Saturday, November 13, 2010

Falling in Love With Mick Again!

I find myself liking Mick Jagger more as I write this than at any time in the 38 years since I met him. When I’d seen him at a party at the Continental Hyatt House a few evenings before, he’d seemed snarlingly standoffish; I would soon come to realize, on a much, much smaller scale, of course, that the famous and sought-after have to try to exude unapproachability out in the world, lest they drown in the felicitations of well-wishers. At the mansion in Bel-Air where he and the first (only?) Mrs. Jagger were staying while he finished mixing Exile on Main Street, though, he was utterly charming, gracious and solicitous. He even said he’d heard of Christopher Milk. After our desultory (my fault!) interview, he didn’t have me shown to the door, but made clear that he was enjoying my company. We chatted and snickered at Ralph Williams Ford commercials on TV for perhaps another hour.

The problem was that I was apparently the only person in the world who found Exile, except for the sublime "Tumblin’ Dice", woefully sub-standard. And each of their subsequent albums, except maybe Some Girls, made Exile sound better and better in comparison.

I saw them live at Anaheim Stadium and thought them a cruel self-parody. Decades passed. I’d see them on TV and wonder why someone didn’t try to persuade poor Mick to stop strutting back and forth so frantically every now and again; it looked more and more desperate as the years went by. I found his and Mr. Bowie’s “Dancing in the Street” video very laboured — and watched it through my fingers. I saw Mick 25 years later on the most recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame special, the one at which the veins in Bruce Springsteen's neck kept threatening to explode, and was embarrassed for him. He was singing with Fergie (do I betray how old I am by thinking it necessary to append of Black-Eyed Peas?). At one point he grabbed for her hand, but she, owing either to inattention or something worse, was having none of it. Dissed! How the mighty had fallen!

Around the same time, I happened to see on YouTube a video of a long-ago live Rolling Stones performance in which some genius somehow gets on stage and makes a run at Keith Richards. Looking fairly pleased about the whole thing, Keith unstraps his guitar and happily tries to knock the guy’s head off. After stagehands get the guy off stage, Keith calmly puts the guitar back on and resumes playing. Tuning's for sissies!

Coolest thing I’ve ever seen a rock musician do. Or at least in the Top 5.

So now Keith’s dictated his memoirs, and they’re apparently highly critical of my old pal Mick, and Mick has written a 5000-word repudiation of them, and I’m frankly awed — by his excellent prose, by his wit, by how persuasively he makes the case that it’s all very nice that Keith has comes to be perceived as rock and roll made flesh, but that he's also an awful parent and friend and an absolute nightmare of a bandmate. “Keith likes to talk a lot,” Mick writes, “about his getting clean from heroin. It is not correspondingly apprehended that he replaced the heroin comprehensively with liquor. Given a choice [you need a comma here, Mick] I select the slurring alcoholic over the comatose junkie as a lifelong professional partner, and I say this with some knowledge of the two alternatives. But neither is strictly desirable.” Gorgeous — and not atypical of the rest of the piece. Or how about “Keith stands back, amazed at the things that just … happen to him. He is frequently the victim of faulty wiring in the hotels in which we bivouac; a surprising number of times this phenomenon has caused fires. Ritz-Carltons are not built the way they use[d] to be, I guess.”


Elvis, an unashamed mama’s boy, addressed everyone as either sir or ma’am. I’m not entirely enthusiastic about Elvis’s courtliness having been supplanted by Keef’s implacable brattishness as the rock and roll norm, as it’s given us wholesale substance abuse and misogyny and Motley Crue, none of which is…strictly desirable.

[Sara(h) Smiles resumes on Monday.]

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