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Mick Jagger: The Rolling Stone Interview

The king bee talks about rock’s longest-running soap opera

Rolling StonesRolling Stones

ROLLING STONES; L-R: Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood (Ronnie Wood), Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman at press conference, 1978

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty

“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 tours — which 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 Stones — as I once wrote in these pages — presented 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.

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 [Richard] 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.

The title of your new album is the title of one of your most powerful and outrageous songs — “Some Girls” — and I wanted to ask you about some of the girls in your songs. Here are a few lines taken at random from several of your older albums: “Who’s that woman on your arm, All dressed up to do you harm?” (“Let It Loose”); “Women think I’m tasty/But they’re always trying to waste me” (“Tumbling Dice”); “But there is one thing I will never understand/Some of the sick things a girl does to a man” (“Sittin’ on a Fence”).
I didn’t write all those lines, you know [laughing].

All right, we’ll reduce the charge. But obviously, in your songs of the mid-Sixties, you were at pains to accuse girls of being deceptive, cheating, greedy, vain, affected and stupid. It was a list of sins. Whether you were singing about rejecting the girl (“Out of Time,” “Please Go Home”) or about the girl rejecting you (“All Sold Out,” “Congratulations”) or about both (“High and Dry,” “Under My Thumb”), almost all the songs from that period…
Most of those songs are really silly, they’re pretty immature. But as far as the heart of what you’re saying, I’d say…any bright girl would understand that if I were gay I’d say the same things about guys. Or if I were a girl I might say the same things about guys or other girls. I don’t think any of the traits you mentioned are peculiar to girls. It’s just about people. Deception, vanity….On the other hand, sometimes I do say nice things about girls [laughing].

Some of those other girls — “Ruby Tuesday,” “Child of the Moon” or the girls in songs like “She’s a Rainbow” and “Memory Motel” — are all very elusive and mystical.
Well, the girl in “Memory Motel” is actually a real, independent American girl. But they are mostly imaginary, you’re right…Actually, the girl in “Memory Motel” is a combination. So was the girl in “Faraway Eyes.” Nearly all of the girls in my songs are combinations.

What about in “Till the Next Good-bye”?
No, she was real [laughing], she was real….If you really want to know about the girls on the new album: “Some Girls” is all combinations. “Beast of Burden” is a combination. “Miss You” is an emotion, it’s not really about a girl. To me, the feeling of longing is what the song is — I don’t like to interpret my own fucking songs — but that’s what it is.

On Some Girls, it seems to me that you’ve taken all those “immature” feelings from the mid-Sixties and really focused and concentrated them into powerful songs like “Lies,” “Respectable” and especially “Some Girls,” which is a kind of exorcism of all those girls you used to sing about.
Yeah, well…I really don’t know why it came out like that [laughing]. There were so many other songs we cut….I guess we picked those because they hung together, lyrically and musically. They were all written over a short, recent period of time.

Let’s see if I can get back to the question in a different way. You mentioned Jung, and it seems to me that your “dream” girls are like anima figures. Do you ever think in those terms?
My anima is very strong….I think it’s very kind….What you’re saying, though, is that there are two different types of girls in my songs: there’s the beautiful dreamy type and the vicious bitch type. There are also one or two others, but, yeah, you’re right — there are two kinds of girls…only I never thought about it before.

You don’t have too many girls in your songs that share both qualities.
Ah, I see, I’m not integrating them properly. Maybe not. Maybe “Beast of Burden” is integrated slightly: I don’t want a beast of burden, I don’t want the kind of woman who’s going to drudge for me. The song says: I don’t need a beast of burden, and I’m not going to be your beast of burden, either. Any woman can see that that’s like my saying that I don’t want a woman to be on her knees for me. I mean, I get accused of being very antigirl, right?

But people really don’t listen, they get it all wrong; they hear “Beast of Burden” and say “Argggh!”

They sure heard “Under My Thumb” (“Under my thumb’s a squirming dog who’s just had her day”).
That’s going back to my teenage years!

Well, it’s both a perverse and brilliant song about power and sex.
At the time there was no feminist criticism because there was no such thing, and one just wrote what one felt. Not that I let it hinder me too much now.

