There are these two guys named Mick Jagger. One of them, whose life is laid out in lurid little exploits in the tatty press, seems a perfect prancing ass. The other one, however, makes these lately great-again albums with the Rolling Stones, whom he also inveigles out onto the road every three years or so in order to dredge up a quick $40 million and thus finance further society wallows. One suspects these two are acquainted, but you never see them together. (Well, maybe onstage.)
Additionally, there is sometimes a third Mick Jagger. While the other two have all the fun, this one makes himself available for interviews each time an album is released. It is an occupation clouded by great, gray billows of boredom. This Mick Jagger has not been asked an interesting question since, oh, Altamont–and how interesting was that? Journalists are always pushing the same old piffle, it seems. Much of it pertains to Mick I. Is he doped up? Shacked up? Fucked up? Fed up? Can he really be 40 years old?
As it happens, there is now a whole generation of pop-music enthusiasts out there for whom such questions no longer burn. Mick Jagger? Took a lot of drugs? Used to think he was the devil or something? Hung out with Andy Warhol? Ick. And you say he’s still at it?
Yes, dear God, he is. In fact, because the Rolling Stones are about to unleash their latest release, an album called Undercover, he is sitting right here behind a desk in the modest mid-Manhattan offices of Rolling Stones Records, doing his Mick III routine.
It is a balmy, sunny afternoon in early September, and Jagger is casually stylish in pale yellow pants, a drape-cut cord shirt and woven leather sandals, no socks. He looks good, rather softer and less chiseled than in photographs, and while he’s a bit fidgety–and there’s a lot of odd tug-and-snort action going on with his nose–one assumes these are probably mannerisms he’s picked up from Mick I.
The material on Undercover, however–rough mixes of which I have audited in the customary interval between when Jagger says he’ll arrive and when he actually appears–is very much the work of Mick II, the musician. There is no other singer like him, of course.
But this time out, there is also an even more corrosive intensity to his lyrics, particularly in such songs as “She Was Hot,” “All the Way Down,” “Tie You Up (The Pain of Love)”–the titles tell it all–and in two bracing blasts at totalitarian political tyranny (“Undercover of the Night” and “It Must Be Hell”) and one true-life tale of a man in Paris who hacked up his girlfriend and ate her (“Too Much Blood”). As Keith Richards says, “It’s a very gory album.”
And a very good one. The music, painstakingly put together over the past year by Jagger and the invaluable Richards, is harder and more deliriously guitar-lumbered than ever. Listening as it leaped out of the speakers, I marveled anew at the fact that, come January, the Rolling Stones will have been together for 21 years.
Not only have they still got it, they’ve still got all of it. So, long live Mick II, I say: his is a life distinctively and productively led. If only it were enough. But of course it’s not. Jagger may be a millionaire many times over, but there’s still something faintly…frivolous about the way he makes his living. He yearns to branch out, to act, to produce films, though “no one ever asks me,” he says.
But here he is, 40 years old and still best known as the lead singer for the Rolling Stones. As if that’s really all he ever intends to do with his life. It’s beginning to be an embarrassment. Even his friends are starting to talk. On the occasion of his birthday last July 26th, for instance, Pete Townshend–who’s allegedly retired his own band, the Who–wrote a windy salute to his old pal in the Times of London.
Jagger might have beat Pete to the punch in sampling sex and drugs and major rock success, trumpeted Townshend, who’s two years younger than Mick, “but I have stopped living for rock & roll before he has.”
“That,” says Jagger with a snort and a tug, “presumes the feet that I ever did live for it. I mean, yeah, when I was like 14. But I think after the age of…certainly 30, if not 25, I had ceased merely living for rock & roll itself, you know. I mean, I love rock & roll; it’s wonderful. I know what the feeling is: you wake up in the morning, run down to the record store, get the new record, put it on, can’t wait for all your friends to come over. You sing it all day. You go down to the bar, you’re still singing it, putting a nickel in the juke. Then you go out and see the band at night, you know? I can do that. I mean, tonight I’m gonna see Yellowman; that should be fun. But being really caught up in rock & roll…that’s something you do when you’re a teenager. It’d be stupid to do that all the time.”
