JAGGER AT 44: STILL COOL IN A PRIMITIVE WAY
You’ve got to have a lot of confidence to call the opening song on your new album “Throwaway"--especially if you’re Mick Jagger.
There’s a legion of Rolling Stones fans who would argue that “throwaway” is a fair description of much of the Rolling Stones’ music over the last decade as well as for Jagger’s nondescript 1985 solo LP, “She’s the Boss.”
But “Throwaway” justifies the confidence. It kicks off the leading Stone’s second solo collection, “Primitive Cool,” with a sassy, provocative edge that suggests Jagger has something to say this time--and one of the things on his mind is his old macho image.
Used to play the Casanova, smoother than the bossa nova.
Loved to play the Romeo, but never need a home to go ta.
I’m so freezy, I’m so slick.
I leave no traces, I just get out quick.
I use cheap champagne, brief affairs, backstage love.
Jagger sings the words with a classic Stones drawl and surrounds himself with undercurrents of the raucous, down ‘n’ dirty Stones’ beat celebrated in parts of “Exile on Main Street.”
But “Throwaway” is not a sly celebration of the old days. It’s a warning that some things aren’t worth tampering with. In the song’s key line, Jagger purrs, “A love like this is much too good to ever throw away.”
There are moments in “Primitive Cool” where Jagger flashes the old Stones snarl, but the tracks that mean most reflect a surprising edge of sensitivity and thought. The title track is a father talking to his son about the old days . . . in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “Say You Will” is a flat-out love song, declaring both devotion and need. “War Baby” is an anti-war statement that you might more expect from U2.
Yes, Casanova is a changed man. Or was there always some sensitivity hidden under that rough Stones persona?
“I realize people (identify me with) the very hard-edged, macho kind of ‘I’ll whip your ass’ kind of song, which is fine,” Jagger says, sitting in the Stones office here.
“I don’t really mind that because that is part of what I am. But there have been other songs. ‘Angie’ was a sensitive song that was quite popular, and there were others . . . even in the beginning. ‘As Tears Go By’ is ancient, but it was quite a reflective, grown-up song--especially for someone 21 or whatever I was at the time.
“I have been writing (sensitive) songs for a long time, but people don’t think of that. I wrote one song with a diabolic intent or, at least, a diabolic subject--'Sympathy for the Devil'--and for years people were hammering that theme.”
Jagger believes the reaction to a song like “Sympathy for the Devil” tells as much about an audience--its fascination or its fears--as the writer.
“I remember all the letters I got in those days . . . saying you’re a devil worshiper and stuff. I wonder if people will write about ‘Primitive Cool’ and say, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean about the ‘60s.’ ”
The small, bare-bones Stones office here, just off fashionable King’s Road, is tucked unceremoniously into an old house in a nondescript residential area. A friend who had been here years ago warned about the need for good directions to have any chance of finding the place.
When the cab driver, who has been searching through his street guide throughout the trip, finally stops a block away (street construction prevents him from getting any closer), it seems certain he has fouled up.
But a teen-age girl on the street indicates she knows the address. “Follow me,” she says, “I’m heading there myself.”
The pretty, plainly attired dark-haired girl enters the building and heads up a narrow, circular staircase, past pictures of dozens of early American blues and R&B; artists--the people whose records planted the rock ‘n’ roll seed almost three decades ago in a young Jagger and Keith Richards.
Finally, the girl leads to the small office where Jagger is sitting with two assistants.
He looks up, smiles at the visitor and says, “So, you’ve met my daughter, Jade.”
First, Jagger sings about the values of true love. And now the proud pop is introducing his daughter.
Suddenly "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” seems every bit as old as its 22 years.
Jagger, 44, spends most of his time these days in New York, where he lives with longtime companion, model Jerry Hall, and their two children. But he has been in London for much of the summer, finishing the album and working on a video. He’s in a rush today because he’s headed back to New York to prepare for a short U. S. tour. Next year, he’ll make a movie with David Bowie and think once again about getting the Stones back into the studio.
The inevitable question is what about the Stones, whose future has been in doubt in recent months because of a much-publicized feud between Jagger and Richards. Reportedly angered by Jagger’s decision to make solo albums and tour, Richards is working on his own album.
Jagger is reluctant to go into the Stones affair, perhaps afraid to trigger a new round of squabbling. When pressed about the Stones during an interview for Q magazine here, Jagger said, “I can’t be specific. I can’t . I don’t think I have to, really. It’s just that friction builds up over the years . . . and I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. It became impossible to run the band, the state they were worked up into.
