"
Jagger laughed. "Yeah, yeah, I think so. That was Frank Zappa's thing. He based his musical teachings on that, and it was one of his ways of saying rock & roll is all trash. And it is trash. This very irate disc jockey said to me, 'I was having this interview with Johnny Rotten, a.k.a. John Lydon, and he said that rock & roll is a lot of rubbish, trashy music, and I was shocked!' And I said, 'Well, that's one of the few things I am able to agree with him on. It is all trash."'
"Have you ever talked to Lydon? That might be funny."
Mick headed for the kitchen: "No, I haven't talked to him and no, it might not be very much fun at all."
He brought back more beer and we watched the teenagers down on the street, blasting disco sounds from their enormous radios.
"Mick, is Emotional Rescue a New York City album, now that you and Keith live here?"
He answered seriously: "I don't think so. To me, New York is like Lou Reed and all those other bands."
"But the rhythms in 'Dance' and 'Emotional Rescue' sound like the city, don't they?"
"That is New York, yeah. English people hate it, 'cause they say it's all disco."
"But it's not."
"I know, but that's what they think it is, you see. It's just black music."
"What about the title song? How did you work that up, all that falsetto stuff?"
"I wrote that on an electric piano in the studio, then Charlie [Watts] and Woody [Ron Wood] and I cut it immediately, live. It was all done very quickly. I think the vocals could've been better. It's just one of those recording-studio things. You would never really write a song like that in real life. Comes out in the studio, 'cause it's all ad-libbed, the end part. It was never planned like that."
"But that part's really funny, the speech."
"Yeah, it's all a joke, really. There's a lot of pastiche all over the album. It's all our piss-taking, in other words. Pastiche is just a big word for it."
"How did you go about recording the album?"
He threw up his hands in mock despair. "It took forever. I started writing a ton of songs last summer, then Charlie and I did a few demos. Some of them came out of that. Some had been written before. Then we recorded a whole lot of newer things, which weren't really complete. Then, we went back and more or less chose the ones we started with. I mean, it was just so haphazard and slapdash. Too much work was made out of it. I think Parkinson's disease or whatever sets in if you've got no real cutoff date, 'cause you just keep going until you've done everything you can possibly think of. And then you say, well, great, but now we've got forty songs, some of which are good and some of which could be good if only they were, you know, different. At the end, you think, Jesus, where am I? It's stupid. That's a dumb way of doing it. We do have a lot of material, admittedly, but that's not the point. The point is that it took two years to get it. You could've easily made it in nine months. Nobody had any proper vision of it. Nobody fucking knew where they were going. That includes me. You get bored with things very quickly.
"My attention span is so limited. You know, I just love to make up songs and I don't even like to finish the words. I just like to sing 'ooooh' all the way through. And then I'm happy after that. I don't want to do anymore. That's it. I don't even want to hear it again."
"Can you stand to do the mixing, or does Keith do it?"
Jagger shot me a scornful look and curled his lip: "You've got to be kidding. Keith gets into remixing in phases, sometimes."
"What's the story on this song 'Claudine,' which was supposedly dropped from the album for legal reasons?"
"Well, it was never gonna be on the album." He winked. "That's legal talk. It's not really about Claudine Longet. It's beyond that. I just liked the name, to be honest, and then I made a song around it. It's not her. Unfortunately, this being such a litigious country . . ."
"Well, you've already got a full quota of misogyny on the album."
He smiled. "Yeah, I've got a lot of . . . well, it's not too misogynous. But there is a bit of a one-track mind in there. Everyone's been reminding me that the album has only got one subject, which is girls. Obviously, that's got to change."
"Obviously that's what you all think about."
"Yeah. Maybe I'll become a Marxist rock & roller and make a Marxist album. Fuck all this girl stuff. Make an album with anonymous musicians — apart from myself — who won't get paid."
"Do women slag you about your girl songs?"
He grew serious again: "Never, actually. I think they take it with a pinch of salt, to be honest. Well, the other day in the lift, some woman came up to me and said, 'You're the one who wrote that song about the Puerto Rican girls.' I said, 'Um, well, I have written songs.' The weirdest things do come out. There are a lot of cover versions lately of 'Under My Thumb.' Carly Simon recorded it, but she didn't put it out."
We heard a series of explosions from down the street. "Is that a gun?" asked Mick.