Jagger leans back with a big, cheek-creasing grin. “Pete Townshend is talking about himself,” he says.
Michael Phillip Jagger always had big ambitions, right from the beginning. As his father, Joe Jagger, a physical education teacher in a South London suburb, once observed, “He was in business administration at the London School of Economics when he took two years’ leave to start his group. He did it because he thought it was something pleasant, but he realized the possibilities of making money, and since he was in business administration, he felt it was a good idea to make money.”
Need we note that money is no longer a pressing concern for Jagger? Already awash in nearly 20 years of songwriting royalties and record-breaking concert receipts (much of it safely sheltered in the Stones’ Hollandbased holding company, Promotone B.V., or otherwise administered by their London-based financial adviser, Prince Rupert Loewenstein), Jagger recently engineered a rather astounding new recording contract for the Stones with CBS Records.
The deal marks the end of the band’s 12-year relationship with Atlantic Records and its chairman of the board, Ahmet Ertegun, with whom they’ve had a longstanding friendship. The reason, Jagger says simply, was that “CBS offered us substantially more money.” Twenty-five million dollars, to be precise. In return, among other things, CBS will eventually acquire much of the Stones’ back catalog. Both sides seem pleased with the deal.
“I think the CBS offer was based on the performance of our last three studio albums,” says Jagger, whose group has been on a dramatic creative upswing since the Some Girls LP in 1978. “I think CBS figures they can sell more records than anybody, so if our next three sell the same as the last three, they’re gonna make money.”
The heart of the deal, of course, is that CBS will release the next four Rolling Stones albums. In addition, it will also release, for the first time ever, a solo album by Mick Jagger himself. Maybe two or three. This is an unexpected breach in Jagger and Richards’ longstanding no-solos tradition, and Mick seems excited by it.
“I could do all kinds of things,” he says enthusiastically. “I could go very commercial –very, very commercial American pop. Or I could go for just ordinary, straight rock & roll, in an English way. Or I could mix it up: some very…you know, some hits, and some things that are a bit more experimental.”
“Outside of this kind of mainstream rock,” he fairly burbles. “More like the stuff Material [a New York jazz-funk unit] does. Slightly left of the mainstream, you know what I mean? You could do some interesting things in that area.”
“I have a lot of stuff,” Jagger says. “I think I’m gonna do it relatively soon.”
In the musical sphere, of course, Mick Jagger can do whatever he wants. But what is there really left to do? “No one seems to be doing anything very innovative in stadium shows,” he says. “I’ve seen David Bowie, I’ve seen Talking Heads and the Police, and I mean, is that really all there is? Keith thinks that rock & roll shows should just be a few lights and a good sound system and a square stage. That’s his idea of what it should be. But I like to do more than that. I want to have more lights, a better stage. I want to be able to see 360 degrees. I want to give the people in the back something to look at, and I want it to look right.”
Getting the Rolling Stones to actually roll out on tour, of course, is another headache entirely.
“I don’t know whether the Stones are gonna go on the road next year or not. We’re gonna sit down and talk about that in the next few weeks. I mean, Charlie obviously doesn’t want to go on tour,” he says, referring to drummer Charlie Watts. “But yeah, I love it. It’s kind of in my blood. It would be awful if I went on and tried to do things I couldn’t do. But if the body is in good enough condition to be able to sing and have the breath and the legs …then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do it for a few more years. But as soon as it starts to show…well, I’ll see it on video. I’ll see it straight away.”
The dwindling of Jagger’s high-voltage performance style may not be imminent, but it is inevitable. This may be one reason why he continues to yearn for a breakthrough in his long-simmering movie career: something dignified to fall back on.
The Stones acquired the screen rights to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange back in the Sixties, but because potential censorship problems seemed impassable, the production fell through. So did subsequent projects. Jagger finally made it to the movies in 1970, starring in two films.
