Strolling Bones: Mick is Still Cool
Okay, you can confess now. Nobody's watching, nobody's gonna laugh at you. Just admit, quietly and to yourselves, that there was a time when you thought Mick Jagger was the coolest dude on spaceship Earth. Even you baggy pants wearing little trendies no older than my frigging sideburns. Yeah, you, the ones who think Trent Reznor invented black t-shirts and that Nirvana was the first band to wreck perfectly good instruments onstage, on purpose. For at least one brief moment in your rock and roll lives, you saw a picture of Mick or heard about one of his legendary bad boy exploits, and you said to yourself "Self, I'd give my left nut (or right ovary) to be that monkey-mouthed, boney little motherfucker for just one lousy day!"
At 64, Michael Philip Jagger is older than the President AND - probably - your dad. He's fathered anywhere from five to twenty kids, depending on whose press releases you believe, and thanks to that otherworldly looking wench he named Jade (she looks like Mick crossed with Michael Jackson, egad!), he's now a grandfather. He's had more pussy than Prince and Hugh Hefner, he's richer than any ten money grubbing Shahs and he's had his picture taken more often than the Lincoln Memorial. By all accounts of his pampered and jetsetting lifestyle, we should resent him and tear him down the way we do all our once-revered heroes once they've proven that they are indeed better than we are (Elvis, OJ, Kennedy, et al). Sure, It's easy to make fun of Mick - I mean, everything about him is right out of a Doonesbury cartoon, right down to his caricature-like face, those bug eyes and that Deputy Barney Fife rooster walk he does. But it's impossible to hate or disrespect him. Why? Because nobody can deny that the guy was as cool as anyone who ever flapped his lips into a mike.
The former economics student and window washer exuded cool right from the formation of The Rolling Stones in 1962. He moved like a snake and sang like an old black bluesman and, by 1965, British schoolkids were getting expelled for wearing their hair like Jagger's. One of his earliest brushes with the law exemplified his rebel spirit. It wasn't for drugs (there would be enough of that soon), but for peeing on the wall of a gas station after the attendant refused to let him use the loo 'cause of his hair and clothes. Now that's a counter culture hero to contend with! Who hasn't wanted to splash against injustice with just such a succinct and unmistakable statement!
Kids would riot at Stones shows. Not that wimpy moshing stuff. I mean tear up the seats, butt fuck the security guards with their own flashlights craziness. The band came up with album titles like "Their Satanic Majesties Request," and Mick sang about gangbangs, heroin, fighting in the streets and having sympathy for the devil. Mick was the Antichrist to the elder generation, and that was just fine with him.
Much drivel has been written about the "dark" Stones versus the "sunny" Beatles. Actually, the Beatles could be pretty dark, singing about how "happiness is a warm gun," and the Stones sounded pretty sunny in tunes about how "she comes in colors." But, right or wrong, the public perception was that Mick was the baddest of the bad. It would be some years before he'd take to French kissing Keith Richards onstage, but everyone could already tell that this guy was a modern day Baccus, willing to do or say just about anything to have a good time.
The first indication that Mick was really just a frail mortal? December 6th, 1969, at Altamont Speedway . Just check out the film of that free concert, "Gimme Shelter." By the time the Stones hit the stage, the Hells Angels hired as security had beaten the crowd into a terrified huddle. Mick looks small and frightened, as he implores everyone to "cool down," stopping mid-song to mutter and cajole. Eventually, an 18 year old man named Meredith Hunter is beaten to death just a few feet from the stage, and the make-believe devil surrenders the spotlight to the real evil of the day.
For a time, it seemed like Mick might turn his back on rock music. He took a swing at acting, first in 1970 films like "Ned Kelly" (yep, he looks good in an Australian outback hat) and "Performance." In the latter, he plays a jaded, aging rock star who switches identities with a mob hit man. Neither film launched a thespian career for Mick, though he's not bad in either. His first real solo musical venture was the song "Memo from Turner," done for the "Performance" soundtrack, and it's as good as any snarling rocker he's done. His course clear, he picked up his rock 'n' roll reins again.
By 1972, debauchery and raunchy hijinks had ceased to be shocking and had become just parts of the rock lexicon. Yet Mick managed to out-raunch just about all others before or since, setting the high water (or low sludge) mark which other rockers only aspire to match. The rarely screened film documentary of the '72 tour is called "Cocksucker Blues," named after an unreleased Stones song about a gay hustler, and its depiction of torrid excess is legend.