"I don't think so," I said. "Guns aren't that loud."
We looked out the window; it didn't seem as if anyone had been shot.
"Mick," I asked, "did it ever seem to you that ten or eleven years ago rock & roll was a powerful social force, and that since then it's been slowly defanged or co-opted?"
He shook his head. "No. That was obviously a false vision."
"But, for example, 'Street Fighting Man' was a rallying point, politically."
Jagger shrugged. "Yeah, but that was during that radical Vietnam time. It was merely then. You've always got to have good tunes if you're marching. But the tunes don't make the march. Basically, rock & roll isn't protest, and never was: It's not political. It's only — it promotes interfamilial tension. It used to. Now it can't even do that, because fathers don't ever get outraged with the music. Either they like it or it sounds similar to what they liked as kids. So, rock & roll's gone, that's all gone. You see, that was very important. The whole rebellion in rock & roll was about not being able to make noise at night and not being able to play that rock & roll so loud and boogie-woogie and not being able to use the car and all that."
So you think Johnny Rotten is trying to rebel against you because he's got nothing else to rebel against?"
Jagger laughed. "Yeah. But that doesn't work either. Can't possibly work. It'd be like me rebelling against Eddie Cochran. Pointless. Everyone knows that those people were very good at what they did, so you can't rebel against the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. By the way, 'Is John Lennon ever gonna make another record?' is a question I'm asked over and over. Do you know?"
"I have no idea."
"He lives next door. Why don't we just go by and see him? I never see him."
"I heard that Lennon once said you'd never retire because you couldn't stand not being king."
"Ha. I bet he was thinking about himself. Don't you? How is Dylan's new album? Is it good?"
Jagger fell over laughing. "No. A fantastic one-word review. I've seen Bob's boat, by the way. I have this small house on this very fashionable island in the West Indies, and right across from there is Bequia, where he's having a boat built. It's costing a fortune, all hand-built."
"Does it look like an ark?" I asked.
Jagger arched an eyebrow: "It does look like an ark."
"Maybe Bob knows something. Maybe we better get down there and get on board before it's too late."
"Yeah. Was he ever in the Jewish Defense League? No? I didn't think so. Jesus was a Jew, wasn't he? There was an important Christian. See, I always get into trouble talking. Warners will find it insulting: 'Too many Jewish jokes, Mick.' They're terrified."
"You weathered the 'black girls' thing from Some Girls pretty well, didn't you?"
"The thing is like . . . ignorance. If I'd said black men instead of black girls, I don't think anyone would have complained. You know what I'm saying? I was just trying to point out the stupidity and waste of time of all that. American humor should be so open that people shouldn't worry. If you say Jews got big cocks, does that make you racist? Well, life isn't really like that."
He fell silent. We finished our beers and watched the light fade on Central Park.
I'm ready for my bacon and eggs," Keith Richards announced as he marched into the offices of Rolling Stones Records at six p.m., waving a fifth of Jack Daniel's, among other things. He had just awakened and wanted breakfast — sour-mash bourbon. Richards was having trouble breaking the seal on the bottle. "I've got a key we could use," I offered, but Keith interrupted me by whipping out an enormous gravity knife and — kachunk! — snapping it open and slicing off the seal. He winked at me and held up the knife: "This is the key to the highway." He poured us both tumblers of bourbon.
We settled in an office and I asked, "How much did you have to leave out of the new record?"
Keith, who looked healthy in spite of his rather abandoned lifestyle, took a swig of bourbon, his silver skull ring flashing, and answered seriously. "We cut enough for two albums. That was almost as big a problem as not having enough — knowing what to leave out. It's not that we used the best of what we had; we just used what fitted together. My idea is to try to get out another album this year, and then we can get these motherfuckers out on the road! Instead of the same old treadmill of road, studio, road, studio, road, studio, we can make extended road trips or do anything else we want to do: be movie stars or make solo albums."
He fished a crumpled pack of Marlboros out of his jeans and sipped some more breakfast.
"So, Keith," I asked, "how's rock & roll doing?"
He smiled and took a deep drag. "It's healthy as ever. We all tend to forget that it's ninety percent crap anyway. But the ten percent is good. The younger kids have sort of got the right idea on how to play it, you know; they have the right attitude. And that's what rock & roll is: an attitude. Fathead Newman — people think of him as high-class jazz, but he's a honky-tonk rock & roller, he knows how to do it. Attitude . . . the personal thing is, 'Did you pass it on? Did you do it well?"'
