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Love and War Inside the Rolling Stones

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In mid-April, I sit for nearly an hour with Jagger in his Beverly Hills hotel suite. "I don't know what the hell we're going to talk about," he says, as he takes a seat at a dining-room table, smiling. I'm reminded of what guitarist Waddy Wachtel's wife said: "When Mick Jagger smiles, it's like everything's all right with the world, you know?" Jagger is wearing slim black jeans and a light pink long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar. He is terrifically fit, so we talk for a while about his physical regimen – "I have to bump it up when I do a tour, but I don't have to start from ground zero. That's fairly important for me, to keep that" – and I also ask about how he prepares for the songs' vocal requirements. "When I'm onstage," he says, "I'm not just singing. I want to do a performance, as well, so that's waving my arms around and running around, and I'm dancing. That takes 50 percent of your breath power, so my challenge is how to balance that with my vocals. You don't want to be out of breath when you do the ballads. That's the kind of balancing act. I have things that I can do at home for keeping my voice together. I do karaoke singing, and I write songs a lot, and I do demos and sing them. I'm very lucky, in a lot of ways, because – I'm not trying to sound bigheaded – I do all the Rolling Stones songs in all the same keys as they always were in, so my higher end is still there, maybe better than it was, because I don't smoke anymore and I don't drink as much and whatever."

About Keith Richards, and what he wrote in Life, I ask Jagger if an apology from Richards was . . .

"A prerequisite, you might say?" Jagger offers, with a tight smile. "Well, I think it was a good thing he got together with me and said that. I don't really want to talk about it apart from that, but I think it's good that he said it, and yes, it was a prerequisite, really. You have to put those things to one side; you can't leave them unspoken. It's very tempting – English people like to do that quite a lot. They don't like to face up to these things. Sometimes it's easy to push them out of the way, but I think it's good that we had that conversation."

Nonetheless, were there things that Jagger liked about Richards' book? Did he find it an overall accurate rendition of the band's early history and musical formations?

"Accurate . . ." He repeats the word with a bitter laugh. "I don't really want to talk about Keith's book."

In 1987, when I asked Jagger about Richards, he said, "I feel . . . I respect him, and I feel a lot of affection for him, and I feel protective. He's the kind of person who, well, he has a certain vulnerability. He's had a lot of hard times. He's had a lot of good times [laughs]. We've had a lot of fun and a lot of heartache together." Today, when I ask him about his present relationship with Richards, Jagger replies, "It's a really good working relationship. Keith seems to be quite focused, and he seems to be enjoying playing."

I've found that sometimes in an interview you reach a point where you might not want to push further. Sometimes you push anyway, sometimes you pull back. In the moment when Jagger declines to say more about Richards, he looks down at a glass of water and his reticence seems to emerge from a place of genuine hurt. I try a sideways approach into the matter of Richards' criticisms of the singer as a cold and designing person. Over the years, others have said something similar. Does Jagger understand that reaction to him? "I think it's kind of cliché, really," he says. "People like to pop-analyze others, put them into boxes and say, 'Oh, Keith's so passionate, and Mick's cold and dispassionate.' People aren't like that in real life. Keith can be as cold and dispassionate as almost anyone I know. I don't mean that as a criticism, because you have to be sometimes. People have different natures. Talking about yourself as a person, not just as part of a band, I don't know where to separate or not. I have to be analytical sometimes, outside of music, then I have to be feeling as well. I have to see other people's points of view. If I'm talking business with someone, I try to see their point of view. You step back and analyze it. You don't need to be emotional with these things.

"But that doesn't mean that I'm not passionate about the musical side of it. I can be really emotional about it. You have to be all things at once. I get very excited about designing stage sets and things like that, graphics and merchandise. I work sometimes with Charlie on them, and we get very excited about these things. I have lots of different roles within the Rolling Stones, and then I have roles outside of the Rolling Stones that have nothing to do with the Rolling Stones at all. So I don't want to be pigeonholed that I'm one thing."

Later, I try one more roundabout question about Jagger's relationship to Richards. Talking about the band's emotional ups and downs, Watts told me, "The two big offenders of that virtually lived together when they were kids, didn't they? They lived down the road from each other. It comes from all that. They're like brothers, arguing about the rent, and then if you get between it, forget it." This has been echoed by Richards himself, who told another magazine recently that he and Jagger were like "two very volatile brothers – when they clash, they really clash, but when it's over . . ."

Does Jagger see it that way?

"People always say things like that," Jagger replies. "But I have a brother [Chris Jagger], you know? My relationship with my brother is a brotherly relationship, and it's nothing at all like my relationship with Keith, which is more like someone you work with, completely different. With a brother, you have parents in common. You have families in common. We don't have that, Keith and I. We work together. It's nothing to do with it being a brotherly relationship. I suppose if you didn't have a brother you might say that it was like being a brother. But being in a band is another kind of relationship."

Doesn't that band relationship nevertheless make for a strong bond?

"Well, yeah, if you work with someone for that long, it makes a lot of bonds, it makes a lot of memories and things you can relate to from your past. Oftentimes, when you have long relationships with people, you have reference points that you can evoke, if you wish. You have relationships with everyone in the band, and then also you have relationships with people in the periphery of the band, so it's a very large kind of group. But it isn't a family."

Does Jagger see an advantage or an appeal of writing his own account of the times he's lived through? He did, after all, take up the project once, then abandoned it.

"Money," Jagger answers. "I could only see the appeal of money in writing [a book like that]. I can't see the appeal of anything else."

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