Did you hear about the dinner honoring Ahmet Ertegun [president of Atlantic Records]? Some feminists were giving out leaflets saying what terrible things he’d done [laughing], saying that the Average White Band’s new cover depicts a naked woman standing in a steaming bath of water, which could cause “enormous pain and possible death” [laughing] — things like that.

How about your woman-in-bondage poster for your ‘Black and Blue’ album? Many people may have a deep masochistic streak, but that poster and some of your songs certainly seem hung up on that.
Yeah, we had a lot of trouble with that particular poster. As far as the songs go, one talks about one’s own experience a lot of the time. And you know, a lot of bright girls just take all of this with a pinch of salt. But there are a lot of women who are disgraceful, and if you just have the misfortune to have an affair with one of those…it’s a personal thing.

And the “squirming dog” image?
Well, that was a joke. I’ve never felt in that position vis-à-vis a person — I’d never want to really hurt someone.

What about the groupies on the road ready for anything? What about “Star Star”?
Exactly! That’s real, and if girls can do that, I can certainly write about it because it’s what I see. I’m not saying all women are star fuckers, but I see an awful lot of them, and so I write a song called that. I mean, people show themselves up by their own behavior, and just to describe it doesn’t mean you’re antifeminist.

That bondage poster, though, was pretty blatant.
Well, there are a lot of girls into that, they dig it, they want to be chained up — and it’s a thing that’s true for both sexes.

But why use it to advertise a record?
I don’t see why not. It’s a valid piece of commercial art, just a picture.

Would you show yourself getting whipped and beaten?
Sure, if I thought it was more commercial than a beautiful girl!

People are obviously going to take a few of these songs on the new LP as being about your domestic situation.
Well, I actually mention “my wife” in “Respectable.”

“Get out of my life, go take my wife — don’t come back.” And there’s also: “You’re a rag trade girl, you’re the queen porn/You’re the easiest lay on the White House lawn.”
Well, I just thought it was funny. “Respectable” really started off as a song in my head about how “respectable” we as a band were supposed to have become. “We’re” so respectable. As I went along with the singing, I just made things up and fit things in. “Now we’re respected in society….” I really meant us. My wife’s a very honest person, and the song’s not “about” her.

But people will probably take this song, as well as the album, to be about you, in the same way they took Blood on the Tracks to be about Dylan or John Lennon’s “I don’t believe in Beatles” song to be about him.
But it’s very rock & roll. It’s not like “Sara.” “Respectable” is very lighthearted when you hear it. That’s why I don’t like divorcing the lyrics from the music. ‘Cause when you actually hear it sung, it’s not what is, it’s the way we do it.

I’ll let the existentialists debate that statement, but “Respectable” certainly does sound a lot like “Miss Amanda Jones.”
Yeah, it’s not that serious: “Get out of my life, go take my wife — don’t come back”…it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. If it were a ballad, if I sang it like: “Pleeese, taaake my wiiiiife” — you know what I mean? — well, it’s not that, it’s just a shit-kicking, rock & roll number.

I’ve heard you sing “Stray Cat Blues” and take those lightly malicious, flippant verses and turn them into a dark elegy — which was really unnerving and just the opposite of what you’re saying here.
It’s whatever works. “Respectable” is light-hearted. So is “Lies.” We don’t overemotionalize the way we sing them.

Keith Richard once said something to the effect that rock & roll really is subversive because the rhythms alter your being and perceptions. With your words and your rhythms, your stuff could do, and has done that, don’t you think?
Rhythms are very important. But subvert what?

Well, Keith Richard’s implication was that words could be used to lie, but that what the Stones did was just to let you see clearly the way things were. And that that vision — or so I inferred — was what was subversive.
Maybe Keith did mean that. Music is one of the things that changes society. That old idea of not letting white children listen to black music is true, ’cause if you want white children to remain what they are, they mustn’t.

Look at what happened to you [laughing].
Exactly! You get different attitudes to things…even the way you walk….