"That attitude you're talking about," I asked, "is it hard to keep it after eighteen years and twenty-seven albums?"
He laughed easily: "Hey, I think I've just got it."
He got up for more ice cubes and rolled down the tops of his blue suede boots. "Well, I don't approach it any different now than I did back then. The biggest change is the technology. The studio in Paris — the recording button still says Fire Missiles on it. Military hardware. And the board has a little computer that sort of flashes up and says Corrupt Information on Track Three. Great."
"Well, after all these years, do you find that there are areas you haven't gotten to yet?"
"Yeah, yeah! That's interesting. Limits. Roland Kirk, no limitations. Maybe we should try everything. Your classic rock & roll records are evolved in a very solid mold, and then it's variations on a theme, you know, which isn't that different from nineteenth-century classical composers. Emotional Rescue is sort of half Rolling Stones working within the basic mold, and the other half is trying out things."
"Have you," I asked, "heard these new groups that are analyzing their music . . ."
Keith cut me off: "Then they should take it to a laboratory."
". . . and they're seeking this 'distance' from rock & roll?"
He gave a weary sigh. "And at the same time they're using the rock & roll media and rock & roll to set it up, to get it out. Great. But why bother mentioning rock & roll in the first place, if that's what we're talking about? Because — shit, the minute rock & roll reaches the head, forget it. Rock & roll starts from the neck down. Once rock & roll gets mixed up in No Nukes and Rock Against Racism — admirable causes though they are — it's not for rock & roll to take these things up as a full-time obsession. Because nukes may obsess your brain, but they really don't obsess your crotch. Rock & roll: it's a few moments when you can forget about nukes and racism and all the other evils God's kindly thrown upon us."
Keith stopped for another long sip.
"What about the business of surviving in rock & roll?"
"The business of surviving in general," he laughed.
"But when you see people like Keith Moon go . . ."
"Yeah." He stared into his drink awhile. "Moon was strong as an ox, but he was . . . you know, he'd send out invitations that said, 'Do me in."'
"Does that come with the territory?"
"Yeah." Keith laughed bitterly. "High industrial-accident rate. Yeah — he got his long hair caught in the lathe. It's a tough scene, yeah. Carl Radle [Eric Clapton's bassist], six weeks ago, pshoot! OD. There's no way you can predict some things. I always look at it . . . as long as Bobby Keys survives, I will. We were born at exactly the same time. Every time I hear that he's sick, I think, 'Oh my God.' But he's all right. He played his ass off on this album."
Bobby Keys came in and we drank some more Jack Daniel's. Keith said that his next outside project would be organizing an "underground Library of Congress," and that he'd already called Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers about it. He mentioned that he'd finally gotten to play onstage with Chuck Berry in Los Angeles, and that Berry had acted bitter and kicked him off. He said that Chuck Berry was the only man alive who could even try to kick him off a stage and live to tell about it. And Keith said that during the recording of Emotional Rescue, he'd broken his own record for staying awake: nine days.
Bill Wyman was drinking tea from a china cup as we sat in his suite at the Plaza Hotel and watched Reuters news headlines crawl down the TV screen: Hippopotamus Eats Man in Korea. It was still early in the day, and neither of us could manage a laugh. Wyman was taping parts of a 125-hour Louis Armstrong special off the radio. We ruminated for a while, trying to wake up.
"Yes," he finally said, "I am going to retire from the Rolling Stones. I really do want to do other things, you know. I don't want to wait till I'm sixty; that'd be too late. So, at the end of 1982, I'll go for something else. When I got into rock & roll, I thought it'd last two or three years, maybe five, and I was just after some extra cash. I never saw it being any more than three years, a bit of cash, a bit of fun, and getting around town. Suddenly, here I am eighteen years later and it's become the most dominant part of my life, and I didn't really want it to go like that, you know. Here I am, just turned forty as it were, and I'm still playing rock & roll." So, he said with a smile, he will cash it in on his twentieth anniversary with the Stones.
"What will you do after the Stones?" I asked.
"I've just finished taking pictures for an art book on Marc Chagall, who is a good friend of mine. He's coming up on ninety-five now, and he's really together. He and the other artists around there [France] have our albums — Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, ELP — though I don't know why. They immediately regard you as an equal.
