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

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Something else emphasized constantly in the biographies that I feel I have to dive-bomb is the way Jagger and, later, Keith Richards have been prepared to sacrifice anyone around them for success and control of the band. Aspects of this contention could be true: when Brian Jones was being edged out of the band, I remember how much he seemed to want my friendship; he was insecure and lonely. But in order to get Jagger's and Richards' so-called brutality into scale, I must repeat a story about my form master at grammar school.

In the last term (1960), I had taken to wearing my navy-blue blazer adorned with breakfast-cereal droppings and egg yolk. The headmaster had asked me to take a little more pride in my appearance: "For heaven's sake, Townshend, couldn't you just wipe a damp cloth over it every now and then? You look like you've been dropped into a dustbin." My form master felt there was more to my lack of pride than met the eye. He took me aside one day. "Townshend," he said meaningfully, "I know why you leave egg stains on your jacket, milk dribbles in the lap of your gray flannels and tea stains on your shirt. Shall I tell you why you do it?" He asked me in such a way that I had no choice but to request illumination, so I answered, "Yes, sir. Please do." "Because, Townshend, it's your perverted way of saying to the world, 'Look at me – I'm dangerous!"' I was confused. "Dangerous, sir? Having egg yolk on my blazer?" "Yes, Townshend, you believe it makes you look dangerous."

I really did not understand what he was saying, believing instead that he was being deeply ironic. The penny dropped when I told a friend of Edwardian inclinations about it, and he said that the master had told him the same thing – in his case, that he dressed like a Teddy boy because it made him look dangerous. In fact, he had taken every single boy in the class aside during that last term and told each one that he looked the way he did because he wanted to appear dangerous – even those who were very, very neat and conventional. We were all very impressed with our master's perspicacity. We all were, of course, quite dangerous-looking; we knew that.

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Practically the whole of the Stones' image is rooted in this rather boyish philosophy: that people will believe you are what you believe you appear to be. Some people close to the Stones say that Keith Richards is genuinely as he appears to be; bearing in mind some of the terrifying stories I could tell about him, that is a possibility. But is Mick Jagger really the ruthless, conniving, duplicitous, scheming, evil-touched, money-greedy, sex-mad, cowardly, vain, power-hungry swine his biographers and the newspaper hounds have made him out to be?

Do people who claim to know Jagger talk about him and expand on all these awful ideas about him because they really don't feel their opinions or their treachery matter to him? Does no one feel close enough to him to keep his mouth shut? I, for example, have spilled all about Jagger's disgusting habit of name-dropping at every opportunity – and there is a strong possibility that I am a very important friend to him. I don't really think so, but it's possible. People like Jagger need people like me: I may be a gossiping, back-biting sycophant, but at least I don't interfere with the other sycophants. The truly sycophantic are not really dangerous. The dangerous ones are those "close friends" who become obsessed with protecting their famous buddies from the sycophants they see all around. They see their famous friends being exploited, given drugs and being seduced by beautiful women who really only want money. So, with only their famous compatriot's good will in mind, they intercede, they advise and warn. When their well-meant good advice is ignored, they scuttle off to the nearest newspaper and tell all; in particular, how their own compassionate care was wasted and unrewarded.

So much for friends – but, incredibly, many journalists also feel they have a privileged relationship with Jagger. He is so courteous and gentlemanly that, even though he is well known for fielding any and every direct question he does not like, those interviewing him will feel they have set up a very real rapport and come close to the real man behind the image.

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