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Mick Jagger: Jumpin' Jack Flash at 34

The King Bee talks about rock's longest-running soap opera

June 29, 1978
Mick Jagger Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger on the Cover of Rolling Stone
Photo by Annie Leibovitz

"A certain prudent man,
when he felt himself to be in love,
hung a little bell round his neck
to caution women that he was dangerous.
Unfortunately for themselves
they took too much notice of it;
and he suffered accordingly."

—A.R. Orage

I've been missing the Rolling Stones for years ever since they released Exile on Main Street, as a matter of fact. Of course, I've seen them on their occasional concert tourswhich have become more and more circuslike and enjoyed a number of their mid-Seventies songs ("Star Star," "If You Really Want to Be My Friend," "Time Waits for No One," "Fool to Cry," "Memory Motel"). But during their post-Exile period, the Stones seem to have been around more in body than in spirit.

In their original Sixties incarnation, the Rolling Stones presented an eerie quality that combined the hustling menace of the spiv, the coolness of the dandy and the unpredictable amorality and frivolity of the Greek gods. And in such a guise, they exuberantly took on the role of devil's advocate for what was then beginning to be thought of as the Love Generation ridiculing the vices and hypocrisies of family and social life in songs like "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Mother's Little Helper" ("Doctor, please/Some more of these,/Outside the door,/She took four more"). But the Stones didn't stop there. As seemingly unassimilable voices of disengagement, they attacked the vice of the spirit of society itself in such songs as "Sympathy for the Devil" and "2000 Man" ("Oh, daddy, is your brain still flashing/Like it did when you were young?/Or did you come down crashing/Seeing all the things you done?/Oh, it's a big put-on")

As spoken and sung by their shining and narcissistic knight, Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stonesas I once wrote in these pagespresented themselves as beings of exalted indifference, innocent malice, careless cruelty. It was these ambiguous mixtures of emotions that one found in such songs as "Play with Fire," "Back Street Girl" and "Star Star" a mixture revealing the disturbing yet fascinating quality of a child grown up too soon, like a six-year-old dragging on a cigarette. And it was this "child" who dangerously explored the ever-lurking but disapproved world of sex and drugs in such songs as "Under My Thumb," Sister Morphine" and "Monkey Man."

Yet when the Stones were at their most exploitative, they seemed their most liberating, because we became aware of the reversal of that social and psychological pathology by which the oppressed identify with their oppressors: we sensed that the Stones, from their position of indifferent power, were singing in the voice of the hurt and abused, thereby magically transcending all humiliating barriers ("But it's all right now/In fact it's a gas").

It is exactly this kind of playful yet powerful ambiguity that I have missed in the Stones' work during the recent, musically dispiriting past few years. But now we have Some Girls an album that draws on, in a remarkably unhackneyed way, the Stones' love for blues, the Motown sound, for country music and Chuck Berry, and that combines and transforms these elements into the group's most energized, focused, outrageous and original record since the days of Between the Buttons, Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street. And it is an album that thematically crystallizes the Stones' perennial obsession with "some girls"both real and imaginary.

After years of standing in the shadows, the soul survivors are back on their own, with no direction home, sounding just like . . . the Rolling Stones.

The following interview with Mick Jagger took place during two evenings in late April and early May at Rolling Stones Records in New York.

You've been a Rolling Stone for about fifteen years. How does it feel?
What a funny question! It's a long time, maybe too long. Maybe it's time to restart a cycle — yeah, restart a five-year cycle.

Along with the Who, the Rolling Stones are two of the last Sixties English rock groups that are still together.
I think both groups are very fragile.

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Rolling Stones

There are rumors that the Rolling Stones will break up very soon.
That's rubbish. They said it in 1969, too. They say it all the time. Both groups are fragile because they've got problems of various kinds. The Who's are different from ours. In our case, if Keith [Richards] gets put into prison, it makes the future of our band a bit shaky. I mean, he goes on trial October 21st, and you know what the charge is: peddling heroin, which is punishable by life imprisonment.

Maybe we can start talking about "Miss You," which you've released in three versions: a 45 disc, an LP track and a twelve-minute version, on which there's a fantastic harmonica solo by a guy named Sugar Blue, who plays like a snake charmer.
Yeah, Sandy Whitelaw discovered him playing in the Paris Métro. He's a blues harpist from America, and he plays not only in the subway but in a club called La Vielle Grille. He's a very strange and talented musician.

The lines in the song about being called up at midnight by friends wanting to drag you out to a party remind me of "Get Off My Cloud."
I've a limited number of ideas [laughing].

And I like the line, "You've been the star in all my dreams."
Dreams are like movies, in a way. Or movies are like dreams.

You once sang: "I only get my rocks off while I'm dreaming."
I don't dream more than anybody else. But dreams are a great inspiration for the lowliest rock & roll writer to the greatest playwrights. Chaucer was a great one for dreams. He was a great one for explaining them and making fun of the astrological explanations. He used to take the piss out of most of them, but some of them he took seriously. Shakespeare, too, knew a lot about early English witchcraft and religion, and Chaucer had some sort of similar knowledge. Today we have psychiatrists to interpret dreams.

Have you ever been to one?
Never, not once. I've read a lot of Jung, and I would have gone to see him because he was interesting, do you know what I mean? . . . Anyway, dreams are very important, and I get good ideas from them. I don't jot them down, I just remember them — the experiences of them — they're so different from everyday experiences. But the line in "Rocks Off" is really a joke.

How about the beautiful line, "I'm hiding sister and I'm dreaming," from "Moonlight Mile"?
Yeah, that's a dream song. Those kinds of songs with kinds of dreamy sounds are fun to do, but not all the time — it's nice to come back to reality.

When Their Satanic Majesties Request came out — and that was a real "dream" album — you were roundly criticized.
People didn't want that from our band, they wanted that from other people . . . Tangerine Dream, for instance. But I didn't want our new album to be all dreamy, lost in a haze.

What about the girl with the faraway eyes on your new album ("Faraway Eyes")? The lines "And if you're downright disgusted and life ain't worth a dime/Get a girl with faraway eyes" make it sound as if this dreamy truck-stop girl from Bakersfield, California, is really real.
Yeah, she's real, she's a real girl.

Is she a girl you know?
Yeah, she's right across the room . . . a little bleary-eyed.

Well, there's no one else here except for that poster of a Japanese girl. Is that whom you mean?
Naw, she's not in a truck stop.

Right, she's standing under a parasol, in fact . . . Let me have another glass of wine and maybe I'll see her, too [laughing].
You know, when you drive through Bakersfield on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening — I did that about six months ago — all the country-music radio stations start broadcasting live from L.A. black gospel services. And that's what the song refers to. But the song's really about driving alone, listening to the radio.

I sense a bit of a Gram Parsons feeling on "Faraway Eyes" — country music as transformed through his style, via Buck Owens.
I knew Gram quite well, and he was one of the few people who really helped me to sing country music — before that, Keith and I used to just copy it off records. I used to play piano with Gram, and on "Faraway Eyes" I'm playing piano, though Keith is actually playing the top part — we added it on after. But I wouldn't say this song was influenced specifically by Gram. That idea of country music played slightly tongue in cheek — Gram had that in "Drugstore Truck Drivin' Man," and we have that sardonic quality, too.

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