The rebel rock star
By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, Marc Spitz,Gotham Books, Penguin Group, Pp 310(HB), $26.00 $35
There was a time when Mick Jagger ruled. The world of rock and pop music. He was the soul of the roaring success band Rolling Stones. Fans swooned over him and his music. He was a phenomenon for over a decade. At 68 now, he is still going strong, setting up a new band Super Heavy in 2010, which includes Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley and our very own AR Rahman.
The latest biography on the rock star Jagger—Rebel, Rockstar, Rambler, Rogue by Marc Spitz captures the feverish moments of history when Mick was the byword of the youth. He narrates how Jagger, born in a middle-class home in a British suburb rose to the heights and what drove him. The composition of new songs, the way they were received and the euphoria the band created, throwing the audience into frenzy are all nostalgia stories.
The Rolling Stones with Mick, Keith, Brian, Ian Stewart, Dick Taylor and Mick Avory, made the debut on July 12, 1962 in a hurriedly put together concert. For long, they performed free. Mick and Keith were schoolmates and shared a life-long friendship, which had its bad moments. Mick was enrolled in the London School of Economics and was keen on pursuing his degree, along with his passion for music.
Mick and his team went high on LSD and alcohol and Mick was arrested on charges of possessing drugs. A famous slogan asked: “Would you let your sister go with a Rolling Stones?” in an insinuated comment on the team members. The young men took positions and demonstrated their opinions in bizarre ways. They urinated on “perhaps the ultimate symbol of modern, American, imperialist power: a petrol station. The very fuel that was helping the war in Vietnam escalate.” “It is an act of rebellion” said a commentator, adding the petrol station is about cars, about oil, about big business.
That probably is why they appealed to a youth population. And Jagger was at the head of it all. The left political parties wooed Jagger. He declined to take a political position. Writer and activist Tariq Ali analysing the phenomena today says “… the Stones and the Beatles were the most popular groups at the time. We weren’t particularly thinking of the Beatles at that period as radical in any way; they just made pleasing music. But Jagger we felt—there was more of an edge to him and his music at that period and he didn’t like what was going on—sexually and politically—and that became very obvious.” The Rolling Stones’ expanding retinue included drug dealers, radical activists and leg-breakers affiliated with London gangsters says Spitz. But then, none of these seemed out of place or offending.
Jagger had his share of women, what with them swooning on him. He married Bianca after having had at least two other steady relations.
Jagger received support from unexpected quarters. When he was jailed for possession of four banned tablets, Conservative editor William Reece Mogg, of the Times of London wrote an editorial on July 1, 1967 titled “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel” in which he said “Has Mr Jagger received the same treatment as he would have received if he had not been famous figure, with all the criticism and resentment his celebrity has aroused?” He went on to add that the public and the judiciary was identifying disturbing social issues on one person and punishing him more than he deserved. This editorial prompted a re-opening of the conviction and he walked out free, though continuing to remain under the scrutiny of the law.
Seeing Mick Jagger perform at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in February 2011, Spitz says “he can still shake his hips, hit the notes, and vie with musicians a third his age. He continues to oppose war and voices social concerns. He penned the song “Sweet Neo Con” a scathing attack on Bush administration, oil profiteers and hypocrite Christians.
Marc Spitz’s highly sympathetic or understanding biography sums up Jagger like this: “Mick Jagger, for all his set-setting is that common man, vulnerable, searching, skeptical, never fully pledged to something as monolithic as rock and roll.” Jagger is “a rebel, rocker, rambler, rogue … Rethought.” Youth of the 60s and 70s world over identified with him. Then there was no 24X7 channels blaring music into homes nor were there ‘stunt managers’ who made stars out of artists. Audio rather than the video was the call of the day. Jagger still makes music and still weaves a magic. His attempt to revive the band could be an interesting event in the music world that is exploding through the internet. The biography offers a view of Jagger that makes him more human, closer to the reader than he appeared to the listener.
The narration has an emotional cogent that gels well with the persona of Jagger. If you are the fan of Mick it gets better, with each song coming alive. Even if not a fan the book guarantees engrossing read. Marc Spitz is the author of five previous books, including Bowie: A Biography. He is now the music blogger for VF Daily.
(Penguin Group,375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA)