The Rolling Stones: Notes from the Babylon Bar

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There are two chairs and a sofa. Mick Jagger takes the sofa. I take a chair. That leaves one chair spare. I move to put my tape recorder on it. "I was going to put my feet up on it," says Mick Jagger. "But it's all right. We can do both." He looks around. It is the middle of the afternoon. "So have we got any drinks? Water, or martinis, or whatever we're drinking?" We are, as I am sure he is aware, drinking Evian. He squints toward the window. "Bit bright, isn't it?" he says.

It's difficult interviewing Mick Jagger. He is not a man who enjoys being pinned down. "Why should you be?" he reasons. "One's pinned down enough in life. You're so pinned down...." There is a way he talks that seems to be a perpetual smirk, as though he wants you to know that the very act of sitting here, answering your questions, is an absurd indulgence. Of the tour he says, "It is a great thrill. It's my vocation. It's what I do. If I can do it well, I enjoy it. And if I can't do it well, I'll make sure I do it better." When he says things like this, he seems so careful in what he says that he sounds insincere. In the end, I will wonder whether the strangest thing about Mick Jagger might be that beneath this veneer of insincerity, what he is actually hiding is sincerity itself.

The pre-tour Jagger media frisson has been provoked by Paul McCartney. McCartney says, in his new as-told-to memoir, that he turned Mick Jagger onto drugs. Jagger shakes his head, amused. He has a theory. "It's all to do with John Lennon being a saint and being the edgy one. Paul definitely had his edgy moments . . . People now think he's this old wanker, that he never did anything and John did everything."

He certainly seems paranoid.

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"That's what I think, anyway. And he wants to say stuff that indicates that he was on the edge of things."

Do you mind being brought into it?

"I don't mind at all. Whatever he wants to say. Even though it isn't true. You know – what does it matter? It's a lot of mythology, isn't it?" Jagger says that he first smoked outside England. "What does it matter? It's a load of old trollop, all of this stuff. How would he even know, unless I said, 'Wow! I've never tried it before!' or 'I'm so grateful!'? And how would he ever remember?"

Mick Jagger was once, in the early '80s, contracted to write a book. The story went around that when he tried, he simply couldn't remember. In fact, a version of the book was written by a ghostwriter whom Jagger employed. It's locked away in some vault. "It was just boring, trying to remember everything," he says. "It wasn't I couldn't remember everything, it was just . . . 'Euchhhh.'"


Did you read Marianne Faithfull's book?
Jagger: I couldn't read the whole thing. You only read what's serialized.

Do you mind that she said Keith was a better lover than you?
Jagger: She had to say something. Something to sell it.

So she didn't mean it?
Jagger: I've no idea if she means it. She said to my mother the other week that I was wonderful in bed and embarrassed my whole family.

What on earth was the social situation that allowed this conversation?
Jagger: Do you really want to know? It was a cricket match at Paul Getty's house, in the tea interval. She said it to my mother and my father.

But how does that just come up in conversation?
Jagger: Yes, exactly. She just came out with it, after a few Pimms or something.

(I raise the subject with Keith Richards.)
Richards: [Grins] She should know.

Did it have the ring of truth?
Richards: Well, I wouldn't know. I've never made love to him.


What do your children nag you about?
Mick Jagger: [Gently indignant] They don't nag me! They're not allowed. [Puts on a daft Germanic voice] You vill not nag me!

Ronnie Wood: There are a few things. 'Oh, are you still in bed, Dad?' And then they jump on you. The worst thing is when they don't jump on you.

Keith Richards: That they don't see me enough. Which is true. But it's the nature of my job. They'll nag me, 'Oh, you haven't sent me a fax,' because that's the way we communicate. Drawings, mostly, and little letters. I might be, 'Guess who I'm with?' and draw a nose, and they'll know it's Ronnie.

Charlie Watts: My daughter? Playing jazz, I suppose. The same goes for my wife. I think the secret of a successful marriage is separate bathrooms.

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