Let’s get one thing straight. Mick Jagger did not perform on the soundtrack for the remake of Alfie, a 1966 British film, because he’s simpatico with the protagonist, a serial philanderer. “Alfie’s whole life is revolving around all these sequential girlfriends, which is no different for a lot of young men,” says Sir Mick, 61, sitting on a couch in a Manhattan hotel, framed by a view of Central Park. “And Alfie is a young man about town with a humdrum job driving a limo. I’m not very good as a chauffeur.” One reason Jagger took the gig was to write and record original tunes with a pal, Eurhythmics mastermind Dave Stewart. The two secluded themselves in Los Angeles and on the island of Mustique, in the West Indies, and wrote “Old Habits Die Hard,” “Blind Leading the Blind” and “New York Hustle,” which they later recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. Jagger is also readying the release of Live Licks, a two-CD set from the Rolling Stones‘ 2002-03 tour, out in November.
The title “Old Habits Die Hard” is the perfect sentiment for Alfie. How’d you come up with that line?
I found that lyric in a notebook, and it just worked for me. It’s interesting trying to write songs and adapt thematic elements while you’re watching scenes from the movie.
From a business perspective, what are the advantages of releasing music through movies?
You get paid twice — the movie and the record. But I never thought about it like that. It provides an outlet besides the radio. You hear it in theaters — in trailers for the movie and in the movie itself.
Jack White told me that when the White Stripes were opening for the Stones, you were rehearsing “Satisfaction” at sound check. Don’t you know that one by now?
I don’t have to work too hard on that one [laughs]. The nice way of thinking about that would be that we’re still playing it with enthusiasm. And if I don’t fuck with the ending of that song I get really, really bored — then I have no enthusiasm. I have to fuck with the ending a bit.
What do you do before a show? Do you have a drink? A smoke?
No! A smoke? [Laughs] I don’t smoke or drink when I’m working.
Just to calm the nerves?
No, that would be the opposite.
Who do you consider a musical genius?
I’ve met and hung out with some really incredible players . . . Sounds like I’m a terrible name-dropper, but it’s very different meeting people like Muddy Waters and Leonard Bernstein. They’re both leaders. Bernstein must’ve taken years to learn what he needed to do, whereas Muddy had it as a teenager. But I don’t know where it lands you, that term “genius.” The genius still has to practice, to take an original thought and combine that with flexibility in their training.
You can do whatever you want anywhere in the world. Where do you get the discipline to carry the Stones on massive tours?
My parents taught me how to be disciplined about physical and mental things. Then I strayed away from those things when I was a teenager, but I remember it when I have to. Preparation for tours is the toughest bit for me. Rehearsals — you have to time your day and time your body. It’s hard, physical work and incredibly long three-month rehearsals.
Do you get bored?
You have to find lots of distractions, without turning on the TV. Exploring the local surroundings is the perfect thing, but sometimes I’m too physically tired to do much. You get bored, and that’s how you end up doing really stupid things out on the road [laughs]. I think I’m over that now.
Is there anything better than soul music to make love to?
[Laughs] Well, Indian ragas can be quite good. They’re all long . . . and they all have climaxes.
How many times have you written the perfect song?
I’ve never really counted [laughs]. Is there such a thing?
“Gimme Shelter” is one . . .
Some songs are better than others. The ones that have a completeness in four minutes — those you can hit right on the nose. Usually they’re written quickly. It always happens that I think certain songs are brilliant that other people can’t stand. Like “Every Breath You Take.” It’s very cleverly constructed.
How do you travel with your music?
In my computer and in my iPod. Lots of blues, lots of classical, lots of soul, lots of Persian music. My own doodles. Music for every occasion, y’know? Even Christmas music.
And Indian ragas.
You never know when you might need one.
This story is from the November 11th, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.