He played a noted Australian outlaw in the Tony Richardson film Ned Kelly (“He looks too sissy,” said one crusty local after the movie’s outback première). He also appeared as the retired rock star Turner in Performance, a movie co-directed by Nicolas Roeg and Jagger’s painter-turned filmmaker friend, Donald Cammell (“Loathsome,” John Simon called the pic in the New York Times).
Jagger’s name was subsequently floated in connection with such screen projects as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Ken Russell’s bizarre film bio of Franz Liszt (which eventually starred Who vocalist Roger Daltrey). In 1981, Jagger actually spent several weeks in the steaming Peruvian jungle working on Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, but that ill-fated film fell behind schedule, and when Jagger was unable to extend his stay because of the Stones’ U.S. tour, his footage was scrapped.
“But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” he says, with perhaps an iota of irony. “There was a nice moment when I came out. After waiting three days for transportation at this logging camp in the middle of the jungle, sleeping 12 in a room in hammocks with these loggers–and my Spanish is really rudimentary–well, this seaplane arrived. I had done myself up: best suit of clothes; I’d cleaned up, even shaved. And I stood up on the float of the seaplane, and just as I was about to open the door, I lost my balance and fell into the Amazon.” The response he recalls hearing as he flubbered about was “just fits of laughter.”
He remains game, however. He has acquired a powerful new theatrical agent (Rick Nicita of the Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles), and he continues to test for parts, like any aspiring actor. Recently, he auditioned for Milos Forman’s production of the Broadway stage hit Amadeus; the part of Mozart didn’t pan out, but Mick remains unfazed.
“You have to have your nose to the ground for what parts are going around the major studios, which are very few,” he says sagely. “They’re mostly written with some guy in mind, and you only get the part if he gets ill or something. Which may be how Sting got that part in Dune, for instance. I’m not saying he won’t be good in it, but it was an opening that came up, I think.”
Things are brightening a bit on the extramusical front, though. Not long ago, Jagger sold a screenplay he cowrote called The Tin Soldier (“and got paid pretty good for it,” he says proudly). He’ll probably also sell the screen rights he acquired some years ago to the Gore Vidal novel Kalki (“No one wants to make it into a picture”). But it looks as if he finally has found financing for a project that he’s wanted to do for a decade, a movie whose working title has been Ishtar.
It seems to concern a video director and some terrorists; Jagger will be in on the action and may even star. Michael Butler, the money man behind Hair, is reportedly a likely backer. “We have the money and everything,” Jagger says. “We have the script and some of the main cast. We’re just arguing a little bit about the deal.”
Mick II’s movie career may yet pan out, who knows? Certainly his thespian setbacks are nothing compared to the battered fortunes suffered by Mick I in the world’s gossip columns over the last 12 years. You’ll recall that Mick I assumed a life of his own back in 1971, when Jagger married Bianca Perez Morena de Macias, a Nicaraguan diplomat’s daughter, in glittery St. Tropez.
The well-connected Bianca opened up all sorts of new social possibilities for Jagger (she, of course, benefited equally by her marriage to Mick), and soon, the favored couple was partying at “21” with Yves St. Laurent, dining at La Grenouille with Andy Warhol and checking out the gay floor show at the Continental Baths (where Mick was recognized and, according to one report, “had to flee from an army of eager queens clad only in bath towels”).
None of this flouncing about with the fashionable set made Mick appear to be a very serious person. And unfortunately, the Jaggers’ mid-Seventies jet-setting coincided with (and perhaps contributed to) an unprecedented slump in the Rolling Stones’ music (think back to Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, Black and Blue).
Nor did the marital glow last for long: Bianca, who had given birth to a daughter, Jade, a few months after the wedding, couldn’t have been too pleased when Marsha Hunt, a black American singer, filed a paternity suit against Jagger in 1973, claiming–and ultimately proving–that he had fathered her daughter Karis, who was born in November 1970.
Eventually, Bianca began to complain about Mick’s randy habits, and in 1978, she sued for divorce on grounds of adultery–the particular object of her ire being Jerry Hall, a six-foot-tall, $2,000-an-hour fashion model from Mesquite, Texas, whom Jagger had wooed away from singer Bryan Ferry. The Jaggers’ divorce was a noisy one, great fun for the gossips.