"I'm also interested in astronomy; I go to the observatory in Nice. I've got a publishing company going, and I'm getting into writing film scores."
"How much of your stuff," I asked, "has gotten onto Stones albums all these years?" Wyman grimaced and lit a cigarette: "Hardly any. I don't write the kind of music the Stones record or perform. That original riff from 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' was mine. My song on Satanic Majesties ["In Another Land"] was a fluke, because I was the only one who turned up at the session that night. You do get frustrated in a band like the Stones because it can be restrictive. There are five people with five different tastes: Keith might be mad about reggae and Jerry Lee Lewis; Mick's listening to the New York radio stations and funk; Charlie's back in England listening to Bix Beiderbecke; and I'm in the south of France listening to Hank Williams."
Wyman padded across the room to check on his tape and on the coffee. I wondered aloud how things had been going personally with the band.
He lit a fresh cigarette: "Well, we always have been able to communicate well. It has been a little difficult in various parts of the band. The last Mick Taylor year, there was a bit of difficulty with him relating to the rest of the band. Brian Jones' last few years were difficult, you know. Sometimes, for a year or so, I'll find it very difficult to relate to Keith because he's totally opposite to me: the way he lives, what he likes, what he does, his friends, everything. I have very little in common with him except the Rolling Stones. Then suddenly — pop! — he'd say something and we'd be mates for a year, then just as suddenly I'd feel pushed away. Or maybe I was pushing away, avoiding, sometimes with Mick. There are factors that hold the band together, apart from the music, but we don't see each other so much. Mick and Keith might see each other 'cause they're livin' in the same town. Woody and Keith might see each other a bit. I see Charlie occasionally. But we tend to come together only when there's work. It really is like Christmas with the family; you get on all right, but you know you wouldn't be able to stand it if they were living with you for a month. And I wouldn't! I wouldn't be able to stand to live with Keith or Mick, and I'm sure they couldn't stand it either."
"Does that also apply to the studio? Do you leave after your part is laid down?" "Yeah. You only get in the way. The too-many-cooks syndrome. After all the basics are done, I'm not there, and neither is Charlie or Woody. The funny thing is, when you get the test pressing of the album and you see all these new song titles — I would say three-quarters of the songs have their names changed by the time they get on an album. 'Tumbling Dice' was originally called 'Good Time Women' and had completely different lyrics."
As I got up to leave. Bill was rubbing his left shoulder. He told me that he has permanent muscle damage from the time he fell offstage in St. Paul on the 1978 tour. Since he is well-known for never moving on stage. I wondered how that could have happened. "The show had ended," he said, "and I ran to the right. Between the stage and the balcony, there was a thick black curtain, and I presumed there was a wall behind it. A girl was hanging over the balcony, and she said, 'Shake my hand!' I jumped up to shake her hand. Then I went straight through the curtain and down into blackness. I should have sued! I still suffer with that. If I were any other rock & roll star, I would have told that girl, 'Fuck off!' She must have found it very weird that this guy jumped up and shook her hand and then vanished. I wonder if she knows what happened?"
It was late at night and Ron Wood was uncertainly mixing up some vodka and tonics at Rolling Stones Records. The newest Stone is still the most exuberant. He was bouncing around the office and bubbling over about the new album. He talked about how the guitar solo on "Where the Boys Go" is part him mimicking Keith and part Keith. He thinks it's funny that Keith claims it's all Keith. Wood is still everybody's crazy little brother, especially Richards.' Jagger popped his head in the door. Said Wood: "Mick! Before I gave him guitar lessons, we wouldn't have had songs like 'Summer Romance,' because of all that rhythm guitar."
Jagger: "Well, that's all I can play." They laughed.
"Ron, what do you think would have happened if you had stayed with Rod Stewart?" I asked.
"Oooh," he said, "incredibly intriguing vibes. Rod misses me a lot and I miss him. If only he didn't make the whole thing a bloody competition."
"Well," said Jagger, "Rod is really a lead singer the way people think I am."
"Yeah," Wood said. "And the difference between Mick and Rod is, Rod would never let you play piano. He'd say, 'Well, you're the guitarist, I'm the vocalist, don't tell me what to do!"'
Said Jagger: !"Which is the reason why you never became like two musicians playing and writing together.
