Did you write "Joy" as a duet for Bono?
No. I've known Bono since I can't remember. We've always had singsongs. There was one time when I sang "Satisfaction" – a hip-hop version – with Bono and [my daughter] Elizabeth at my birthday party, passing the mike. It was really funny.
When I'd done "Joy" – I hadn't finished all the vocals – I thought it would be great to do with him. U2 were playing in Cologne, so I took my little recording system to his hotel room, and we did it.
In a hotel room? It sounds like you're in church – band, choir and all.
It's hard to spoil those things. You imagine the way it should have been. But Pete was in the studio with me. He was there, right next to the incredibly loud amplifiers. He seems to be over that hearing problem [laughs].
You sing the opening lines in "Joy," about driving through the desert, looking for Buddha and seeing Jesus Christ. That's usually Bono's territory.
They were too good [laughs]. I wanted to do that.
So how spiritual are you? People tend to think of you as . . .
At least a rationalist.
I am. Of course, I have a spiritual side. Everyone has one. It's whether they're going to lock it up or not. Our lives are so busy that we never get any time to be, first, reflective, then afterward, to let some sort of spiritual light into your life. But there are moments in your life when that appears.
I've written about it before – touched on it in odd songs like "I Just Want to See His Face" and "Shine a Light" [both on 1972's Exile on Main Street]. "Joy" is more fleshed out. It is about the joy of creation, inspiring you to a love of God. [Pauses] Not that I want to explain my songs, really.
Do you still experience that joy in music? Onstage with the Stones?
It's not an every-night thing. It's in certain moments. Whether that's a religious moment is a matter of opinion. But it's akin to a religious moment, the same way a sexual act can be akin to it. It is a transcendent moment. You get the idea that there is another state of mind, even though you're not necessarily touching it.
Did September 11th cause you to reconsider your ideas about faith and fear?
Being a long way away, you take a slightly different view of it. If I'd been in New York, I'm sure I would have felt a lot differently: "Wow, I just escaped it." But I felt this awful shock, where you don't know what you're thinking. When you try and recall what you actually did at that moment, you can't recall it exactly.
So there was shock and revulsion. What we didn't get in England and France was the feeling that there could be another one in a minute. I don't want to sound cold. But because we were thousands of miles away, it wasn't like, "It's your turn next." I didn't feel fear for myself but for my daughter in New York.
Atom bombs: That's one of my fears. Maybe that comes from being brought up with the fear of the bomb, the age group that I am in. Which is a horrible psychological thing.
Does it feel strange to be putting out a record right now? You want people to pay attention to your work, but their attention is elsewhere.
Everyone has to get on with their jobs. You can't think everything is trivial except CNN. I know the news media have a job to do, but they wind people up unnecessarily. In England, the tabloids were vying to scare people the most. They'd have horrendous photos of People in bodysuits every day on the cover – people were terrified.
It is a difficult time. But we're living in this together. I won't get as many column inches as I might have. But that's not the idea of making records.
What future does rock & roll have in a new era of Patriotism? The music was born to question established order.
I don't think Bruce Springsteen was ever about questioning the establishment. I always saw Bruce Springsteen as very American, very patriotic. Look at the album covers. I don't put him down for that. I think he's a sweet guy, and I like a lot of his music. But even the questions he posed were part of the establishment by then. You had a president who refused to serve in Vietnam, something he questioned in "Born in the U.S.A." I see Bruce Springsteen as the archetypal working-class American establishment rock star, which is why he is so successful.
Were the Stones the archetypal middle-class British establishment rock stars?
We were very suburban, embodying rebellious suburban attitudes. And the Rolling Stones were more cynical, much less part of the establishment, although people were always saying we were establishment because of the money. But we don't have patriotism in England like you do in America. Patriotism like that went out the window with the First World War – when it was proved to be a load of bollocks.
Rock & roll is not a monolithic thing, any more than the cinema is. All these things can live in it – from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen to Rage Against the Machine. Rock music is just a means of expression.
Do you have any solo tour plans?
I was going to do some shows, but I'm running out of time. I don't really have a band for this record. I'd have to form a band and rehearse.
What about Stones plans for next year?
I'm working on it now. It's one of my projects at the moment [grins]. I don't think we're going to do a whole new studio album. But what are we going to do? I really don't know. It's a whole year from now.
Is there a favorite song or record by another artist that knocked you out this year?
[Long Pause] There's a lot of CDs I played a lot: Missy Elliott, Macy Gray. I played the new Bob Dylan quite a lot. I like the tunes, and I think it's really funny. It's the antithesis of pop music.
Is pop music interesting to you now?
Outrageous personalities with a great tune and a different sound. I'm sure one will crop up soon. I'm very patient [laughs]. Everyone said, "You must hear the Ryan Adams record." I thought it was all right. It's very old-fashioned music. But it is appealing.
Pop music is the kind of thing you catch yourself whistling in the bath: "Oh, it's the Cher record! I'm whistling the Backstreet Boys! Oh, fuck!" Everyone does it, and it's cool, because no one's listening – hopefully.
What changes in music would you like to see next year? September 11th is bound to have an effect on what people think pop songs should say.
We're gonna get some terrible lyrics, though. People who don't have lyrical talent should stay away from that subject. It's not easy. That's not a no-brainer. Stick to moon-in-June for most people – that's my advice. You're going to need real language and real thoughts, not just pasted-on patriotism.
This story is from the December 6th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.
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