Pete Townshend on Mick Jagger and the Nature of Aging in Rock & Roll

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Jagger once claimed, as I have done, that he had thought about becoming a journalist before he became a musician. I have the feeling that for once in my life I am getting to the post first. In most other respects, Jagger beat me to it. He heard rhythm & blues before I did, played it before I did, went to America before I did, got taken for a fool by Alan Klein before I did, met Robert Fraser before I did, tried LSD, DMT, cocaine, marijuana and so on before I did. He probably had a hundred groupies before I even poured one a polite drink back in the Holiday Inn. But I have stopped living for rock & roll before he has.

Living in Ealing in 1963, I occasionally used to see the Stones as they gathered near the Ealing Club to go off to Soho for rehearsals. They were staggering to look at, even to an art student like me who had seen lots of men with long hair and had even met a junkie or two.

When I first saw Jagger close up onstage at Putney, I thought I would never see anyone like him again. Yet these days, when I drive through London or any urban area, I see dozens of strikingly beautiful and dangerous-looking men and women, boys and girls. Hair cut dramatically or razored to the scalp; clothes brittle and improvised, changing daily in color and cut. Having once stood out so far from the crowd, I often wonder if Jagger will suffer (as Olivier is said to have suffered) if youthful beauty flees in late middle age. Will he remain a great charismatic singer and dancer, but have to make do without the pure shock-weapon of animal beauty? One of his friends said that Jagger's beauty was its owner's greatest joy.

Artist Page: Pete Townshend

I spent so much of my youth wanting to look striking or beautiful that it was years before I realized that I was not exactly average looking and not exactly ugly. I know now, approaching forty myself, that the way a person looks is really not at all important, but when I am with Jagger, I do love to look at him. He is still very beautiful in my eyes; much has been said of his androgynous attraction, and I suppose my response to his physical presence confirms all that. Jagger is also such a charismatic person that he could easily make you forget his looks. I cannot forget, though, the way Jagger looked onstage at St. Mary's Ballroom in Putney. A gangly young man doing the twist inspired me to commit myself completely to the rock & roll stage.

Wading through all the biographies about Jagger and the Stones, I get the feeling I am reading only what the biographers expected would be remembered. If, like Tony Sanchez, they are close enough to the band for their memories to be accurate, all they seem to be able to remember are scoring the drugs and being a "comfort" to neglected girlfriends. If, like Carey Schofield, they are too young to have had firsthand knowledge, they tend simply to read everyone else's books and the collected press cuttings. What I want to say here in contrast is something fresh and vital, but not abusive of my relationship with Jagger.

The relationships between rock stars are peculiar. Jagger and David Bowie are two of the few people in the mainstream of rock to whom I can talk with the knowledge that they understand precisely what I mean when I talk about pressure, creative problems or irritations with the press. I am anxious, therefore, not to alienate Jagger. Nevertheless, there are a few secrets about him that I can make known. Forget the Mars bars and the French whores (mentioned as "rumors" in every biography and duly repeated here); what about all the insignificant but still really irritating habits he has? Like picking at the edges of Sellotape rolls until they just will not work? Or running his fingers around the tops of champagne glasses and making them ring piercingly? He is also a terrible name-dropper. Once, on the Concorde, he pointed out to me that Britt Ekland was traveling a few rows ahead without makeup. Jagger does have hundreds of small, worrying faults like these, but none of the incredibly beautiful women that fill his life seems to care.

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