And the way you talk.
Right, and the way you talk. Remember the Twenties when jazz in Europe changed a lot of things. People got more crazy, girls lifted up their dresses and cut their hair. People started to dance to that music, and it made profound changes in that society….This sounds awfully serious!

To keep on the semiserious keel for a second, the song “Some Girls” seems to be about what happens when hundreds of idealized Twenties girls — like the ones drawn by Guy Peelaert on your It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll album — decide to come to life and, like maenads, try to eat you up, destroy you — taking your money and clothes and giving you babies you don’t want.
Well, it could be a bad dream in a way. I had a dream like that last night, incidentally, but there were dogs as well as girls in it.

Maybe you can call your next album Some Dogs.
[Laughing] I’d get in trouble with the anti-dog defamation league.

I wonder what the girls and women, of all races, in the audience are going to think of lines like: “Black girls just want to get fucked all night, I just don’t have that much jam!” or “Chinese girls, they’re so gentle — they’re really such a tease.”
I think they’re all well covered — everyone’s represented [laughing]. Most of the girls I’ve played the song to like “Some Girls,” They think it’s funny; black girlfriends of mine just laughed. And I think it’s very complimentary about Chinese girls, I think they come off better than English girls. I really like girls an awful lot, and I don’t think I’d say anything really nasty about any of them.

Are you running for president?
[Laughing] The song’s supposed to be funny.

I couldn’t help noticing that the way you sing lines like “Some girls they’re so pure, some girls so corrupt” are perfect mimicries of Bob Dylan’s phrasing and tone of voice during his Blonde on Blonde period.
If that’s how you think of it…yeah. Dylan’s very easy to imitate. Sometimes I imitate Van Morrison, too, for laughs. That song is a kind of joke, too, but you haven’t got it yet, so I’m not going to tell you.

The chorus of the song goes: “So give me all your money, give me all your gold,/ I’ll buy a house back at Zuma Beach and give you half of what I owe,” Isn’t Zuma Beach up in Malibu, near where Dylan lives?
Is it?…”Some Girls” isn’t really about me.

“Some girls take my money, some girls take my clothes,/ Some girls take the shirt off my back and leave me with a lethal dose.” I wonder whom those lines are about?
No reply [laughing]. I made most of it up just off the bat. I made it up as I went along. I had another version of the song, but when it came to the take, I sang a completely different version — it was eleven minutes long — and then edited it down.

I remember that when I wrote it, it was very funny. ‘Cause we were laughing, and the phone was ringing, and I was just sitting in the kitchen and it was just coming our… and I thought I could go on forever!

The first time I heard it, I started making up my own lyrics: “Green girls get me anxious/Blue girls get me sad,/Brown girls get me silly,/And red girls make me mad.” It’s like a kid’s song.
[Laughing] That’s why I said it wasn’t serious, it’s just anything that came to my head.

Do you remember the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”?
Yeah, I love that song.

Well, it seems to me that instead of all the girls in your song being California girls, they’ve all turned into a different type of girl, and certainly from another state!
I know what you mean. I never thought of it like that. I never thought that a rock critic of your knowledge and background could ever come out with an observation like that [laughing].

You mean it’s pretentious?
Not at all. It’s a great analogy. But like all analogies, it’s false [laughing].

On your It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll album you did a great version of the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and now you’re doing a version of “Imagination.”
It’s like a continuation, and I’ve always wanted to do that song — originally as a duet with Linda Ronstadt, believe it or not. But instead we just did our version of it — like an English rock & roll band tuning up on “Imagination,” which has only two or three chords…it’s real simple stuff.

I like the lines: “Soon we’ll be married and raise a family/Two boys for you, what about two girls for me?” There are those girls in there again.
Yeah, I made that up. In reality the girl in the song doesn’t even know me — it’s a dream…and we’re back where we started this conversation.

“Of all the girls in New York she loves me true” is one of the lines from your version of this song. And in fact the entire album is full of New York City settings and energy.
Yeah, I added the New York reference in the song. And the album itself is like that because I was staying in New York part of last year, and when I got to Paris and was writing the words, I was thinking about New York. I wrote the songs in Paris.

It’s a real New York record.
Hope they like it in south Jersey [laughing].