Throughout the 70's, through paternity suits, drug busts and all the gossip rag features, Mick was looking cooler and cooler to both those who'd grown up with him and to younger fans being weaned from KC And The Sunshine Band and Kiss. Okay, there was that October '78 Saturday Night Live show. The Stones were so bad, Mick so ridiculous, everyone hooted out loud at the poor guy. But this was only a brief stumble, and soon he was back to having sex with Linda Ronstadt, Margaret Trudeau and a teenage Mackenzie Phillips (who claims her Dad, Papa John, dropped her off at Mick's!). He's even said to have slept with David Bowie, at least according to Bowie 's ex-wife Angela. Uh, okay, but this somewhat disturbing mental image is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Mick and Bowie supposedly once tag-teamed Bette Midler in a wild threeway orgy! How cool is that, kids? And how cool is it to be married to an exotic dark-skinned beauty who looks just like yourself in drag (Bionca, whom he divorced in November 1980)?
Even in the 80's, nobody seemed to begrudge him hooking up with yet another leggy model, Jerry Hall. He was turning up in increasingly tres-cool places, like on Showtime's "Faerie Tale Theater," where he played a Chinese emperor in "The Nightingale." In '83, he showed up in a Bette Midler video (I know what you're thinking!), "Beast Of Burden," once again asserting his independence from his bandmates. He again delved into film, working from behind the scenes, by co-writing the story for "Blame It On The Night" (he's not in the film). Two years later, he'd also co-write and produce "Running Out Of Luck," this time appearing in it and doing nine songs for the soundtrack.
In '85, Mick's solo-strength was good enough to propel his album "She's The Boss" into the top 20 in England in America . Good record, by the way. A little rock, a little R&B, some gospel and country - Mick's a past master at just about all this stuff by now. No faults, no fumbles. That July, he showed up in Philly for Live Aid, singing with Tina Turner and Hall And Oates. The same show saw the debut of his video duet with David Bowie (I know you're thinking about it again! If you don't stop that you'll go blind!), "Dancing In The Streets." In '86, he punched out an obnoxious photographer in LA, proving he was still feisty as ever and landing his name in the trade papers right alongside Billy Idol and Souixse And The Banshees.
'87 found him working with a group of young black rockers, Living Colour, as well as releasing a second solo album, "Primitive Cool," a fair collection of rockers nobody should be ashamed of liking. There was even a Jagger solo tour running right through the following year, where the Japanese fans went almost as wild for him as the British lads had twenty years earlier. At this point, the Stones hadn't been in one place to so much as pass a joint among themselves in almost two years.
The lure of big bucks may have been the main genesis of the 1989 Stones "reunion" tour, but Mick held up admirably onstage and defied all the odds. Sure, his voice was getting ragged. Some live vocals were augmented by tapes and sometimes even by an offstage backup singer. But if you saw it, you know the tour was one of the hottest of the year, pure rock with no chaser.
The 90's were tricky for Micky. First, he married Jerry Hall, a small dent in the armor of his credibility since she was obviously such a vapid, money-obsessed witch of a woman. On his 1993 album "Wandering Spirit," he went trendy yet again by having Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers) man the production knobs. The LP had a decent cover of James Brown's "Think," and there's even a Celtic styled folk song, "Handsome Molly," but the album hardly sold and there was even more rust on the old armor now.
What were we to think when he turned up on Saturday Night Live twice in one month, once performing live and then appearing in a skit? Was this the rebel bad boy Antichrist who'd served as pied piper for so many disaffected millions? Sure, he was taut and in great shape, but all those wrinkles made it look like his face was falling off his skull. Since its inception is so recent, dating back only to the fifties, few of us have yet seen rock and roll grow aged - was this to be its face?
Nowadays, Stones songs are used in Snickers commercials ("Satisfaction"). Mick is a staple of People magazine, and his face has more lines than an Etch-A-Sketch. He can still rock, but one can't help but wonder how long a granddad can keep shaking his ass and deep throating a mike before we all get grossed out and embarrassed? Yet, at the same time, we can finally view, for the first time, Mick and the boys at their most potent peak in the long-unseen 1968 "Rock 'N' Roll Circus" TV special, now out on DVD. That, my friends and foes, is the true face of rock. No denying.
I don't care if he is older than Methusalah. I'd still swap a 'nad to be that cool, just for one day.