It was finally settled–for $2.5 million out of Mick’s pocket–in 1980, allowing Jagger and Hall to make like real lovebirds. Jerry was subsequently portrayed in the tabloids as uttering let’s-make-it-legal noises, but no wedding ensued.
Then, in 1982, she dumped Mick and took up with multimillionaire racehorse owner Robert Sangster, a man who, in Jerry’s deathless phrase, “can buy [Mick] out 10 times over.” Quel scandale! Mick was said to be keeping company with a young Venezuelan model named Victoria Vicuna. It was all terrifically silly.
How Mick got Jerry back is not entirely clear. According to the gossip sheets, Sangster claimed that “Mick broke down on the telephone and cried like a big baby, begging her to come back to him.” According to Jagger, “We just broke up for a while.” Whatever the case, Jerry returned, bliss reigned and, as if in confirmation of their reunion, it was reported that she was pregnant. The baby is due in early 1984.
Mick III answers the unavoidable question with some ambivalence. “I’m not gonna get married,” he says. “Not right now! I may get married. But I’m not getting married right now.”
Gotcha. He waffled just as much about acknowledging the impending tot–a piece of news unleashed upon the world by garrulous guitarist Ron Wood, much to Jagger’s chagrin.
“She could have a miscarriage, that’s why I don’t like talking about it,” Mick explains. “It’s never good to crow about these things until they’re a little bit further gone. It’s actually happened to me before. I wanted to tell people the girl was having a baby, and it was really kind of a bring-down when the news came out a month later in Rolling Stone and she had had a miscarriage.” (At press time, all was well, and Mick and Jerry had broken the news in person to his parents in England.)
Fatherhood apparently appeals to him. At least he seems to dote on his daughters, both hitting their teens now (and, as their dad is at pains to point out to potential swains, “both too young!”). He gets to talk to their friends. They keep him up on the trends, like synth pop. “Old hat to us, mate,” he says with a grin. “I’m still waiting for something I haven’t already heard. But, I mean, there’s no stopping a record like Eurythmics’–it’s just straight pop. Real good for what it is. Better than a lot of the bands earning money in arenas, I think, just for records.
“Image is becoming very important. So is the performing artist. A record may sell, but if a guy comes over as a good performer, or he makes good videos, it helps him. So you’ve gotta be capable in all those areas.”
Jagger should know, playing the shill, as he does, for MTV commercials. He, too, it turns out, has noticed the rarely tainted whiteness of the MTV airwaves. “It is kind of odd,” he says. “I don’t know why, but they’ll probably bring out some excuse. I think MTV has done something great–although quite by accident, I’d imagine. It’s shaken up all the radio people and made ’em realize that there’s more to life than all those bands that they were playing over and over and over. Like the Rolling Stones.”
He stays on the scene, hits the clubs. When the rumor spread earlier this year that the Hell’s Angels, still miffed by Mick’s unsupportive attitude after the Angelplagued Altamont concert in 1969, had put a murder contract out on him, a meeting was set up at the Ritz, a New York rock club, to work things out. He caught David Bowie twice on his latest tour (“His singing was much improved,” Mick cackles), and he’s also gotten down at the Roxy, a Manhattan funk mecca.
“I went a couple of times on scratch-dance night, and I got a lot of letters from girls afterward saying, ‘You danced with me.’ Of course, nobody really dances with anyone; it’s just twitching around and scratching and getting on the floor. I tried spinning on my head and got a terrible hangover the next day.”
Although, in the wake of John Lennon’s death three years ago, Jagger made it known that he sometimes carried a gun, he now tries not to be paranoid about his partying. “Sometimes I go out with bodyguards,” he says, “but sometimes I go on my own. There’s places I go that nobody gives a shit. But there’s other places you go where you really have to organize. It’s so boring, but you have to do it. Otherwise, you can’t see the show for all the bits of paper.”
As for the dreaded drug question, Mick says, “You’ve got to know your own limits. Obviously, I’m no paragon of virtue. I’ve often been carried home in the last 30 years. But if you see that happening, you’ve just got to stand off. If you take too much of anything, whether it’s coke or alcohol, you start to get paranoid, to get funny ideas about other people. The decisions you make are not right.”