There’s the gay garbage collector on 53rd Street in “When the Whip Comes Down,” Central Park in “Miss You,” the sex and dreams and parties and the schmattas on 7th Avenue in “Shattered” — and there’s a distinct Lou Reed-cum-British vaudeville tone to some of your singing on “Shattered.”
Every time I play guitar my engineer, Chris Kimsey, says: “Oh, here comes Lou Reed again.” But I think a lot of English singers do that — there’s a kind of tradition, it’s natural. In “Shattered,” Keith and Woody [Ron Wood] put a riff down, and all we had was the word “shattered.” So I just made the rest up and thought it would sound better if it were half-talked.

I’d written some of my verses before I got into the studio, but I don’t like to keep singing the same thing over and over, so it changed. And I was noticing that there were a lot of references to New York, so I kept it like that. Some Girls isn’t a “concept” album, God forbid, but it’s nice that some of the songs have connections with each other — they make the album hold together a bit….But then there’s Bakersfield [laughing].

My favorite song on the album is “Beast of Burden,” in which your voice and the filigreed interplay of the guitars bring back for me Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson and even the early guitar solos of Peter Tosh.
I quite like it, but I didn’t expect anyone to really go for it, certainly not as much as you. It’s surprising. But I wonder what other people are going to think of the album. I mean, we’ve been knocked a lot recently — I don’t really know what they expect us to do.

Exile on Main Street was probably the last of your albums to have been widely admired.
Yeah, but if you read the reviews, you’ll find that they were terrible!

How successful were your last few albums?
It depends on how you measure it. We sell about 2 million albums worldwide. It’s nothing compared to Fleetwood Mac, and if we’d been a bit more aggressive, perhaps we could have sold more. But life goes up and down. Some people sell 20,000; we sell 2 million, so that’s not bad. I think there are some good songs on our last albums, but they probably lacked direction.

On the new record, the band is much more together; they really played well during the sessions — and not only on what you hear, but also on all the stuff we did. We did so much that we didn’t know what to do with all of it. We had four songs with the same uptempo idea, and I originally thought of having every song be a continuation of the other. Ian Stewart, who plays piano with us, said: “Everything seems to be in A.” And I said: “Well, Beethoven wrote whole symphonies in one key, what does it fucking matter?” So we decided that the songs that would go on the album would be the ones that we finished first!

I’ve noticed that you can really hear the words on Some Girls whereas on other albums, they’re mostly buried.
During the mix, I kind of decide — not very consciously. I just put it up and that’s how it comes out. It depends on the song. If the words are good we bring them up; if they’re useless, then…

But on Exile on Main Street the words were great, yet it was hard to hear them — “Tumbling Dice,” “Rocks Off,” “Rip This Joint.”
Yeah, a lot of people told me that. Maybe the rest of the band would prefer it if I weren’t too loud, and I’m so good anyway [laughing]. But you know, people often interpret lyrics in ways you never meant. Sometimes I’m aware, when I write something, that a line can be taken in two ways, and I don’t really want to say what everything is about. It’s a lot more fun for people to interpret them in their own way.

With a song like “Shattered,” however, I thought we had to hear the words a bit, so…it’s not really just a question of loudness, it has to do with clarity of diction — whether I enunciate properly. And if I don’t, you have to have it louder, and even then people don’t understand what you’re saying.

I read somewhere that you bit off the front part of your tongue when you were a kid, and that this was a kind of initiation rite.
[Laughing] Bullshit. I just bit a little bit off. That idea sounds as if it came from someplace like Creem magazine.

At the risk of being so accused, it sometimes seems that the way girls swallow you up — as some of your songs suggest — is the way you yourself seem to swallow up your words.
Maybe it’s just my bad enunciation [laughing] running away with me. And it’s also because I like the sound of words, the way the noises come out. In “Shattered,” where you have “sha-dooby,” I wanted that to be heard, because it’s as much a part of the song as the words. Van Morrison and Dylan do that kind of thing. Everyone does it, actually.

