I’ve got to get this off my Baby Boomer, grew-up-in-the-sixties chest: I was never a big Rolling Stones fan. I bought their early records, but not hits like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “19th Nervous Breakdown.” My interest was revived briefly with “Honky Tonk Women,” and I can still appreciate their hard-driving rock of that era, but big fan, no.
So why did I read Mick, The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger by Christopher Anderson? I guess it’s because when someone is still famous, still considered relevant after fifty years, especially in the here-today-gone-next-week world of rock music, I pay attention.
I’m not sure the book has any real revelations for anyone who has read anything at all about Jagger or the Rolling Stones in the past five decades. Mick has a reputation as a true rock star, taking drugs, shagging groupies. Author Anderson claims Jagger has had sex with over 4,000 women. I have three words for that: in cred ible. That seems an unreal number to those of us who’ve been lucky in our lifetime to have at least one woman agree to have sex with us. But the sexual prowess isn’t because Jagger is such a Casanova or a charmer, as much as it is that he’s famous. He’s a rock star, and in our celebrity-worshipping world women throw themselves at him. I guess if a guy has the stamina for endless sex and is willing to risk STDs (of which Jagger and the rest of the Stones have had their share) then he would be dumb not to use his stardom to get laid.
As far as Mick’s personality defects, Anderson launches into many of them. Jagger is a user of people, who finds them easy to discard when he’s finished with them. Jagger has had several relationships which seem almost traditional (he’s gotten married), but they’ve always broken up for various reasons, and one is that Jagger is a narcissist and the most important person in the world to Jagger is himself. Everyone else becomes disposable to him, and the landscape is littered with people, women especially, who’ve been treated like Kleenex and thrown in the rubbish bin. Is that a surprise to you? It wasn’t to me.
Consider this description given of Jagger when Chrissie Shrimpton threw herself at him while he was on stage at the beginning of the Stones’ career, earning her a big kiss. “Although Jagger seemed larger than life on the stage, up close he was anything but: five feet nine inches tall and 130 pounds, with a head that was disproportionately large for his slight frame. He also suffered from a serious case of acne.” With that sort of appearance a bloke would have to have something else going for him, wouldn’t he?
Over the years I’ve heard rumors that Jagger was bisexual, and if not, he has a taste for both men and women. He claims to be thrilled to be wanted, even by men, even if he never goes to bed with them. But he’s been to bed with many. In today’s world that gets a big shrug and a “so what else is new?” as more and more stars reveal themselves to be gay or gates that swing both ways.
Jagger’s former bandmate (and a man who considered the Stones to be his band), Brian Jones, is someone who at one time Jagger shared a bed with. Jones seemed to have much of the same convention-defying streak in him as Jagger, and bedded both men* and women. To women Jones was especially brutal, beating several of them, including groupies he didn’t even know. Jones was too spaced on drugs and was an absentee band member when Jagger and the Stones’ manager arranged a buyout of Jones. But Jones didn’t live long after that. In ’69 he invited the contractors working on his house to bring their girlfriends to a pool party. That night he ended up dead, drowned in his own pool. Many years later a deathbed confession by contractor Frank Thorogood claimed he had killed Jones by holding him underwater. When Jagger learned of Jones’ death he wasn’t all that unhappy. (Keith Richards was positively surly, even 40 years after Jones’ death, when he heard that Jones was murdered. He blamed Jones for bringing on his own death because he “pissed off his builders, whining son of a bitch.”)
The book is a catalog of stories like that, along with big dollops of sin, sex and debauchery. I’m surprised considering his lifestyle Jagger is still around at age 69. I’m even more surprised by Keith Richards (who also expresses his own surprise that he’s still alive). The drugs didn’t kill ‘em, the alcohol didn’t kill ‘em, nor did the cigarettes. No one shot them,** a la John Lennon, not even jealous husbands or boyfriends.
The Stones are even talking of another tour.
I guess there’s some sort of moral to the story. Only the good die young? Smoke, drink, drug it up, live to old age? Or, maybe just have as much fun as you can get away with, because there is no moral!
*I saw the Rolling Stones up close and personal in a 1966 performance in a small venue, an amusement park north of Salt Lake. The crowd pressed itself close to the stage, but I was able to work my way up to the front, standing right under Brian Jones, who was playing rhythm guitar. I was probably grinning like an idiot, because I had elbowed, shoved and crawled to get close. Jones looked down at me and made eye contact. He then gave me a small wave with his right hand. I have told that story many times, but never thought about it until now. What did he see when he saw me standing there? Maybe I’m better off not knowing.
**Drowned at least one, though.