"I'll tell you what amazed me," Jagger continued, "was when I saw the Faces at Roosevelt Stadium and they had this caravan — what do you call it, a trailer, right? The band had one little bit of it and Rod had the whole other bit, and it was completely divided. I couldn't believe it."
"Yeah!" Wood said. "He loves it. He let me change my trousers in his area."
"Well," said Jagger, "treating the band like shit and they didn't even see it."
We got back to the vodka and tonics. Wood said he's working up another solo album, and he'll get either the Beatles' former drummer or the Stones' present drummer to play on it. He added that Ringo had asked him to produce two cuts on his next album, and that Ringo didn't seem to be too sure of what to do.
"Well," Jagger smirked, "that's L.A. for you."
"What's L.A. about that?" I asked.
"I can't think," Jagger said. "Terrible about Carl Radle."
Wood became emotional: "Oh, Carl. Eric, fucking Eric, he was proud, proud of sacking that lad, he was.
Eric, you have no idea how sad you feel. He obviously regrets that, even if he didn't know what was going to happen."
"Careful," said Mick, eyeing my tape recorder.
"I couldn't believe it," Wood went on. "Carl was a lovely guy. He had nothing left in life after the Eric thing."
We all brooded for a while. "Well" Jagger finally broke the silence, "the whole thing is that if you want to not be a musician, even if you give up being a musician, it's not the end of the world. It wouldn't be for me."
Wood cheered up: "That's right!"
Things degenerated after that. Wood said that he couldn't believe that people worshiped him as a Rolling Stone when he himself was still a fan of the band. Mick said he was tired.
Charlie Watts does not give interviews. He does not give a farthing for the press. What he does is play drums for the Rolling Stones and, when he's not doing that, he likes to stay home and raise sheep dogs (he was once president of the North Wales Sheepdog Society) or listen to jazz or sit in with Rocket 88, the band formed by Stones associate and sometime keyboardist Ian Stewart. Rock & roll is something that should be done and not talked about, he told me in 1978 in what he insisted was not an interview. Conversing is like jazz, he explained, and he likes that.
Right before he left England to come to New York for the unveiling of Emotional Rescue, Watts conversed with a reporter or two in London, to his everlasting chagrin. The New York Post picked up his garbled transmissions and screamed, in large headlines, that Charlie Watts Hates Rock and Roll.
"Fucking rubbish," Watts fumed in an office at Rolling Stones Records. He sent out for bottles of Heineken. "I don't hate rock & roll. I never said that. That's why I don't give interviews, you see. Haven't given one in eight years, except for that business in London."
Watts has grown his hair out and, with his strikingly gaunt face and quasi-zoot, double-breasted Witty suit, looked quite the Forties dandy.
We talked for a while, sipping Heineken and having a lovely time. Watts, who doesn't give interviews, yammered away a mile a minute about this and that and a few things that were really surprising.
Suddenly, Charlie ground out his Marlboro, shook his head to clear out the cobwebs, then zeroed in on my tape recorder.
"I don't do interviews, you know," he said in a regretful tone.
"But, Charlie, we had an appointment and . . ."
"I don't. Just don't. Please turn back the tape."
"Well, then, just why am I here?"
"Oh!" He smiled. "I like to talk to you about music."
"Well, fuck me, Charlie. Thank you. I mean, who cares?"
"That's right. Have a beer?"
Charlie Watts does not give interviews. Well, I do not play drums. Each to his own. I remembered something Keith Richards had said to me: "Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn't doing what he's doing on drums, that wouldn't be true at all. You'd find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones." Then Keith seemed to be embarrassed about his sentimentality: "Bullshit. Nobody, individually, is the Stones. But, right on, Charlie." He raised his glass.
Charlie shook my hand again and again at the end of our visit and apologized for his strict noninterview policy. Very diplomatic, a rebel gone genteel. The Stones are, after all, the world's most exclusive boys' club. Many have tried to join, moths beating hopelessly against the flame, never realizing that the membership list is eternally frozen — and the club's strict traditions must be upheld.
A few cracks appear now and then in the facade: one of the outtakes from Emotional Rescue is a Keith Richards vocal of "We Had It All," and he turns it from a male-female song to a boys' club anthem. After all the years of partnership, there can be little doubt about whom he was singing it to: "You and me, we had it all."