And on “Beast of Burden,” you sing: “You’re a pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girl,” which seems to me a sexier, more ironical variation on Buddy Holly’s “Pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue.”
Yeah, it’s true, I never thought of it. It’s funny, that. But to me it’s just a sound — it could be “pretty pretty happy happy”…or whatever. I wasn’t thinking of Buddy Holly at all; it’s a completely unconscious thing.

I heard that you were considering playing Antonin Artaud in a film.
I haven’t decided on that yet, but I admire Artaud.

He once took peyote in Mexico and described the experience as the three happiest days in his life. This is what he said about that time: “Boredom disappeared, I ceased looking for a reason to live, and I no longer had to carry my body. I grasped that I was inventing my life, that this was my function and my raison d’être, and that I got bored when I had no more imagination.” To me this quotation suggests you and your public persona quite a bit.
Strange, no? Uh-huh. I think it applies to most everybody, surely. But as Artaud said, he only had three happy days in his life. He was an unhappy person, and I’m not. I was just born happy, and he wasn’t. But if I had the tiniest bit of the talent Artaud had. I’d be even happier than I am. I find him very interesting as a poet and in terms of his interest in theater and cinema…and also interesting as an individual because he was so tortured. But I don’t identify with him.

I don’t continually question my reason to live — it’s just a state of being. I’m just here. The real question is what you’re doing with the living you’re doing, and what you want to do with that living.

What do you think you’ve been doing with the living you’ve been doing in the Seventies?
Wasting my time.

Yet during that time you also wrote “Time Waits for No One,” which really is a powerful, ominous, vatic song that no one commented on that much — as if it were a Seventies throwaway.
I liked it a lot. But I don’t see things in terms of years — the Sixties, the Seventies — it’s just a journalistic convention.

Punk rock, too. I don’t want to get into the accusations that the Rolling Stones gave in or up or whatever. It’s sort of vaguely true, but it’s not really true. To me, rock & roll just goes back to the basic things. It doesn’t exist because other people don’t come across, it exists because kids want to get up and play very simple. The punk-rock movement said things to get a lot of copy. It’s just an excuse to say that Rod Stewart lives in Hollywood and spends millions of dollars. It was just a good line. It wasn’t the real reason punk rock existed.

What song or songs have you heard in the past few years that really got to you?
Really got to me? Hardly any. I don’t listen seriously to rock & roll today. I never really did listen to white English bands. I like Latin music, all kinds of Caribbean music — I prefer that to white rock bands. I recently saw Tuff Darts and the Jam, right? Tuff Darts are pretty good, but the music really didn’t swing. It’s like white people, you know what I mean? I liked disco music when it was very Latin — two or three years ago — it was all Latin steps.

Now it’s Australian.
Right, Australian. I liked John Travolta.

How does his dancing rate with yours?
It’s not really difficult to be a better dancer than I am. I think I’m a terrible dancer, and I’d love to have gone to school and learned it properly, but I don’t have the time nor the discipline.

I once heard Nureyev on television say that you were a terrific dancer.
That’s very kind of him, because he’s a great dancer. I can’t dance a waltz or a quickstep. I can’t dance steps. I just leap about, and sometimes it’s very ungainly. It’s hard dancing while you’re singing.

You’re also a dynamic singer/actor onstage.
Well, Bob Marley, for instance, is a good example of someone who really acts out a song and dances and plays guitar — it’s what singers have always done. Etta James is really fantastic. But I think everyone does it, more or less.

Anyway, I wanted the new album to be a dance record with mostly fast stuff on it. And there were other songs we cut out that I would have preferred on the album. I wanted to take “Beast of Burden” off — that would have depressed you — but you know what I mean?

Well, your recent albums have had a lot of dance numbers on them, and people didn’t seem to appreciate them all that much.
Not much, actually. But this one is more “up” — especially “Shattered” and “Miss You.”

You and Keith call yourselves “The Glimmer Twins” when you credit yourselves as producers. Someone once compared you two to Romulus and Remus.
[Laughing] We’re very close, and we always have been. He was born my brother by accident by different parents….That sounds all right to me. Let me ask you this: What did you think of Keith’s song on the album, “Before They Make Me Run”?

