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

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It is only the conceit of these pathetic individuals that prevents me from feeling totally sympathetic with them – after all, it is not so different believing oneself to be a close friend of Mick's when in fact one is kept hanging on purely because one has some value to him of which one is unaware. How can someone believe himself to be Mick's friend while choosing to make a living writing about him, buying his drugs, relieving his sexual desire, driving his car and answering his phone for him?

When you talk to someone at home, by the fire or in bed, you really do not imagine, even if you are Mick Jagger, that ten years later you will see that person's rough idea of the way the conversation went, printed as though it were a verbatim transcription of a tape recording made at the time. Imagine the scene. You are Mick's girlfriend, one of the few he really cared for. You have just made love. Mick says to you, "I love you." You get out your pencil and scribble it down, just in case. I suppose everyone in the public eye goes through this. I regard it as humiliation, and because I know Mick, it hurts me too. It hurts me especially because no one ever bothers to show any interest in what I said to my girlfriend after we made love fifteen years ago. I have to spread my own malicious rumors about myself.

I only want to celebrate my friend's fortieth birthday, to rally one and all to do the same. To avoid judging either his complexion or his waistline, his future or his past, his genius or his despotism, I want to ask everyone to turn away from the biographies and their serializations written by friends cast aside, journalists in newspaper-cuttings libraries and simple hacks on the make. Degas said that everyone has talent at twenty-five but the difficulty is having it at fifty. Mick will still be beautiful when he is fifty, still one of the original rock writers who discovered the new song form that embodied a width of human passion contained before only in poetry. His talent will be as strong at fifty as it is today at forty because his ambition is not dependent on his youth, his songwriting in the rock genre is not dependent on his own suffering, and his drive to be popular and loved is not dependent on his personal insecurity.

I believe that rock music is art, especially because it attempts to share passion rather than demonstrate stances. Everyone has his own definition of art, and mine is neatly contained in the song form that emerged in pop music during the early 1960s. At some point, I would enjoy taking up more of your time justifying my claim, but despite the fact that I believe Mick Jagger to be a significant and genuinely inspired artist who often creates great work, the whole precept would probably bore Jagger himself; so I will desist.

He sees himself as an entertainer, thus a servant of sorts. And yet it still serves us well to remember, on the fortieth birthday of this successful man, that William Rees-Mogg in 1967 entreated us "to ensure that Mr. Jagger is treated the same as anyone else, no better and no worse."

So I shall invite him down to the pub, buy him a pint, talk about how well he always does his job, and never mention the old days again.

This story is from the September 15, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.


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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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