His friend John Phillips, erstwhile leader of the Mamas and the Papas, was a heroin addict for several years, and Mick remembers the torments he endured. “He was pretty insane at one point,” Jagger says. “Heroin is a very dangerous drug. People think they can take it for a day or two on the weekends and then just quit. But they can’t. It’s very hard.” No, he says, “I don’t want to get caught up in that.”
These days, Jagger observes the world with a relatively clear eye from a house in France, a town house in Manhattan or his official residence (for the usual tax purposes) on the Caribbean island of Mustique. He observes, and he does not particularly like what he sees.
“Professional politicians are the bane of the earth,” he says. “They are people who’ve done nothing else all their lives. When you read history, and you see how some of them screw up so incredibly, it’s hard to believe that they’re well-educated people. I mean, you can be in politics without being a professional politician. Certain people have certain qualities. Mrs. Thatcher, for instance, has guts and all that, and she’s pretty intelligent. Mr. Gromyko is a great survivor. I think it’s a bit wrong, Reagan running for a second term. I think he’s too old for America.”
Does he see himself as a socialist? A Tory? An aging anarchist? “Well, I’m left of Reagan, I can tell you that. But one sort of questions Sixties American liberalism now, in retrospect. I think liberals made a lot of mistakes in foreign policy, and some of the right-wing people have scored major successes. The British Labour governments never had a foreign policy. Reagan never had one either, I don’t think. That dictator we (sic) supported in Nicaragua was definitely…I mean, anyone could tell that guy had to go. So if the Americans had wanted to be in control of that–which they were paying these people to be–they should have said, okay, your time is up, we’re gonna put somebody else in. A centrist government, a left-wing coalition, whatever. Same thing with the shah of Iran. We were supposed to be in control of events in those countries–and we just never really, in actual fact, were.”
Jagger is amused, and perhaps a bit dismayed, by the new breed of pop political sloganeers–bands like the Clash, calling for unity with their working-class audience and then embarking on a big-bucks tour of stateside stadiums–”playing Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium in Clash T-shirts,” as he says. “Yeah, you have to be very careful. You dig pits that you fall into. You may have to eat your words more than once in your life.”
The Rolling Stones have eaten very few words in the course of their career, and they admit to few regrets.
They never hoped to die before they got old in the first place. Age will eventually take its toll on their stage show, but nobody cares how many jump splits Mick Jagger can do in the recording studio, and that is where the Stones’ multifarious gifts–for songwriting, playing and performing–flower most fully.
Undercover is all new material, not studio scraps, and it’s so vibrantly crafted that some of the songs might pass as outtakes from Between the Buttons or some similar primordial classic. Twenty years on, the Stones are still at the top of their class (admittedly, it’s a class of one), and there’s no reason their records shouldn’t continue to keep them there.
As for Jagger, the gossip years will probably never end for him, but he seems to be attempting to put the gossip decade behind him. He genuinely dislikes the sort of overheated press coverage that greeted him and the pregnant Jerry when they arrived in England recently, en route to a video shoot in Paris for the “Undercover of the Night” single.
Maybe he’s had enough. Maybe Mick I is ready for that long rest he deserves. That would certainly take some of the load off of Mick III. And then Mick II, the musician, can get back to doing what, it seems to me, he does best: fronting the longest-running, inspirational-quality rock act in history.
The future, at this point in the Stones’ career, can be only vaguely perceived; but whatever it holds, Mick Jagger, after more than 20 years on the case, sweating it out in miserable little pubs and the most spectacular stadiums, is ready for it.
“I talked to Prince on the phone once after he got two cans thrown at him in L.A.,” Mick says. “He said he didn’t want to do any more shows.” Jagger bursts out in a blaze of big teeth and stuttery chuckles.
“God, I got thousands of bottles and cans thrown at me! Every kind of debris. I told him, if you get to be a really big headliner, you have to be prepared for people to throw bottles at you in the night.”
He leans back and screams: “Prepared to die!”