It sounds like a goodbye song, with those lines: “I’m gonna find my way to Heaven ‘Cause I did my time in Hell” — almost as if it were sung by Clarence White and the Byrds.
Keith’s got a strong optimistic streak. His last complete song was “Happy.” And he wrote nearly all of this one except for one or two “Oh, yeahs” in the middle. It’s definitely his song.

People don’t know who does what. And it’s very difficult for me to remember who wrote what particular verse or song. Rock reviewers say: “That’s a typical Keith Richard song.” But they don’t know. They often get it wrong, and it makes me laugh.

How long have you known Keith?
Twenty-nine years.

How old are you?
Thirty-four. I met him when I was six.

Legend has it that you met him for the first time on a train when you were both grown-up students.
No, we lived on the same block for a while when we were kids. Another guy who lived on the block was the painter Peter Blake…it was a pretty awful block, though [laughing]. Keith and I went to the same school at one point, and we walked home together.

Sounds like “Hey little girl in the high school sweater.”
[Laughing] Then I met him later on, and we really remembered each other.

When I listen to you on your records, I sometimes get the sense of a ten-to fourteen-year-old singing, as if inside you were a young boy still. What age do you feel close to?
About eleven or twelve. Just prepuberty. I know it sounds immature [laughing], but one day I’ll do it properly when I’m a big boy.

You once said that you didn’t want to be singing “Satisfaction” when you were forty-two.
No, I certainly won’t.

You often convey a feeling that combines the fearlessness and rambunctiousness that young kids have, and it seems to be a feeling that charms and bothers people.
It bothers them because they can’t be like that themselves. I consider myself very lucky, and one of the reasons for that is that when I’m singing or acting or playing or anything — even at home — I feel just like a baby — like I’m ten or eleven or twelve. Whether that’s my fantasy, whether it’s right or wrong — I know that it’s something that other people can’t do. I mean, I can act like a thirty-four-year-old, too — I’ve trained myself to act in this manner [laughing] — but when I’m playing I can go back in time. I think that’s true for many musicians and actors and dancers, and people envy that.

Are you planning on going back to the basics when you tour? The last time I saw you perform in New York, in 1975, you and the group seemed to be involved in fancy stage spectacle, buffoonery and horseplay.
It may have looked like that, but I didn’t feel like that. Which means I wasn’t acting it properly.

Maybe young kids who had never seen you before thought differently from me.
Exactly, it’s easy to say: “Ah well, they’re not as good as they were before.” It may be your eyes that are jaded, rather than us.

I saw you in 1965, and it was pretty basic then.
The only people who did things like that in the old days were us — a little bit — the Who and the MC5. Everyone else stood up there like a bunch of assholes — they were terrible…with their suits and ties. The Jam is sort of like an English rock group of 1965, but not as good. You can’t really return to basics in big gigs.

So what do you plan to do?
It’s going to look different. I’d like to play lots of guitar. And I’d like to play the newer songs, but you can’t do that in big places because no one wants to know. I’d like to play some smaller halls, but we’ve got to play some big outdoor ones in order to pay the roadies. It will be a varied tour — with both large and small gigs.

I was thinking of the lines in “As Tears Go By”: “It is the evening of the day,/I sit and watch the children play,/Doing things I used to do/They think are new.” It must be amazing to you that there are all these kids who were three years old in 1964-65 and who are seeing you now for the first time.
Sure. When I was already in Los Angeles in my pink Cadillac, they were just three years old, and now I go out with them [laughing]. It feels all right.

Do you like older women?

And not lying, cheating, vain, affected girls.
It’s easy for me to write that kind of song because my talent seems to lie in that direction, and I can only occasionally come up with a really good love song — it’s easier to come out with the other side of the coin. So I choose what I do best, that’s all.

I remember your old song “Off the Hook”: the girl’s phone is always busy, you wonder what she’s doing, and finally you just take your own phone off the hook. She’s off the hook, but so are you.
We’re all off the hook.

