As the Rolling Stones' legendary front man Mick Jagger remains an enigma. He hasn't given an in-depth interview for a decade and a half and never commented on his friend and partner, Keith Richard's often critical biography. Drawing on firsthand recollections from rockers, filmmakers, writers, radicals, and other artists who have been transformed by Mick Jagger's work, acclaimed music journalist Marc Spitz has created a unique examination of the Jagger legacy, debunking long held myths and restoring his status as a complicated artist. Combining biography with cultural history, Jagger unfolds like a captivating documentary, a series of episodes tracing the icon's rise from his childhood in middle-class postwar London to his status as a jet-setting knight.
Featured Author Playlist:
- "Down the Road Apiece" by The Rolling Stones - 1965
A great example of Mick's improbably credible interpretation (and with his own Cockney affects, hybridization) of the African American vocal style. In less than two minutes, The Rolling Stones version of Amos Milburn's boogie woogie party starter, made it forever-okay for scrawny white boys to sing lustily about chicken cooked in bacon grease.
- "As Tears Go By" by The Rolling Stones - 1965
In '64, Mick and Keith were reluctant to bring this "girly" ballad to the other Rolling Stones and gave it to Marianne Faithfull instead. By '65, pop seemed to require emotional sophistication and baroque melancholy overnight and Mick bravely manned up to his female side. This is the bridge song, allowing the Stones to compete with the Beatles, Dylan and the Kinks.
- "Memo From Turner" by Mick Jagger - 1970
Memo to Turner: keep it in your pants. Why doesn't Keith Richards appear on what might have been the Rolling Stones' contribution to the soundtrack for Mick's film debut, the perverse and still brilliant British gangster film Performance? As they say on Facebook, it's complicated. Co-star Anita Pallenberg, provocateur director Donald Cammell, enough drug casualties to fully stock a Victorian loony bin all contribute to the first and still un-mended rift between Mick and Keith. But at least we have this gem with Ry Cooder's sinister guitar and disturbing, cut and paste lyrics indebted to William S. Burroughs. Great on its own but definitely check out the video.
- "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon - 1972
He comes in on the second verse, just after the guitar solo. He's not credited, but it was impossible to hear Carly Simon's number one single and not know who the mystery man was. Maybe the song is about Warren Beatty, maybe it's about Kris Kristofferson or James Taylor. But the singing… is all about Mick Jagger. The hands down highlight of the Stones early to mid 70s "flakey" period (thanks Lester Bangs).
- "(You've Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" by Peter Tosh - 1979
What do you do when the punks call you a ponce dinosaur and put you on their villians list? You make an album full of stonking, two and a half minute songs about heroin and hustling, and for insurance, you align yourself with the Stepping Razor himself, the Toughest of the Tough, Mr. Peter Tosh; who got crazy respect from even the most vicious of punk rockers. Mick did both and somehow survived the rampant iconoclasm. This reggae-fied version of the Temptations classic is cynical synergy, or if you prefer, image damage control and a little kitschy but the sheer star power of the two makes it a must.
- "State of Shock" by The Jacksons - 1984
At the time Michael Jackson could have guzzled a liter of Pepsi and belched the alphabet and it would have moved vinyl. A song from his teenage years "Farewell My Summer Love" was a top 10 hit. He'd sung the hook on Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me' (later immortalized in a Geico insurance commercial) and the track went to number 2. This, however, was the best of the post-Thriller cash in singles; a sexed up Stonesy-riff stunt cast with a real Stone. Mick replaced Freddie Mercury (no small feat) and made the track his own.
Are You A Mick or Are You A Keith?
by Marc Spitz
Or perhaps, you're wisely a little of both.
"Mick Jagger, or Keith Richards "
For much of my life, and I suspect that I'm not alone here among rock and roll fans, I have had days when I was feeling one and not the other. Mick was sophisticated, a little aloof and intellectual, perhaps even dismissive. Mick was unpredictable and slippery. Keith was primal, soulful and pure, trouble prone but cagey, only when it came to evading the Reaper. Otherwise, you could set your watch by Keith's rock n' roll soul.
As women (according to Don Draper) chose Jackie or Marilyn in the famous, 2008 "Maidenform" episode of Mad Men, rock and rollers choose Mick or Keith; the occasionally bonded but eternally bound Glimmer Twins. I'm sure (and some of the research for my book Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, bears this out), there were days when Mick is feeling a little Keith himself. He's put on the white bra, as it were. The trick is balance.
It's certainly more fun to be a Keith, but one has to know when to pour in a little Mick. Being Keith almost killed me. Only Keith can be Keith full time. And even Keith might not have survived the 60s (and certainly not the 70s) if there wasn't a little closet Mick thing happening. If you read his best-selling memoir Life, he all but cops to it, which is part of that book's huge appeal.
These days, however, almost nobody else wants to enterain their inner Mick. His wariness of the press and lack of personal (if not financial) investment in the Stones myth has done some damage to the public persona: the Mick Jagger brand. It's only now beginning to get rehabbed thanks to a stellar surprise performance at last year's Grammy Awards (which stole the show and reminded millions that he still has the soul of a record collecting fan-boy, then at age 67). There've been some name checks in rap and pop lyrics (Ke$ha, Maroon 5) which show promise for a restoration of Glimmer Twin balance. History needs its Micks as well as it's Keiths. Benjamin Franklin was a Mick, so was Lord Byron (Shelley was a Keith). Lenin was a Mick (Trotsky a Keith). Castro was a Mick, Che a Keith. Scorsese? Mick. Cimino. Keith. Madonna? Most definitely a Mick. Will Lady Gaga prove to be a Keith? Too early to say. If she's smart, she'll entertain it. And yet, you could argue that she is part of a generation of Keiths. We now live in an age when everyone wants to cheat death and laugh at sleep and live elegantly, no matter how wasted. Nobody compromises, everyone dives, head first and when they can't free themselves from degradation and walk away, Keith style, they go for the easy "blood change." We tend to forget that Keith earned the right to be Keith, through pain and persistence and (in case the myth has overshadowed this) creativity. Keith is a genius, not merely a genius at being Keith. As we head into another election year, I wonder if it's not about Democrat or Republican, Tea Party or Moderate after all, but rather about America as a whole respecting our "Keith" but reconnecting with our inner "Mick," and getting the balance right once and for all.