“I didn’t really know why they were so worked up, but I think a lot of it was just having too much of a good thing. It was all a bit knackered and I was the one who had to hold it all together and I just lost patience with everybody. It’s as simple as that. I just could not deal with them anymore. . . . You have to read between the lines a bit, I’m afraid, but it does come down to two people flying off the handle.”
But what about the future?
Jagger, wearing a striped sport shirt and slacks, stares into space, composing his thoughts.
“As far as I am concerned, I don’t see why the Stones shouldn’t continue to work together,” he says, speaking about the band in the third person. “Things seemed to have calmed down, but I don’t really know what the end result of that is going to be.
“Those things don’t start instantly and they don’t end overnight. The problems (between us) had been (brewing) over the years and I think it just got to the point where we just said, ‘Let’s get away from this for a while.’ I see it as a kind of truce at the moment, which I think is good. I prefer that to calling each other names.”
Meanwhile, Jagger seems to welcome the chance to make his own album, suggesting that it is liberating to be able to write songs without the Stones’ persona in mind.
“You don’t sort of sit down and say, ‘This song is for a Rolling Stones album’ and ‘This one is for my own album,’ ” Jagger continues. “You just write songs . . . though some of them may not fit the Rolling Stones, either musically or lyrically, so the solo albums give you a bit more freedom. I couldn’t imagine the Stones, for instance, doing a song like ‘Primitive Cool,’ because that song just isn’t (what the Stones are about).”
“Let’s Work,” the aggressive, dance-minded single from the new album, is another song that doesn’t fit the image of the Stones. The former street-fighting man is now telling us about the importance of finding a job. The song’s lyrics are so work-positive that the track at times sounds like a public service announcement.
Let’s work, be proud
Stand tall, touch the clouds
Man and work, be free
Let’s work, kill poverty.
“Oh, no,” Jagger says, shaking his head vigorously to discourage the suggestion the song is aimed at the unemployed. “There is a bit of the idea in there about you not getting something for nothing . . . it is very rare that you win the lottery. But the song is mostly self-addressed. I wrote it very quickly, so there wasn’t much time for any i-n-t-e-l-l-e-c-t-u-a-l analysis.”
Jagger feels more emotional attachment to songs like “War Baby” and “Primitive Cool.” The latter is set in the form of a teen-ager asking his dad about life in the ‘50s and ‘60s, eras that are widely romanticized by many of today’s teens.
Did you walk cool in the ‘50s, daddy . . .
Did you dress like James Dean? ...
Did you walk cool in the ‘60s, daddy ...
Did you break all the laws
That were about to crumble?
About the song, Jagger says, “There is a bit of tongue in cheek in there . . . the whole thing about young people today looking back on the past with such misty eyes and the way nostalgia is so marketed today. But there is also a serious side.
“I suppose they see it as a more innocent period, when actually it strikes me as a very complex and explosive period. That included an explosion of creativity, not just in popular music, but in art and cinema . . . I feel lucky to have just been standing there. It was fun, but I can’t really look back on it with quite such rose tinted glasses that some people do.”
The talk about the ‘60s led to a discussion of the rash of recent “greatest rock albums” polls, where the Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” invariably places high--often No. 2 or 3.
“I noticed all that,” Jagger replies, “and I do think it is a good album. But I prefer ‘Beggars Banquet’ because it seems a little more cohesive. I think one of the attractions of ‘Exile’ is that, as a double album, it has more things to discover in it, which is why people have turned to it so much over the years. There is always something new to find. But I remember at the time it was reviewed very badly. It has only become a ‘classic’ in recent years.”
And what does Jagger think of the album that finishes first in most of the polls: the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”?
“That album was really important in people’s lives. It is often not just the beauty or the innate quality of the music that matters most, but partly what you were doing at the time you listened to it . . . what girl you were seeing . . . what car you were driving in. Music brings those memories back to you, like a smell.”
As Jagger spoke about the album, it triggered his own memories. “I always remember Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘Sgt. Pepper'--the song--in concert. I went to see him in this theater and he opened the set with it. . . . It was so great because it was so unexpected. Imagine Hendrix doing ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ ”
With all the sweet talk about the ‘60s, today’s teen-agers and true love, Jagger must have felt, instinctively, that he might be portrayed as too mellow. Near the end of the interview, he smiles and says: “I don’t want people to think the whole album is sort of soft-centered chocolate or anything. I mean there are some real nasty things in it--'Kow Tow’ and ‘Shoot Off Your Mouth.’ Did you listen to ‘Shoot Off Your Mouth?’ Now, who do you think that is about?”