People seem fascinated with whether your phone is on or off the hook — in your personal life, in other words. Why do you think that is?
It’s amazing to me that people want to know about my soap opera. Not just mine, of course, but mine’s been a very long-running soap opera for a rock & roll singer. I mean, people aren’t interested in Roger Daltrey’s soap opera. I’m not trying to put people down, I wish I didn’t have a soap opera. Bob Dylan they’re interested in now only because he’s getting a divorce. Before they weren’t — they didn’t seem to care; he was just married and had a lot of children, and they didn’t write about when he went out or whatever. No one was really that interested in any of the Beatles’ soap operas — not to the extent that I go through it. Of course John and Yoko did get attention in the late Sixties by making an exhibition of themselves — sitting in bed, etc. But I try to avoid publicity, I’m running.

I don’t put out wild pictures of me and whomever I’m going out with. I try to avoid going to openings as much as I possibly can. Even before I was married, with girls I was seeing or living with — most of the stories were completely untrue, and it’s hopeless trying to tell people that it’s not true. They’ll print anything you say, anything. And by the time it gets to Hong Kong, it’s ridiculous. Before you know it, you’ve gone out with Mrs. Trudeau, which is rubbish. The only reason I’m known in Turkey is because I’m supposed to have “gone out with Mrs. Trudeau.”

I really don’t like being a soap opera. It must be some sort of sexual interest. People who’ve got some kind of sexual attraction — and I hope I’m not being immodest by saying this — but when I was a kid I had it, I didn’t have a problem getting girls. I did have a problem, though, until I started singing — I don’t mind saying that. I got nothing. Maybe I was just shy.

It’s that androgynous image that seems to attract both girls and boys.
Yeah, I don’t think it did in earlier years, but maybe there was always room for the androgynous type. Anyway, all guys have a feminine side. But most girls don’t really fall in love with a completely gay guy, even though they like the feminine side showing. And vice versa with men. They like a woman who combines things, too. They don’t want someone who’s either butch or totally helpless.

But, as we said before, your songs don’t always combine things — maybe that’s what gives the power to the songs.
Well, there is one song that’s a straight gay song — “When the Whip Comes Down” — but I have no idea why I wrote it. It’s strange — the Rolling Stones have always attracted a lot of men [laughing]. That sounds funny, but they’re not all gay. And, of course, I have a lot of gay friends, but I suppose everyone does in New York City, and what’s that have to do with the price of eggs?…I sure hope the radio stations will play “When the Whip Comes Down.”

You can’t really make out the words. All you hear is the chantlike chorus. Did you intend it to be a kind of Anvil Chorus?
[Laughing] Well, yeah. I know what you’re thinking about. I don’t know why I wrote it. Maybe I came out of the closet [laughing]. It’s about an imaginary person who comes from L.A. to New York and becomes a garbage collector….But whatever: I don’t like this gossip interest in me today at all. It upsets a lot of people, and it creates a lot of diversions in my life. I can ignore it in America — it’s not so bad here — but in Australia and England there are so many competing gossip columns. I don’t trust journalists, generally, because they don’t write the truth.

Some Girls seems to me the first Rolling Stones album in years that presents a dramatic quality — as if each song were an element in a play — and at the same time goes back to the rock & roll energy of ‘Between the Buttons.’
I think Some Girls is the best album we’ve done since Let It Bleed. I hate to say that because usually I say I love all the albums, or I hate them all, or none of them means anything to me, don’t bother me with it, etc. But I do think it’s a good album, and I’m not going to be too modest about it. I think it has a continuity in the characterizations — it doesn’t have the holes, it’s a bit better than the others. Most albums I buy have four out of ten good songs. And this one has, I think, more than that.

It’s like in the Sixties when every song was expected to be good.
Yeah, every song should be good…and the reason perhaps why this album is good is that we did forty-two songs [laughing]. So we could cut the deadwood away, but there was a lot of good material.

Does it help you to produce your own albums?
No, it takes too long. I’d like someone else to produce them, but I can’t find anybody….No one even calls us up and offers! Luckily, we’ve got Chris Kimsey, who’s our engineer, and he made things easier. We didn’t have to spend a lot of time in the control room. I knew he’d get a good drum sound, so I didn’t have to run in all the time and worry. He was great.

Whatever you did, you certainly put it together right with this album.
Well, I just realized that we had to. People expect a lot more of us than they do everybody else.


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